It has been some years since I marroned with a purpose, but the memories of chasing them in our beautiful southern forests remain strong and it is something I probably should try again before too long.
I fondly recall a great night spent on the old Harvey Weir, before it was flooded to become what is now Harvey Dam, chasing them not long after I got my driver’s licence. We parked the car by the water, started a fire and then threw in some pellets.
Using drop nets, we ended up with a nice feed of marron and enjoyed a night to remember over a few cold drinks. Life was simpler back then…but I digress. There are few more uniquely West Australian fishing experiences than catching marron.
Found from Esperance all the way north to Hutt River, past Geraldton, but endemic to the South-West, they are our own freshwater crayfish and despite having to endure some serious challenges in recent years, they continue to offer a great fishing option in many of our freshwater waterways during a limited season.
Dropping rainfall and reduced river flows due to increased community demands on water have meant marron have faced some real habitat issues, but the good news is that current stocking programs supported by Recfishwest are helping boost numbers and might even ultimately lead to longer seasons.
On a trip to Pemberton last summer to chase trout, I saw heaps of marron in the Warren River and Lefroy Brooks, which was hopefully a good sign for the future. Although I haven’t chased marron in recent years, they are a common encounter when trout fishing.
I remember standing on a rock in knee-deep water at Waroona Dam and being surprised when a large marron emerged from under that rock. It was not quite “methuselah” of the Freshwater Fishing in South West Australia book fame, but it was a beauty. I also remember foul hooking a big one on a Celta at Cascades on the Lefroy Brook one year. After admiring it for a few seconds I let that one go.
Locations stocked in recent years include Waroona Dam, Harvey Dam, Big Brook Dam and Logue Brook Dam. A licence is required to catch marron during the January-February season. There are detailed rules around bag and size limits which vary in different locations, with Harvey Dam, Waroona Dam and the Hutt River regarded as ‘trophy waters’ with tighter regulations to enhance the chance of catching trophy specimens.
Some locations are also snare only, including Big Brook Dam, Logue Brook Dam and Harvey Dam, with the full list and the latest comprehensive rules available at www.fish.gov.au.
There are three main ways of catching marron and a baited drop net is the most simple and effective, especially in deeper water such as the Warren River. A simple stocking filled with chook pellets can be used as bait, or other meat baits like chicken necks or fish. However, I always reckon the greatest fun to be had is in stalking them in the shallows with a snare or scoop. This is even more fun with a good headlamp at night. The reward, of course, is a feed of one of the tastiest crustaceans on the planet!
After a long three-year stocking hiatus, Harvey Dam is finally set to see 100,000 marron make a splash into its waterways in 2023.
The announcement by the Fisheries Minister Don Punch fixes a decision by DPIRD to prevent marron being stocked into Harvey Dam as part of a stocking program funded by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund and launched by the Premier Mark McGowan at the dam in 2019.
Over the last few years, the team from Aquafarms, supported by Recfishwest, helped release 300,000 marron into the popular Waroona and Logue Brook dams.
Large numbers of marron were also supposed to be released into Harvey Dam last year as part of this project, but one month before stocking DPIRD advised Recfishwest that, approval to stock Harvey Dam would not be provided.
DPIRD’s rationale for refusing permission to stock Harvey Dam was largely based on two-decade old research. However, this rationale did not extend to Logue Brook or Waroona Dams, leaving local marron fishers confused and disappointed that the premier marroning location of a recreational-only fishery was missing out, despite assurances it would be a focus of the stocking project.
Recfishwest raised our concerns directly with the Fisheries Minister and is pleased that he cut through the red tape put in place by DPIRD to ensure marron would be stocked in WA’s premier marooning location as intended.
A sensible outcome
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “We thank the Minister for listening to Recfishwest and overcoming needless Government bureaucracy to right this wrong – it’s a sensible resolution that ensures a good outcome for the community.
“By working with the Minister and DPIRD, we hope to achieve a similar sensible resolution for the west coast demersal fishery and avoid the extensive social and economic damage the Government’s initial proposal for a nine-month ban would cause.
“Marron is an icon of the South-West and marroning is a hugely popular pastime, with Harvey Dam the most popular marroning location.
“The marron season brings in thousands of freshwater fishers from around the state to the pristine South-West waterways, helping inject millions of dollars back into our regional tourism economies.
