A welcome bycatch
  |  First Published: July 2004

ANGLERS should always expect the unexpected. Being prepared may be as simple as having a couple of different rigs ready for instant action, or contingency plans to take advantage of a change in situation. I always have a couple of different outfits ready in the boat so I won’t lose time changing lures or baits, and this has saved the day many times.

Encountering conditions or fish species you haven’t expected is one of the joys of fishing, but if you’re not prepared you’ll probably end up with no fish. The following events show how to get it right.


Mackay fisherman Tom Swanton is now 75 years of age but he still loves getting down to the creek for a fish. He isn’t into fancy outfits, complicated rigs and the like, preferring the direct feel of the handline between his fingers.

On this particular occasion Tom and a mate of his decided to give it a go at Murray Creek north of Mackay, and were looking for a feed of grunter or bream. This is a justifiably popular spot and on this particular day there were quite a few boats around when Tom and his mate set off.

After a couple of hours Tom felt a fish ‘mouth’ the bait and then drop it. Tom, being a cagey old fisho, fed out a handful of line and again felt the fish pick up the bait. Tom fed more line out, thinking he had enticed a good king salmon to take the bait. From past experience Tom knew that salmon often fiddle around with a bait, nudging it, picking it up, moving a metre or so and then dropping it.

All of a sudden the line started to move out quickly and Tom, deciding that the fish was serious, set the hook. From there all hell broke loose. Line peeled off the handcaster and Tom applied as much drag as he dared with his fingers and the fish took off in a long powerful run. Tom was eventually able to turn the fish and start winning some line back. The fish then set off on another strong run and again Tom halted it and started to work it back to him.

This went on for over half an hour and they both wondered what it was. Was it a huge salmon? A large trevally? A shark?

It turned out to be a magnificent jewfish, almost 6-foot long. The fish was in poor shape after the long battle so Tom kept it. The jew weighed 63lb cleaned several hours after capture – not a bad effort for a 75-year-old angler who was bream fishing with a handline! Tom's experience and cool head under pressure won the day, and he had enough patience to wear the fish down. Mind you, the fish pretty well wore Tom down too.


Surprises occur in freshwater too, and the experience of Rod Collings is a typical example. Rod and his partner Samantha are very keen anglers, and both competed in the inaugural World Sooty Championship Series at Eungella Dam. Rodney headed the leader board for heaviest fish at one point, so he’s no slouch in freshwater.

Before the tournament Rodney decided he had best investigate Kinchant. After seeing a note by Neil Cunnington on the MAFSA website he decided to hit the dam just on daylight, armed with his fly rod and a selection of popper flies, Clousers and Deceivers.

He cruised around for a while, watching the sounder for likely spots or fish. The dam is at about 40% capacity at the moment and there are plenty of newly-submerged weed areas. Kinchant has pretty much no standing timber so the weedbeds and rock walls are the structure in the dam. Rodney saw a number of significant arches on his sounder while cruising around and eventually he decided to cast to a weed bed island well off the bank. The surface temperature was showing only 23 degrees so he fully expected to hook up on some large sooties.

Using an 8/9wt outfit, he cast and strip retrieved small popper flies towards the weed island. There was a swirl or two behind the small foam popper and the size of  the swirl indicated a big sooty was interested. Rodney at this stage was fishing with a 10kg tippet as he was interested in seeing just how large Kinchant’s sooties were.

After a couple of swirls Rod got a hook up – a barra! And it looked to be about a metre long as it tried to clear the water on a couple of jumps before busting him off. With shaking hands Rod tied on a 20kg tippet and again used the small foam popper along the weed bed. The water was about 2m deep and soon another barra around the metre mark hammered the popper and again busted Rod off after a couple of jumps. At this point Rodney forgot all about his sooty fact-finding mission and set his heart on one of those barra.

After another couple of hook-ups and jump-offs by solid fish Rodney upped the ante again. On went some 30kg leader material and Rod was in business. Because there had been a number of missed strikes on the poppers and as the sun was getting up, Rod switched to a local Barra Boofer fly. After several casts he let the fly sink about a metre before stripping very slowly. All of a sudden a huge barra sucked the fly down and started to move on out, shifting gallons of water while doing so.

Rod had line rattling out through the guides but was fairly confident as the fish headed towards more open water. The heavy leader material meant that he could safely apply maximum pressure, and eventually he landed his prize. At 1020mm, the fish was the largest recorded barra from Kinchant Dam.

Rod then checked out a couple of more spots in even shallower water and spooked a couple of barra that were just as large as the horse he had landed. He was in such shallow water that his electric outboard was cavitating when not digging up the bottom.

The fact that Rod was able to turn his failure into success proved the value of being prepared. The experience prompted Rod to make a couple of more trips to the dam and he has again found more barra than sooties, despite the low water temperatures.


At this time of year around Mackay anglers should be on the lookout for plenty of other bonus catches. Anglers bait- or lurefishing for school mackerel can expect the occasional cobia or Spanish mackerel, while snapper anglers may run into coral trout on the inshore reefs. Anglers fishing for whiting in the creek mouths or along the beaches sometimes pick up snub-nosed dart, and bream/grunter fisherman can expect the odd blue and king salmon in the creeks. Wise anglers have a contingency plan for fishing all these scenarios, and they’re the fisherman who end up with a fish or two to brag about rather than the ‘one that got away’ story.

Good fishing!

1) Rodney Collins’ 1020mm barra – the biggest barra ever recorded from Kinchant Dam.

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