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Exceptional fishing with a capital E
  |  First Published: December 2014



I have been lucky enough to experience some amazing angling destinations in my lifetime: the runoff at Shady Camp in the Northern Territory, Seven Spirit Bay, also in the NT, various locations on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, and some sensational places around the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. All have provided me with lasting memories and endless fishing stories for around the campfire. I am now living in Queensland and it has some stunning places to fish, and I was able to visit one of them recently.

South East Queensland is littered with stocked impoundments, which are the basis of the freshwater fishery in this part of the state. In 2011 and 2012, the area was hit by rain events and flooding, causing nearly all of these impoundments to overflow. This sent huge amounts of water and a lot of stocked fish into the systems below. Although many fish didn’t survive, those that did have created some spectacular fishing.

The first systems that come to mind are the Boyne River near Gladstone and the Kolan near Bundaberg for their barramundi, and the Brisbane River near Bris-Vegas for its bass and yellowbelly. These fish have been pillaged and plundered in many ways, but these destinations will still provide the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime in an extraordinary location.

I am, however, not writing about any of those fisheries. I was lucky enough to gain private access to another waterway that also had a similar injection of fish into what was already a very special fishery. Thank you to Brett and Nicholas for allowing me to tag along and put these words together.

The key thing about any of these destinations is that they are the full package. By this I mean that not only is the fishing exceptional, but also how you get there and where you are is equally amazing. SB (just to give it a name) lived up to this.

It took us approximately 45 minutes to wind our way from the highway into where we camped. We drove through some relatively open areas that eventually gave way to a large group of ranges covered in black boys and gumtrees, with a track leading down to the water. You definitely needed a 4WD, and at one stage I was questioning whether any water would be at the end of it all. We haven’t had a great deal of rain in recent times and the countryside was very dry and dusty. As we negotiated the final descent into the valley, we got our first glimpse of the water. Maybe not an oasis in the true sense of the word, but a surprisingly large pool of water that looked truly fishy. The anticipation of what was to come was very high.

After picking a suitable spot to camp, we got to work setting up. Now I am the first to admit that camping is not my forte and the boys did a super job of putting together a simple but great camp. A tarp tied off to one of the vehicles and held up by poles with enough room underneath for 5 swags and a camp kitchen — fantastic! If the truth were told, I was sent to off to fish, as my help was deemed unnecessary…

I set about rigging up and checking out the pool below camp. According to Brett, it had never really produced a lot of fish. This sounded like a challenge to me, so I tied on my favourite purple Impact Tackle spinnerbait and headed down to the water.

My first impression of the waterway didn’t change. I walked to the head of the pool and found clean, deep water with plenty of structure in the form of large boulders and fallen timber. It was a large piece of timber that I decided my first cast would be around.

The beauty of a spinnerbait is that you can throw them over and around structure, knowing that in most cases it will bounce its way through without hanging up. They are great for exploring new water and they catch fish.

The first couple of casts didn’t produce anything, maybe a bump from what I assumed was a tree branch I couldn’t see. It was on my third cast that the bump turned into a solid hookup and a mid-30cm bass did its best to wrap me in the tree and the nearby boulders. It is always exciting to get a first fish for a trip, even moreso when it is in the first 5 minutes.

After a few pictures it was time to see if there were any more fish around. The next 20 minutes produced 5 bass from in and around the same snag. SB was already looking like it was going to be something special.

It is at this point I would love to take you through a blow-by-blow account of the 70+ fish we caught over the next day and a half. As good as that would be, I thought it best to talk about the lures, techniques, and streamcraft that enabled us to have a weekend of fishing that I will never forget.

Lures and Techniques
Spinnerbaits

I use spinnerbaits as a searching lure. They tend not to snag, cast well and if you buy better quality designs, they spin and flash as soon as they hit the water, making them very attractive to any fish in the area. I prefer smaller profile styles, but don’t be afraid to change it up, as you never know what more flash and a slower retrieve may get you.

Some quality brands are Impact Tackle S-Baitz, Bassman, Tackle Tactics Vortex and Outlaw Spinnerbaits.

As stated, the key to a good spinnerbait is that it must spin as soon as it’s in the water; the first 3 or 4 winds of the reel are vital and if it’s not spinning you are reducing your chances of catching a fish. Cast them over and around structure, vary the retrieve speeds, let them sink into the deeper sections (super slow roll in deep water) and their flash and vibration will catch fish. There is nothing better than bumping a spinnerbait over a log and having a fish smash it when it drops over the other side.

Don’t forget to add a stinger hook if needed, as they do make a big difference at times.

Vibration baits

Again, these are a searching style lure. Their initial popularity came through the introduction of Jackall lures in Australia. The TN60 changed the way anglers targeted our native species and they are also great to explore new country or test areas you may have already covered with a spinnerbait or the like. You do need to retrieve them more quickly, so any fish in the area needs to make a decision — do I eat this or not — so they spark a reaction bite that is generally pretty violent and a great feeling for the angler.

Soft vibes/blades

Soft vibes and blades come into their own in the deeper pools. When cast out and allowed to drop down through the water column under minimum line pressure until they hit the bottom, you then slowly hop the lure back to your feet. They can be deadly and are a must-have in your tackle box. The boys took full advantage of this in a number of the pools, with multiple hookups resulting at times.

