Tight lines and good tidings
  |  First Published: December 2011

Well Christmas is almost on us, and for barra anglers here it is time to get fresh, as with the close of the barra season, the three local dams are the place to be if you want to tangle with a barra.

All three of our dams have good numbers of barra, ranging from barely legal ones to metre plus monsters that will give any angler a damn good time on the end of your line. Some anglers reckon that the dam barra don’t fight very well but in my experience they go just as hard as the salties particularly up to about 90cm long. The dam barra are not as lean as the saltwater fish and are usually darker and more golden in colour, but they sure are an attractive fish.

Over a metre they tend to get thicker set and heavier rather than continue to grow longer. The best fish I have heard of from our dams came from Kinchant and was said to be almost 130cm long. It’s rumoured to have been caught on a surface lure, so it would have been a sight to see that massive head and shoulders engulf the lure.

December is usually hot, humid and we often have afternoon storms. These conditions are ideal to stir up the dam barra and get them on the chew. So far this summer, Kinchant has continued to fish well for some really big fish (1metre plus barra are quite common) while Teemburra has been reliable and steady although you have to put in the time to get results.

Eungella has been quiet on the barra front, probably due to its elevation and cooler weather, but the sooties have been belting lures like there is no tomorrow. I reckon Eungella dam is sooty heaven and I would love to know just how big some of the sooties in there have grown. I reckon there must be sooties well over 60cm swimming in that dam, mind you I would be happy to get one over 50cm (still trying after all these years).

One really beaut aspect of barra chasing in the dams, is the prospect of scoring a few decent sooties and they have saved the day for me on many occasions. Sooties are a great fun fish to catch and usually are in tighter, rougher waters than barra so the challenge of accurate casting adds to the fun aspect.

All three dams are well stocked with sooties, and in Kinchant and Eungella there are also good numbers of sleepy cod. They don’t fight much but they taste great on the plate. I don’t know anyone who specifically targets them but if looking for a feed from the freshwater, then they can’t be beaten. Look for them around rocky areas or lay down logs near the waters edge, and they will hit a small lure or can be caught on shrimps, worms or even a lump of steak or similar meat.

Kinchant dam also has some redclaw crayfish, which are not often targeted, but for a good easy feed they are hard to beat. I have seen some monsters come out of this dam, and while the numbers won’t be like they can be in Fairbairn dam, the size of them makes for a good feed.

For the barra anglers, a couple of pots left in for a few hours can add to the pleasure of an outing. Redclaw tails marinated in a bit of oyster sauce, sweet chilli and a drop or two of white wine makes for a great BBQ feed.

Our dams are a great resource for the community and serve as water supplies, as well as for recreational activities like fishing and canoeing. Unfortunately they don’t get the infrastructure they deserve.

Things like dedicated camping areas, showers and toilets are apparently too expensive for this area even though our dams attract many visitors to our region and have provided another source of income for many diverse local businesses, like fuel outlets, tackle shops, marine dealers and grocery stores. Sometimes it seems the Mackay area just misses out on these facilities that are taken for granted in the southeast.

If I have one Christmas wish for Santa for our freshwater dams, it is that Teemburra be properly and sensitively developed with camp grounds. The fishing is world class, the site is very attractive in the hills and the place could be developed for all sorts of activities like bushwalking and bird watching, which would complement the established fishery.

Mackay in December is not all about freshwater dam fishing. We also have the mighty Pioneer River, which is a great sooty fishery in the fresh, and access is reasonable for small boats at places like Mirani and Balnagowan. These are the places for canoes, kayaks, and small tinnies with electric motors, as the waters are fairly shallow and the fish are touchy to noise. But a few hours luring for sooties in the late afternoon makes for a very pleasant laid back outing.

Down in the salty stuff, the mackerel run is still continuing, but is very wind dependant. The reef is spawning and that usually signals calmer weather.

In November the winds were abating again and swinging more to the northeast, pushing the small bait right in close to the shore and bringing the small macks and other pelagics in too. It’s a bonanza time for tinnie anglers and those who fish from the harbour rock walls.

The macks can be found all over the place, but from the harbour look for them around Slade Island and north towards the Slade Rock and associated rocky reef areas. If in doubt, be on the water early with a north to north east wind blowing and just look for the boats or birds. It’s not hard to find macks working bait schools, but don’t crowd other anglers as there are plenty of fish for everyone.

Remember to limit your catch and watch the legal length as there are plenty of doggies and spotties just under legal size. Don’t keep them as the Patrol boys regularly check catches.

Make sure you look after your catch well by immediately bleeding the fish, wipe it down then pack in ice, preferably after gilling and gutting. That little bit of effort keeps the fish quality at its peak. I know it takes some discipline when you have fish busting into bait all around the boat but a few minutes work improves your food greatly later.

In the saltwater estuaries and creeks, jacks are going off at the moment with the hot, still, humid weather making conditions ideal. These fish are hard to target as very accurate casting is essential to get the lure right in front of the fish which may be holed up back in mangrove roots. Practising for jacks by fishing for sooties in tight timber is a good and very enjoyable way of preparing for a jack session, and gives you another excuse to go fishing.

Estuary cod are also often caught while jack fishing and provide good fun and a nice feed. Many smaller cod are caught in crab pots, but should be released as they are usually pretty tough and survive well. These cod seem a bit of a mystery as there always seems to be plenty of small ones around but few really good size ones. Perhaps they would be a good prospect for a dedicated tagging program?

The usual estuary species like grunter, bream, whiting and flathead are in abundance and can all be caught from the banks or by wading. Be mindful though that our area has plenty of saltwater crocs and they aren’t all small ones. Stingers during the summer can also be a hazard so long pants and some type of footwear are a good idea, too, and carry a small bottle of vinegar just in case.

So that’s a bit of a round up to what you can expect for Christmas time in Mackay. Sure it’s hot and sticky, but remember that’s the way the fish like it so get out and get amongst them.

Finally, to all our readers, have a really happy and safe Christmas and best wishes for a cracking year fishing wise in 2012.

See you at the ramp over Christmas.

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