At first sight the Wimmera River didn’t look special. Barely flowing, it consisted of sandbars and fallen trees interspersed with shallows and a few deeper holes below the timber. I was fishing with local anglers Bill Johnson and Laurie Liston and our destination was one of Bill’s favourite catfish holes, but it wasn’t marked on any map.
The Wimmera River marks the eastern boundary of Little Desert National Park. Soon after we crossed the river at Dimboola, we turned south into the national park. We turned on to one dusty unmarked track after another, weaving to dodge river red gums and tea trees.
My first view of the stretch of water we were going to fish was uninspiring, but I held the faith. After all, Bill and Laurie assured me there would be catfish. The Wimmera River holds carp, silver and golden perch (yellowbelly), eel-tailed catfish, redfin, some Murray cod up to about 28 kg, as well as the usual small forage species. During summer the river dries to a series of pools that retain permanent habitat.
Both anglers said the river was a magic place for anglers willing to paddle kayaks. ‘You find there are holes all the way from Jeparit to Horsham and it’s not difficult to work a kayak over the shallow sections,’ Bill said.
It is the only place I know of in Victoria where catfish up to 2 kg are the major part of the catch. The catfish were brought to the river from the Murray River by some local anglers over several generations. The population of catfish boomed, and their numbers are credited with keeping carp numbers low. ‘Catfish are an aggressive, predatory species; the flathead of the river,’ Laurie said.
The fishing was simple. Bill had brought along a bucket of worms and, using a running sinker rig with a No. 4 medium shank hook, he threaded two worms on the hook and cast his bait alongside the timber. Bill said peeled, raw yabbie tail was another excellent bait. Catfish are nocturnal feeders and bite best from dusk through to midnight.
We were fishing a small pool of water. An old tree lay partially across the water, its branches spread like tentacles and Bill put his bait hard in against the logs. ‘To achieve regular success you must place your bait in close to the timber,’ he said. Almost as soon as it got dark, the catfish came on the bite. They can be finicky feeders – sometimes the slightest line movement indicated that all that was left of the worm bait was a short piece of meat on the hook shank. At the slightest line movement, we had to pick up our rod and be ready to set the hook and hang on, because the bigger catfish would pull the line straight through the timber.
Take care. Catfish have three spines that will spike and inflict a stinging pain similar to a flathead. The spikes are located on the dorsal fin and on each pectoral fin.