Travelling anglers are afflicted by a state of mind that looks at road maps and sees only watercourses. These anglers prefer to spend more time on, or by, water than on the road. Every year southern anglers make the trek north to fish the tropical Top End, where most spend long periods fishing the same waterhole. Even when these anglers move, it is often to another waterhole down the road … somewhere. Anglers who stay down south follow a similar trend: For example, on the Victorian side of the Murray River from summer to late autumn, you will come across caravans set up on the riverbank, sometimes for months.
Sightseeing, wildlife and culture tours are fine, but the tourist track is best saved for days when the fish aren’t biting. There are heaps of options for people who want to fish more and travel less, and among the best for freshwater fishers are the impoundments grouped as part of the New South Wales State Parks.
Working from north to south, here is a rundown on some of the best waters, with excellent caravan and camping facilities, available to the travelling angler.
Lake Copeton is an excellent catchment dam fed by the Gwydir River and run-off from the New England Tablelands. The lake is in northern NSW, about 46km west of Inverell on the Gwydir Hwy. The dam was constructed primarily for irrigation, holding water to serve the cotton farms farther west. At full capacity, the volume of water in Copeton is about three times that of Sydney Harbour.
The lake is a popular for angling and well stocked with Murray cod, yellowbelly and silver perch and has good numbers of catfish along with redfin and the noxious carp. If the lake has a problem, it is the size and the enormous amount of fishing opportunities. The Gwydir River end offers more in the way of scenic opportunity, and the small bays strewn with fallen timber are more protected.
I first fished this water in the mid 1990s with native fish specialist Rod Harrison. We stayed at Copeton Waters State Park and launched our boat from shore at Diamond Bay to make the 30km to our destination where the Gwydir River flowed into the lake. The boat was flat-bottomed, aluminium with a 50 horsepower four-stroke outboard. Rod drove at top speed regardless of whether we were in open water or motoring through dead trees, so the run to our destination took less than 30 minutes.
Native fish on lures require specialised techniques. First, you have to know where the fish are likely to be lurking and then offer a lure with all the right attributes: colour, action and depth are the keys to success. Before a lure was used, Rod set about changing the hooks, always upsizing the front set of trebles and downsizing the rear trebles, before working the hooks over with a sharpening stone. He changed the hooks because of the way native fish feed, in that they flare their gills to inhale their prey. It means fish are taken at the broadest surface and he reasoned that would be the same with lures, which was why he placed special significance on the front treble.
We used baitcaster reels spooled with braid and cast diving lures to the edge of rocks and alongside the skeletal remains of treetops. Our modus operandi was to work rocky points, snags and drop-offs. The slightest irregularities in the shoreline or bottom are likely places, as are choke points where the water narrows and the current increases. It was in a choke point when the action went from hot to hotter.
A yellowbelly of about 2.5kg was putting up a valiant struggle after taking a lure and Rod was coaxing it along through the current. We were drifting through a stretch of fast water in a small canyon and, even though the fish was making life difficult by using its deep flank to hold in the current, it was almost a regulation battle. We had been on the lake trolling and spinning for a great fish since sunrise, more than eight hours ago. Then it happened, as a huge flash of white emerged through the tannin coloured water as a big Murray cod rose from its lair to take a swipe at the struggling yellowbelly.
“Did you see the size of that bloody cod?” Rod asked, and we both felt a rush of adrenalin. Murray cod proved scarce and after two and a half days, we only managed two of the “green fish” as Harro called them. Mostly we caught and released yellowbelly, good-sized fish that ranged in weight from lkg to 3.5kg. Mixed in with these were redfin and silver perch.
Even when the fishing was slow, there was still plenty of action. Water dragons provided plenty of fun. When one of these lizards spotted a lure in the water, it would clamber along the rocky shoreline, dive in and chase the lure. We made sure no lizard got close enough to hook up, but the sight of a reptilian head poking periscope-like out of the water pursuing a piece of coloured, vibrating plastic was good for a few laughs.
Back in the early 1990s, a Murray cod of 10kg was regarded as a good fish. These days the cod are up to 40kg. The yellowbelly average 2-3kg, so you won’t be on the water hooking tiddlers. The redfin are not huge, but they act more as a food source for other fish than an angling resource.
Located about 54kms west of Tamworth or 38km east of Gunnedah, Keepit is a shallow dam (as dams go) and owes its presence to an enormous natural depression at the lower end of the Namoi Valley. Compared to other lakes, Keepit has limited cover for native fish.
