This dam on the Tweed River’s headwaters has great bass, brilliant scenery and plenty of water
SECTION: location guide
As I loaded my gear in the back of my car at 3am I was seriously questioning my sanity. I had got back from work only a few hours earlier and it had felt as if my head had barely hit the pillow when the alarm went off.
Oh well, I suppose we do these things for fishing. I headed up the highway towards the still sleeping town of Murwillumbah where I picked up good friend and fishing mate Tony Zann. We were going to meet fellow fisho Steve Blayney at the boat ramp on Clarrie Hall Dam for an early morning bass session.
When we arrived at the dam and saw the first rays of daybreak clawing their way across the sky, I knew exactly why I had dragged my weary body out of bed! The dam was as flat as a tack and the ripples the boat made as we pushed it off the trailer were probably the first disturbance the dam had seen all morning.
Steve headed over to one of the nearby points and we all rigged up surface lures, hoping to make the most of the excellent conditions. We started casting to the edges of the banks of lilies and right up in the shallows.
We heard the odd bass hitting the surface and this just heightened our anticipation, expecting every twitch of the lures to bring a smashing surface strike.
The bass seemed to be feeding on tiny insects that could be seen traversing the surface but the fish kept refusing our offerings until Tony started the ball rolling. We all heard the hit when it came and spun around to see his little topwater disappear into a foamy hole.
His light spin rod was redlining as he piled on the pressure to keep the fish from burying him in the abundant lily pads but once the fish was turned and clear of danger, he let up a bit and played it out and lipped a good-sized bass. The fish was in excellent condition and, after a few quick pics, swam away strongly.
A few smaller fish succumbed to the surface lures until the action died completely.
The sun was well and truly out by this stage and one could feel the air starting to heat up considerably. A change of tactics was on the cards so we hummed along on the electric a bit farther down the dam to the next good-looking point.
The surface lures were replaced with minnows and plastics. Steve made a cast up tight against the lilies and, after letting the little bibless minnow sink for a few seconds, he started his retrieve.
His rod was immediately yanked flat and the fish tore line off his baitcaster. Steve couldn’t even stop the fish with thumb pressure on the spool; it just kept pulling line in under the bank of lilies.
It all came to a sickening end with the rod flicking back; we all looked at the slack braid floating on the water. “Holy crap, did you see that?” was all Steve could get out.
The fish had busted his 12lb leader on something way back in the weeds. I looked down at my spin rod and 6lb leader and decided that now would be a good time to upgrade.
We pinned a few smaller fish after Steve’s monumental bust-off but nothing more of that calibre.
After heading across to some more likely-looking water, it was my turn. The fish slammed the little minnow half-way back to the boat. It was just as well, because it almost made it back to the weed before I could react. I just managed to put the brakes on in time.
It was a bit of a slugfest for a while until I had the feisty fish in the clear and next to the boat. The bass again was in excellent condition and after a quick snap it swam away strongly.
We decided to head back towards the boat ramp because the heat was starting to become unbearable. I also had to be back at work in a few hours so we turned the boat around and started to fish our way back to the boat ramp.
We caught several bass on the way back with Tony dropping a really good one right at the boat. When we took the boat out of the water we all agreed it had been a memorable morning spent in excellent company and awesome scenery. The fish had played the game and we had had a few good sized bass to show for the morning’s session – I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a few hours before work.
Beautiful Clarrie Hall Dam is close to Uki (pronounced ‘you kie’), 15km south-west of Murwillumbah on the Kyogle Road. It has fortunately not been affected by the drought that has seen the level of many other impoundments plummet. Clarrie retains all its fish-holding structure on the banks with hectares of lily pads trees and weed beds to cast to.
Clarrie is well-administered by the Tweed Shire Council and is stocked principally by the Australian Bass Association, whose major fundraiser is the annual invitational Bass Classic
This dam is an electric power-only venue, meaning that no boats are allowed on the water if they have an outboard attached. If you want to fish there, the engine has to come off. This can be a hassle with bigger engines but it more than makes up for the effort of removing it to be able to fish in absolute silence all day.
The dam snakes along with fairly sheltered banks so getting out of the wind is normally an easy option. There always seems to be some sheltered bay to hide away in.
The road out to Crams Farm is good and the ramp is well-maintained. Because the dam level doesn’t fluctuate too much, the ramp normally has plenty of water over it.
There is a very pleasant grassy park near the boat ramp with an area that is well suited to a family picnic. It’s a great venue to sit down with the family through the warmer time of the day and have a light meal and a few drinks before heading out again for the afternoon bite.
Areas a stone’s throw from the ramp can be very good fish producers.
The bass in the dam are in excellent condition and this Summer there have been some fish just touching 50cm. They are extremely strong fish in the structure and are really tough to land.
What makes it interesting is that the next bite could be anything from a tiddler still with milk on its lips to an unstoppable fish that has you in the weeds in the blink of an eye. I usually just use a light 2kg to 4kg spin rod for flicking a range of lures around, but with some of the good fish that the dam has to offer it pays to use something a bit heavier.
There are also freshwater catfish in Clarrie, especially in the upper reaches, and they will take a lure from time to time, especially when they are guarding their nests.
Poppers, spinnerbaits, slow-rolled plastics, diving minnows and bibless minnows all catch bass in Clarrie Hall. It depends what you prefer to fish with, although the smaller-profile lures do seem to get the majority of the bites.
It is a lovely, picturesque venue where one can switch off from the rest of the world for a while. The drive out to the dam is pretty good, too, with plenty of fishy-looking Tweed River flanking the road. I can’t wait to get out there again for another crack at those feisty bass.
Clarrie Hall Dam is off the Murwillumbah-Kyogle Road just west of Uki. Those travelling from Murwillumbah encounter the turn-off to the dam wall first, around 4km from Uki, but a locked gate there prevents boat access. The well-signposted turn-off to Crams Farm is 11km from Uki and the access road is sealed all the way to Crams Farm and down to the boat ramp. There’s a gate just before Crams Farm which is locked from around sundown to 6am so restrict your fishing to the period of opening.
Please do not cross booms placed to restrict the growth of unwanted water plants.
There are great barbecue and picnic facilities and Clarrie is an excellent dam for canoeing and kayaking. It’s an ideal venue for small tinnies or punts with electric power but petrol-powered engines are not permitted, even if they are not used.
Because of its location, nestled in the Tweed Range, rainfall is frequent and apart from exceptional years, the dam is almost always full. The surrounding rainforest also makes the place a paradise for birdwatchers.
• Tweed Shire Council 02 6670 2400 for visitor information.
• Mt Warning Holiday Park 02 6679 5120 cabins, camp sites, on-site vans. Tweed River adjoins. www.mtwarningholidaypark.com
• Midginbil Hill 02 6679 7033 farmstay (school holidays only)
• Shambala at Uki 02 66795932 www.shambalabandb.com self-contained 1br unit + 2 bedrooms
• Uki Guesthouse 02 6679 5777 ukiguesthouse.com.au air-conditioned guest rooms in the heart of Uki
• Hillcrest Luxury B&B 02 6679 1023 hillcrestbb.com.au luxury cottage, private B&B wing