Tempting ’Toga on the Top
  |  First Published: August 2008

Lake Borumba is a fisher’s paradise: calm waters, misty mornings, rainforest to the water’s edge, with magnificent timber structure to cast at. But the most exciting aspect of the lake is the aerial acrobats that lurk just millimetres below the water’s surface waiting to explode on unsuspecting prey. Saratoga are one the most energetic and spectacular fish to fight in the lake.

Lake Borumba

Borumba Dam, at Imbil, is located about 45 minutes northwest of Noosa. It was constructed in 1964 and has created one of Queensland’s most established lakes. Built across Yabba Creek (a tributary of the Mary River), the lake has a surface area of 500H when full, with an average depth of 6.6m.

Lake Borumba was initially stocked with both golden perch and silver perch, which were bred from an onsite hatchery that has now closed. It was then stocked with Australian bass and the endangered Mary River cod, however, the real draw card for Lake Borumba is the saratoga. From an initial release of around 200 fish, this iconic Australian species has established a self-sustaining population throughout the lake.

Saratoga info

Southern saratoga can grow in excess of 90cm and weigh over 4kg. At sexual maturity they are usually 49cm in length, with the average size between 45-70cm. They are primitive surface dwelling fish with strongly compressed bodies and an almost perfectly flat back, with a dorsal fin set back towards the tail of their long bodies. They are dark brown to olive green along the back, with lighter sides and a white belly. Their large bony scales have small orange or red dots and their lower jaw slopes steeply upwards and carries two fleshy barbels on the chin.

They are generally a solitary fish, as they don’t tolerate their own kind very well with larger fish often exhibiting battle scars, but like all loner species they will call a truce in their breeding season.

Breeding begins in late winter through spring and, once spawning begins, one parent will carry the eggs in their mouth for six to eight weeks. They will go without feeding for the duration until the fingerlings are 4-6” and are then left to their own. So when targeting saratoga it would be best not to plan your trip during their breeding season. Borumba is the perfect place for fly anglers to hone their skills as saratoga will readily take a sub surface fly cast around the many stumps and overhanging trees. However, I find nothing more exhilarating than the explosive hit from this territorial acrobat as they do their best to destroy top water lures.

exciting way to good catches

It only takes a quick glance at a saratoga to know they are a surface fish: eyes on top of their heads and an almost flat back with no dorsal spines. They can be found cruising along just under the surface looking for an easy meal of insects, mice, frogs, birds or any creature unlucky enough to fall on to the water that can fit inside their mouths.

Their stealth camouflage and ability to cruise just millimetres under the surface makes them a dangerous predator. And best of all, their unique hunting technique is very easy for us to exploit as their territorial instincts and complete lack of inhibitions makes them very vulnerable to an accurately cast surface lure. However, their hard bony jaw and acrobatic antics make it difficult to keep them attached to your lure.

Catching any fish on top water is the icing on the cake, and saratoga are up there with the most dramatic explosions you will experience in fresh water. They jump continually trying to rid themselves of the foreign object that is stuck in their mouth.

Because of their very bony jaw it is not uncommon to land only one in five saratoga hooked, but the fact that the other four fish crashed through the surface sending water and hearts racing more than makes up for them not making it into the boat.

Finding them

Saratoga are territorial fish, especially the larger ones. When targeting them choose where to cast your lure and try to pick dominant structure. Structure that has good vantage points for both ambushing bait that is moving into the area and a secure place to protect their homes against other saratoga trying to move in, will be the best places to start. Saratoga will often patrol their small section of water whilst still remaining tight on structure. If you are unsure on what to look for, simply pick a section of bank that has plenty of variations above and below the surface. Work your lure close to each piece of structure until you get a strike then look for similar features further along the bank.

I find I get the best results from a single standing timber at the end of points or on the leading edge into bays or an under water drop-off. Providing the area is large enough it is not uncommon to encounter fish on both ends of the bay. You will find that once you catch a saratoga it will be at least 20m of bank before you come across another fish unless the bank has a lot of variation giving more ambush points. The closer the fish are the better the size, as these will be the larger dominant ones.

explosive results

Saratoga is definitely my favourite fish to chase on surface as they don’t seem to follow any rules of normal surface fishing as far as morning and late afternoon bites go. They will readily hit the surface all day and I have had my best results in the early afternoon in bright sun light. But the main key, as with any top water fishing, is to find sections of water out of the direct wind. This is another one of the charms of Lake Borumba, as the narrow arms and the surrounding high mountains make it possible to always find good stretches of bank with barely a breath of wind, even under the worst conditions imaginable.

Being accurate with your casting is always important when using surface lures, but it is even more important when chasing a territorial fish like the saratoga. As they will sit very tight on the structure and will be protective against any object that comes to close, I find accuracy to be of number one importance.

Accurate casts will sometimes result in a simultaneous splash as your lure appears to be almost caught by the saratoga as it hits the water and the toga explodes back through the water with your lure in its mouth, often throwing the hooks before you have even engaged your reel. Don’t be deterred by a missed hit as now you know there is a fish there, leave your lure where it is long enough for the fish to get back into his ambush position, and then watch as even the slightest of movements will unleash chaos on your lure.

On one occasion I had a fish pelt my lure on three separate casts one morning and completely missing every time. I then returned later in the afternoon and had the identical cast smashed straight away, this time hooking up only to lose it after the toga jumped at least five times, but it was well worth it.

Try to land your lure as close to any form of structure you can or even under some if your lure will skip. I like to pause for a few seconds before starting the retrieve to give any spooked fish time to come back and check out your lure. Due to the bony structure of the saratoga’s mouth it is very important to keep an eye on your hooks, as they will lose there points after a couple of hits. It’s not uncommon to have to change them several times a day, its not vital but does help immensely with increasing hook up rates.

Overall, saratoga are a fantastic fighting fish that will assure you an explosive session on the water. And there is no better back drop than Borumba to spend the time and effort. When you know where to find them and how to target them, you can confidently go out and catch that fish of a lifetime. – Dean Silvester


Access to the lake

All forms of boating are permitted on Lake Borumba, however, care should be exercised in the feeder creeks due to extensive standing timber. There is a double lane concrete boat ramp adjacent to the dam wall that is open 24 hours 7 days a week. There is a small no boating zone near the dam wall.

Stocked impoundment permits are required for fishing in Borumba and are available at Imbil or from the internet before you leave home.


Camping at Lake Borumba

No camping is permitted on the lakeshore, but there is a camping ground immediately below the dam wall. This is only a minute’s drive from the launching ramp. Alternatively there are farm stays and camping grounds further down stream on Yabba Creek and hotel/motel style accommodation available at Imbil.


Gear box

Rod:Megabass Destroyer rod F2 Super Full House
Reel:Shimano Stella 1000
Mainline:10lb Unitika Aorika II Super PE
Leader:14lb Unitika Aiger III Fluorocarbon
Lures:Megabass Dog X jr in the colour modena bone; or, Megabass Pop X in the colour IL Tamamushi Ob
Replacement hooks:Gamakatsu Treble Round Bend size 6

Reads: 5638

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