Nestled 600m above sea level and surrounded by scarlet, dusty dirt is a body of water that holds some of the biggest, most aggressive sooty grunter in Australia. If you have ever been to Eungella Dam and caught one of these hard hitting overgrown fish you would understand why it’s classed as the best impoundment sooty fishing in Australia.
Eungella is located 120km west of Mackay. The drive takes you through the scenic Pioneer Valley, up and over the pristine Eungella National Park and then onto the dusty cattle paddocks of the Crediton State Forrest. Eungella Dam is fed from the Broken River system and is only relatively small when compared to most dams in Queensland. It is one of the oldest dams in the region and in 2009 will celebrate its 40th birthday.
The dam has been heavily stocked with a number of native fish including saratoga, barramundi, spangled perch, sleepy cod and sooty grunter. This unspoiled landscape surrounding the dam supports a large number of native wildlife from bird species to native treasures like the platypus, echidna, emu and dingo.
If you travel north from Eungella you will find the famous Lake Proserpine, known for its huge barra. If you travel east from Eungella you will find two more barra dams, Kinchant and Teemburra, which are growing more and more popular each year to both southern and local anglers. So why isn’t Eungella Dam known for its barra?
Even though it is stocked with barra, and many of these fish are well over the metre mark, they are not the main target fish for most anglers. As most anglers know, if you don’t target the fish you want to catch, there is a good chance you won’t catch one!
In most dams around the Central Coast region, sooties are a welcome by-catch to the hungry metre barra anglers and it’s quite ironic that in Eungella, it is the complete opposite. It is the big thumping sooties over 50cm that fishers travel to Eungella Dam for, which is what makes this dam so special.
Sooty grunters are well known for their hard and sudden lure crunching strikes and their ability to have you tangled up in their sheltered home even before you have a full turn on your reel.
Some of the fish in this dam have had many anglers on their knees begging for mercy, as the fish gives them a knitting lesson that not even they’re grandmas could teach them. This ability makes strong and abrasive resistant leader and main lines very important and puts a lot of strain on terminal tackle like hooks and split ring.
Sooties are opportunist feeders and are also very territorial and this is no exception in Eungella Dam. They feed on anything from small lizards, fish, berries and small crustaceans. But perhaps, their most unusual eating habits occur when there are Cormorants nesting or resting in drowned or overhanging trees above the water. It is here they wait in ambush, for anything that hits the surface.
When a Cormorant is nesting over water around Eungella Dam (and most other dams), the sooty will wait to pounce on any stray regurgitated fish that was meant for the chick, or even the chick itself, if it is unfortunate enough to fall from the nest.
These birds will also group together in large numbers in drowned timber to rest overnight around the dam. These birds have a very similar diet to a sooty, and the sooties know this. They will gather around, under these trees along with baitfish and feast on the bird’s droppings as soon as they hit the water. This varying diet allows these great fish to be caught on a wide array of lures, flies and bait.
Sooties aren’t fussy by any circumstances and as the years continue on and the expensive lures developed by Japanese technology tempt the anglers of Australia, it is going back to places like Eungella Dam and catching fish on the old fashion minnow that has kept many local anglers sane.
Most barra anglers know lure size is no option for sooties, as they often eat lures longer than themselves. These strikes are mainly territorial strikes and their intention is predominantly to warn these intruders to stay out of their area.
Many new bream and bass minnows will work for these fish but they just seem to get out-fished day in and day out by the older lures. Why? Well, mostly due to the size, colours and profile of the lure. Bass and bream minnows are mainly smaller in size and have a slender profile. These lures also mainly come in natural colours. This doesn’t seem to tempt the sooties as much as the brightly coloured timber lures made back in the 90s.
Lures like Reidy’s Little Lucifers, Killer Lures Flatz Rats, Classics 97 and the Rapala range of lures are often the first choice for Eungella Dam anglers with good reason. These large profile lures can be brought in most bright colours like orange, reds, greens and the famous pink.
Lipless crankbaits have been used for many years in Eungella with great success. This has a lot to do with the large profile of these lures and their loud rattles. Wide fish shape and vibrating action seem to draw the sooties attention and provoke them to strike.
They are also very useful as they can be used in many situations from the shallow weed beds down to the bases of trees up to 80ft deep.
Perhaps the best thing about lipless crankbaits is the hook up rate. It really is second to none as long as you have sharp reliable hooks.
