Surface Fishing In Mt Isa
This Christmas saw my family and I travel to hot North-west Queensland to spend a couple of weeks in hot Mt Isa. With the usual summer storms turning many roads in the Gulf and NT to mud travel was not really an option unless I wanted to spend the majority of my time waiting for swollen creeks to go down or digging the troop carrier out of bogs. Instead I decided to explore more local options including the local river systems and Lake Moondarra.
The first chance to cast a line was behind my sister-in laws property that backs onto the Leichardt river. This waterway is more often than not close to bone dry and the only fish population in this part of the system is Spangled Perch. For those that don’t know much about perch they are an amazing fish. They appear in waterways that are often dry immediately after rain and it is believed that they bury themselves in soft sediment just before bodies of water dry up. They breed at a very small size (approximately 5 cm) but can grow to as big as 30cm where food is plentiful and they don’t have to share with other fish. Often there are hundreds of them in a waterway and they don’t get very big, but models above 20cm can be fun on light line. They are also highly aggressive and will hit lures of any size at any size.
So off I went with my 1-3kg Shimano rack raider travel rod (3 piece) and Shimano Stradic Ci4 2500 spooled with 4lb braid and 6lb leader to see if I could find a few perch. Spangled Perch have small mouths (they would be great on a light fly rod!) and so I tied on a Jazz Zappa 55 which had a smaller treble. After a few casts I had some interest and within a few minutes I had managed my first perch. This was followed by a couple more in the afternoon. The river was cystal clear and I was amazed at the depth of water some of these perch came out from to chase the lure and their eagerness to hit a surface lure. Apologies to those that don’t like video but that is the only footage I have of me walking the river.
The next morning a big storm hit Mt Isa dumping around 100mm in the area. This caused the river to flood and filled it with the red mud that is evident throughout the region. The following few days the same weather system continued to dump large amounts of rain in the catchment and as a result the Leichhardt river was unfishable for a week.
Lake Moondarra (Session 1)
This forced me to explore the dam on foot just to see what I could find. I have fished Lake Moondarra on a number of occasions and although stocked with Barra they can be a little hard to find.
Extreme hot temperatures can occasionally cause large fish kills and so although they are present in the dam, my lack of local knowledge left me pessimistic about chasing one of my favourite sportsfish down. Arriving at the dam I found a suitably accessible patch of water and tied on the Sammy. After the first cast I had a boil at the lure and the second cast was nailed and the fish was off. The dirty water made it hard to see what I was connected to but it felt solid and the lack of any structure in the area had me doubting it was a barra. Sure enough, after a good tussle on the light gear I eventually landed a fork-tailled catfish. If you have never caught one of these fish they are an awesome recreational species especially on light gear.
The recent rains had filled the dam to capacity and covered previously dry areas of the dam with water. Knowing that a lot of predatory fish move into these areas to chase prey caught by the rising water I targeted the flooded tree line to see what I could chase down. The number of hits I received off the surface was awesome with almost every cast being attacked by something????? I eventually managed to land another catfish and a few spangled perch but it wasn’t until my next outing that I realised that my antagonists had been long ton. The freshwater systems in North-west Queensland are riddled with these fish and they are very difficult to hook up on due to their skinny bony mouths. However they hit lures like freight trains and when hooked they run and thrash around so much it is almost impossible to stay connected!
Lake Moondarra (Session 2)
On returning home I headed out to my sister in laws place for dinner and went out to their shed where they store all many of toys. Much to my excitement I spotted a fibreglass canoe which they happily lent me to explore the dam further. The doubled bladed kayak paddle made it much easier to track and I added some ballast to the front to make it a little more stable. With a new angling option I made quick plans to hit Lake Moondarra and try to find a barra.
A couple of days later I hit the dam in the hope of finding my target species, the mighty barramundi. Living in Nth Queensland for ten years I had learnt my lure casting trade chasing these awesome fish and I was keen to have another crack at them. Unfortunately I was inflicted with the “Moondarra Curse” and on two previous trips to the dam I had hooked and lost two barramundi which are masters at throwing lures. Dam fishing for barra is also very different to targeting wild fish in rivers and creeks and so I was severely lacking in the knowledge required to find a few fish.
From watching TV and reading articles I had learnt to look for feeding birds, fish banks where the wind was blowing onto, fish old creek beds, look for thermoclines etc etc. Problem was I did not have the equipment required to do any of this so in the end I stuck to basics, target substantial structure and lily pads and look for areas where creeks had recently been running into the dam which tend to be a lodestone for hungry or migratory barramundi.
With this in mind I had one rod setup with 30lb braid and 60lb leader and had the ubiquitous gold bomber as my main lure. Water depths in the bay I was fishing were not deep and often had thick weed about 2 feet below the surface. The other was a basic 8lb braid/10lb leader threadline outfit to play around with the surface feeding predators that were thick in the dam.
The day’s fishing was very slow with the Luckycraft Sammy 65 and Jazz Zappa 55 both getting repeatedly smashed and I eventually hooked up on a small long tom which helped me identify what was continuously harassing my lure. They are extremely hard to catch as their bony, thin mouths are very hard to sink the trebles into. Often the leader gets wrapped around the bill in their attempt to rid themselves of the lure. These fish do everything to get rid of the lure including blistering runs, aerobatics and head shakes using their wriggly body to stay stationary in the water and pull away from the line pressure.
The rest of the day was very slow and the barramundi were as elusive as other years. I eventually found a flooded creek which had washed dirty water into the dam and there was a marked difference in water colour. The surrounding trees had been submerged and I knew if I hooked onto a barra in this country I would need some impressive rod work to keep it from reaching some timber. I could also follow the creek bed easily as the steeply sided banks and narrow diameter made it easy to find by submerging the paddle.
