MARABOON, meaning ‘where the black ducks fly’, is a fitting name for the waters of this lake. Lake Maraboon abounds with thousands of water birds, the caravan park is home to huge flocks of lorikeets, and a few pairs of crimson-wing parrots pay the occasional visit. We often choose an early morning boat cruise close to the shores of the lake to admire the flocks of dancing brolgas and feeding kangaroos. And on top of all this there’s great fishing and redclaw crayfish. Is it any wonder my partner Teresa and I fell in love with the place?
The lake is situated 18km south of Emerald in central Queensland, via a sealed road that passes through the largest privately-owned citrus orchard in Australia. The wall and spillway complex is called Fairbairn Dam and the waters are called Lake Maraboon.
My partner and I visited the lake last year for the first time, and we booked into the Lake Maraboon Caravan Park for two days and stayed for three weeks. Our next visit was in August this year and we booked in for two weeks and stayed for six!
Getting away from a cold winter at home in the Swansea area of NSW to the sunny days and cool nights of the Emerald area are a bonus for us. The 1400km drive from home to the lake is an easy two and a half days’ drive towing boat and camping gear.
When we arrived at the caravan park we followed the usual routine of setting up camp then finding out what was happening on the water. The news wasn’t good – the water level had dropped from 53% on our last visit to 23%. The redclaw were hard to find and the yellowbelly were generally not in the biting mood. We didn’t really mind though, as the weather was warm and it was great to be there.
Then I met an old mate of mine from down south who visits the lake every year. He had found a spot about 7km west of the boat ramp, in a heavy timbered area near Norwood Point, and was starting to trap a few nice redclaw. He offered to show us where to go the next day, so it was back to camp to unpack the opera house traps and bait them up with all the goodies ready for the morning.
The great discussion of the best baits to use to trap redclaw crayfish still rages! Talk to 20 fishos and you’ll get 20 different answers. Personally, we found the best baits were rock melons and mandarins (bought from the roadside stall at the citrus orchard on the way to the lake) with a backup of parboiled spuds and carrots.
The location my mate showed us was a large band of dead timber that ran almost right across the lake. We first set our traps in the open water along the edge of the timber but came up with zilch, so the next day we moved them back into the timber and set them close to the butts of the larger dead trees in 4-6m of water. The move was a good one – next morning we pulled 20 nice redclaw from our eight traps. The trend amongst many of the trappers was to move the nets every couple of days but we chose to leave our nets virtually in the same area, based on the theory that the area was becoming well berleyed from the scraps from the nets. On the average trip out we would discard some of the more waterlogged bait and replace it with fresh produce, thereby creating berley.
The other ingredient for enticing the redclaw to the traps was a good handful of dried dog food, which also created a berley effect. We averaged about 20 good quality redclaw each time we checked the traps so this procedure seems to be a good one.
With the redclaw operation up and running the next trick was to find where the yellowbelly (golden perch) were biting. During our previous visit we were pulling goldens from 20m of water along the sandstone cliffs near the dam wall, but on this trip it didn’t work. The good oil came from Ray who was camped on the site next to us. He and his mate almost bagged out in an early morning session.
He said they’d caught the good quality goldens while fishing around the timber in Gindle Bay using live shrimp for bait. Gindle Bay is commonly known as Silo Bay by most of the lake regulars, as the grain silos at Gindle rail siding are clearly visible when turning east into the bay from the main lake.
Armed with this information our routine changed to collecting live shrimp from the shrimp trap, checking the redclaw traps then motoring around to Gindle Bay for a couple of hours of fishing. The goldens weren’t interested in lures of any description but the live shrimp proved deadly, so we were happy to catch two or three each outing for the frying pan. According to the locals there are good quality barramundi in the lake but these critters weren’t interested in our deep trolled lures. Perhaps the water temperature was still a little to cold for their liking.
A word of warning – the water level was still falling while we were there and all boating operations were carried out with the utmost caution. Old stock yards, fences, tree stumps and gravel banks appeared or lurked just under the surface. Quite a few boaties wiped out the bottom end of their outboards by travelling at speed in areas they thought should have been deep water.
The Lake Maraboon Caravan Park offers excellent accommodation for powered camping and caravan sites or self-contained cabins. There’s a restaurant for relaxed dining and a kiosk that supplies the basics such as milk and fresh bread. The Park owners, John, Kathy, and family, have made remarkable improvements to the park in the landscaping and concrete pads for most of the campsites.
Our only regret about the Emerald area is that we can’t move it closer to home, so perhaps we might move closer to it!
1) No fear of live redclaw shown by Abbey Habbifield from Victoria. Abby was a regular deckie with Dad and Grandad in their tinnie, running the traps.
2) It’s a long time since the water flowed over the top of the spillway of Fairbain Dam, but some of the old locals are predicting it will flow over before the end of the year.
3) Teresa Carruthers showing off the best catch of the day. This golden was lucky – we already had a couple for the barbie so it went back to fight another day.
4) Most of our crays averaged around 20-30cm with our largest measuring a whopping 46cm (18 inches).
5) Sunset across Lake Maraboon.Reads: 11521