There are many types of lipless crankbaits out there and nearly all of them will work well. The only real bonus to come out of the new range of more expensive Japanese technology in Eungella Dam is the success of their lipless crankbaits for sooties. These lures have brand-exclusive rattles and profile shapes that even keeps the fish guessing what’s real and fake. This is really important in Eungella Dam as the amount of pressure certain areas of the dam can receive makes capturing fish on popular lures hard.
The preferred retrieve for lipless crankbaits is a slow constant retrieve around timber or weed. For open banks, try hopping or pausing the lure to keep it closer to the bottom.
The most popular type of lipless crankbaits used in Eungella Dam are the ones from brands such as Rapala, C’ultiva, Jackal, CottenCordells and River2Sea Tungsten Vibes.
The new craze of blades is not just for the southern anglers. There has been numerous reports of awesome success for those anglers who dare to experiment with these lures in Eungella Dam for sooties.
If you’re willing to try your luck in using the blades, be sure to purchase the larger weight and size as most sooties will prefer to hit the larger sizes. These lures follow the same principles as lipless crankbaits, however have a very unique sounding rattle and profile.
The most exciting thing about fishing in Eungella Dam is the hot surface bite that happens every morning and every afternoon. Everything from smaller bass surface lures right up to the medium size barra surface lures seem to just get obliterated by sooties time after time.
Unlike most barra, if a sooty misses a popper on the surface, it will come back again and again until the hooks are set. This really is great fun, very addictive and highly productive as any size sooty can be caught on the surface. Long pauses are often needed to draw back a sooty after its initial strike.
Unlike a popper, spinnerbaits lack the ability to draw in a second strike. This is a real shame as these lures draw a lot of interest from sooties when other lures are not working. Although the hook up rate can be greatly increased by the use of stinger hooks, more often then not, the fish will be striking the blades. They are still a great option and equate for a lot of awesome captures in Eungella Dam.
Plastics haven’t taken off hugely in fishing for sooties, especially not in Eungella. Although some good size fish have been caught on grub style plastics over the years, hardbodies seem to be the preferred choice for most anglers. If you are a mad keen plastics fan and want to try your luck in Eungella, most fish won’t be able to resist a 3-4” grub or wriggler bouncing past their face.
The great thing about Eungella is that you don’t need to be a genius to find the fish there. In fact, you don’t even need a boat. There are lots of great land-based fishing spots just a short drive from the campsite. Sooties love structure, so if there’s a bare bank with one stick, rock or weed island, then that’s where the sooties will be found.
Another key to finding fish is to find the bait, and to find the bait, find the birds. There doesn’t have to be a feeding frenzy of birds to be an indicator. It could be just one pelican working on a weed bed, which is just enough to say that this particular area is not lifeless.
If you find yourself in the maze of Eungella’s trees look for major structure. There are certain trees that scream out ‘fish’ to you with big neon lights, because they are the trees that provide the most shelter for a fish. Shelter doesn’t just mean a place to hide or ambush prey, but it also supplies them with shade during the hotter hours of the day.
Depth can vary a lot in Eungella Dam, anywhere from 3ft over weed beds to 110ft in the main basin, so choosing the correct depth is crucial. Generally, most fish will only be sitting around the 3-5ft mark below the surface, around shelters like snags but they have been caught in schools around the 20ft area in the deeper water. A good rule of thumb to follow is to fish the areas around the 10-20ft mark, as at most times of the year this has the most stable water temperature.
Eungella is a one-of-a-kind spot, with beautiful landscape and fantastic fishing, worthy of a weekend away or a weeklong trip. So whether you’re a local fisher with a family or a frustrated barra angler wanting a change, give this place a go, as it can only be described by one word…magic.
Top Five lures choices
River2Sea Bubble Pop
Reidy’s Little Lucifers
Cultiva Mira Vibes
TT Vortex Spinnerbaits
River2Sea Tungsten Vibe
Camping a Eungella Dam
Camping at Eungella is pretty basic with only compost toilets, clean drinking water, cold showers and rubbish bins supplied for a small fee of $3.85 per person per night.
Eungella Dam is stocked with: sooty grunter, barramundi, sleepy cod, saratoga, and spangle perch. This is due to the great work from the people of the Mackay Area Fish Stocking Association (MAFSA). You are required to hold a SIP permit to fish at Eungella Dam.