DAVE’S excited scream broke the afternoon quiet as his lure was monstered between a stony earth wall and the old bed of the Cudgegong River in the lower part of Lake Windamere.
I’d only just explained to Dave that golden perch will often appear out of nowhere and sometimes take a lure right beside the boat. His dance on the front deck resembled a drunk impersonating River Dance and, with his rod bent well over, it was hard to stop laughing. Between the fancy footwork, all Dave could say was, “It just came up vertically!” and “Oh, wow!” repeatedly. After a hefty battle, he proudly held his first golden perch. A couple of quick photos and a few seconds of admiration and the fish was released unharmed.
Windamere Dam has some excellent opportunities for anglers seeking Murray cod, silver perch and catfish. However, it’s Windamere’s golden perch that have made it famous.
If there’s one thing that can be frustrating about golden perch, it’s their ability to suddenly appear like a ghost, eye off a lure or fly and then slide away after a careful look. At other times, it’s all excitement as a rampaging golden smashes a lure and gives the angler a few heart-stopping moments.
While most golden perch in Windamere are from 1kg to 3kg, there are monsters to 10kg and maybe more.
Some would argue that goldens don’t fight all that well but, having caught some big goldens in Windamere and seen plenty more caught, plenty of anglers who would join me in suggesting otherwise.
If you want to have real sport catching goldens, use rods of around 1.8 to 1.9 metres long with quality reels. This tackle will provide thrills even for the smaller fish but will require you to do some serious work should you hook a trophy specimen. I’ve seen anglers using barramundi outfits on Windamere goldens and, for the lighter specimens, it’s really overkill if it’s sport your after.
A small baitcaster with 4.5kg braid and around 6kg mono leader is ideal for trolling around weed beds, rocky points and walls, and for casting heavier lures.
For heavily-timbered areas, baitcasters spooled with 10kg braid and a 10kg mono leader provide a larger safety margin. A leader like this is not out of place and any angler who gets seriously smoked using this type of outfit won’t be the first or last to have become a victim.
Spinning outfits from 2kg to 4kg make easy work of casting light lures and such an outfit is also perfect for walking the shore or peppering the weed beds from a boat.
Braided lines give the angler far better feel of what is going on at the business end of things, with lures bumping into objects and fish strikes being clearly transmitted back to the angler’s hand. Monofilament line is fine for bait anglers, allowing them greater ease to tie various bait rigs quickly.
Australian-made lures are at the top of the list at Windamere, with anything from 5cm to 8cm that looks natural ideal. Look for buoyant floating lures that dive to around three metres.
Other successful lures in Windamere include Feralcats, Tilsan Bass, Boomerangs, and No 2 StumpJumpers, Whitmore Shrimps, Bennett Merlins, Storm Hot 'n' Tots, and Bennett McGraths. While these are only a few successful lures used, all of these are excellent for trolling or casting.
My favourites are the Tilsan Bass and Deception Shrimps and Nippers, but my all-time favourite is a Knol's Native 50, in red and black. Of all the different lures and colours I’ve used in Windamere, this one has probably taken more fish for me than any other. It’s my confidence lure. Every angler has them and this is mine in Windamere.
Having said that, choosing the right coloured lure sometimes requires a little experimentation. However, judging by the number of green lures I’ve retrieved high in the trees around Windamere, darker green patterns seem to be a popular choice there.
If the water is clear and it’s fine and sunny, natural-coloured lures work best. If the water is discoloured and it’s overcast, it’s time to tie on fluorescent-coloured lures.
Windamere can prove to be a painful place to fish at times and lots of experimenting with lures and colours can still leave anglers frustrated. If fish are shy, trying a smaller lure might just be the answer.
There are multitudes of bays, long rock walls, stands of timber, and prominent points. Most goldens are caught within 10 or 12 metres of shore in depths from one to five metres. All of these areas provide ambush points for the ample prey that goldens seek.
Shallow weed beds provide warm water and food for baitfish, shrimp and yabbies. This is five-star dining for goldens and should never be overlooked. When working the weed beds from a boat, a lure that will dive steeply from the top of the weed bed and down its face into deeper water is perfect.
Try to imitate the small fish that can be seen in these areas and make the lure appear as close to the real thing as possible.
While trolling is not for everybody, it is successful. Most fish are trolled within about 10 metres or so from shore or around trees in up to 10 metres. Other areas to target include rock walls, rocky points and submerged creek beds.
There are a number of islands, depending on the water level, and these can draw fish like a magnet to the often warm shallows. Trolling around these has won competitions for some anglers and when worked in conjunction with a decent sounder, islands shouldn’t be overlooked.
Trolling is where braid lines come into their own. With lures worked as close to the bottom as possible and bumping the timber, you’re attracting the attention of the fish and all the relevant information you need about your working lure is transmitted back to your hand.
It’s been some time since Windamere has seen a rise in water level but with any reasonable rise, search for newly submerged ground and cast with lure or bait.
