OFTEN in our haste to see as much as possible of this beautiful country of ours, or fish the renowned waterways, we drive right by those signs that point to small slices of paradise.
My partner and I have changed our travel policy. Rather than travel thousands of kilometres over a short period we have cut back to a few hundred kilometres over long periods. Now there is more time to smell the roses, explore the little-known waterways and spend more time fishing.
We were looking for an area that was virtually free-camping to road-test a few new additions to our camping gear, a shower tent, 12-volt shower and a chemical porta-loo. And, of course, catch fish.
Chaffey Dam, 45km south-east of Tamworth and 14km north-west of Nundle, was looking good as reports indicated the dam at the time was holding at 46%. The dam is a little-known haven for Murray cod, yellowbelly (golden perch) silver perch and those terrorists of the inland waterways, European carp.
We motored up the New England Highway from the Hunter Valley through Willow Tree and on to Wallabadah. Seven kilometres past the small village, we turned right toward Nundle and 3km from Nundle a left turn headed us toward the small village of Woolomin and Chaffey Dam. The dam is very small in comparison with many other inland impoundments, hardly rating a spot on the map. Its main purpose is to supply water to the city of Tamworth by way of the Peel River. But be assured, the area has great camping and fishing.
Although our visit coincided with the Tamworth country music festival, there were still plenty of excellent sites available. We finally settled near a stand of huge pine trees that had obviously been planted by the early pioneers. The site was an excellent choice as we were able to move the table and chairs into shade all afternoon.
After setting up camp the next consideration was a finding a friendly site to launch and retrieve the boat. A short drive towards the main wall quickly solved this problem. We discovered a user-friendly gravel boat ramp that ran far out into the deeper water.
The dam was dropping its level each day due to the lack of rain and the release of water for the Tamworth supply, but after a two-week stay we still had no problem launching and retrieving our 4.5-metre fibreglass boat.
Next on the agenda was to find out what was happening on the fishing scene. What’s the best way to get local information? Talk to the local people. I have found over the years that locals are proud of their area, and what it has to offer the visitor. If you ask a few questions in a friendly and interested manner, the amount of useful information learned in a short time can be a valuable asset to your activities in the area.
The word on the fishing was quite encouraging. The yellowbelly were taking slowly-trolled smaller lures. The bad news for us was the small lures in our kit were in bad shape, and a 40hp motor doesn’t troll very slowly.
The first day on the water was interesting, to say the least. We trolled an 11cm Richo’s barramundi lure and an 11cm green no-name articulated lure that had come from a $5 bargain bin. The result surprised even us: four nice, fat yellowbelly, three on the Richo’s and one on the no-name. We kept two for the pan and returned the others to fight another day. So much for slow trolling and small lures, it looked like these yellows were slamming anything that wriggled in the water regardless of size or speed.
The next few days were an anticlimax: The wind blew and the temperature climbed to around 40° in the afternoons. The high winds had turned the fish off and we were getting hits on the big lures but not hooking up.
After a brief conference we decided a more orthodox approach to the trolling system could be a big advantage. After all, the locals had given us their advice. So it was off to Tamworth to purchase a few new lures and some small treble hooks to revive our old lures.
With our new lures it was back to the fishing, but another minor problem arose. Due to the relatively fast trolling speed, the smaller lures wanted to bounce along the top. This problem was solved by clamping half a dozen split shot on the line above the swivel, leaving about a metre of trace to allow the lure to work freely.
The trolling speed was slowed down, by tying a collapsible bucket over the side of the boat to act as a brake. The adjustment to the gear brought our trolling speed back to that of the small tinnies.
The new plan met with almost instant success as the mad wind had dropped and the fish were slamming the lures again. The most successful lure in the kit was a StumpJumper which outfished the others three to one. My partner, Teresa, claimed it straight away, so it’s not hard to work out that I got outfished three to one.
The dark horse in the pack was a Walkabout Wobbler 8. This 8.5cm articulated lure made by Outback Lures retails in the supermarkets for less than $5 and really catches fish. The big Richo’s barra lure kept getting slammed by quality goldens, so I am convinced that these lures will work on most species in fresh or salt water.
During our stay we caught 30 goldens, keeping only the odd couple for food and releasing the rest until the last day, when we bagged seven nice fish that were filleted and packed on ice to supplement the diet for our next section of the trip.
These days there are not too many areas where you can camp and do your own thing inexpensively, but Chaffy dam is one of them. The camping area is controlled by a trust and is known as the Bowling Ally Point Recreation Area.
Day visits and camping are funded by an honesty system. The asking price is a mere $2 per person whether you just visit for the day or camp overnight. The amenities block has clean toilets and hot showers. Put $1 in the honesty box at the door, then press the button at the shower door for instant hot water.
Believe me, you can’t get much better than this. There is also a power pole providing two points. Again, the honour system applies.
Woolomin is a small village 5km north of Chaffy Dam on the Tamworth road. The Gold Rush General Store at Woolomin can supply groceries, meat and a limited supply of medical needs. There is also a take-away food section as well as ice and fuel. You can also buy beer, wine and spirits to take away. Fishing licences are also available. Proprietors Allen and Dawn Smallwood are typical bush people who make visitors welcome, so drop in for a yarn, even if you don’t require any goods.
This small golden perch was the first catch of the trip. It lost the plot when it tried to eat a Richo’s Barra lure.
A selection of lures used on the trip. From the bottom. Scorpion 52 DD R7 received a lot of hits but no hook-ups. The no-name that accounted for a couple of fish. The StumpJumper that outfished the rest three to one. The Walkabout Wobbler from Outback Lures caught its share of fish. Priced under $5, it was excellent value for money. The Richo's Barra lure that just kept coming up with fish.
The excellent gravel boat ramp that runs well out into the deeper water of the dam.
The main wall of the Chaffey Dam. The yellow buoys mark the no-go zone for boats – and a good thing, for when the dam is full, the power of water going down that sink hole between the concrete pylons is scary stuff.
The author’s camp near the battered pine trees. There’s almost unlimited camping around Chaffey’s shores.
The seven goldens the author and his partner caught on the last day of the trip. They were filleted and iced down for tasty dinners over the next leg of their trip.Reads: 8430