Have you ever heard of Eungella Dam? If you’ve lived in central Queensland around the Mackay area you should be familiar with this great impoundment located 2.5 hours west of the city.
Travelling to Eungella involves turning onto the Peak Downs Highway located on the south of Mackay and looking for the turn-off once you are about 8km west. It’s easy travelling through Marian, Pinnacle and Finch Hatton to arrive at the foot of the range below Eungella. It’s quite a steep trek up to Eungella but the view alone dictates a short travel break to take in the vista of the Pioneer River Valley with its patchwork of cane fields and dense rainforest on each side.
The road to Eungella Dam is on the southern outskirts of town and while the road changes from bitumen to gravel before it’s not a bad road at all. For the most part it’s just a matter of taking things easy and poking along nice and steadily. I maintained an easy 60-80km while towing the tinny out to the dam but have been advised that in wet weather it’s wise to reduce speed considerably as parts of the road can become slippery.
Once at the dam there are literally hectares of space to set up camp as the camping area with amenities covers a massive area. However, there are one or two matters to consider, as Keith Day of Mackay explained to me.
The first thing Keith suggested was that we set up camp on the western side of a slope in the camping area. It seemed odd, given that the better view was on the eastern side of the slope, but Keith explained that because Eungella Dam is 550m above sea level some very cool breezes tend to blow down the Broken River valley. The place does, in fact, have a reputation for being a windy area. Keith’s call was spot on and by four o’clock on the afternoon of the first day there the wind was up around 20 knots and it stayed that way for most of the night. The next morning the wind had dropped and we had calm conditions until almost 11am.
We set up camp fairly close to one of the numerous water taps within the camping area and made use of one of the established fireplaces. Fires are permitted in the camping area and firewood is somewhat scarce, naturally, but there are enough twigs and small branches about to get a fire started. After that it’s simply a matter of having a bag of decent timber in the boat to sustain the fire.
Camping here is very laid back and folks enjoying a stay at the dam will need to fill out a form and put the necessary fees (unbelievably cheap) in the honour box next to the amenities. The showers only have cold water so my Glind Aussie Shower was handy to have at night.
As might be imagined, a stay here means that you needs to be completely self sustained. Everything needs to be pre-packed, including 12v lighting and gas or spirit stoves for quick pre-fish boil ups. Generators are OK here.
On the credit side of the ledger is the fact that the stars are unbelievably bright, the pre-dawn bird chorus of magpies and butcher birds is one of the best I’ve heard and are a sure way of getting sleepy bodies on the move for some early morning fishing. The only sound at night is a bush curlew or maybe an owl.
During my visit the formed ramp was above the water level but we had no problem with launching off to the side of the ramp, where a gently sloping bank allowed us to slip the small boats in.
Sooty grunter are the stars of the show here. There are simply stacks of these feisty fellows tucked in behind the virtual forest of drowned trees that dominate the upper reaches of the dam. There is also good fishing for sooties around the rocky bank near the southeast corner from the dam wall. Keith hooked a fish there, and my son Scott had a bump on his fly. The upper reaches are the best area without any doubt and Scott hooked a sooty on the fourth cast with the plastic.
These fish respond to small bibbed lures and small plastics, especially those that have a definite fish shape about them. Scott scored a couple of very good fish on a small plastic that looked exactly like a banded grunter. Apparently, these fish are suckers for spinnerbaits as well although I didn’t personally use them. I prefer flyfishing and my advice is not to overlook the fly gear if you are that way inclined. Sooties certainly go for flies.
The best times to fish vary. We tended to be off the water by around 10:30 of a morning, going back again around 3pm, yet folk often report good catches during the middle of the day. I guess it just depends upon what is motivating the fish on the day.
Don’t overlook the barramundi in Eungella Dam because there are some whoppers in this impoundment, as indicated by various electrofishing and control netting surveys. Sadly, with the water around 19C during my stay, we only had one barra strike on a surface popper that failed to connect. Keith reckons that anglers who make the effort to target barra from numerous points or the flats in the more open lower sections will certainly succeed on barra during the middle of summer when the water has warmed up. Personally, I was so impressed with the sooties that I didn’t miss the barra one bit.
All up, Eungella Dam is a tucked away, secret sort of place that is probably best described as unique, given the quality of the unspoiled camping experience to be had. I used my G.Loomis Bonze Back SMR882S-SP rod mated to a Daiwa Luvias 2500 spin reel running 6kg braid, and some of those sooties made me revise my thoughts on how hard snapper pull. Pound for pound these blokes are the best, no doubt about it.Reads: 8800