Bedford Weir – Blackwater – The Mackenzie River – 17 October 2013

Thursday

Back to Blackwater – theoretically to do some work but, of course, my true purpose was to have a go at those fussy saratoga, swimming around down-stream of Bedford Weir. I arrived on Wednesday and got the paid work out of the way. On Thursday I had some time in the afternoon.

It was full moon. I had fished the full moon last time I was here and I had found a few good fish. This time I drove down the four wheel drive track, which runs to the east, alongside the Mackenzie River downstream of the weir wall. I followed it almost to the end – about 6 kms in total. The track is reached by turning to the east, off the Blackwater Cooroorah Road (right – if you are coming from Blackwater) just before you reach the weir.

Take care on this track. It is fine while the ground is dry and solid but it would be fairly tricky once it has rained. Also be aware there is a very high fire danger at this time of year, with tall dry grass lining the river banks and tracks.

At this point the banks of the river are quite steep and there is wide pool that has formed as the river runs against a rock bar, which slows it to a trickle, beyond this point. It looks like the fish cannot comfortably travel beyond this pool so it should be a good fishing spot.

Sure enough, as I approached the bank I could see several large saratoga lurking under the overhanging branches. The only thing that had worked on them before was a GULP soft plastic with arms and legs flailing everywhere – the 3 inch Ghost Shrimp. The hard bodies had just spooked them. I was out of suitable plastics so I started with a ¼ ounce spinner bait in a yellow and white colour. The fish were very well protected by the overhanging branches and it was pretty difficult to approach them without spooking them. I managed to get the spinner bait quite close to them a couple of times, before they dived down out of sight. These are very cautious fish.

I moved a little further along the bank and loaded a 1/11th ounce/size 2 hook jighead with a 2” GULP Shrimp in the Banana Prawn colour. I hopped this along the bottom around the snags and soon connected with a small catfish. I caught three of these.

I moved a bit further along and switched to the same soft plastic in the Peppered Prawn colour. I cast this at some sunken branches, which were close to the bank and felt a slightly more urgent tap, as I retrieved the lure. I cast back in the same spot and this time I hooked up. It pulled hard and fast, faster than the catfish. But it was not big enough to be a saratoga. I kept the rod tip up and pulled it clear of the snaggy timber. It was a respectable golden perch/ yellow belly.

I looked for a few more and may have had one on, that I did not land. After a while I could see the saratoga out in the middle of the stream, again. I swapped back the spinner bait and even though I pulled a few directly past their noses, I could not entice them to strike. They would turn towards the lure as it hit the water and sometimes swim towards it – but then lose interest. Its pretty tough fishing in the fresh water but I learn a little more on each session.

At about 5.30 pm, having caught a couple more catfish – I gave up for the day.

Bedford Weir – Blackwater – Saratoga – 23 September 2013

Over the next 7 days I had four more afternoon fishing sessions at Bedford Weir. I decided I should explore the skinny water of the Mackenzie River, below the weir and I had heard tales of saratoga lurking in the pools downstream. There is a fairly rough track that runs alongside the river, as it runs away from the weir wall.

There are a few turn offs along the main track that lead down to the water. There are steep banks with lots of fallen timber and neck high grasses. The fallen timber makes it almost impossible to walk continuously along the bank for any distance so you have to keep scrambling up and down. Its a good workout and needless to say you have watch out for snakes! Judging by the dug up banks and flattened tunnels in the grasses, there are plenty of wild pigs around as well.

On my first session I concentrated on a wide pool, about a kilometre from the weir wall. There was a steep bank and then a small gravel beach area, next to an enormous fallen tree. At one end of this stretch the deeper water was close to the bank I was on and at the other, it was across from me. The water was fairly clear. It was hot again – well over 30 degrees. The sun was behind me and I started fishing at about 4.45 pm. I started with a GULP 2″ Shrimp in the Banana Prawn colour on a 1/12th ounce, size 1 hook, jighead and 8lb fluorocarbon leader.

The first taker was a small catfish. Then a much larger one took the lure under a log and I could not pull it out. As I was tying on a new leader, a long thin narrow shape slowly swam up the middle of the river, a few centimetres below the surface – it was a southern saratoga. It was followed a few moments later, by another one. I scrabbled around and tied on the new leader and jighead as quickly as I could, but they were long gone by the time I hurled a cast in their direction. After a few more catfish I gave up at about 6.00pm.

The next session was few days later. I arrived earlier, at about 3.00 pm. It was super hot – about 36 degrees. I approached the river bank as quietly as possible and my stealth approach paid off. Two saratoga were cruising mid-stream whilst another was lurking under a fallen tree branch, near the far bank. I thought about my options. I would need an accurate cast, as I might only get one chance. I would be trying to emulate an insect or bug, dropping from an overhanging branch. I decided on a lightly weighted soft plastic lure.The GULP Crabbie shape had legs and arms flailing and could work as a bug but I had run out. It had worked well but I also wanted something bright in the clear water. I had a 3 inch Ghost Shrimp in the Red belly colour,so I chose this.

My heart was pumping as I crept forward to the bank. I checked the knots and got myself as close as I dared. I lofted the cast over towards the fish in the shadows and it plopped into the water, inches from the bank and inches from the fish’s nose. Then time stood still, for about 2 seconds. I paused and slowly let the lure sink, then bang, it all happened so fast!

The saratoga from the shadows grabbed the plastic and instantly swam forward with it. As it did so, it pulled the leader under a partially submerged log. The leader caught on it and set the hook and the fish then went crazy. It leapt backwards over the log completing a nice loop over it. It pulled back and forth and fought and after about a minute, settled down. I let the drag off to see if it could, by some miracle, free itself but it just swam off with the leader sliding up and down on the log. It was only 8lb fluorocarbon and after a few rubs, it broke.

The commotion had scared the others off so I moved downstream and tied on GULP Ghost Prawn soft plastic in the same colour. I cast it at a likely looking snag and let it sink. When I lifted it off the bottom there was a tension and the rod tip started wriggling. There were a few pulls then a long, blistering run right across the river to a submerged log on the other side. It was obviously a very big catfish. I tightened the drag and heaved but I could not pull it out. I loosened the drag and tightened it again and the line pulled free from the fish. When I retrieved it, I could see it had been a catfish – the leader and lure were completely slimed.

I put it back in and over the next hour, caught a few more smaller catfish but the saratoga had gone into hiding.

Over the next few days I found the saratoga at various points up and down this stretch of the Mackenzie. I often saw two or three fish cruising mid stream. I tried casting everything at them. Surface lures, shallow and deep divers (including my favorite DUO hard bodies) and every soft plastic lure I had with me. Occasionally one would strike, but only because the lure landed right on its nose. I had more success with the fish I found sitting under tree banks in the dappled shade. These would follow a shallow diver or popper out into the stream, if I could land the cast close enough. A few made a real strike, but I could not hook up.

Frustrated – I looked for help on the web and, coincidentally saw a brilliant post on “Micks Gone Fishing” on ‘spybaiting’ for saratoga. Mick’s blog is brilliant and often makes me consider selling everything and moving north! He achieved what I wanted too – maybe his saratoga were just angrier or hungrier http://micksgonefishing.com/spybaiting-aussie-style/.

Bedford Weir and the saratoga, yellowbelly and catfish encounters had been a fascinating freshwater interlude – but it was time to get back to the briny.