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Catch a claw at Fairburn
  |  First Published: May 2013



It was time for our bi-annual red claw (Cherax quadricrinatus) trip. This trip involved two groups and two different boats (4.8m CC, 4.6m SC alloy) heading off to the tried and true destination of Fairburn Dam; 989km from our home base of the Gold Coast.

Lead team, Paul and John with new recruit Keith were followed two days later by Dave, Clyde and newbie Jack. This trip was smaller than normal, as many regulars were away, and saw many adventures and a few timely reminders that basic maintenance is a necessity.

Previous trips had produced lots of red claw so our expectations were high. The dam contains more water than Sydney Harbour and can get very rough at times in the exposed areas. It can be an eerie feeling, travelling through large stands of dead timber in 12-18m of water. The bird life is prolific and the insect life is too – so don’t forget the repellent and the sunscreen.

Our home for the next 4 days was Lake Marraboon Holiday Park (Top Tourist Parks) – a well-run and welcoming place with great facilities catering for campers, caravans and cabins for all budgets. They have a great camp kitchen for cooking and it is an ideal meeting place to catch up with old acquaintances and make new ones.

The central amenities block is clean with laundry facilities and clothes lines. The office carries a good range of items and internet access with diesel and unleaded fuel available.

Day one

After an 11 hour drive via Toowoomba/Roma/Rolleston/Springsure we arrived at the park at 2.45am, unpack and grabbed 3 hours of shuteye. At 6am we were up and headed straight for the boat ramp.

After discovering the centre console hinges have popped their rivets, and a quick use of some self-tapping screws, elbow grease, we were good to go! However, we did not count on the slimy ramp so we figured that launching from the lake foreshore might be easier.

We headed over to the far area of the lake near the Nagoa River path (9km away) and after a slow trip started to place our pots. We used different bait in the traps to establish which worked best – boiled potatoes (just soft), rockmelon and sweet potatoes – as red claw are primarily plant eaters.

During the day rockmelon was the standout, overnight it became an even race. We tried various depths from 5m to 3m, next to tree trunks (lee side) and rocky foreshores. Now it was the waiting game.

There are barra, yellowbelly, bass and Murray cod in the lake but we were not here for them. We headed into some tree areas to photograph eagle’s nests and bird life and to give Keith a tour. We returned about two hours later and gave Keith the boathook to recover the traps, as giving him the gaff proved a danger to all including the floats. Well, we were in for a surprise; 12 pots and 97 rather large and unhappy red claw later!

We reset the pots and headed back to camp for brunch, a few hours sleep and back out again. This time the deeper pots yielded the best results, but even with only 85 claw this time their size was amazing. The largest caught at 326mm long, head to tail. We reset the pots for overnight in anticipation of greater things to come.

Day two

Morning saw us slow to start and out to the lake at 7am. It started to rain and John discovers that the resident cockatoo’s liked his wiper blades.

Out on the lake it was calm and, as we had established a safe path through the timber, we could travel much faster. The GPS/ Sounder combo really comes in handy, as getting lost or losing pots in this vast lake is very easy to do.

This was to be a bountiful run with no pot yielding less than 10 claws. When you pull up the trap and you feel it try and swim away you know you’ve done well. A total of 128, again very large and not happy claws where brought on board.

Back to camp, brunch again and John and Keith headed into Emerald to replace the wiper blades. While gone, Paul prepared claw for dinner and the weather changed – wind 20-25 knots, not good. On return we headed out very slowly to the lake again only to find that we had been visited by share farmers – those that like redclaw but do not wish to set traps, just check yours for you! We recovered 10 claw and many open traps. We moved all our traps 2km away and hoped for better in the morning as the wind conditions meant no late trap check today.

On return to camp we discovered that many people’s traps had been visited in the same way. This is such a disappointment and a put off to many.

Day three

Morning arrived way too soon after a cookhouse party and another slow start. The boys in the cabin alongside had motor troubles, which turned out to be a broken hydraulic steering system fitting, and were looking very glum as we headed out to an astounding morning.

The weather was awful, sleeting rain and wind 15-20 knots; but 250 claw later it was all smiles. These red claw were mostly (90%) large males and only three females with eggs were found. The largest male we ever caught to date amongst these with an overall length of 344mm. With the bad weather and a good haul we decided to call it a day until the morning.

On the way back we met our other team with engine troubles having a slower trip home (corrosion had frozen the thermostat leaving them 1500rpm max). Checking your gear is so important – there are no marine dealerships anywhere close (360km away).

Back to camp, our neighbours happy with repairs and with the camp kitchen jumping, some fine wine and a few beers it was a happy crew off to bed.

Day four

This morning disaster struck, not just brown bottle fever, the slimy ramp claimed John to a nasty fall and it was down to Paul and Keith to complete the recovery.

Not a good round this morning, 70 claw and the weather not improving. The afternoon trip saw us recover all our traps and with conditions worsening call it quits with another 77 added in. Considering we had over 600 claw tail frozen we decided to head for home next day.

Good bye

Flooded roads caused the trip to take 18 hours and many extra kilometres and bypasses to get home. These problems aside, it was an astounding trip, meeting new friends and fellow fisher people, along with a good claw supply to last until next red claw trip.

Team 1 was pipped at the post with Team 2 scoring 90 more claw (donated by a local who did not want them). Team 2 had one more day so they stand at the top of the catch board, but they caught lots of small ones and that shouldn’t count…well, that’s our story. Well done to Team 2. Many thanks to Team 1’s inventive claw cooking, and from Team 2, Jack’s Peking duck.

Next it’s off to Swains Reef for one week live-aboard and then it’s tailor time on Frasier Island. Maybe we can talk our wives into another family claw trip, always a hoot with the kids. Until then stay safe and happy trapping.

Contactable on --e-mail address hidden-- and on Facebook at catchaclaw. Come online, check out the photos and if interested in coming along drop us a ‘line’, oh sorry ‘trap’ I meant. – Catch a Claw

Rules for red claw

Red claw rules are simple (even we can understand them).

You don’t need a fishing permit for your traps in any QLD impoundment, stocked or not.

Most commonly used is the humble opera house style trap. It has a maximum of four entry points with a solid ring no more than 100mm in size. You may have up to 4 traps per person (no age limit) and with their floats must be a label with your contact details.

One of the most important rules is that you must not put red claws back – they are considered a pest in South East Queensland.

For the full rules see the QLD Fisheries website.

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