WHENEVER someone mentions the words ‘Lake Awoonga’, a mental picture of a barramundi springs to mind. It’s still a novel concept to be able to go fishing for these tremendous fighting fish just five hours’ drive north of Brisbane, but there’s a lot more to Lake Awoonga than just barramundi fishing.
Camping at Lake Awoonga is going to suit folk who seek out the more quiet, secluded places. The lake is situated only around 8km from the Bruce Highway but habitation around the camping area is non-existent. Wallabies and king parrots are the main neighbours.
As quiet as camping at Awoonga is, the ever-busy Gladstone is only around a half hour's drive away and the business centre there caters for all comers. It's not uncommon for visitors to fly into Gladstone for a weekend of fishing while a mate who lives locally picks them up and, boat in tow, takes the visitor out to enjoy the Awoonga experience.
Luckily, the camping facilities at Lake Awoonga have not altered one bit over the years. The spacious multi-level camping grounds are looking very good due to summer rains, and with plenty of caravan and tent sites on hand, plus some decent cabins and the bunk house thrown in for hire as well, the place has a very busy look about it.
This is one very pretty lake. The camping ground and picnic facilities, plus the very well run Kalinda Kiosk, are situated on a hill overlooking the lake and the scenery is very easy on the eye. The massive lake stretches off into the distance while the hills and craggy bluffs of the picturesque Mount Castletower National Park – across to the south-east – make a brilliant contrast to the clean blue waters of the lake.
While fishing is the main attraction for visitors there are enjoyable bush walks to be had for non-fishing visitors, plus some very comfortable day use/ picnic facilities set up by the Gladstone Area Water Board. These facilities include children's playgrounds and the very popular licensed Kalinda restaurant located within easy walking distance of the camping grounds. Clean BBQs, large well set out tables and manicured lawns are features at the picnic and day use facilities.
There are hire boats available at Awoonga, so you don't have to worry about not having a boat with you.
Lake Awoonga has been on the angler's radar for some years now. Created by the Gladstone Area Water Board the lake was stocked with barramundi for several successive years while the level was quite low. Suddenly, after several fishless years, the fishing kicked off with a vengeance and quite large fish were being taken by all and sundry. Lake levels were still quite low, weed beds being the feature of note for those seeking the thrill of a big barra on a lure or fly.
Nature always prevails in the long run and in the summer of 2003 the dam received one very large dump of rain in the space of a day or two. Levels went from minuscule to mighty and the fishing changed accordingly. Suddenly, shallow flats so beloved of the barra were gone and finding the right sort of water to hold fish (shallow and warm are the desired conditions) became more difficult. On the plus side was the fact that a lot of standing timber suddenly became good barra habitat and anglers adjusted their fishing styles and techniques accordingly.
There is a lot more to taking a feed of barramundi home from this body of water than just pelting a lure into cover and hoping the braid will hold when the big fellow hits. The key to it all is the weather – the hotter the better. Once a cold southerly hits the area the barra shut down in a big way, but if the weather is really hot for a few consecutive days the fish fire up well and by fishing the shallow edges and margins even relative new chums to barra fishing can score. The best lures seem to be the ubiquitous Bombers and B52s. Solid braid line is the key. Forget the 6lb or 8lb Fireline on these fish – they are just too big and too strong.
While barramundi are the main species targeted – and the size of barra taken has now approached the 35kg mark – there are numerous other species available as well. Prominent among edible fish are the very succulent freshwater gar (snub-nosed gar) that inhabit the edges of the shallow bays. Like the famous barramundi, gar also like warm water but, being a school fish, once a berley trail of bread has been established the gar usually turn up in big numbers. If only the barra were so easy!
A good rig for taking a feed of gar requires the use of very fine line (1.5kg breaking strain is ideal), a slim pencil float that’s able to register even the tiniest nibble or enquiry, and a trace of around half a metre in length. Lots of crushed bread fed into one area to berley the fish into a frenzy is the go, and once you notice a few gar mouthing the bread or skipping about with crumbs the fun begins. A size 14 fly hook with a pinch of bread on it is the right terminal gear and the trick is to watch the float, not the fish. If the float moves the fish should be struck very gently but quickly. Gar, when hooked, skip around a lot and really carry on. Kids just love catching gar and the small bays by the main boat ramp or just down below Kalinda Café are easy places for youngsters to fish under the watchful eyes of parents.
You have to remember one thing about gar though – if you don't have a rag to handle these fellows there’s going to be a mess of green gar poop all over your clothes. Take a rag to remove the fish from the hook and a bucket to keep the biggest ones alive until fishing is over. They are sweet eating and well worth the effort.
You need a Stocked Impoundment Permit to fish Lake Awoonga and you can pick one up from the camping ground office. The manager, Merv, will give you advice on fishing conditions – and he is very honest about this – plus outline the closed fishing areas (the ski club has rights to certain parts of the lake) as well as tactics involved in leaving the boat in the water below the camping grounds overnight for an early start. This is necessary as the main ramp doesn’t open until well after daylight.
Lake Awoonga is approached via the small locality of Benaraby, just south of the main Gladstone turn off situated on the Bruce Highway. The turn off to the lake is well signed and around eight minutes of driving will see the camping ground coming into sight.
Lake Awoonga Camping Grounds - (07) 4975 0155
House Boat Hire - (07) 4972 2657
Awoonga Leisure Craft Hire - (07) 4975 0155
Still Cruisin' Barra Fishing Tours - (07 4978 5651
Burrows House Boat Hire - ( 07 ) 4972 2657
1) Shallow bays like this one next to the boat ramp are ideal for catching a feed of gar.
2) A view of the day use and picnic areas at Lake Awoonga. These well maintained facilities are a credit to the Gladstone Area Water Board.
3) The main boat ramp at Lake Awoonga is a beauty with plenty of room for all.
4) Awoonga’s main drawcard!
5) Miss Alicia Kampe looks very proud of her catch of gar from Lake Awoonga.