“Stocking initiatives like this can future-proof the marron fishery and take us closer to our vision of year-round marroning.”
Breeding from the marron captured at Harvey Dam has already begun, with restocking expected to start as early as June next year.
From the excitement of patrolling the banks and peering into the clear water looking for marron, the contagious laughter as a marron shoots between someone’s legs while snaring or the celebrations upon capturing a prized ‘mossback’, marron fishing can be highly infectious and by the time you get home, you can already be thirsting for the next adventure.
The 2019 season saw keen marroners make the most of the 29 day’s available with many licence holders making multiple trips to the states Southwest to target these tasty freshwater crustaceans. While the season is short, an estimated 20,000 individual days are spent marroning, providing a significant economic boost to regional towns in the South West. Those who do make multiple trips usually concentrate their efforts on locations closer to home; such as Harvey, Wellington and Waroona Dams.
The 2019 marron season saw more than 10,000 marron license holders catch over 50,000 marron over the four week fishing period. Nathan Harrison, DPIRD Director of Aquatic Resource Management said “the majority of recreational fishers do the right thing and treat the marron stocks with a sense of personal responsibility and stewardship. That stewardship is vital in keeping the fishery sustainable.”
Marroning is a great experience that many fishers prefer to share as a group, hunting along the banks with your friends or family is sensational fun.
Often the simple things we take for granted during a trip can rival the fishing itself! Conversations with friends and family, the breakfast cook up with fog rolling off your breath during the cool mornings, or even the sunsets and sunrises that materialize over the horizons in splendid shades of colour. These unique traits to marroning help to build a lasting memory that can often be triggered by the simple things like the distinctive smell of these freshwater systems during each years return trip.
Marron are important to South West waterways and in order to secure their future the Pemberton Freshwater Research Centre has been running marron breeding trials as part of a project being undertaken by Ecotone Consulting in partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Recfishwest. Funded by the Commonwealth Government these trials aim at using stocking enhancement to help secure healthy populations of marron in the more popular waterways and accessible locations such as Harvey Dam, located only one and a half hours drive from Perth.
It’s important that we begin to investigate different opportunities in this space, given that a drying climate will almost certainly place increased pressure on marron stocks going forward. We believe stocking is one way to relieve some of this pressure in the long term. The recent community stocking effort of 5,500 marron in Harvey dam at the start of the marron season was aimed at doing just this.
Successful stocking activities such as this could see the marron season open for longer to give fishers a greater chance of getting out targeting marron, and hopefully a better chance of bringing themselves home a feed.
As the 2019 season is now over, we can look back fondly on the fun and excitement it brought us and look forward to the 2020 season where we can once again create marroning memories with our friends and family along the banks of the South West waterways.
Marron are endemic to WA’s South West and fishing for them is a tradition for many WA families. They are great eating and the largest freshwater crayfish in Western Australia and as another year nears its end, this summer’s marron season is nearly here.
Due to open from noon on 8 January to noon on 5 February this season should see more than 11,300 licensed fishers head off to the South West waterways to target these freshwater crustaceans. Marron are targeted in some of the most accessible and beautiful areas of the South West; fishers experience the fantastic bushland of the South West first hand while fishing.
Marron can be caught using drop nets, scoop nets or snares all of which are relatively inexpensive. Fishers can choose to target marron in rivers with drop nets and scoops or in trophy water dams with snares.
Trophy waters are specific areas that are managed differently to provide fishers with the opportunity to catch trophy sized marron. Harvey and Waroona Dams along with Hutt River are deemed trophy waters, with Harvey and Waroona Dams being snare only (meaning no nets or scoops).
Snares are a challenging but often more rewarding method of chasing marron. This coupled with larger size limits and tighter bag restrictions creates fisheries where there is more chance of catching marron and larger sized ones too. These delicious crustaceans are an icon to many people in Western Australia and as such carefully managed by the Department of Fisheries.
It is worth having a good read of the Marron Recreational Fishing Guide to understand the specifics of marron fishing including fishing methods, what method is allowed in which area as well as the applicable bag limits.
