Find the fish first, then enjoy the catching
  |  First Published: April 2017

I am being faced with a boat dilemma. I just sold my bass boat, which was my pride and joy for the last four years. When I went for a fish in lakes and big rivers, this would be the boat I would take. Bass boats are perfect for this style of fishing; they carry heaps of gear, are comfortable and go very fast.

Next to go will be my 4.8m Polycraft, which at the moment caters for just about any fishing scenario within 40km of the coastline and the freshwater. I am on the hunt for a boat that I can fish offshore in, but still be able to do what I love in the fresh and chase barra, bass and cod. The search for an all-round boat has begun, but I have a feeling an attempt to replace two boats with one may fail and two more will again live in my shed.

We all long for the perfect boat but the reality is when it comes to freshwater fishing, there are more important things than the boat being used. Comfort, space and speed are great, but all that is really necessary to get out and reach the fish is safety. Provided your boat can safely handle the freshwater environment, you will be able to get to the fish in it. Look at how many fish are caught from basic watercrafts like kayaks.

More important than the style of boat, which takes you to the fish, is the gear used to find them. A quality sounder should be the first thing you look at investing serious dollars in. Forget the cheapies and lower end stuff, aim for middle of the range and upward from there and stick with the big brands like Lowrance, Simrad, Humminbird and Garmin.

If you can’t find fish, you certainly can’t catch them. Devote time to learning to read your sounder until you know the difference between thermocline, bait, clutter and fish arches. In my opinion, sounders really are the most important fish-catching tool on a freshwater boat.

Until next month, buckled rods from the Colonel!

Closest Town: Crows Nest

Plenty of schooling small bass are about at Cressy. The bigger models have been hard to find in good numbers. The smaller fish can be found in the bay between the boat ramps and pump tower. Working the perimeter of the dam when trolling has also located other schools of small fish, which hold in 4-6m of water.

Trolled lures will account for many fish and casting seems to work well on newly found schools. When casting, keep your distance and try hopping tail spinners or blades through the fish. Smaller profiled spinnerbaits fished with a slow rolling action have also taken their share.

While most of the action has been coming from smaller bass, there are still some crackers being caught. Bass to 50cm+ are not uncommon, but they are hard to find and catch consistently. There has also been an increase in the number of golden perch being taken on lures.

For all your fishing supplies and the latest reports on Cressbrook and the surrounding dams, call in to see the specialist tackle stores. In Toowoomba, Fish’n’Bits in Alderly Street have a great range of lures and fishing gear. At Highfields you will find Highfields Bait and Tackle at the Coles Shopping Centre. Doug has a top range of freshwater gear and plenty of hand-crafted timber lures. Support these tackle stores, because they will be able to direct you to where the fish are biting and offer invaluable advice.

Just remember there is a speed limit of 8 knots and a restricted area at Cressbrook Dam. Check out the signage to ensure you stay out of trouble and abide by the rules. The gate hours for the boat ramps and day use area are 6am until 8pm this month.

Closest Towns: Esk, Kilcoy

My favourite big bass lake has been producing the goods again. The big bass don’t always come easy, but their size makes up for their stubborn feeding habits. I had several trips last month and we boated anywhere from 20-35 bass each trip. The biggest fish was well over 3kg in weight and measured 54.5cm to the fork of the tail.

There were other monsters caught, too. The biggest I heard of was taken by Colin Singleton. His fish fell for a deeply presented fly on the bottom in 6m of water. The fish measured 59cm to the tip of the tail. That’s a summertime bass well in excess of 3.5kg. That’s why I love Somerset Dam.

The bass have been schooling thick around Pelican Point. These schools of fish move about, so to find them follow the contours of the point searching in 8-11m of water. Last month the fish loved the 8-9m depth range and when they ventured to deeper water than this, they suspended. Using maps on the sounder has been the trick to finding similar schools further to the north. Searching for humps and drop-offs around that 8-9m mark has paid dividends and we scored bass all over the place from Pelican Point up to the north of Kirkleigh campground.