The fish population consists of Murray cod, yellowbelly and silver perch and receives regular stockings. The waterway also holds carp, which are easy to catch around the shore, and provide entertainment for young anglers and fly fishers who enjoy the fighting capabilities of this maligned species.
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Keepit, as it is also known, offers a range of accommodation styles including cabins, powered and unpowered sites and bush camping. All mod cons are available, including an amenities block, kiosk, laundry, camp kitchen and barbecues. Visitors can buy food, food, fuel, fishing tackle and bait.
For more information, visit www.lakekeepit.com.au
Lake Glenbawn is 160km northwest of Newcastle, just off the New England Hwy, and can be reached via Aberdeen or Scone, about 40km away. The lake is noted for producing trophy-size native fish: yellowbelly to 15kg have been caught, and silver perch to 7.5kg, which is 16 pounds on the imperial scale. A noted Australian bass lake, anglers can expect to hook this feisty species to 2kg and over. The lake was traditionally stocked with yellowbelly, silver perch and bass. However, rainbow trout were released to boost the fish population, and anglers who bottom-fish catch good bags of eel-tailed catfish.
Glenbawn offers a range of fish habitat, including snaggy runs and rocky banks, with weedbeds where lake margins permit. The skeletal tops of submerged trees offer cover for bass. Anglers in the know fish these areas with spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits.
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Glenbawn, as it is also known, has a range of accommodation options from cabins to powered and bush camping sites. A kiosk has basic food items.
For more information, visit www.lakeglenbawn.com.au
Burrendong Dam is built across the junction of the Macquarie and Cudgegong Rivers, and is about an hour’s drive from Dubbo or Orange. Constructed in the early 1960s, the lake produced outstanding catches of Murray cod, however, pollution from run-off caused fish kills and subsequently the waterway became best known as a redfin fishery through to the 90s, and then there was a carp invasion.
In recent years, NSW Fisheries increased native fish stocking, and fishing for Murray cod and yellowbelly has improved. Catfish and yabbies are also caught. Spring and summer are the best seasons for yabbies.
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Burrendong has cabins, powered and unpowered sites. The camp area has an amenities block and laundry. Visitors can buy food, fuel, tackle and bait.
For more information, visit www.lakeburrendong.com.au
Wyangala Dam is a popular angling holiday destination. The lake is huge, with a surface area two and a half times that of Sydney Harbour. Wyangala is a 30 minute drive southeast from Cowra or about two hours north of Canberra. The lake is situated below the confluence of the Lachlan and Abercrombie Rivers.
Anglers come here in search of silver perch, yellowbelly, catfish, Murray cod, brown and rainbow trout.
ACCOMMODATION: Options include cabins, powered and bush camping sites. There are barbecues and an amenities block. Visitors can buy food, fuel, tackle and bait.
For more information, visit www.wyangalawaters.com.au
Located about 60km southwest of Yass, Burrinjuck is New South Wales’ oldest man-made lake. Burrinjuck was constructed in 1928 downstream of the junction of the Murrumbidgee and Goodradigbee Rivers.
The lake has abundant snag and rocky bank habitat and a solid fish population.
Anglers who come here catch Murray cod and yellowbelly. Other species caught include trout, redfin and carp.
ACCOMMODATION: Visitors can choose from cabins and cottages, powered sites and bush camping.
For more information, visit www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au/burrinjuck_waters
Lure anglers prefer baitcaster outfits, 4-6kg and spool their reels with 15kg breaking strain braid. Trolling or casting lures will produce Murray cod, yellowbelly, silver perch and redfin. If fishing cod, use a minimum 15kg monofilament leader. Bait anglers tend to employ 4-6kg threadline outfits.
The simplest rig for bait fishing is to use a pea-size ball sinker and allow it to run to the hook. Some anglers prefer to use running sinker rigs with a leader for the cod and paternoster style rigs for the yellowbelly. Hook size for baits are generally No.2-4 long shank. Bobbing with lures and bait is popular in heavily timbered areas for redfin and yellowbelly. This is a method whereby the bait is dropped to the bottom, lifted a metre or so and then lifted and dropped.
Shrimp and yabbies are the two most popular baits, but scrubworms and woodgrubs will also produce solid results.
Large bibbed, deep running lures are best for trolling. A few with a record of accomplishment include Stumpjumpers, Predatek Boomerangs, Halco Poltergeists and Bassman Spinnerbaits. Spinning with minnow lures or working spinnerbaits in the heavy timber and rocky gorges is productive.
For more information, visit www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au