If you live in Canberra, Monday the 12th was Canberra Day. If you live in Victoria it was Labour Day. If you live anywhere else, I’m afraid it was just plain Monday. While this small blessing of living in the nation’s capital made me happy, apparently it did little for the fishing gods…
I spent the Canberra Day long weekend in one of my favourite spots, Wonboyn Lake, on the far south coast of NSW. As it would happen, it didn’t quite go according to plan – at least on the fishing front.
In that great Australian tradition, I took Friday off ‘sick’ to extend the number of all important fishing hours. Unfortunately my better half and travel companion (AKA “Roo”) has been working more hours than all of life’s other pleasures combined, so our departure on Friday was delayed on the grounds of sleep and sanity.
After our ‘relaxed’ start to Friday morning we set off down the Monaro highway bound for Bombala and the Imlay road to the coast. In case you’ve been living under a rock, it has been raining a lot in South East Australia of late. In fact, a significant fraction of it is still underwater. In my job I do a lot of driving so the live traffic website has become part of my daily suite. In lieu of this, I was well aware that one of the major roads to the coast (Brown Mountain) was closed due to a land slide. What I didn’t know was that the Imlay road which links the snowy mountain region with the coast was also closed.
This however was just the beginning…
Detouring via Mount Darragh road we reached the coast at Pambula mid afternoon. After a visit to the good folk at Casualty at Pambula hospital and shortly thereafter the Pharmacy, we were back on the road (probably best not to ask, but always get a second opinion kids!).
It’s the journey, not the destination
By this stage the sun was setting on day 1 but I was still hopeful of wetting a line. We drove through Eden and then on to the southern side of Wonboyn destined for Robbie & Bucky’s caravan park. No sooner had I finished boring an already sleepy Roo with the story of the Wonboyn crocodile and we were stopped in our tracks …
Heavy rain the night before had run off an already saturated mountain escarpment and into the Wonboyn river, flooding the road. The Subaru Forester was no match for 60cm of water so with my hopes of catching a flathead for dinner disappearing downstream with the river, we turned around.
A new day
Saturday was a great day. We did wake up on the shores of Wonboyn lake – at the caravan park on the north side as it turned out – and climbed nearby Mount Imlay. We hiked through forests of grass trees and scribbly gums to the top, where the rare Imlay mallee resides. Strolling around we got within a few feet of the charismatic lyre bird and tried our best to identify all the birds it mimicked. If you’ve never heard a lyre bird, check out this amazing clip featuring everyone’s favourite – Sir David Attenborough.
On the way back to Wonboyn, we saw a goanna and a brown snake in quick succession – they were making the most of a rare glimpse of the sun. With the exception of a few casts off the jetty with a beer in hand, the fishing would have to wait until day 3.
The result of all the rain was a big slug of fresh, discoloured water pushing down the estuary. Not to be outdone, we hired a two person kayak and paddled towards the mouth and cleaner water. After nearly forty minutes of paddling, it was hard to tell if the water was any clearer than where we had launched from in the middle reaches.
We tied up the boat and I rigged up my bream stick. Roo had a nap under a paperbark. After flicking my “go to” soft plastic (Squidgy fish in black & silver) around for a while without so much as a nibble I decided a new tactic was in order. A smaller, more brightly coloured plastic smeared in scent might prove more effective in the discoloured water. Whether it was the lighter plastic that hung in the water column a bit longer, or the extra scent that got the bite, I will never know. Nor do I care – I had snared dinner! It was a modest 42cm flathead.
With dinner in the esky, things were looking up.
We wandered from the small estuary beach known as the Aquarium across the dunes to the ocean beach. There was a huge swell, the water was full of weed, churned up and angry. We kept walking.
In contrast, when we arrived at the mouth of the estuary the water looked relatively clear. I started throwing a 20 gram metal lure into the hole and soon hooked a good sized salmon. Without the option of dead-lifting the fish on light line, it eventually escaped by darting behind some mussel-encrusted rocks and breaking me off. These things happen occasionally on light gear, but I still think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Not to be discouraged I re-tied and starting casting again. As I hooked up to another solid fish I realised these two, and a couple which had already thrown the hooks, were all sitting in behind a rock ledge which was breaking the wave energy. The theory (I think), like with Barra or Trout, is that these predators want a spot to ambush bait which drifts by, but largely stay out of the current and save energy.
Unlike the Salmon, I managed to guide this nice Tailor into a narrow V in the rocks and the next wave surge pushed it up onto the platform. As the water receded I wandered over and picked up my prize.
No sooner had we taken a couple of happy snaps and humanely dispatched the fish and the tide had turned, it was now going out … and with it the chocolate milkshake called Wonboyn Lake. The fishing shut down straight away, so we embarked on the paddle, against the tide, back to the jetty.
All in all, the fishing was relatively hard work (if you can call fishing work?) and it took some lucky timing with the tides and searching a few different environments, but there were fish to be caught. And for some reason we treasured these two fish much more than normal …
Could it have been the late start on Friday, the Imlay road being closed, the unexpected trip to Pambula hospital, the Wonboyn road being flooded, cancelling our accommodation which had been booked two months in advance only to arrive to an estuary the colour of Ginger ale and full of freshwater. I guess we’ll never know 😉
But it’s these sessions which make those hot bites when you are catching fish in crystal clear water seem all the more special – and make fisherman all the more philosophical 🙂