Finding bass hasn’t been a real issue. Catching them while casting lures has proved to be the problem. Somerset bass can get the worst case of lockjaw. They see more lures than any other impoundment fish and I am sure this is why they refuse to bite at times. Small triggers can make the difference. A passing storm and barometric pressure change, a change in wind strength or direction can trigger them to drop their guard and feed in small bite windows.

All the normal lures will produce a few fish. The Jackall Mask Vibe and Gang Banger 20g spoon have been great options. When fishing the Mask through the schooling fish, use a hopping retrieve. With the spoon, mix it up. On days when the fish are chewing, a slow roll up through the fish will get the most bites and hook-ups. If this fails, we have brought the fish on by hopping the spoon, sometimes aggressively shaking it off the bottom and at other times with a slow draw. Bites come as the lure lifts off the bottom and as it flutters back down on a semi-slack or tight line.

Lure trolling to the schooling bass can be exceptional. We have had days where they refuse to eat a cast and retrieved lure, but you can whack them the second you start trolling. On some days it would have been possible to reach 100 fish if you put in the effort. Lures that reach 7-9m deep are perfect and placing them at the exact depth the fish are holding is very important when they are not spread out through the water column.

A fast troll is often best with the boat moving at up to 5km/h. A way to get more bites is to knock the boat out of gear when the lure is amongst the fish and allow the vibration to slow before knocking it back in gear to make the lure surge off and vibrate harder again. A couple of proven lures have been the Poltergeist 50mm Crazy Deep, Little Rippa, Blitz Baga and the old faithful Mann’s 15+.

For the latest reports, check out Somerset Fishing Tackle online and on Facebook. The store has now closed in Kilcoy and moved to the dam. The trailer can be located in the day use area at Kirkeigh. The opening days could change to include more weekdays. You can expect them to be there Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week, at least. Somerset Tackle has a great range of lures and gear suited to fishing the dam.

They also have the knowledge and skills to help steer you in the right direction. Call in and see them or consider doing a phone or internet purchase, as they mail order fishing gear all over the place.

Closest Towns: Boonah, Beaudesert

Bass have been active around the lake with bait fishers and lure tossers getting into the action. Lure fishers have done well when flicking to the edges of the weed beds. Small soft plastics will account for plenty of smaller bass. Quality fish can sometimes be enticed by using lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits and beetle spins. These are common lures to use around the weed edges. Sometimes thinking outside of the box can be the undoing of plenty of fish.

Spoons have been whacking heaps of fish in the deeper and more open water of other lakes. To use these lures you simply cast them and roll them out along the weed as it drops into deeper water. The light hooks can be ripped out of the weed if they foul up and you can flutter and hop the lure down the face of the weed bed and along the bottom as you bring it back.

Bait fishers have had the most success using live shrimp up in the timber. Try fishing around the trees near the weed edge or target the areas where the bottom is 5-7m deep.

Closet Towns: Highfields,Toowoomba

The golden perch have been a bit harder to tempt. Fishing the early mornings and late afternoons seems to produce the best results. Around the buoy line, there are some deeper schooling fish, which can be found in 7-8m of water. If you spot these fish on your sounder, try dropping a dark coloured blade or soft vibe into them.

In the afternoons, trolling the edges of the weed beds out from the boat ramp and in front of the sailing club building or along the rock wall has produced a few goldens as well as the occasional small Murray cod. Bait fishing has been slow with only a few goldens caught and more action is coming from the eel-tailed catfish. These fish can be caught from a boat or at the start of the rock wall when fishing from the shore.

Cooby Dam’s proximity to Highfields and Toowoomba makes it a very popular fishery. If you are looking for somewhere close to home to drop the boat or kayak in, Cooby is definitely worth a visit. The dam hours are now 6am until 8pm, which is perfect to fish into the dark for a late arvo cod. Just remember, no outboard motors are allowed to be used on the dam.

