‘SOOTIES, beer and wind’ may sound like a strange combination, but on a recent trip to Eungella Dam that’s exactly what we experienced.
This trip had been months in the planning, involving fellow sooty-addict Warren Steptoe and some of his mates. We agreed to spend a few days camping at Eungella (two-hours’ drive west from Mackay over the Eungella Range on the western watershed) and enjoy the sooty fishing. We had hoped for a barra or two, but the water temps averaged a low 24 degrees.
The sooty action was furious though. We didn’t catch millions, but the catch records show better than a sooty an hour, which isn’t bad. The sooties ranged from runts of about 150mm to a thumper sooty of 520mm.
Long-time readers know about my obsession with catching a 500mm sooty or better. I still haven’t reached this milestone, and I always cop heaps from my ‘mates’ over this. The worst thing is that even first-time sooty fishers can score 500mm fish, and crow about it to me! Ah well… one of these days this Day will get to crow too. And I certainly will, make no mistake about that!
Anyway, Warren, his son David, Les Kowitz and Steve ‘Chappie’ Chapman arrived at the dam on Sunday afternoon to join Brian Anderson, Aaron Ballagh, my son Lachlan and I. This was partly where the beers in the headline come in. The four of us had been camped at the dam since Saturday afternoon, and on the Sunday sessions we’d done fairly well, with the best fish being just over 400mm.
We weren’t confident of good fishing because there were strong northerlies, gusting to about 30 knots, and a bushfire raging on the northern side of the dam. If you’ve fished Eungella you’ll know that its a windy place, particularly in the afternoon and early evening. Well, let me tell you – this was something else! I have camped and fished at Eungella for 15 years and I’ve never experienced wind like this. Over three nights we managed to destroy one tarp completely and tear eyelets out of another, and had several tents collapse. Everything in camp was blown about, and there were leaves and dust in everything. Unbelievable… and none of us had much sleep. The bushfire probably generated some of the hot winds. It provided a spectacular sight at night, but we were all glad that we had the dam between us and the fire.
The fishing at Eungella always seems to throw up a surprise or two, and on this trip the surprise was the failure of the Rapala Fat Raps. These are THE sooty grunter lure, but we couldn’t score on them! The 50mm version was a dead loss while the 70mm gold version scored very well. Most of our success was had with spinnerbaits and bait fishing.
And I’m happy to report my first sooty grunter on a fly (my only sooty on that day). We were fishing along the face of the quarry wall when there was a temporary lull in the wind and I decided to haul out the fly rod. The 8-weight Kilwell is a delight to cast, and I soon had a nice length cast going. Following advice from mate Bill McGarry, I used a floating line but rigged a fairly heavy Clouser on a 10kg leader to give me some chance of horsing the fish out of the rocks. The fly was one Bill had tied up for me some time ago and was still a virgin.
After a few casts I made one nice presentation right up to a large overhanging rock, and on the second strip I got nailed… big time.
I scrambled to clear line and do some palming of the reel to keep in control of the fish, and I was able to land the sooty. After a few yahoos, out came the lie detector and the fish measured 410mm. Not bad for a novice with his first fly-caught sooty. Of course, my photo-journalist mate Steptoe was nowhere around to record this momentous event on film, so you’ll have to be satisfied with a shot taken by Aaron.
Naturally, my success led to more beers being dispatched that night.
But much as I was rapt about my catch, I still had a touch of envy. You see, David and Chappie had never caught a sooty before and boy – didn’t they rectify that in a hurry! In the first session Chappie scored a 520mm fish and then a 440mm!
Les Kowitz remarked, “Good start Chappie, but it's all downhill from here.” Still, what a way to break a duck! Chappie got both fish on a mega spinnerbait, and he would not shut up about that damn spinnerbait until he lost it to a snag. Of course, his first sooty was a further reason to have more beers in camp that night.
David Steptoe took a bit longer to score his first, which was only a small fish. On the last morning at Eungella, however, he ‘did a Chappie’ by hauling out a 500mm sooty from some serious snags. David and his dad couldn’t wait to get back to camp to tell me about his great capture, rubbing it in about how easy these 500mm sooties are to score! Well fellas, pure ar*e beats skill any day.
The trip was a great success despite the howling winds, and everyone enjoyed their Eungella experience. If you’re thinking about camping at the dam, make sure you have good tent pegs, ropes with a form of shock absorber, and a quality tent or tarp. Believe me – that wind was really something else, and if I never have nights like those again I’ll be very happy. It was worth it though. Eungella is a fabulous place to fish for sooties, with fish as large as 560mm.
On this trip, bait fishing was the most productive method. Bullock's heart sliced into strips was much to the sooties’ liking, and I managed the best bait-caught fish with a well-conditioned 440mm lady who looked ready to spawn. The rig we used was simply a small ball sinker down on the hook, cast in towards the rocks. The response was usually immediate.
Of all the lures, the spinnerbaits proved to be top of the heap – although Aaron's gold 70mm Fat Rap gave a good account of itself. We talked about the spinnerbait success over a few beers, and concluded that the whirling blades were drawing the sooties to the lure during the retrieve. Interestingly, the strikes on spinnerbaits were usually away from cover. Gold willow blades were the most successful. Skirt colour didn’t make much difference.
So readers – get up to Eungella, ignore the wind and get into the most consistent sooty fishery in the country. After spending a couple of sessions grunting on the end of a rod while trying to pull sooties from cover, you’ll feel like a beer or two.
1) The author with his first fly-caught sooty. Alas, it didn’t reach the 500mm mark!Reads: 978