Teemburra Dam

A sooty grunter fish caught at Teemburra Dam, Steve Cooper

Mackay has excellent freshwater options. The most popular venues are the region’s dams in the Pioneer Valley – Teemburra, Eungella and Kinchant. Of these, the best known is Teemburra in Eungella National Park, about 40 mins drive west of Mackay through fields of sugarcane. The dam was constructed in 1997 and when full it has a surface area of 10 sq km and can hold 147 500 ML of water.

Teemburra is a maze of inlets and bays with creeks, and there are platypuses almost everywhere you look. The birdlife is also prolific. Sea-eagles nest in tall trees and thousands of swallows feed close to the water, stirring the surface  up so much that you think baitfish are jumping.

Barramundi are the most prized northern sportfish and many experienced anglers rate this waterway on a par with Proserpine and Awoonga lakes, and better than Lake Tinaroo. The main reason for the praise is that Teemburra is one of the most heavily stocked impoundments in Queensland. More than a million barramundi and sooty grunter, have been introduced since it was built. The barramundi average about 85 cm, but fish to 1.10 m have been caught. The sooties are up to 60 cm, and when you hook a big one you are just as likely to think it is a barra staying deep.

I fished Teemburra with part- time fishing guide Mick Rethus. He runs a 3.85 m punt with bow- and stern-mounted electric motors and a 25-horsepower outboard (the maximum size allowed on the lake).

Mick, who was born in Nhill in western Victoria, met me at what is usually the boat ramp at dawn. This area of Queensland had long been in drought and the ramp finished well short of the water. Mick said that when full, the dam was 45 m deep, but during my visit, it was about 20 per cent capacity. He told me this as we were snaking our way around hills and stands of dead trees that he normally motored over.

Timing in freshwater can be more important than in saltwater and as far as Mick was concerned, my timing couldn’t have been worse. Barramundi can be caught during the colder months, but they are easier to hook when the weather is warmer, which is why you are more likely to latch on to a sooty grunter when it is colder.

It was also the day after the full moon. Generally, the nights leading up to and on the full moon are best if you are fishing between sundown and dawn. For daylight fishing, the days leading up to and on the new moon are better. ‘The problem is that on a full moon the barra normally feed at night so I reckon they will have fed up last night and will be lying low during the day,’ Mick said. ‘I think we’ll have a better chance at a sooty.’

Many experienced barramundi anglers fishing in Queensland’s lakes also choose their fishing times based on the tides. It sounds silly, but the impoundment barramundi bite better on the change of tide.

Mick was right. We couldn’t buy a barramundi, but a few sooties of up to 2.5 kg made life interesting.

Our fishing techniques varied from casting large bibbed minnows and soft plastic lures to headlands and around trees, to trolling large bibbed minnow lures over sunken timber and rock bars. The fishing was slow, but what impressed me about sooties is how hard they pull. They are a similar shape to yellowbelly, but their body is heavier and they definitely have more pulling power.

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