The concrete boat ramp is on a shallow angle when the dam is full and can be slippery in places. A big electric powered boat can still be launched with care. Outboard motors can be left on the boat, but must not be used. Tackle, lures and saltwater yabbies can be purchased from Highfields Bait and Tackle at the Coles Circle Plaza Shopping Centre in Highfields. Call in and see Doug and check out the great range of fishing gear, kayaks and accessories he has on display.

Closest Town: Warwick

There are still plenty of golden perch chewing on lures and bait. Fish have been caught all over the dam. Certain techniques seem to produce better in different areas.

Up the back of the dam, trolling lures in 4-5m of water will produce quality fish with smaller models mixed in. The rocky outcrops hidden below the water in the same depth tend to hold good numbers of fish and will also be a good place to target Murray cod.

In the dam’s main body, smaller fish seem to respond well to cast lures. Tail spinners and blade baits hopped across the bottom and near the rocky structure have worked well over the last month. These lures should continue to fool the fish in the deeper areas this month, as the lake’s core temperature will take some time to drop.

Murray cod can be specifically targeted on bigger spinnerbaits and hardbodies. These fish love the rocky structure and casting and trolling these lures will produce. When there isn’t a lot of boat traffic causing excessive noise on the lake, a stealthy approach using an electric motor to move along the rocky shorelines is a good approach. Casting up into the shallows and exploring the crevices in the granite rocks could produce the monster cod we all long for.

Bait fishers have been catching fish all over the dam when using live shrimp and saltwater yabbies. Try fishing in up to 6m of water around the structure if possible. Good numbers of fish have also been landed from the shore along the southern banks of the dam’s main basin.

Along with getting a fishing report, stock up on all your gear while at Warwick Outdoor and Sports at 115 Palmerin Street Warwick. For a small store, it carries a great range at a very competitive price. Warwick is only a ten minute drive from the dam and you can pick up any supplies you might need.

Closest Town: Inglewood

There isn’t much to report from Coolmunda this month. The Murray cod copped a hiding with quite a few guys scoring good numbers of fish in the timber two months ago. The fact that the reports have been slow to filter through doesn’t mean they have stopped biting. The fish have been left alone for a while. This being the case, it would be a good time to go and try your luck.

In the dirtier water of Coolmunda, spinnerbaits are one of the best ways to entice a bite from cod. Cast around the base of the standing timber and always keep an eye on your sounder for any branches and logs, which could be hidden on the bottom. This horizontal timber holds plenty of cod and knowing where to find this can make all the difference. The magic depth seems to be around 2.5m but use this only as a guide. The cooler days can see the cod venture even shallower.

I have heard of fish caught on all types of spinnerbaits, but I have always been keen on lures from 5/8oz up to 1oz. Black and red is my favourite colour combo. I also attach a 5” paddle-tail plastic as a trailer and bury a stinger hook midway down its body when fitting it to the main spinnerbait hook.

The Coolmunda Caravan Park is only around 1km away from the lake. The park is just off the Cunningham Highway and far enough away from the noise of trucks to get a good night’s sleep. It offers camping sites, cabins, caravan facilities, tennis courts, a swimming pool, BBQ shelter and a camp kitchen.

The park is wheelchair friendly. Camping is also available near the boat ramp with toilets and hot showers to make your stay more comfortable. To take advantage of this and the great fishing opportunities in the lake and the river below, give the park a call on (07) 4652 4171.

Closest Towns: Tewantin, Noosa

Over the last month, there has been a spike in the number of saratoga caught. Mix one or two of these in with some bass, and you’ll have yourself a good day on the water. The saratoga have been taking surface lures early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Both Lucky Craft and Megabass surface lures have been performing well. A few nice bass will also fall for surface presentations.

Bass fishers will find most action around the deeper weed edges. Casting Lipless crankbaits, blades and spinnerbaits should see some quality fish landed. Always keep an eye on the sounder while searching the weed edges, as sometimes the fish will be schooled in the open water.

