Chapman Valley Fishing Park provides unique fishing experience, north of Geraldton

By Shannon Beattie
Updated May 3 2022 - 10:20am, first published April 27 2022 - 10:00am
Jesse Ting (left) and his son Lucas loved their time at the park and said they would definitely be back.

A PEACEFUL day out on the water, cracking a beer with a mate, casting a line and grilling up your spoils on the barbie at the end of the day.

It sounds like the perfect day but there's one problem?

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You don't have a boat.

For so many, fishing is an enjoyable pastime but the logistics often make it difficult.

The Chapman Valley Fishing Park solves that issue by providing a sustainable catch-and-release experience just 25 minutes north of Geraldton.

At the park, guests can cast a line for silver perch all-year round, fish for barramundi in summer or try their hand at the marron pond.

Chapman Valley Aquaculture was initially started back in 2000 when the first ponds were first dug out make use of the plentiful water on site.

Rods are provided for those who don't have their own.

Initially it was just a hobby, but Wayne Barndon soon turned it into a commercial enterprise by selling the fish bred on the farm, mainly to the Asian restaurant market.

It was about 10 years ago that the tourism side of the operation opened, with three ponds made available for guests to fish from.

From the beginning, silver perch was the main fish of choice as they are hardy, can tolerate the temperature range and are good quality, particularly in freshwater.

"We initially looked at marron but after some research realised we would need too many ponds as you get about three tonne per hectare, whereas with the silver perch we get 10t/ha," Mr Barndon said.

"Silver perch are able to use the water column more effectively, rather than just being on the bottom like marron are."

Wayne Barndon turned his commercial business into a tourism operation Chapman Valley Fishing Park about 10 years ago.

The popularity of the fishing park built up over the years, and at one stage between 50 and 60 people were visiting each week.

However, COVID had a real impact on numbers, particularly when the regional borders were also locked down, and the business has had to slowly build its clientele back up again.

When people went to the farm to go fishing, they have two options - either catch and release or buy what they want to keep and pay by weight.

"The majority of the business is catch and release, so it's sustainable in that sense as guests can do it for enjoyment and only take what they actually need," Mr Barndon said.

"We've had three-year-olds who can barely hold a rod and 80 year-olds who have never gone fishing in their lives - all catch their first fish here."

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Silver perch may be the main fish for catching, but ornamental fish such as koi and goldfish have been popular additions to the aquarium.

Chapman Valley Aquaculture is licensed to farm for commercial purposes with silver perch, barramundi, marron, yabby, koi and goldfish.

While the silver perch and barramundi are mostly bought by the Asian market, the increasing popularity of at-home aquariums has led to an increase in sales of goldfish and koi, the latter of which are sought by enthusiasts for their colours.

The operation is truly multi-faceted, as it provides education opportunities for TAFE students studying aquaculture to get hands-on experience dragging ponds and sorting fish.

It also has an onsite cafe which opens weekly on a Sunday for brunch, with lunch and dinner also available any day of the week for large groups of 30 or more people.

While the fish offered at the cafe obviously comes from the farm itself, so does the majority of the fruit and vegetables which are also grown onsite through a combination of aquaponics and hydroponics.

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Hydroponics is a popular method of growing plants using only chemical nutrients, in this case dissolvable fertiliser and water, while aquaponics involves fishes and plants being grown in the same environment.

With the aquaponics, fish waste is converted directly into nitrates by the surrounding bacteria.

Lucas Ting, 10, spent two days at the park fishing with his family.

These nitrates are used as food for the plants before the remaining water is returned to the fish - free from harmful contaminants, which creates an effective and efficient growth cycle that is referred to as the nitrogen cycle.

While accumulation of the waste eventually becomes toxic for fish inside of the tank, the bacteria that is introduced to the water converts the waste into helpful nitrates before any of the fish can be adversely affected.

Along with the fishing, Mr Barndon also runs a hydroponics operation which supplies fruit and vegetables to the onsite café.

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Mr Barndon has a small setup on site so customers can see how the system works, with small silver perch fingerlings available to purchase so they can get their own aquaponics system up and running.

For the hydroponics, plants are grown in a water-based solution that's rich with nutrients.

The roots of the plants are suspended directly in the nutrient-rich water, which gives them access to the substances they need to grow.

Tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, chilies, kale, spring onions, beetroot and herbs are all grown as part of the hydroponics operation.

Through the hydroponics operation, Mr Barndon grows tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, chilies, kale, spring onions, beetroot and herbs, all of which are used in the cafe, sold to other businesses and made available for guests to purchase directly.

"It's all about value-adding," he said.

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"Every addition that we've made over the years directly contributes to what's already there."

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