Given that golfers have driving ranges, boxers have punching bags and shooters have targets to practise on, I reckon lure anglers also need somewhere to learn new techniques and hone their existing skills.
For those who own electric or paddle powered craft, Lake Wivenhoe might be just the place to do this. A little over an hour’s drive from Brisbane, Wivenhoe is not only conveniently located, but a great freshwater fishery.
In my case it is a great practice ground because, as a fairly recent convert to impoundment fishing, there is only so much I can learn from reading articles by experienced anglers who have pioneered angling for stocked freshwater species using small craft.
The ultimate test of how well I have interpreted their instructions is to get out there and try the suggested methods on a lake that has a known supply of ‘catchable’ fish. Wivenhoe fits the bill perfectly, with stocked species such as bass, golden perch and Mary River cod, as well as a huge population of fork-tailed catfish (Arius graeffei) that breed naturally.
The fork-tailed catfish grows to over 60cm and is usually caught in the 0.5-3kg weight range in Lake Wivenhoe. Surrounding its mouth are six barbels, with one on each side of the upper jaw and two each side of the lower jaw. These three pairs of whisker-like sensory organs are harmless, unlike the three venomous spines (one in the dorsal fin and one in each pectoral fin), which are quite dangerous and capable of inflicting stinging pain to an unwary handler.
Although forkies are scorned by many Queensland anglers (myself included before I discovered Wivenhoe), they can be hard-hitting and, if big enough, can put on a powerful performance. Because I am primarily a catch and release angler, as long as the quality of the fight is good then I don’t think it really matters what the quarry looks like once it is brought to the boat. Some people even keep them to eat, which I think is a much better idea than eating the fish stocked into the lake. Wivenhoe forkies are also abundant enough that even beginners can manage to take a few as they begin to understand how to best use their equipment.
For anyone who has just purchased a new sounder, a trip to Wivenhoe will give you the opportunity to observe how it displays the bottom features and allow you to practise identifying channels, shallow banks and drop-offs. More importantly, it will give you the chance to actually see fish on the screen.
Forkies can nearly always be found in small schools or as individual fish throughout the lake. To learn to identify the arches, straight lines or oblique lines made by different fish in various states of activity is invaluable and almost as much fun as catching them.
The sophisticated sensory capabilities of catfish make them extremely efficient hunters because they can detect minute electrical fields given off by their prey. This is why they can forage in mud and dirty water with limited visibility and can often be caught in conditions that other fish could not tolerate. This ability, as well as their sheer numbers, may explain why forkies so frequently beat the stocked species to anglers’ lures at Wivenhoe.
Using the sounder to steer a course that remains in deep water or on the edges of the channel will usually find schools of fish and even large individual fish in the 5-10m range, which makes them accessible to deep diving lures.
Choose an appropriate deep diver designed to operate at the depth where the fish are holding and slowly troll it through the area until a fish is taken.
Nearly every tackle store in south east Queensland should be able to recommend lures to troll deep in impoundments. Select those recommended for bass, because if the forkies don’t hit them first, there is the chance of trolling up a decent bass or golden perch at Wivenhoe.
If you launch at Logan Inlet, fish can usually be found holding in deep water and along the drop-offs within the inlet. It is not necessary to travel long distances into the lake, although exploring further can also yield good results once you get to know the area better.
It certainly doesn’t take long to work out the best way to organise your trolling gear and improve your techniques after you’ve caught your first couple of Wivenhoe forkies.
If you jig a soft plastic, bibless lure or ice jig through a school of reasonably sized fish, you are likely to connect with a forky or maybe even a bass.
In my experience, windless or light wind days are best for using this tactic and I get the best results when I can position the lure within the cone of the sounder and observe the depth I am jigging it at. I experiment with different types of lures but they must all have enough weight to get down to the depth where the fish are holding. In Logan Inlet I have most success when jigging into schools of fish holding at about 6-8m in 10-15m of water. Sometimes jigging the lure up and down in short strokes will work but I get more hits from forkies when I repeatedly lift the tip of the rod a metre or more and then lower it quickly. Many hits occur on the drop and a big fish taken this way will put up a good fight when hooked in deep water below the boat.
Sometimes I can actually see the continuous light line of my lure going up and down in a wave pattern on the sounder and the heavier straight line of a fish as it merges for the strike. Then there is a continuous ascending heavy line on the screen for a few metres as I pull the fish up within the sounder cone for the first part of the retrieve.
On a light rod with 4lb line, large forkies definitely provide me with some fun when jigging in deep water.
Although forkies can be caught at Wivenhoe all year round, they become more active when the water warms and are often described as being “in plague proportion” during summer. So, if you are a beginner and want to get out there to practise using your gear with an excellent chance of catching a forky or two, the next few months should see them move into full swing.
Once you’ve mastered the fork-tailed catfish, there’s a good chance you’ll want to come back next winter and try similar luring techniques when there is more chance of catching those big 50cm-plus bass for which Wivenhoe is renowned.
A handling challenge
The humble forky puts up a damn good fight on light gear. Once brought alongside the boat, forkies provide one final challenge to anglers, who have to carefully handle and de-hook this well-equipped adversary without getting spiked by any of its three strategically positioned spines. I therefore rarely bring a forky aboard and carefully use long-nosed pliers to release it beside the hull wherever possible.
A Stocked Impoundment Permit (SIP) is required to fish Lake Wivenhoe and can be obtained from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries as well as selected tackle shops.
A Boating Permit is required for boats that can be registered and towed on a trailer. These permits can be obtained from SEQwater.
Wivenhoe is an expansive lake and only electric powered or paddle powered craft are permitted to fish it. Therefore, care must be taken with the weather as strong winds can whip up some very rough conditions for smaller vessels.