Closest Towns: Imbil, Noosa

The dam level is still low making launching bigger boats more difficult. If you make the effort or have a smaller boat, small bass have been plentiful for bait and lure fishers. The fish can be found schooling in the upper half of the basin and around the start of the timber. The flats between the drowned timbers of the old rainforest with nearby towering figs in the Yabba Arm are always worth a look for better quality bass.

Bait fishers have been doing well on bloodworms and especially live shrimp. Lure anglers have had success with smaller paddle-tail plastics. Lures in the 2.5-3” size are best. Late in the afternoon as the sun sets, surface lures have come into their own. These lures can be fished around the weedy edges of the lake.

Davos at Noosaville has all the gear you’ll need to tackle the fish at Borumba and Lake MacDonald. The store caters well for fresh and saltwater anglers. They can be found in the Homemaker Centre on the corner of Mary and Thomas streets.

Closest Towns: Proston, Kingaroy

Low lake levels should keep most of the fish in the main basin and closer to the wall end of the lake. Trolling 5/8oz spinnerbaits is a great way to catch these fish, as they tend to suspend in the deeper water. Troll using an electric motor at around 2-2.5km/h to ensure the blades of the spinnerbait are working and adjust the amount of line out to sink the lure to the same depth as the fish. Most bites will come from bass and golden perch will be mixed in with them. Trolling hardbodies to a similar depth should also get results.

Lure casters usually opt to throw downsized baits like small spinnerbaits at these fish. Other options include soft plastics and plastics rigged on beetle spin frames. Up in the Boyne timber, there have been quite a few saratoga caught on spinnerbaits. With less water to hide in, these fish are more likely to be encountered and a session specifically chasing them could be rewarding.

Boondooma is a great place to camp right near the water and sit by the fire while enjoying the view. You could also stay in more style and comfort by booking into one of the cabins overlooking the dam. The kiosk at the main office does hot food and other basic items including an excellent range of proven fishing tackle. For campsites, cabins and bunkhouse rooms, call (07) 4168 9694.

Closest Towns: Murgon, Goomeri

Bjelke’s water level is quite low so take care when navigating. There isn’t much point trying to find your way up into the top half of the lake, as most of the action will be taking place within sight of the boat ramps. Bass Point, Lightning Ridge and The Quarry areas have all been holding bass schools. Mixed in will also be some quality golden perch.

Trolling spinnerbaits and hardbodies that dive 4-5m should see some action. Casters will do well on lures like downsized spinnerbaits, beetle spin rigged plastics, blades, plastics, spoons and tail spinners. The low lake level can make the fishing a little more difficult, especially if levels are still falling. The fish should be easy to find now they are confined to a smaller area. Rotating through different lures and toying with techniques will reveal a pattern they are more interested in.

For help catching Bjelke and Boondooma fish, call into Bass 2 Barra. The store stocks an awesome range of gear suited to chasing our freshwater fish and the staff have all the knowledge to guide you on how to use it. You’ll find the store at 119 Youngman Street Kingaroy. Matthew Mott also runs fishing charters on the dams and you can reach him through the store for bookings and enquiries on (07) 4162 7555.

The Yallakool kiosk is all set up with a great range of tackle if you don’t happen to have the right lure or lose one. Be sure to call in and check it out. Give them a call for accommodation and camping bookings on (07) 4168 4746.

Closest Towns: Mackay, Mirani

The barra fishing in Kinchant has been quite consistent. A few fish are being caught every trip and there hasn’t been any standout action apart from fishing well into the night. The average size of the fish has been 80-90cm long with the bigger models being quite elusive.

After rising, the old weed beds have struggled to reach back towards the surface making straggly weed right out into 6-7m of water. This can pose a problem with not having nice defined solid weed edges to fish. These edges will still hold fish, but the sparse weed allows the fish to move through it (where they are hard to reach) very freely. New weed will be taking hold in the shallower water and this would be a great place to target. Look for the freshest and healthiest weed growth and the barra shouldn’t be too far away.

Rolling soft plastics has been the most reliable way to catch the fish. Refexion Swimbaits and Squidgy Slick Rigs are a couple of good options. Hopping a soft vibe like the FLT Transam around the edges of the weed and in deeper water can also be a winner.

