Return to the Mighty Macleay
After visiting the Macleay river a few years ago, and having an absolutely magical time, I jumped at the chance to visit it again with a crew of keen bass fisherman. After impatiently waiting for the day to arrive when I could back the car and begin the 5 hour drive south and over the mountains to George’s Junction. On the drive I passed over some beautiful country including the Nymboidea river that was very hard to drive past without unpacking my gear and spending some time exploring its picturesque length. Eventually after driving along the windy dirt road that meanders through a range of mountains I eventually arrived at my destination.
Turning the bend past the Bass Lodge and driving down into the camping area at the junction between George’s creek and the Macleay, the first thing I noticed was that the water level was much lower than my last visit. I pulled up in the creek bed beneath the trees and hopped out of the car and into the sweltering heat, it was really really hot!! Taking a camp tree out of the back of my Navara I then settled in with a nice cool drink and a book while I waited for Troopy to arrive. I waited for awhile but eventually the need to have a cast got the better of me and so I threw together a travel rod I had behind my back seat and had a quick cast while I waited.
The pools I had access to where in bright sun and sadly were too shallow to inspire any confidence so eventually I decided to head back to the car and continue reading my book.
Eventually Troopy arrived and after a quick chat on the UHF and a brief hello at the junction we started our trek up the river. The journey was relatively painless with a few river crossings and a couple of steep hills, the only stressful moment for me was a rock wall that I had to navigate and with little experience 4WDing I found it a little tense. We explored the track and and river and then decided on our campsite which although not ideal was situated next to a nice pool.
At this point the day had become an absolute scorcher. I have been to some hot places but on this day the heat was unbearable and we really struggled to get our camp set up in the oppressive conditions. Simple things that required fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination were virtually impossible and at one stage we both just fell face first into the river and lay there to cool off. I literally lay face down in the shallows with my head submerged only raising it occasionally to get some air like a sea turtle.
After cooling down significantly we made short work of our camp and as you can imagine we were chomping to get into our kayaks and into the beautiful pool above our camp. I managed to get in early and must admit i was bitterly disappointed to find the entire pool filled with weed. Literally the entire pool was filled with only 20cm of the surface showing any absence of weed.
We were forced to target little pockets where there were gaps in the weed bed but at best this was a tiny percentage of the potential structures in the pool. I was lucky enough to manage a bass in my first few casts when I found one of these gaps adjacent a large boulder in the middle of the pool. I wasn’t expected much as it was in the bright sunshine, but I was very happy when a 30cmFL bass smashed my lure and I netted my first bass from the Macleay. I love the colour of the fish in this system to as there are almost pure gold in colour.
We continued upstream and finally reached the end of the pool where their were multiple flows to choose from to portage up to the next section of water. Troopy decided to follow one run and I decided to follow another which had some serious flow and difficult portage but I had spied a couple of deep eddies where I though a bass might hide. As I dragged my kayak up the rapids I eventually reached one of these eddies behind a large boulder and sent my Sammy 65 into the swirling water. At this point it was smashed and a solid fish was causing me some serious trouble in the flowing water and was desperately trying to bury me beneath the rocky outcrop. It was such a difficult landing that I was sure I was going to lose the fish but through some miracle it remained perfectly still as I belly lifted it back to my yak and placed it into the net. Like the previous fish it’s scales were like beaten gold and at 41.5cmFL it was a PB for me in this system.
I eventually made it up to the next pool although the portage was crazy and met up with Troopy who was excited by the news that I had caught a 40 forker. We paddled up the next pool but the weed and low depth was causing us a few concerns, as was the apparent lack of action. My previous trip to the Macleay was amazing with huge tallies of bass between about 10 people. Early indications were showing that this trip was not going to be the same.
We had launched quite late and as the light disappeared behind the mountains we were keen to head back downstream below the fast flowing rapids before night fall. We made the plans to hit the pool above camp after dinner in the dark and so we headed home and had a feed and a chinwag before heading back to the top pool for a night session. We hoped that the darkness would encourage the bass to venture out of the weed and up to the surface to hunt where the weed was not growing. Sadly the bass seemed unwilling to play and we fished almost the entire pool for nothing. It wasn’t until we reached the very end of the pool where I sent out a long cast beneath the rapids Troopy had travelled up earlier in the day that we finally found a fish.
There was a “boof” in the distance that was barely audible due to the running water and I loaded up to a solid fish. It had obviously been hunting in the shallows beneath the running water and once hooked up on my Arbogast Jitterbug it took off and eventually found its way into some weed. Luckily the big bass was hooked up solidly and eventually I netted a really chunky 43cmFL bass, which ended up being our only bass for the night.
We headed back to camp a little dejected but quietly optimistic that the morning woefully change our fortunes. After a few drinks and another chat about all things bass related we decided to hit the sack with the intention of exploring a little downstream before we headed back to the junction briefly to guide a few new comers back to our camp. Just before bed we hit the water for a bath and were amazed to see heaps of little yellow frogs all over the river pebbles and amongst the grass. It was very hard to get close enough to get a photo but I just managed to get a photo of this one. Soon after I was asleep really quickly as it had been a really big day.
