Dawson River

Saratoga caught in the Dawson River, Steve Cooper

Moura is a two-hour drive west of Gladstone. Better known for its prime cattle production and huge coalmines, the township and the nearby Dawson River is not exactly number one on most people’s list  of top fishing spots.

The Dawson River at Moura is more like an extended lake. The river has been dammed, causing the water to back up, flooding forests that once marked the course of the riverbank. At first sight it looks a lot like some of the Victorian swamps that were turned into lakes. A maze of dead eucalypts provides cover  for barramundi, yellowbelly and saratoga.

My guides for the day, Craig Nowland and Ken Blyton, were heavily involved in the local Apex Fish Stocking Group, which raised funds to buy yellowbelly and barramundi. Craig said that in a four-year period the group had put in more than 61 000 barramundi and 50 000 yellowbelly.

‘A two-year-old barramundi in this river is between 65 and 75 cm long,’ Ken said. ‘The fish tend to grow to a certain size and then head downstream to the saltwater. One of our barramundi was caught between Rockhampton and Gladstone, and several have been caught in the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton.’

What makes this fish-stocking exercise so enlightening is that the people are proud that the fish they buy and release are moving downstream to benefit other anglers. ‘Fish-stocking groups on the Mackenzie River are doing the same thing,’ Craig said. The Mackenzie River flows into the Dawson downstream of Moura, and the Dawson subsequently flows into the Fitzroy River, which passes through Rockhampton on its way to the sea.

I fished the river with Ken, while Craig and a few other group members took their boats off in different directions. Several anglers were using crawchies (yabbies) to fish for yellowbelly; others preferred lures. I’d come from Lake Awoonga, where I’d fished for barramundi, so I told Ken I wanted to fish for saratoga. He didn’t think that would be a problem.

Saratoga is a territorial species and you can see them as they swim near the surface patrolling their beat. They are unusual in that they have an upturned mouth. The female fish incubate their eggs in their mouths until they hatch. For about three days after hatching,  the fry flee to their mothers’ mouths for safety.

Saratoga fishing requires finesse. If you spook a saratoga, move along the river to the next likely area. We were casting lures into calm, shaded areas where we could see the saratoga working. As we worked our way through the channel lined with dead trees, Ken would manoeuvre the boat from one shaded shore to another looking for saratoga. There were plenty, but they kept getting spooked. On about our third location we managed to pin the first fish, a handy little specimen that took a Halco Laser lure and then fought well with some out-of-water acrobatics.

The best lure presentation was an ultra slow, jerky retrieve featuring long pauses and slight twitches. This was particularly effective near snags and weed banks as the fish often waited in ambush in these areas.

At 10.15 it was time to head for shore because, as Ken said, ‘the ladies are coming down for morning tea’. Morning tea turned out to be fresh, hot scones and assorted cakes as well as the usual coffee and tea. Then we were back on water for a couple of hours for a look at the dam’s fish trap before returning to shore for lunch. This was an even bigger spread of food and included some of the juiciest steaks and home-made sausages I’ve eaten. You cannot beat country hospitality.

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