A Dam Cockroach Invasion
  |  First Published: December 2002

AFTER enduring a cold Winter at home in the Lake Macquarie region, my No 1 (Teresa) and I decided we needed a dose of warmer weather. The temps up in Cane Toad Country were looking very good.

A couple of my fishing mates are regular visitors to Fairbairn Dam, near Emerald, and enthusiastically sing its praises.

“You won’t believe the redclaw you can catch up there,” one bloke said. “And when the fish are biting you have to hide behind a tree to bait your hook!”

“Yeah right,” I replied. ‘But what’s these redclaw you’re talking about?”

“Mate, they're the biggest bloody yabbies you’ll ever see,” he vowed.

So Teresa and I dragged out the road maps, plotted our route, added up a few kays, and knocked back a couple of XXXXs and practiced saying ‘ay’ at the end of our sentences. Once we’d established our game plan, we packed the boat and the Jackaroo with the camping and fishing gear and hit the tar.


We cruised up from the Hunter Valley through the northwest to a first night stop at Moree. Next night we camped at Surat in an excellent free camping area on the northern side of the Blone River. The site is maintained by the Surat Fishing Club, and there are toilets but no showers. Free showers are available at the community hall in town though.

Next day it was on to Roma and out to Mitchell. It was off the game plan track, but I had lived in the area when I was a billy lid and wanted to see it. Also, those hot artesian bore baths were looking good at this stage! The caravan park at Mitchell offers two nights’ free camping and five dollars per night after. There’s a charge for using the bore baths.

After two days the boat and its owners were suffering badly from lack of water, so we made the fairly long haul to Fairbairn Dam in one day. The run up from Roma through Rolleston and Springsure was a breeze, with good roads and beautiful scenery. We arrived at the dam mid-afternoon, and were delighted to see the amount of water still holding after the long dry period.

After booking in for two nights and setting up camp it was time to begin our education. We didn’t know it yet, but we were going to end up staying for three weeks!


I spotted a camp complete with regimental tinny and bits and pieces of opera house traps, and decided it was a good place to start my education. After the formalities, the conversation went something like this…

“How do we go about catching a feed of these redclaw? We know nothing about it.”

“Well mate, you can have four opera house traps each. The best thing to bait them with is rockmelon or mango, ay.”

“Jeez, these reddies must be sacred,” I said. “I don’t feed my No 1 that well.”

At this point a bloke with a stubby in hand rescued me and came up with a much better idea.

“Don’t worry mate,” he reassured me. “Just parboil a few spuds and carrots, chuck em in the traps, motor up the dam to Silo Bay, drop your traps in about four meters of water and hope for the best.”

This turned out to be top advice, and we started catching those overgrown yabbies almost straight away.

One old mate told us the redclaw were really off, and that we should be trapping at least a hundred a day. I didn’t comment, but I wondered how on earth my No 1 and I could eat a hundred a day! We were quite stoked with what we were doing. We averaged a dozen a day, which was enough for us.

The fishing was different from what we were accustomed to in the south. We had never caught yellowbelly in 20 metres of water, fishing on or near the bottom, and we had never used prawns for bait. But you live and learn! Unless we retrieved the fish slowly through the depths, their swim bladders distended. When this happened, it took us a long time to revive any undersize fish before we could release them.

This pattern continued until the end of our stay. The day before we left the yellowbelly started to leave the deeper areas and move into the shallower water (four to five metres deep), and some started to take lures. We were told that this change in depth and habit was probably because the dam level was dropping, the water temps were increasing and the redclaw were about to shed their outer shells, making them easy pickings for the larger fish.

On the days that we weren’t catching redclaw, we fished for yellowbelly and caught four or five a day. During our visit we were virtually living on fish and redclaw!


We have already booked our site for next year, on the waterfront side of the barbecue area. The new owners of the Lake Maraboon Holiday Village – John and Troy and their families – are really improving the facilities, and the caravan park should be rated greater than the three stars it has at the moment.

As well as caravan and tent sites, there are cabins with and without facilities to suit all budgets. There is also a kiosk and a restaurant, so once you’re at the dam there’s really no need to leave! The Holiday Village also has boats for hire, and the kiosk sells bait and redclaw traps. You can make your booking by calling (07) 4982 3677 or fax (07) 4982 1932. See you there!

1) A few nice reddies on their way to the pot. Note the carrot and potato in the bottom of the trap, kept intact inside a guttermesh pouch.

2) Teresa with her first Fairbairn Dam yellowbelly, caught with the smelliest old prawn bait you’ve ever seen.

3) The ramp was so busy that some folks were launching from the bank. The two boats on the right are hire boats from the caravan park.

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