Lithgow to Mudgee

Large yellowbelly caught at the Windamere Dam, Steve Cooper

Early settlers following in the footsteps of Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson took three weeks of hard trudging to cross the majestic Blue Mountains. These days the drive from the Penrith plains in western Sydney takes less than three hours. The steep terrain, higher altitudes and running streams of the western foothills provides the lakes of the region with water conditions conducive to trout, and Oberon dam is amongst Australia’s oldest notable trout lakes.

Onwards along the Mid Western Highway, past bollard-shaped cooling towers and milder slopes clad with pine plantations and vineyards, is Lithgow. The stretch between Lithgow and Mudgee offers some exciting fishing in a series of waters with established native fish populations. Cooling storages for coal-fed power stations in the Lithgow/Wallerawang district have more recently come on-line. The combination of proximity from Sydney and trophy trout sees the piscatorial patronage having a favourable impact on tourism  in the region.

Lake Lyell is a 248 ha water built across the Coxs River near Lithgow. Originally built to provide cooling waters for local power stations, Lake Lyell now also serves as important recreational water. It has been stocked with brown and rainbow trout and bass. Some of the trout have grown to trophy-size, peaking at about 45 cm.

The steep terrain over which Lake Lyell now sits gives it a narrow, deep profile that lends itself to trolling and downrigger techniques. Shore-based spinning or bubble- float techniques are productive from autumn through spring, as are deep-fly presentations, especially in pronounced narrows where the Cox’s River enters.

Farmers Creek also flows into the lake. Both feeders are subject to strict closures and enforcement during the trout-breeding season in the cooler months.

The lake has well-appointed picnic and boat-launching facilities. Being within daytrip range of Sydney it has become a very popular impoundment that’s patronised by anglers armed with the latest tackle and techniques. When a bite is on, it’s usual to see float-tubing anglers and state-of- the-art sportfishing boats mooching along, downriggers cocked.

Lake Wallace, also called Lake Wallerawang, is 155 ha of relatively shallow and weedy water. It is regularly stocked with trout of both denominations, the mix heavily biased towards rainbows. In 1998, it received a single infusion of  30 000 bass. The rainbow trout have proved spectacularly successful, with fish to 5 kg being taken each year between autumn and spring. Lakeside picnic and playground facilities have been erected and unpowered boating is permitted.

Moving north towards Mudgee, you come across the twin Cudgegong River catchment towns of Rylstone and Kandos, snuggled in against the sandstone ridges of the Great Dividing Range.

Rylstone Dam covers 20 ha and is stocked with Murray cod, yellowbelly and silver perch. It has no facilities. Fishing from the bank or unpowered craft is permitted.

Kandos Weir, better known as Dunns Swamp since being incorporated into the Wollemi National Park, is a picturesque  100 ha sanctuary that fills a sandstone gorge flanked by ochre outcrops and the greenery that goes with healthy cumbungi margins.

This waterway was the site of Australia’s first successful private attempt at breeding native fish. In 1961, utilising ponds at the local cement works, a dedicated band of local anglers were successful in raising silver perch fingerlings. Residents of this former trout cod water include western strain Murray cod, yellowbelly, silver perch, eel-tail catfish and river blackfish. A direct result of the clear, tannin-stained waters is richly coloured, highly active fish that are a delight to catch.

The lake has clean, well- maintained camping facilities, including showers and flush toilets. Boaters need to be aware of a 10-horsepower restriction.

Weighing in at 10 sq km, Lake Windamere was built on the Cudgegong River 30 km south of Mudgee. Many anglers regard this water as Australia’s premier yellowbelly fishery. The lake also offers good fishing for other native fish including Murray cod, silver perch and catfish, along with brown and rainbow trout, redfin and carp.

An area immediately adjacent  to the Cudgegong–Rylstone road  is very productive. Rather than  trudge the uneven obstacle course that the banks present, it has become a popular practice to bring boats in close.

Facilities include a caravan park and kiosk under the control of the Rylstone Shire Council.

Lures

 Lake Windemere has a high percentage of bank cover that suits both trollers and anglers who prefer cast-and-retrieve techniques. Baitfish profile lures up to 10 cm trolled along the edges of the rich and abundant weed beds have proven successful. Rocky banks and steeper drop-offs are popular with lure-casters. Effective retrieves are those punctuated by pauses and subtle twitches, with the water clarity often allowing anglers to see the fish strike their lures.

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