I cast at the base of all the partially submerged trees and finally on one such cast the Gold Bomber was smashed and the barra did a blistering run up out of the creek bed and onto a grassy covered bank. The thick grass caused a few problems but I eventually turned the fish back into the deeper water of the creek. I had got a glimpse of the fish too as it breached the surface in the two foot water and it was a good fish over 90cm!!! On reaching the deep creek channel and made a beeline directly for some submerged timber and some delicate thumb pressure was needed to persuade the barra that this was a bad idea. Finally the barra began to tire and I had it below the canoe, I was already thinking of my trip report and the bragging I would unleash upon my father in law when I returned to town. I began to lift the fish to the surface but as is the way of barra the fight wasn’t quite over. It gave a powerful surge under the canoe and once on the other side there was a gut wrenching “Ping!!’ and the line pressure vanished. Devastation was an understatement and upon retrieving the line I was left with the majority of my leader that ended in a clean diagonal cut on the leader. The barra had managed to cut my leader on the blades on its gill covers!!! Insert multiple swear words here!!
I continued casting in the pessimistic hope of finding another barra and at one stage heard and saw the barra, busting up in the timber near where it was lost as it attempted to lose its new jewellery. Questions ran around in my head for the rest of the trip in which the dam had completely shut down! I headed back to the car dejected realising the Moondarra curse had struck again, and bracing for the inevitable ribbing of my father in law on my return home!!
Leichhardt River (Eastern Arm)
A few days later I decided to go for a hike up the Eastern arm of the Leichhardt river below where it empties from the East Leichhardt Dam. This river often completely dries up and an opportunity to explore it while it was flowing was to good an opportunity to miss. I headed upstream towards the dam in the hope that a few Sooty Grunter may have been washed out of the dam over the wall and forced into some of the deeper holes in the river. Having never explored this region before I had no idea what the river would be like and was disappointed to find the majority of it too shallow for a sooty grunter to inhabit.
I did manage a couple more spangled perch on the walk and was followed by an adolescent dingo for a little while who was obviously curious as to why I was on his river. I also managed to video just how aggressive these fish can be and how keen they are to take a lure. At one point while casting I was completely baffled when a large drop of water kept jumping vertically out of the water next to a snag about half a dozen times. It was a surreal moment until I peered into the water and found an Archerfish trying to shoot an insect off a small branch. It was a very pleasant walk in a very remote part of the world.
I returned here with the family later in the week on a 39 degree day for a swim and as is my nature I snuck away for an explore downstream of the bridge. The water was much deeper and I managed a few more spangled perch and a long tom. At the end of the pool was a series of granite boulders where the current had dug some deep water around the rocks and created a perfect ambush site for predators. Having not seen a sooty grunter for the entire trip I was not prepared for one to blast out from below the boulders and smash my Jazz Zappa. He then headed down and under the boulders into a subsurface crevasse only he could see. As I had only 4lb braid on I knew I was in trouble and wasn’t overly surprised when my fully loaded rod suddenly went slack. I reeled in what I though would be the remains of my tattered leader, only to find the first treble and split ring of my Jazz Zappa had completely vanished?? Weird!
Lake Moondarra (Session 3)
After getting over the disappointment of my previous session on the lake chasing barra, I decided to give it another go. So I headed off early and forgot that it was a public holiday as the dam was thick with boats with the same idea. The plan was the same as the previous session to hit the lilies and the creek mouth and also throw a few surface lures just for fun to fill the time. I managed a small long tom early and was continuously hit by them all over the bay I was fishing but they didn’t stay hooked. The wind was almost non-existent early and the water quality was c;ear enough for me to see that there was a carpet of weed choking the bottom and leaving only about a foot of fishable water above it. Heading into the creek I found that the water was deep and clean of weed but casting a variety of lures I couldn’t find a barra. I decided to head back dejected that my trip to North Queensland would leave me without a photo of a barra. As I headed back I cast at any lily pad I could see that was near a break in the surface hugging weed. The last flotilla of weed just before I reached the launch my Gold Bomber was hit after its first twitch by a small barra that left the water to hit the lure. He missed the lure and did not return and thus I maintained the curse until I next venture north to visit the in laws.
On the way home I decided to stop at a causeway where I knew a large pool existed on its downstream side. In past visits to Mt Isa when I was younger I would venture down here every night at dusk to try and chase a few large long tom, spangled perch and sleepy cod.
On my last visit I had managed to catch a 72cm Long Tom and I was hoping that I would beat my PB. Most of these fish come from the dam and swim upstream in flood events in an attempt to escape the confines of Lake Moondarra. The recent rains had finally subsided and the water cleared enough to make it fishable. I walked down to the head of the pool to see numerous surface hits and on my first cast I knew it would be an awesome hour of fishing before the fish typically shut down. The first day I managed a couple of long tom and a spangled perch with one of the long tom going 56cm.
Long Tom can really go on light line!
Long tom are very difficult to catch and the next hour saw me repeatedly hook up but fail to remain connected. This just made the challenge to catch a few greater and so I ventured here again on my final day at the Isa. On this morning I managed 5 Spangled Perch, 2 Long Tom, 2 Archer fish and a Sooty Grunter that exploded off the surface to take the Jazz Zappa.
All of this I managed to record on video (which I will put up later as it is long and Youtube is having trouble uploading it!). It was an awesome little location and awesome fun on the four pound line I was using. In the end I caught long tom, spangled perch, archer fish and a monster Sooty Grunter that made for some great video footage.