Early mornings, goldens can be seen hunting on the surface for insects trapped on the surface and, for fly anglers, this could provide all the excitement you’ll be looking for. Small bait fish can also be seen flitting about at these times, so matching the hatch could be the key to success.
Windamere is famous for its shore-based fishing. Boats are useful to access lesser-fished water and to provide extra mobility for anglers, who may walk the banks or fish from boats close to the shore. Work moderately buoyant floating divers out of the deep and into the shallows around weed beds, rocks or drowned timber. A few quick turns of the reel handle will get the lure down.
A lure that imitates a fleeting baitfish is prime golden tucker. Working the rod tip should get some life into the lure.
Electric motors are excellent for working the shore and around the timber. Boat-based anglers working lures hard up against the shore have been just as successful as bank-walkers yet they still have the comforts of a boat. Rocky points are also worth trolling around.
When working among the timber, cast past the timber you wish to target to get the lure down to its working depth by the time it reaches the target. If you cast right at the target the lure will be well away from it by the time it reaches its working depth.
Bringing your lure back beside a fallen tree in the water is one of the best techniques. Golden perch tend to use these fallen trees as cover from which they ambush passing prey.
Rocky outcrops jutting into the water are also prime locations, especially for those casting from the bank.
The best time to target Windamere goldens is mid-September to November, when the fish will be wanting to spawn. Being in a dam, they won’t be able to. These fish will be full of aggression and willing lure-takers.
Mid-September sees the water temperature rise rapidly and it’s well worth looking for areas that have warmer water near north-facing shores, rock walls and weed beds.
Areas that see the sun earliest and remain in sun should be high on the list of places to visit.
Temperatures in Summer can be very uncomfortable for anglers as well as the fish, and in water above 22° goldens don’t feel in the mood to play.
If you fish during Summer, early morning, late afternoon and into the night would be the better times. Be careful with snakes in Summer: A well-stocked first aid kit and the knowledge and skills to be able to use it are essential.
March and April are also worth chasing goldens before the cold days and frosty mornings take over. If Winter fishing appeals to you, the fishing can be slow. Bait might be the best option but if you try lures you’ll need plenty of patience.
When the water nudges 14° the fishing should start to improve and at around 17° you’re laughing.
Bait-soakers usually use yabbies, shrimp or worms.
For boat anglers, jigging with crayfish or shrimp around standing dead timber in large bays in five to 10 metres of water the usual tactic for goldens. There’s no shortage of such places in Windamere and those who have a boat have an unqualified advantage
Anglers find landfill sites at Limestone Creek and along the Kandos Rylstone Road great for land-based bait fishing. There are enough spots around the dam within easy walking distance that produce great fish. Any rocky points are worthwhile positions, as is anywhere where an old creek or river bed is submerged.
Getting there, services
Windamere Dam is just off the Castlereagh Highway on the Central Tablelands, just south of Mudgee, around three to four hours’ drive from Sydney.
A caravan park on the southern shore offers powered and unpowered tent and caravan sites as well as cabins and on site caravans. With barbecue, shower and toilet facilities within the well-kept grounds, there’s enough space to get away from other campers if you’re looking for a little privacy and peace. Book by phoning 02 6358 8462.
The kiosk sells basic supplies, except for fuel, for which you’ll need to make a 30-minute trip to Mudgee, or to Rylstone, about 20 minutes away.
Access to the dam requires a $2 coin for the boom gate. The double-lane boat ramp can be very busy during the warmer months but there’s plenty of parking.
Keep an eye on the weather
Impoundments, while idyllic-looking at times, can provide weather that is anything but friendly. Boats and lives are often lost in severe weather.
Windamere Dam can be a nasty place to be when storms roll in. Whatever the time of year, don’t forget your wet-weather gear.
If the weather looks suspect, head back to the safety of camp and fish when it is safer and more comfortable.
If the weather is too severe for you and your boat, you might be better to find a safe bay and sit it out. You won’t be the first angler to rug up and have a feed and a cuppa on the shore while waiting for a clear run back to camp.
Dave Horvat’s first golden smashed the lure at the boat. Goldens in Windamere can be tough opponents and this one provided some anxious moments
The author’s wife, XXXX, managed this 6kg-plus beauty while seven months pregnant. This fish exerted raw power with repeated runs before reaching the boat.
This fish was trolled up along a bank and hit hard for its size. Smaller fish are less fatty on the plate and this one was a good size for a feed
Fast food stops for goldens: Bait-soakers and lure casters take good numbers of fish around Windamere’s standing timber.
While not everyone’s preferred method, trolling is one effective way of catching goldens. This one is average for Windamere, which was taken with a Knol’s Native 50. Goldens over the ten kilo figure are a possibility in Windamere.
The smooth waters of Windamere can turn for the worst when the weather changes. Be prepared to make a run for home early or rug up and sit it out if things get too rough.
Timothy Cumming with one of his mighty golden perch. If you want to give the kids a great time fishing, Windamere is great place to head.