The following morning we rose to be greeted with a completely new set of conditions. Clouds were rolling in low and ominous over the mountains tops and it was clear that the weather had turned dramatically. We checked the BOM and the indicators were there for potentially some heavy rainfall which had us a little nervous about making our way back to the junction if the river rose significantly. We decided to head off downstream early and see what we could see and it wasn’t long before the lack of depth and solid weed beds in the deeper sections had us pulling out our hair with frustration and so we headed back to camp to re-evaluate our plans.
We came up with the decision to pack up our camp and head to a a camping ground downstream. Firstly it would mean we would not get caught in potential floodwaters and also we hoped that the bass were further downstream and that the lack of flow had meant they hadn’t made it up into the higher reaches of the Macleay.
As we were packing up we heard the extra members of our group over the UHF telling us they had arrived at the junction. The trip back down the track was free from incident except a bit of bottoming out at the rocky outcrop and we drove along the final river crossing to meet Erin and Craig on the other side. A quick chat about our mixed fortunes and we headed downstream to a new camp ground called Crackenback where we met our very friendly hosts and set up camp quickly due to threatening rain. Soon after a couple more members of our camp arrived with Pete arriving first and Steve arriving a lot later due to a flat tyre just as he reached George’s Junction.
The rain arrived not long after and set in for the rest of the day. There was so much of it that at one point we were filling our water containers from the runoff from our tarps. I also discovered that my tent was not so waterproof which made for a very frustrating camp.
We didn’t manage to fish all day and the river started to rise although not significantly and it still ran clear. Just after dark there was a break in the weather and I took the opportunity to do a quick night fish in the pool below camp. It was very narrow but everything else about it was extremely encouraging. The weed growth was not as thick and the banks were lined with Caliistemon providing awesome structure for bass to hide in. The pool was also nice and deep and had significant run along its length. It was a very positive sign that our move downstream was the right one and now we just had to prove it by finding some bass.
Hitting the water it wasn’t long before my deciding was justified and my Jitterbug was smashed by a nice bass that went 38cmFL. I had caught it moments after launching directly from camp and so the others in our party could hear all the action as i netted the bass and brought it back to camp for a quick photo. It was a great photo of the fish but my night sight wasn’t prepared for the flash! Lol!
I continued fishing and managed to pick up three more solid fish in the mid to high thirties. I missed plenty of others as well and finally felt that the Macleay was finally living up to its potential. Sadly another shower kicked in and I was forced to written back to camp and settle in hoping that the weather would improve in the morning. My not so weather-proof tent kept me up that night as I attempted to stem the flow of water into the tent but it didn’t stop me from having an early start the next morning.
As the sky lightened on our third day, I was on the water again for a quick pre-breakfast fish and although the fishing was a lot slower than it had been the following night the surface hits were at least a little more frequent than upstream. Sadly though the bass were not overly fired up and the hits were a little lack lustre and most failed to connect although I did manage another bass in the thirties to add to my tally.
After brekkie we all decided to head in a variety of directions from camp. Some of us headed upstream and others headed downstream. In the end StevenM and I made the decision to head downstream and explore a large pool I had scoped out the day before. The weed was again a problem throughout the river but at least there were some larger pockets of clear water where the shade, depth and current prevented any serious weed growth. We found a few bass but they were just not interested and shied away from the lure once they got up close and the hits and boils lacked enthusiasm.
We cast at everything that really enabled us to retrieve our lures and avoid them snagging up on weed or at the very least provide a spot for bass to sit and attack passing prey. On the trip I managed two bass only around the 30cmFL mark. Both were beautifully conditioned and both came off sandstone boulders in current where there was a space in the weed. After a relatively unsuccessful session we headed back to camp where the fortunes of the others were very similar. A few bass here and there but not in the numbers we were hoping for.
We returned back to camp later in the day and chilled out a bit around the fire before I hit the water for another night session. There were a few bass around but they still lacked enthusiasm and I could not get a single bass to hook up and so I headed back to camp to relax and chat before hitting the sack and hopefully finding a few fish in the morning.
The night again was a little sleepless for me as it rained in the morning and my camp was another soggy one. So I woke on my final morning a little dusty and my hope of finding a few bass before I had to leave was dashed by yet another rain spell. Although I launched and tried my best to raise a few fish in the wet conditions it was just not meant to be so I headed back to the camp and consider my options packing in the wet.
A quick look at the BOM showed that the rain would soon let up and I was lucky enough to have the sun appear and start to dry all my gear. In the end I decided to be patient and wait for my gear to dry before I packed it away. Eventually though the car was packed and I had to make the long journey home. It was great to meet Erin, Craig and Troopy and I was a little jealous that their bass adventure was not over as they planned to spend a few more days exploring. So for Pete, Steve and I our trip was over and we had had a great time. The bass might have been scarce but we all managed to catch one and the Macleay was still a magical place to visit. I will most definitely be back.