Originally appearing in Fishing Monthly Magazines, May 2016.
As the scorching heat of summer starts to relent, the native fish species in our Queensland impoundments begin to move. This reality piece follows local bass angler, Tom Slater as he attempts to unlock the secrets of a new lake in one day on the water.
5:40 am – It’s a cool morning when I back my boat into Borumba Dam for the first time. The air is thick with a morning fog that blankets the entire dam. I’d left Brisbane at 3:30am to be the first boat on the water. During the autumn months, I’d expect I should be able to get a few early bites on a surface lure.
5:50 am – I start my Yamaha and motor off down the dam. I’m looking for a likely spot to start my day. I’m looking for a spot that is close to deep water, with good shoreline vegetation in the form of weed beds or submergent grass.
5:57 am – We pull up on a main lake point, it’s a steep bank, with the side of a hill plunging straight into the dam. The edge is fringed with healthy green weed, and I think the small bays leading off the main point should be a good option for an early bite on surface.
5:59 am – The first cast of the day is a long wind assisted cast to the edge of the weed. I’m throwing a small topwater pencil lure, on spinning tackle for maximum distance. These still mornings call for maximum stealth, so I want to stay as far away from the shore as possible.
6:24 am – I round the first small point on the way back into a cove off the main lake. My second cast on the point heralds a strike from a nice size Saratoga. I hook up but in the course of the violent jumps and headshakes, it throws the lure.
During this time of year, when the harshest heat of Summer has ended. The fish will tend to stay shallower longer. In the heat of Summer, water temperatures on the edge can exceed thirty degrees in some of our impoundments. Much too hot for species such as bass to remain there all day long. So they tend to move deep, out into the main river channel and relax in the deeper, cooler water. That’s not to say that they are never up shallow in Summer, it’s just more of a morning or afternoon affair when the thermometer is rising.
Now that we’re in the Autumn, the water temperatures have started to fall and the bass will feel more comfortable to be in shallower water for a longer part of the day. Species like bass and yellowbelly use structure like weed beds to help acclimatise to new water temperatures. The weed bed acts as insulation, keeping water cooler in summer and warmer during winter. So targeting this shoreline weed is a popular technique in Autumn, Winter and Spring.
6:33 am – I change to a small wakebait, it’s a crankbait that dives so shallow, it bulges the waters surface creating a commotion and bubble trail that’s hard to ignore. They’re great lures for covering water quickly, I haven’t ever fished this dam before. So I need to cover some ground to maximise the chances of finding fish.
6:35 am – Straight away the new lure produces the goods, with a bass exposing himself from under a laydown tree amongst the weed on the shoreline. I reach for my rod rigged with a skirted jig. The jig is something I’ve only started experimenting with in the last few years, but it works well when you know there’s a fish in the area. You can fish it slowly along the bottom, and have it imitate a small crustacean like a yabby.
6:37am – I place a cast on the far side of the tree limb, it sinks and immediately I set the hook on a nice sized Borumba bass.
The old adage of ‘never leave fish to find fish’ is so true in this instance. I could have easily resigned to the fact that I’d missed that fish on its initial strike of my topwater, but I knew it didn’t feel any hooks and so it was likely to bite again. Rather than throw the same lure back in there twice, I chose a different lure, one that I could fish much slower and I ended up catching that fish. This is why it’s always a good idea to have a smaller profile lure, like a soft plastic or jig tied on that you can fish slowly around an area where you may have missed a bite or seen a fish. If you haven’t spooked them chances are they might still be around to catch later.
6:57am – I’d fished back into the small bay off the main lake for only one other small boil on my surface lure. By now there had been several boats drive past and the sun was creeping above the horizon and the surface bite was
7:34am – With no other action to speak of after fishing another small point and adjoining cove, and with the sun now firmly beating down onto the once shady bank. I made the decision to put down the surface lures and fire up the Yamaha and look for some fish in a little deeper water.
Weather conditions can either make or break a fishing day. If we’re greeted with overcast skies and low light, the fishing in the shallow fringes of our lakes can fire. On the contrast, days like I experienced at Borumba with high bluebird skies and not much wind can limit the time you spend looking for fish in really shallow water. As the sunlight starts hitting the waters surface, fish will start to retreat. Either out to slightly deeper water, or deeper into structure like snags or weed. So to maximise your chances of catching more fish, alter your fishing style and techniques with the changing weather. Use subsurface lures once the sun is up or start fishing deeper into the snags or weed to get those fish that have moved back into the shade to come out and strike.
7:56am – I idled back into the main lake and made my way towards the timbered section of the dam. It’s easier to locate an old creek bed with the presence of standing timber. You can generally pick out the channel just by looking at the placement of the trees and the size of them relative to how far they come out of the water.
8:14am – My aim was to locate schooled fish sitting on the break of where the old creek bed rose up onto a shallower flat. I set my Humminbird to side imaging and used it to scan 30 metres out each side of my boat. It didn’t take long to find a few fish schooled around a point extending out into the main river bed.
8:28am – After throwing a number of casts with a jighead rigged soft plastic I noticed fish holding very tight to the bottom. I reached for a soft vibration style lure which I dropped vertically onto the fish I could see on my sounder. Within two hops of the lure off the bottom I felt no resistance when I went to lift the lure for a third time, a fish had grabbed it on the drop and I’d not felt anything. A nice sized yellowbelly found its way into the net and onto the Camera.
8:36am – There was one isolated tree standing proud atop the high spot I was fishing. Generally, standing timber like this may as well have a giant illuminated yellowbelly sign on the top, it’s one of the best ways to target yellowbelly in our lakes and dams.