If you are planning on fishing Kinchant, Teemburra or Eungella, be sure to call in and see Bruce and Ash at Nashy’s Compleat Angler on Harbour Road, North Mackay. Ash works in the store and as a fishing guide on the lakes. Some firsthand information as to where they are biting always goes a long way. Nashy’s has a great range of tackle suited to the dams as well as all the other fishing options the Mackay area is blessed with. You can call the store for more information or to put some gear on hold on (07) 4957 2272.

Closest Towns: Pinnacle, Mackay

Teemburra was producing a few barra until the water went brown last month. This could only take a matter of weeks to clear, so hopefully things are back to normal next month. When in its normal healthy state, even during lots of rain, the water stays a clear green colour.

It would pay to give Ash at Nashy’s Compleat Angler a call to check on the water colour. If all is back to normal, try fishing the shoreline of the lake concentrating on points and bays. Soft plastics, vibes and surface lures can all draw strikes from barra. While most of the fish are under a metre long, there have already been some monsters caught this year.

Closest Towns: Proserpine, Airlie Beach

Recently, anglers reported the fishing was tougher at the lake. Lindsay Dobe who owns the tackle store in Proserpine and runs charters on the dam managed to catch fish and was willing to share a few secrets that should continue to produce fish into this month.

The fishing past the tree line has been slower with most fish coming from the main basin. Lindsay will often start out by trolling deep diving lures outside the trees while looking for fish on the sounder. The occasional fish is picked up trolling and the real action starts when a tighter school of barra is found. Position the boat near the fish and throw big soft plastics over them, count them down and wind them back in. This method has been successful on most outings with better days producing over 10 fish.

While trolling deep divers is a very popular way to hook quality barra in Prossy, with it comes a problem. Barra caught from the deeper water suffer from barotrauma. The sudden change in air pressure from bringing them from the depths to the surface expands their air bladder. The swollen air bladder becomes so tight it places pressure on other vital organs.

Anglers who take too long to release their fish after unhooking, measuring and taking pictures are doing it no favours. The fish simply don’t have the strength to get back down to deeper water on their own where the effects can reverse. There are a few ways to fix this problem. The first is to go for the quick release and allow the fish to make its own way back to a comfortable level. This also gets the fish into cooler water rather than the hot surface water, which can also be a death sentence.

Another way is to deflate the air bladder is with a needle. Bass fishers have used this trick for years. There are specialized needles available or alternatively you could call into a vet and ask for a heavier gauge needle that they would use on bigger animals like horses and cattle. These needles have a bigger hole to prevent clogging and allow for easy air escape. There are demos of deflating air bladders online and I suggest taking a look at one of these.

The sweet spot is three or four scales behind the pectoral fin. Place the needle in under the scale and stand it up applying pressure to put it through the fish’s side and into the air bladder. The release of air noise will be heard immediately once you hit the right area. Once enough air has been left out, the fish will be stable and balanced in the water when held upright. Tilting the fish on its side so the needle faces up will allow a bit more air out of it so it can then comfortably return to a deeper level.

Anglers have also experimented with the use of release weights. These weights or even an anchor if necessary can be used to return the fish to the depth it was caught. They pull the fish down with a downward facing hook. When the weight is lifted up, the hook pulls free leaving the fish at the release depth.

If you do see a struggling barra on the surface, which has been caught by another angler, it is the ideal time to try one of these release methods. If the fish has barotrauma you will see the swelling in its gut and it will feel hard and bloated to touch. To leave them simply die on the surface is cruel.

Of course if you are releasing fish and having trouble with them floating back up and can’t do anything for them, it is best to move on and try to find fish in shallower water. These big barra are a dream for some anglers and are too precious to waste.

For all your fishing supplies or a guided trip on the lake, call Lindsay or Dane at Barra World on (07) 4945 4641. Barra World is right on the highway in Proserpine and specializes in barra fishing tackle as well as catering to the needs of anglers fishing the nearby estuaries and offshore.

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