Marron prefer cool, oxygenated water with low salinity and areas with fringing or overhanging vegetation and submerged or fallen trees for cover. The healthiest populations of marron are in rivers that are mostly in their natural state; with healthy bushland throughout their catchments and with plenty of vegetation along their banks with little to no alteration to their natural flow regimes. Marron eat almost anything organic found in rivers or dams, including leaves, algae, and other small invertebrates and decaying matter. Marron respond well to chook pellets and there are considered the preferred bait for many fishers.
How to catch
There are three methods to catch marron – the relaxed set and forget of drop netting from the banks of a river or the more active patrolling of the water’s edge with a torch and a bushman’s pole, or scoop net along shallows. Many would consider drop netting as the most common method, partly because there is less work involved and many are looking for a relaxing evening. Drop nets are a very simple yet effective method that can only be used in certain waterways. These have holes in the base large enough for smaller undersize marron to escape (outlined in the recreational marron guide). Setting drop nets along open sections of water away from logs and submerged trees is important as they can easily become caught up and stuck making them difficult to retrieve. Chook pellets in a sock secured to the middle of the drop net are great bait for marron in these nets. Bushman poles can be used in trophy areas unlike drop nets and scoops and are great fun as well as a good challenge. A bushman’s pole is any stick or pole with a self-tightening noose attached to the end of it; the user must not be able to open and close the loop like you can with a cray loop.
Making small piles of chook pellets around 30cm from the shore along the bank of the river or dam can draw in the marron in close. When searching for marron around your pellets, try aiming the torch to the side keeping the marron on the edge of the light, use just enough light to see the marron so you don’t spook them. While a marron is within reach of your snare, lower the loop down behind the marron. Once the loop is in position, shine the light directly on the marron to make it move back slowly. Lift the pole to then tighten the loop around the tail of the marron.
Marron are like prawns and crayfish; they can walk slowly in any direction and when frightened they will shoot backward with a pull of their tail. When searching along the banks ensure you only shine the light as far as you can reach with your snare. Shining the light onto marron will only spook them, making them less likely to come in close where you can reach them with your snare. Scoops are used in a similar way to snares but are not allowed in trophy waters. Many people wade through the shallows with scoops and head torches searching for marron, aiming to scoop the marron from behind as this is the direction they will usually retreat to using their tail.
Setting up a base camp around the area you intend to fish is ideal, doing this before dark helps you to be ready for your night time marron mission. Once set up, make sure you survey of the area for potential fishing spots. Collecting any rubbish during daylight will prevent you from stumbling onto them in the dark making the fishing experience safer, and benefiting the environment. Make sure you wear suitable footwear to protect your feet from sharp sticks or rocks along the banks. Consider other fishers by reducing music noise in later hours of the night, taking all your rubbish home with you and try not to take up a massive area of the bank as ‘yours’. Most of the time concentrating on a smaller area is more productive than trying to cover a huge area. Walking quietly and calmly along the water’s edge is important as it will prevent the marron from moving away to deeper water where they’re harder to catch.
*Please note, it is illegal to enter private property to access a river or creek without permission of the farmer/landholder.
Enjoying the stunning South West
Many avid Marron fishers have areas or spots they revisit around the South West in search for a great feed, with over 20,000 individual days of marroning estimated to have been undertaken in regional South West areas each marron season. The Fisheries Department have also estimated that in 2015, a further 30,000 marron could be sustainably harvested on top of what has been recreationally caught, allowing new marron fishers to be part of a sustainable fishery and have a great chance of getting a feed. Many fishers have preferred spots that are not simply chosen for targeting marron, but instead for being a great camping location along a spectacular stretch of water. If you’ve never targeted marron before, it’s definately worth having go. Not only are they fun and rewarding to catch, but you will have a memorable experience exploring the State’s South West among the bush and freshwater rivers and dams with your mates or family. All while targeting some of the tastiest crustaceans you’ll ever have on your plate.
Marron socking programs
Marron are important to South West waterways. To secure their abundance in South West waterways the Pemberton Freshwater Research Centre has run marron breeding trials. Funded by the Commonwealth Government these trials aim at using stocking to help secure great populations of marron in the more popular waterways and accessible locations such as the Wellington and Harvey dams located only one and a half hours drive from Perth. Research and development into the marron stocking to focus on improving the resilience of the fishery, all while enhancing the experience of marroners. To find out more, visit I love Fishing – Marron Stocking.