The next story from True Tales of the Trout Cod: River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin is the Mitta Mitta River Catchment History. The Mitta Mitta river takes its name from the marshes through which if flows (Mitta Mitta – marsh marsh). This collection of newspaper articles, oral histories and photos tells the story of the catchment.
Early accounts of the Mitta Mitta River Catchment
Early European accounts of the Mitta Mitta River Catchment recount the abundance of cod and catfish. In addition the oral histories collated in the booklet suggest the presence of Macquarie perch, Blackfish, Silver perch and Golden perch.
Jack ‘Grandpa’ Pendergast recalled fishing for Trout cod (‘bluenose’) and Macquarie perch (‘white eye’) at Big River near Omeo at the beginning of the 20th century. Pendergast recounted fishing trips to Big River where it was sometimes possible to ‘catch enough bluenose and white eye on the first night to be on the way home in the pre-dawn chill of the next day’.
Oral History from Stan Walsh of Tallangatta, formerly of Mitta Mitta (age 84)
“I used to catch plenty of cod in the Mitta Mitta, mainly Murray Cod…Up to the ’40s there were plenty of Macquarie Perch in the area. I once saw a shoal of bream that might have been two to 3000 moving up the Larsen Creek on their spawning run that turned the water black, with their backs nearly out of the water.” – Oral History from Stan Walsh of Tallangatta, formerly of Mitta Mitta (age 84).
Oral History from David Evans of Yea, formerly of Mitta Mitta
“In the Little Snowy Creek I used to get lots of trout. I can just remember the Catfish in the lagoons around Eskdale. They went a long time ago. There were certainly cod caught in the Mitta, Paddy Walsh used to catch them. In the Mitta was the odd bream, off the sandbanks. I heard of the bluenose being mentioned at the time. Apparently they had been common but by that time they were unusual to catch around Eskdale.”
Changing distribution and abundance
Trout Cod and Macquarie Perch populations had disappeared from many areas in the montane zone by the end of the 19th century, with reasonable numbers existing in the more isolated areas. Macquarie Perch were still present in small numbers upstream of Benambra until the 1930s, but the species had disappeared earlier from the Mitta Mitta River and tributaries upstream of Hinnomunjie. Isolated captures of cod countinued in the Big Reaver and near Anglers Rest, until the end of the 1950s.
After unsuccessful attempts at acclimatising Atlantic Salmon, Brown and Rainbow Trout were introduced to the Mitta Mitta near Omeo, Anglers Rest and Benambra in 1902. Three years later a newspaper article described how in the Victoria River the trout “were thriving, thousands of yearlings and a large quantity of spawn present”, with the fish being fed by locals. Periodic trout liberations from government hatcheries occurred up to 1969. Trout dispersed downstream and reached the Dartmouth area during the 1920s, and by the 1930s were abundant in the Mitta Mitta River.
The current situation
Today the Mitta Mitta catchment is recognised as one of the best trout fisheries in Victoria. Blackfish are widespread, and in some areas are relatively common. During the filling phase of Dartmouth Dam, Macquarie Perch flourished, creating a fishery for the species on a scale not seen anywhere else for several decades. The population declined after the lake stabilised, but persists both in the lake and the Mitta Mitta River as far upstream as Hinnomunjie. Cod all but vanished downstream of the dam. Catfish and Silver perch have not been reported for over 70 years.
Mitta Mitta River History Video
The map below shows the location of the Mitta Mitta River Catchment, including major waterways and key localities.
To find out more about the history Mitta Mitta Catchment, you can download a pdf of the full booklet here.
Sophie Van Dijk
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