Southern Lake Macquarie has plenty of attraction for a family holiday, especially if you like big, succulent blue swimmer crabs.
The biggest saltwater lake in Australia, Lake Macquarie is a huge expanse of water that, since being declared a recreational-only fishing sanctuary, has gone from a virtual desert to a brilliant fishery for all sorts of species.
Lake Macquarie South hasn’t grown much over the years. Its laid-back atmosphere is what attracts anglers to the area. This end of the lake is highly accessible from most points and the numbers of boat ramps and fishing spots are so vast that you really couldn’t fish its entirety in a year.
It has a range of depths but most of its large bays are usually around 8m with a few areas reaching 10m in the centre. An estuary which has been almost barren for so long, the ‘new’ lake Macquarie without the pressures of commercial fishing offers all anglers an array of fishing techniques which are likely to be rewarded by good captures of quality fish.
One of the most productive areas in the southern part of the lake is the series of sheltered bays and points west of Point Wolstoncroft and south of Morrisett. This area, focused around Chain Valley Bay and its skyline dominated by the smokestacks of the Vales Point Power Station, have banks fringed by mangroves and seagrass. There is caravan and camping accommodation available on both sides of the bay but the main aura of the place is of peaceful isolation.
Trolling a deep-diving lure when travelling from spot to spot, such as you would on an inland dam, has accounted for many large flathead and increasing numbers of quality tailor. The main flathead factor is to get the lure down around 1m to 2m from the bottom and since the lake hasn’t a strong tidal pull, weed fouling the lures isn’t normally a problem. The weed isn’t dragged around by heavy current so you can troll good distances just watching the sounder for productive bottom. Knowing the depth the lure runs at is one of the major keys to productive fishing.
Anglers who use soft plastics are catered for because a lot of the lake has shallow sand and short seagrass beds ideal to flick a soft plastic across. Even while slowly trolling a hard minnow, a soft plastic hopped along slowly can work, especially for bream.
There are a lot of formations on the bottom around Chain Valley Bay with a few posted with isolated danger marks. These places present special opportunities for the bait angler.
One way to get onto good fish in shallow water, and most anglers around this area of the lake use it , is to berley with a lot of chicken pellets. Use some dry for tossing across the surface for long tom, garfish and mullet, and mix a heap more with tuna oil and sand so they sink.
The berley attracts flathead, sometimes of mammoth proportions, and the bream which are returning in great numbers. Live baits take school jewfish and the bigger flathead, as do half and full pilchards left on the bottom in the berley trail. Although whiting are caught around this area they are more common around the sandy areas, whereas most of Chain Valley Bay is mud and seagrass.
Chain Valley Bay is crab heaven and they mostly are of good size. Blue swimmers are the most abundant but on occasions you do get a few mud crabs around the mangrove-fringed weed areas.
Mullet are the best bait in traps and everyone around the campgrounds uses it in their witch’s hats, hoop nets or dilly pots. Fully enclosed traps are not permitted in the lake and current regulations state that any sort of crab trap cannot be left unattended overnight.
Because there are two power stations nearby and the sediment from the recycled water might be not one of the greatest things to digest constantly, I strongly recommended not to consume huge amounts of crabs. However, the warm water these stations pump out seems to be very favourable to the crabs and there are usually good numbers about these places.
Vales Point power station attracts some unusual fish normally associated with northern waters, as does the nearby Eraring station. Lake water can fluctuate from an icy 12° around the bay to a balmy 28° at the cooling outlets. Mangrove jacks, queenfish, cobia, and mackerel have been caught from time to time.
The shores of Chain Valley Bay aren’t easy to access and an electric motor is a godsend because along the camp ground foreshores a long slog through the shallows with a push pole or oar can be quite tiring. But let me tell you the bit of work is worth it.
Black Neds Point is worth some attention for spinning for some big flathead and bream along the edges, which drop off quite sharply.
Protection from the wind is quite good and you can sneak around into Wyee Bay if a hard nor’-easter or a westerly hits. Southerlies aren’t too bad but they can chop up in the gap between Summerland Point and Mannering Park.
Other species around this bay include flounder, a lot of very big long tom and oversize garfish.
The wharfs and jetties fish well for luderick and small squire and the kids can have a ball form them. Be sure to have a landing net for the crabs.
Boat ramps are located at Morriset, Mannering Park, Wyee Bay, Vales Point, and Gwandalan. All have some shelter from various winds, all are concrete and in good condition although most are shallow
The shallow depth throughout Lake Macquarie can be a bit of a problem for small boats because southerlies and north-easters can produce walls of water that can spook even the most experienced boater. But if you keep an eye out for weather changes, you should be able to enjoy some excellent fishing and especially crabbing.
The area has navigation markers to keep you on the straight and narrow when moving from one area to the next but pay attention to some of the isolated dangers that are also marked. A good map of the area is available from the Waterways Authority.
There is a ban on night fishing around power station outlets on Lake Macquarie (and Tuggerah Lakes) each year form May 1 to August 1 to help protect juvenile fish which gather around the station warm-water discharge.
Anglers are prohibited from fishing from boats and the shore, in or near the power station outlets between 6pm and 6am. Fisheries officers conduct night patrols and those caught fishing illegally within the closed areas could face a $500 on-the-spot fine.
There are all forms of accommodation – cabins, waterside caravan and camping sites and hotels and motels in the small towns.
The three caravan parks in the area are all within a 10-minute drive of Chain Valley Bay or are directly on the waterfront. We stayed at the Macquarie Lakeside Caravan Park at Chain Valley Bay North. It had great cabins, caravan sites and camping area right on the waterfront. Chain Valley Bay North has a great camp ground with plenty of open space and you can launch light boats to about 4m directly from the bank. For a larger boat, a short drive around to the ramp at Karignan Creek is the best option.For bookings call 02 4358 8767.
A short drive down the unsealed link road brings you to Gwandalan, which has a café, fish and chip shop, bottle shop, bowling club, fuel and a good concrete boat ramp. Bait and tackle are available from the newsagency.
Mannering Park has good facilities with a camp ground, ramp, kiosk with the usual mini-mart, bottle shop and a bit of deeper water directly out front. There is a Big 4 caravan park with up-market villas, two storey cabins and waterfront units with balcony barbecues to cook all the crabs and fish you catch. There’s a great boat ramp fuel, camping, general store, newsagency and bottle shop. To book here call 02 4359 1033.
Fuel is available at Wyee Bay at the Aquatic Paradise Marina and there is also a ramp there.
Nearby Doyalson can provide a day or night out and the huge Doyalson RSL and the Gwandalan Bowling Club have courtesy buses to the local camping parks.
There is more accommodation at Morriset, about 15 minutes to the south-west, with self–contained cabins, heaps of caravan sites and camping. For bookings call Brad on 024973188.
For bait and tackle needs there’s Get Reel Fishing Tackle in Morriset, call 02 4973 4595.