Tuesday / Wednesday – Hedlow Creek
More time stuck in Rockhampton – which is not necessarily a bad thing. I decided to go looking for a freshwater barramundi. It was just a few days before the barramundi closed season came into effect.
I had chosen to stay at Henderson Park Station – http://www.hendersonpark.com.au/, in one of their cabins. Henderson Park is a working cattle property which has a lodge and a couple of cabins which are situated right on Hedlow Creek. Hedlow Creek is a fairly narrow freshwater creek about 10 km long, just north of Rockhampton. It has been regularly stocked with barramundi fingerlings and also has sleepy cod and a few other species of native fish. The creek is spring fed from either end, so never runs dry. The Henderson Park cabins are located on the west bank for the creek, within casting distance of the water.
The scenery is spectacular and I think this is about the prettiest place in Queensland to chase a fresh water barramundi. The creek is accessible from the public dirt road on the east side, but if you stay at Henderson Park, you can access the water all along the west side, as well.
The owners said there were some big barramundi in the creek and that casting soft plastics at dusk or dawn, around the fallen timber, had been the most successful way to connect with them. I have to confess that I have been here before and only caught catfish but I have seen pictures of some great captures, so I was determined to have another try.
The fantastic thing about this waterway is the amount of structure. There are fallen trees and overhanging branches all along it and there are some nice deep holes. There are only a few places where the creek gets wider than about 20 metres, so for much of its length you can comfortably cast from one bank to the other.
On my last visit I had fished a couple of dusk sessions and only one morning. I had used lightly weighted soft plastics – GULP Shrimps, Minnow and Minnow Grubs and caught perhaps 10 small catfish. The main challenge was losing jigheads to the numerous sunken logs and other snags. All this structure would have made using hard bodies a pretty expensive business.
This time I decided to focus on the early morning sessions. That meant being awake at about 4.00 am and walking out along the banks of the creek, as the horizon started to glow at about 4.30 am. Instinctively, I felt the grub tail soft plastics might attract a strike. Loaded on a 1/12th or 1/8th ounce jighead, their fluttering tails sinking down next to a snag, might be tempting.
In hindsight, I realise I was fishing far too light. I had 8lb Fireline as mainline and 16lb fluorocarbon leader on the light Berkley Dropshot spin rod. I started with the GULP 3” jigging grub on a 1/8th 1/0 jighead, in the neutral looking “Smoke” colour. I moved along the bank to the north of Hedlow Lodge, stopping to cast at any likely looking snag or log. At about 5.45 am I stopped beside a fallen trunk that stretched out to a point well over half way across the creek. I cast my soft plastic just north of the trunk and let it slowly sink. I paused and retrieved the soft plastic in a slow and steady motion, along the line of where I thought the sunken tree must lie.
I have watched endless fishing shows and been told you have to be persistent with barramundi. They will ignore 20 casts and finally lose their temper on the 21st and strike. Well, I received a very personal lesson – and it all happened in the blink of an eye.
I had put in perhaps 25 casts using various retrieves – slow vs fast, regular hops vs a steady wind. I lobbed out another cast and let it sink around where I thought the end of the sunken log might be. I let the lure sink and paused for perhaps 10 seconds. When I lifted the rod tip the soft plastic stopped dead and then after less than two seconds the reel was literally spinning and a huge wake was moving towards the bank on the far side. The fish then broke the surface, close to the other bank and I could see it was a very big barramundi. This had all happened in about 5 seconds and it was only now that I realised that the fish had taken the lure under the fallen log. I could feel the line rubbing as it lunged and pulled. After about 15 seconds there was a great tail slap and the line went slack.
The contrast of the incredibly violent and powerful attack with the peaceful dawn scene of a few moments before, was total. My hands were still trembling and my heart pumping, as I slowly wound the line back on to the reel. Miraculously the mainline had held as had the knot attaching it to the leader. The bite off or break, had been a long way down the leader close to the jighead. The line from “Jaws” sprang to mind: “We are gonna need a bigger boat” (substitute rod, line, leader, jighead for ’boat’).
I waited for my hands to stop shaking and re-rigged with 25lb leader (the toughest in my chest pack). I moved gradually north along the bank and caught a couple more catfish but by about 10.00 am, I had not had any more interactions with the barramundi, and the wind had picked up, so I gave up for the day.
Next morning, it was more or less the same drill, up at 4.00 am and fishing by 4.30 am. This time I swapped up to a bigger 4” Jigging Grub in the Peppered Prawn colour, on a tougher 1/8th ounce, 3/0 jighead and the 25lb fluorocarbon leader. I moved much further north along the creek, to a large bend where the west bank is lined with a couple of fallen trees. I cast around them, losing a couple of jigheads to the sunken branches.
It was a case of methodically covering the area with casts and again, persistence paid off. I was casting at the far bank and slowly hopping the lure back along the sides of submerged tree branches, which were on my side of the creek. About ten casts into the process a huge, green shouldered, silver scaled shape, launched itself up, from under a tree branch and dived down over the soft plastic, as it was suspended, about 30cm from the bank.
This looked like a smaller fish than the one from the day before, but I would estimate it was still over 80 cm long. It took off for the far bank with amazing speed and power. It was heading for some timber on the other side and by virtually locking up my drag, I pulled it clear. Then it came back towards me and torpedoed across the surface, shaking its wide open mouth trying to spit out the jighead. I really had no more stopping power in the rod and reel, so I was at its mercy. It paused briefly and I thought I might have a chance and then it took off again and there was the sickening feeling of the line rubbing against timber. I loosened the drag a little to see if it would swim free but it just kept tearing around until the line snapped at the main line to leader knot.
I carried on fishing around that area and tempted a couple more catfish, but no more barramundi. It looked like I would not be getting a big freshwater model until next season. I had only had a couple of encounters but it was enough to bring me back – and next time I will be properly equipped.