Hardbody lures

Australian-made hardbody lures are a forgotten fishing tool for many anglers. There is an amazing group of very talented lure makers here in Australia, who produce exceptional lures for targeting our native species. Stephen Booth and Marc Ainsworth gave me a master class earlier this year on the Murray River on how to fish them. It gave me a fantastic insight into how valuable they can be.

Of most importance is to choose a lure that will get to your desired depth, and ensure you retrieve it at a constant speed. You will be surprised at where you can cast them and still have them jump and bump their way out. This is generally when a fish will latch on. They definitely have a place in this gorge country water and I have battle scars on some lures to prove it.

Soft plastics

Soft plastics are another great alternative. It is generally more a finesse style of fishing, which I must say wasn’t required on our trip. I suggest that a weedless rig would be best to avoid unseen snags, and that this may be a good option if you have fished a spot heavily over a couple of days. Use a 1/8oz or lighter jighead to allow for a more natural presentation, and try a curly tail or paddle tail plastic to have the lure working as soon as it hits the water. The fish definitely learn that some thing is going on and this more finesse presentation may well be enough to catch you a few.

Surface lures

The low light periods of the day provide a prime opportunity to target bass on surface lures. They seem happier to venture further away from their hiding places and have no dramas smashing anything they believe might be food. The highly visual aspect of this type of fishing is very rewarding, because even the missed bites put a huge smile on your face.

There are a number of different styles of surface lures that are effective in their own right. They are a blooping style or cup-faced popper, a walk-the-dog style, and a surface walker. The cup faced and walking lures are the easiest to use, while the walk-the-dog action requires a little practice to perfect.

Our first morning at SB was particularly memorable as the surface fishing was best I have ever experienced. Nicholas and I fished together, both casting my new favourite surface walker, the Shinmushi by DUO lures. In the early morning light we cast over submerged boulders, rock shelves, fallen timber and along weed edges. These are prime areas to catch fish on the surface and SB’s bass were happy to oblige and really did explode all over these lures.

The peace and serenity of where we were was definitely broken, not only by the violent attack of the fish on the lures, but by the laughter and screaming of 2 anglers having the time of their lives. The bite dropped off as the shadows of the morning were replaced by the sunshine of another beautiful day, but it had been a memorable start.

StreamCraft

One of the keys to fishing any river or creek successfully is to understand where, when and why the fish may be in a particular place at a particular time. Even though we were fishing a waterway that has minimal fishing pressure, you still couldn’t just cast anywhere and expect to catch something. My definition of streamcraft is ensuring that where you are fishing gives you best access to cast to where the fish will be. It is invaluable when fishing a waterway for the first time.

Although it is easy to get excited about fishing somewhere new, it is important to take some time and look at the area you are about to fish. The obvious thing to look for is structure in the water. This may be weed beds, rocks, dropoffs or fallen trees. The less obvious thing is shade. When the sun is high in the sky, fish love the protection a bit of shade offers; add a weed bed or the like and the fish are likely to be there.

You then need to look at where the best vantage points may be to cast to these areas. There are a few things to consider while doing this. Firstly, how you want to present your lure. In the case of submerged structure you are trying to cast along, the vantage point you are looking for is an area where you can have your lure running beside it for the maximum amount of time. If it is a dropoff or shade to light, you want that lure coming out the shallows or from the shade, so your vantage point needs to allow you to do this.

Second is to look at where you can access safely and with a minimum of fuss. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself or get to a point where you can’t go any further and have to back track. Take a little time to think and look before you fish and the rewards will certainly come your way.

Conclusion

I have deliberately not provided a lot of detail about where SB is. We had permission from the landowners to gain access and appreciate and thank them for allowing us to do so. Unfortunately, not everybody does the right thing and this means getting access to places like this may be lost forever.

So if you are fortunate enough to find an area like this, leave it cleaner than you found it, abide by any landowner requests, and most of all respectfully enjoy where you are and what your doing.

Facts

Due to the remoteness of the location you cannot take the entire tackle shop with you. It’s great to have all your favourite things, but not so great when you have to lug it everywhere. A wise man once said to me, “Pack everything you want and divide it by 10.” The gear I took was as follows:

Small backpack.

2 medium tackle trays containing the lures mentioned in the article.

1 x 3-5kg baitcast outfit (20lb main line, 10-14lb leader)

1 x 2-5kg spin outfit (6lb main line, 10lb leader)

Braid scissors

Pliers

Sun protection

Sunglasses

Other essentials are good quality footwear, insect repellent and plenty of water.

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The author’s first bass for the weekend. It was sign of the quality fishing that was to follow.

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All the fish caught were in great condition.

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SB had plenty of obvious structure and it all held fish. It was just a matter of getting that lure in the right place.

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The deep pools produced some fantastic fish, like this one that smashed an Impact Tackle S-Baitz.

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Nicholas with a nice silver perch. These were the surprise packets for the trip. They hit and fought hard.

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This phenomenal piece of water was the highlight of the first day, producing plenty of fish including double and triple hookups.

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Surface fishing tends to put a smile on your face, especially when a quality fish like this takes a liking to your Shinmushi surface walker.

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We caught plenty of golden perch; this one was kind enough to sit there for a photo.

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It wasn’t hard to find prime surface fishing locations.

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Aiden had a fantastic last morning casting a surface walker around. It was fun to catch them and great to let them go.

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Golden perch just love a hardbody lure.

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