Winter dam strategies
  |  First Published: May 2009

Zipping out to your local trout stream in the next couple of days? If not, it’s the end of that caper until October.

We’ve just seen the best trout season across New England for a good while and I have no doubt that the next season opening will be equally action-packed.

The continued propagation efforts of the Dutton Hatchery at Ebor and the liberation efforts of local angling clubs are to be applauded.

So if the trout are off limits, where to next, you may well ask.

Over the Winter half the regional anglers focus on the lakes and the other half focus on a fire and a drink!

We’ve discussed the trolling options for early Winter before so I’ll let that revision swing for another time down the track.


It’s well known that most fishing across the New England shuts down or steadies up over the next couple of months.

That said, the Winter days up here can be spectacular with a steady barometer and sunny skies. Sure, the nights tend to be a bit below lukewarm but that’s just part of the game.

Bait angling is pretty much a waste of time during the cooler months.

Firstly, it is pretty hard to collect fresh yabbies and shrimp and secondly, fish won’t tend to move far from where they are held up.

This calls for very mobile angling tactics coupled with the ability to ‘stir’ fish into action.

Autumn and Spring, you’ll find fish in the shallows and along the drop-offs but as the water chills, many will move into either the mid depths or indeed the upper water column.

Many anglers fish too deep over the Winter months, whether trolling or casting lures.

Some years ago I remember reading a piece by Rod Harrison on the balling-up of baitfish in the southern Queensland impoundments such as Glenlyon. The theory was that these smaller prey species congregated in the mid depths, away from general structure.

The upper water column warms quickly, especially in the still conditions common during mid-Winter here.

This concentrates some of the plankton which in turn concentrates baitfish.

Predatory species, especially the juveniles, often gather beneath these ‘bait balls’.

To get to them, anglers should consider mid-water jigging with blades or soft tails.

A sounder is invaluable to locate the schools although some judicious use of a thermometer to find the warmer surface water can lead to success. Mostly you’ll be tangling with either golden perch or redfin.

Don’t be surprised to find the schools well out in open water.

However, if the wind freshens, the upper water will quickly chill and the schools will fragment until conditions are again suitable.

Despite the relatively low levels in most impoundments, your best bet to target open-water fish is probably the main basin at Copeton or Pindari.

Pindari is actually becoming quite a popular Winter or late-season destination. Over past Summers the dam has experienced some bad algal blooms which limit the options.


Cod, more so than yellowbelly, will respond over Winter to repetitive casting into the tight stuff. Don’t expect a high success rate but gear up for the big ones.

Many are regularly hooked during the next couple of months throughout the Tablelands.

Weapons of choice are flashy, annoying lures which stimulate cod into a response.

For years, older anglers were keen on the large Celta-style lures which created an awesome vibration. The greenfish are still hungry but won’t move far to chomp down so rig lures to resist snagging and get them into the structure.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the willow stretches over Winter. The low cover may well keep the water pockets slightly warmer and less turned over by wind.

I’ve never bothered to carry a thermometer on Winter cod trips (prefer not to frighten myself!) but actual comparisons between willow clumps and the open pools would be interesting.

Cast a large, slow-actioned diving lure upstream and allow it to drift in under the willows. Once in the strike zone, I like to rip the lure several times with the rod tip without pulling it out from under the branches.

Allow it to float to rest, wait 30 seconds, then start a slow retrieve. Persist with this technique anywhere your gut tells you it’s fishy.

So where should you be giving this a go?

Areas downstream from Keepit and Split Rock dams have a reputation. So, too, does the Peel River downstream of Tamworth towards Carroll.

Upstream of either Bundarra or Ashford, you’ll also encounter some good water.

There are some stock reserves along most of these stretches and a few road crossings, but always inquire for permission if unsure of who owns the particular stretch of river.

A courteous approach may often get you access, but leave the camping for another trip when you’ve cemented relations with the landholders.

Cockies don’t like people poking about the place when stock are calving and at other times.

I certainly don’t know it all and Winter is one season when I definitely learn something new each year.

Yeah, the fishing is tougher and your toes freeze but the more you do it, the more you’ll love it!

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