Full stream ahead
Habitat works in King River prompt return of fish, anglers
First time visitors to the King River at Gentle Annie may be forgiven for thinking the name is somehow linked to the way the crystal clear waters trickle gently over the pebbles on its way downstream.
On a day like today it’s quiet, calm and inviting, perfect for a swim or for casting a line in the hope of snaring an unsuspecting trout resting in one of the deeper pools behind a boulder.
The insects buzz, the vegetation is thick and healthy and it looks like it could have been that way for decades, but the truth is this river is a volatile force of nature, strong enough to erode banks, tear trees out of the ground and wash away bridges, which is exactly what it did here eight years ago.
But restoration work slowly began and then in 2014 the King Valley Tourism Association was awarded a grant of $209,000 by the Victorian Fisheries Authority through the Recreational Fishing Grants Program, to restore the fish habitat that had been decimated by the 2010 flood events.
The North East Catchment Management Authority (NECMA) was appointed project manager, supported by the Victorian Government’s Angler Riparian Partnership Program, aimed at improving the health of the state’s waterways and catchments through working directly with recreational fishers.
Over three years substantial works were undertaken at two main sites, around Gentle Annie and upstream near Cheshunt, to recreate that habitat.
And those works are finally paying dividends.
NECMA senior project officer Andrew Briggs said in 2010 those surging floodwaters changed the course of the river and pushed tonnes of rocks along until they filled the holes once enjoyed by native fish and trout.
“The King River is a very challenging river to work on,” he said.
“It has an extremely high energy – it’s the highest energy river in the state – and it can move rocks along and then ‘cement’ them in place.
“It has these massive high floods that do all this damage, but then there are very long periods of very low energy – it’s a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of river.”
After a delayed start due to unpredictable weather the works finally got under way in earnest, and over a three year period more than 60 large granite boulders were positioned into place, log jams were created, more than 250 hardwood trees and 750 native trees and shrubs were planted, and 250 metres of fencing was put up to exclude stock.
“When you put large rocks in place, you create a spot where you’re increasing that bit of energy to try to help the river clean itself out, as well as providing spots for all fish, but particularly trout, to get out of the main flow where there’s too much current for them to swim against,” said Mr Briggs.
“If they can get in behind the rocks, where there’s an eddy behind it, they can have a spell, food washes in there, and then when they’re ready they can move on to the next one.
“You’re helping fish move through the system.”
Signs of the return of fish are evident to Russell Bird from Gentle Annie Caravan and Camping Reserve, who has seen trout and even cod already on the move and being caught.
He said an information board at Gentle Annie detailing the project has caught the eye of campers and the project, also captured in a video, and has won praise from fishing associations and clubs.
“I’ve been telling people about the habitat works and encouraging them to read the board, and now they’re going out and fishing, whereas before people who came regularly said there was no fish here,” he said.
“Now they’re getting their rods out because they think it won’t be a waste of time.
“It’s moving in the best direction – for the fish and for fishers.”
Mr Briggs said while he understands better than most that floods will happen again one day given the dynamic nature of rivers, it’s all part of nature taking its course.
“You work with what you’ve got and you apply the best science and the best skill to come up with the best result,” he said.
“It’s a great project – in a way it’s the kind of work we’d like to do all the time.
“A lot of us who get into this game do it because we love rivers, we love fishing and we love fish, so it’s really rewarding to work with people in the community and achieve this.”
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: NECMA senior project officer Andrew Briggs is pleased to have overseen a project to restore fish habitat in the King River in Whitfield and Cheshunt.