Cold weather species
  |  First Published: June 2005

With the temperature dropping you’d expect the fishing action to drop too, but some of our fisheries really come alive during the cooler months. Sure – the barra have lockjaw, but there’s more to fishing Mackay than just barra.


Sooties are so aggressive that they stay on the chew throughout winter in the dams and the Pioneer River, and in other creeks and streams in the district. While sooties do prefer warmer water, if you can get your lure or fly close in to cover you will catch plenty during the colder months.

All three Mackay area dams hold good numbers of sooties, but if you’re just starting out I recommend Eungella. Finding sooties here is easy as they congregate around the heavy timber snags in the main lake basin as well as along the weedbeds. Look for large trees in around 10-15m of water with some horizontal branches at or just under the surface. Cast to the tree or just past it and work the lure as close to the cover as you are game and be ready for a smashing strike. Use poppers, shallow and deep divers and plastic shads, but keep them under 70mm.

In the Pioneer River, sooties can be caught from the bank at the Balnagowan bridge, the rocky holes near Marian and further up around Mirani. Cattle Creek near Finch Hatton produces very light coloured sooties in the shallows, but these are generally smaller fish. My equal best sooty came from the river near Balnagowan bridge and went 490mm, so there are some very solid fish in the system.

Use the same lure types as for the dams, check local tackle shops and small stores in the local towns for accessible spots and please don’t leave any rubbish behind.


In Mackay’s dams there are good numbers of sleepy cod, which target their prey with flathead-style tactics. Sleepies don’t move around much, preferring to lie in wait for their prey and then leap out with a lightning strike and collar small fish. Just like flathead fishing, the trick is to get the lure down to the right depth and work it slowly so it stays at or near the bottom for as long as possible.

My son Lachlan has lure caught our best sleepy at 480mm but I have seen them electro-fished to just over 500mm. Sleepy cod will eat just about anything, but the best lures are small, shallow diver types worked slowly in shallow water. My experience from electro-fishing and angling is that these fish like areas with rocks and shallow water.

The best spot to catch a sleepy cod is Kinchant Dam near the township of North Eton (visitors should grab a copy of MAFSA’s freshwater fishing guide for Mackay for directions). The obvious place to target sleepies in Kinchant is along the rock walls, but these fish can also be caught anywhere around the lake edges at night. You can spotlight them with a good torch, select a particular fish and then just place your lure in front of it.

Don’t be put off by the strange appearance of the sleepy. Like the flathead, they look different but they are very good on the plate. The fillets are pure white, thick and cook up a treat. Don’t worry about taking one or two sleepies for the plate as they do breed in the lakes.


Spangled perch just about round off the dam scene. Spanglies may be small but they’re like cock sparrows – always fighting well above their size.

Apart from these fish, the lower reaches of the freshwater systems have plenty of tarpon available for sportfishers. These silver rockets are generally small but they’re great fun, hitting small lures and flies very hard and putting on a spectacular fight that sees them spending as much time above the water as in it. A late afternoon session on tarpon in some of our picturesque lagoons and streams is a top way to spend a couple of hours – maximum fun for minimum fuss (and minimum cost). The tarpon in these areas are rarely more than 450mm long but are like slabs of silver, with large dark eyes that signify an upper end predator.

Another small sportfish from the lower freshwater areas is the snake-head gudgeon. These fish are a close relative of the sleepy cod, but on very light gear they are anything but sleepy! We fish for snake-heads with ultra-light lines and spin rods and have a ball using tiny lures. These fish like lots of overhanging trees and scrub so it’s almost impossible to target them with the fly rod. However, if you did find them in a spot where casting would be possible, I’m sure they would respond to tiny flies fished on a slow sink line.


1) This quality sooty grunter was taken in Eungella Dam on a spinnerbait. Sooties are a good target when the barra have shut down for the winter.

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