Ever-changing Clarrie Hall
  |  First Published: February 2004

ONE of the great things about fishing a location like Clarrie Hall over a long period is watching the changes that occur after drought, flood or other environmental influences. Often the effects of these events contribute to the challenges the faced by an angler.

The past 12 months has certainly seen an enormous amount of change at the dam. We came off a very serious drought with low water of 30% back to a minor flood at 100%, during which the best of the Bass went over the wall. Then we had an infestation of salvinia weed that choked a large part of the system and had a big impact on the fishing. It has been an interesting period for me because ultimately my job is to catch people fish. Paying close attention to the subtle changes that occur during the seasons plays a big part in the success of a trip.

Occasionally a day comes along that really gets the grey matter going. Such was the case recently.

The condition of the top half of the dam has been very good with reasonable water levels, good lily pad cover for the bass and abundant food. The bulk of the fish are relatively small with those around the high 20cm mark forming the bulk of the catch. There are plenty of them, with a smattering of fish in the low 30s.

It’s still plenty of action but certainly not the fish we experienced some years ago when a couple of fish in the 40s could be expected each day. The dam has produced a number of fish in the 50s over the years but we have not had a significant year class get to this size.

My final trip for the week was with a Japanese bass guide from Tokyo. Conditions were light morning winds which blew up in the afternoon, bringing thunderstorms. On his second cast, Tomofumi Yasukouchi caught his first fish. It didn’t take long for him to get the lie of the land and he was soon catching fish at a regular rate.

About 10am, Tomo let out the call: “Ooohhhh, big fish!” The 50cm fish tied him up in some heavy weed but with some quick boat manoeuvring, the line was freed. I initially thought we had hooked a big catfish but there is no mistaking the flash of a big bass. I don’t know who was happier, the angler or me. It was a great milestone.

Although the day didn’t yield any more 50s, there was a smattering of 40s and high 30s. I learnt later that another boat had also scored fish in the 40s. This was a big turnaround from previous weeks.

So what made this day produce better than others? I had seen fish rising through the day in the open – not unusual, but a significant change from previous days. All of the better fish had come from the windward shorelines. Obviously the angler’s better than average skills also contributed. But the most significant issue was the number of big beetles we saw on the water. The high winds and humid, blustery conditions had obviously triggered a hatch of various insects that had the fish moving.

The other major change in Clarrie Hall has been the size of the fish. The local council and the Australian Bass Association have worked long and hard to provide this great little fishery. However, it is disappointing that every time the fish in this dam put some on size, we get a minor flood and the bulk of the big fish go over the wall.

Once over the spillway, they run the gauntlet of the esky-fillers. These people show no regard for the resource or regulations and are interested only in killing as many as possible. If the bass manage to survive and reach the salt water, they then are susceptible to commercial nets which, though not intentionally set for them, kill many.

At the end of the season they try to return to from whence they came. The river can sustain only a certain head of fish and a big influx of year-class fish is sure to throw the whole thing out of balance. The result is a very valuable resource is lost when these fish die.

The Tweed Shire Council is looking to extend the spillway to cope with a one-in-a-100-year flood. I believe the answer should be a wind out net similar to that used at Tinaroo Falls Dam, where barra are stopped from going over the spillway. It is a simple set-up that can be manually operated when floods threaten.

Some years ago, Northern Territory director of fisheries Phil Hall fished with me at the dam and we discussed the merits of such a net. If it can be done at Tinaroo, then the drop-in-the-ocean floods we experience could surely cope with a smaller version.

We regularly host overseas anglers at Clarrie Hall in pursuit of bass, which have gained an international reputation as a sport fish. With the bass tournament scene gaining momentum, the fishery could attract a lot more overseas money.


THIS is the pick of the season for tangling with big mangrove jacks. The water temperature has risen and the fish are just loving it.

Smashing strikes and brute force are the order of the day for these fish. The power developed by jacks at this time comes from their active feeding patterns and from the abundance of food. Large schools of herring, mullet, garfish, prawns and tailor are abundant in many parts of the system.

Places like bridges, rock bars, fallen timber or undercut banks are all purpose-built for these fish and for the food they love to wait in ambush for. The best locations must have deep water with plenty of water flow.

There are a number of methods to target mangrove jack. I don’t like using cut bait for jacks because you attract unwanted species like bream and, more often than not, jacks they need to be allowed to run some distance before striking. The result is that the fish will be hooked deeply, where real damage can be done.

If you’re not into releasing these great sport fish, you should be – their populations can be impacted upon to the point where fish take years to repopulate a location.

Live bait has proved very effective. Large herring, rock prawns and mullet are prime live baits. A running sinker rig with two No2 or No 3 suicide hooks is ideal for live-baiting. Snell the first hook about 10cm above the bottom hook. The rock prawns are simply hooked in the first segment behind the main body a one hook-running rig. These prawns are prevalent at night in the entrances to cane drains or the smaller creeks. Catching them involves a trip with a torch and a small scoop net. The bait fish can be jigged up or caught in bait traps.

I fish my reels in free spool with the ratchet on. Let the fish take line before striking and go as hard as you can once it’s hooked. Many fish are lost in the initial stage of the fight so don’t be afraid to give it everything you have.

I love catching jacks on lures. The strike is instant and hard, with the hooks finding their mark more regularly. Many bream anglers who fish small hard-bodied lures or soft plastics are seeing more jacks. Improving bream techniques and the availability of more quality lures are big factors. Bigger jacks, however, do not have a problem with light outfits. If you’re chasing a big fish, 6kg will give you a chance.

Light levels have a big effect on lure-fishing success. Low light or shade provides jacks with a better chance of success when they hunt and many baitfish shelter in darkness. So deep, undercut banks, rock walls and rock bars in some current flow are great locations to target jacks on lures.

Many soft plastics will attract strikes from jacks. A lure that acts naturally in its descent or in the flow of current is what you’re aiming for. Jig head weight is crucial to the presentation. For deeper water start with 1/4oz while 1/8oz generally suits most bankside presentations.

Crankbaits must suit the location. If the area contains small herring, keep the size down. If you’re luring a big rock bar, a Mann’s Stretch 20 or equivalent may match the mullet and other larger bait fish in the area.

A whole chapter can be written on colour but a few have worked for me over the years. Natural colours and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, bright greens, fluoro orange and the like will work. I prefer lures with a loud rattle.

The turn of the tides and just after see more activity. Some days the run out fishes best while on others, it can be the top of the tide. Some locations fish better on run in and others are better fished on the run out. These things come down to local experience.

Your local tackle store can often have staff who are very keen anglers. Gold Coast Fishing Tackle has a bunch of blokes with a wealth of experience in many aspects of fishing. It’s also one of the few stores where many imported lures can be found. The guys here buy and use them everywhere from Cape York well down into NSW.

Finally, understand the local regulations on bag and size limits. If you want to see the fishery improve, release fish like jacks. You may not think it achieves a great deal but years of many anglers taking fish has a definite impact on stocks. Like many other top sport fish, jacks are too good to catch only once.

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