Targetting vertical standing timber can be an exciting way to catch species like yellowbelly and bass. It can often be the easiest way to locate fish if you can’t find success around the edges. Often, the larger the tree the better the chances of finding a fish or two holding off it. When approaching standing timber like this, there are a few different lure styles that always seem to be most effective. The first is a lipless vibration style lure. These lures sink and can be jigged off the bottom around the base of the tree, or simply retrieved straight up the trunk to trigger a bite. The second lure I’d recommend for doing this is a curl tailed soft plastic. Generally, I would rig the plastic on a 1/4oz jig head and use a dark colour like black or camo to make a better silhouette. Just drop it to the bottom and ever so slowly wind the lure back up the tree.
8:39am – I dropped my lure straight down the trunk of the tree and started jigging it around the base of the tree in 22ft of water. This style of vertical jigging for bass and yellowbelly sometimes is more about annoying the fish into biting than actually triggering a feeding response. After maybe a minute of short sharp hops off the bottom, my lure was crunched on the free fall and a healthy sized bass had completely inhaled the lure.
9:06am – I started moving my way through the dam using my electric motor, making sure I stayed close to the old creek bed. Every large tree I encountered on my way I would make at least one cast to. Many of which produced smaller sized yellowbelly.
9:29am – After losing the saratoga earlier in the morning and hearing so much about the fishery that Borumba has. I was determined to land one of these amazing sportfish. Lifting my Fortrex out of the water and cranking up the Yamaha. I made my way through the timbered section of the main basin and began working up the Kingaham arm of the dam.
9:37am – I knocked the engine into neutral and cut the power, and was greeted with weed and lily pads lining both sides of the arm. Adding to the attraction was an ever increasing amount of spindly trees emerging out of the water along the waters edge.
9:40am – My first cast with a chatterbait in and around the lily pads produced a savage strike. I fired another cast into the area but couldn’t convince the fish to come back for another try.
10:13am – A small cove littered with weed, lily pads, and small trees snuck off from the main channel. The trees and lily pads provided plenty of shade that would be keeping the water cool. I fired my chatterbait over a small patch of lilies and watched as the water erupted as soon as I’d clicked my reel into gear. A massive saratoga launched out of the water, trying to free the hook from it’s mouth. My rod was bowed and my braid traced a line through the lilly pads into the shallow water where the toga was battling hard. I’d fought the fish all the way to the side of the boat, when at the last minute the hook popped free as I watched eighty plus centimetres of Borumba saratoga slither back into the weed.
10:21am – I continued working along the edge of the main arm. Placing casts around the numerous lily pads that lined the bank. Not even one-hundred metres from the cove where I lost the fish earlier, I hooked up again. This one wasn’t as big but any saratoga, no matter the size is a beautiful fish.
Finding and targeting areas of shade later in the day is key to finding success in shallow water. Fish of any species rarely find comfort in being exposed to direct sunlight, and so they seek out shade in any form they can. Trees are the obvious candidate for number one shade producer, but many of our lakes and impoundments have abundant lily pad fields which when grouped together, block a huge percentage of the sun’s rays from entering the water. This shade offers a perfect ambush point for predators like saratoga and bass to use to catch their prey, and focusing on finding shady areas is key to finding more fish up shallow.
10:47am – I noticed a swirl on the water’s surface underneath a tree just out off the line of lily pads. My lure landed gently so as not to disturb the area and almost immediately my line snapped straight as another saratoga had grabbed my chatterbait.
11:19am – I’d now worked the Kingaham arm of the dam right up to where it began to narrow down and become as shallow as eight feet in the main channel. The channel was now littered with timber both above and below the waterline, while the lily pads continued to meander along the edge. With this much structure around, a spinnerbait is the obvious choice. Its rigid arm helps the lure track over obstacles like branches, allowing you to slowly retrieve the lure through even the thickest of cover. I picked up my spinnerbait rod and launched a cast straight down the middle of the narrow channel. I could feel the bait bumping its way over tree limbs and would try to slow it down even more after I felt it clear each snag. This allows the lure to free fall just for a split second after bumping over a log, giving nearby predators an opportunity to strike. My rod bowed again and another beautiful Borumba saratoga had found its way into the boat.
Saratoga are built to feed on the surface, their lack of dorsal fin means they can lie millimetres under the water without breaking the surface. They are a fantastic species to chase on surface lures early in the day or late in the afternoon. During the middle part of the day, focus your attention around the shade. Whether it is from trees or other vegetation. In this instance the lily pads I had been targeting all morning were shallowing out. Originally I was fishing them with 4-6feet of water beneath them, but travelling up the arm they were beginning to be in only 1-2feet of water. I knew that fish in this area would have moved out, away from the shallow edge and sunk back into the main channel. With plenty of timber there was still ample structure and shade. These are the sort of adjustments that need to be made throughout a fishing session to maximise your opportunities.
11:46am – I’d fished back into the Kingaham arm of Borumba Dam as far as I could. So I began making my way back out of the arm and back through the timbered section of the main basin. When approaching any new body of water for the first time, I want to try and sample everything it has to offer.
11:59am – Back in the main basin with only a little time left for the day, I noticed the steep rocky bluffs that line the north-western edge of the main basin. I pulled up and dropped my minn-kota into the water and began methodically casting a chatterbait along the bank. The bank was quite steep as I had expected, so deep water would be nearby. The perfect place for bass to hang out.
12:05pm – I’d fished approximately 70m of bank before coming to the first of many tiny coves, that cut their way into the steep bank. Offering a likely place for a bass to wait in ambush.
Steep rock faces and bluffs can be a productive area to chase predatory fish in our impoundments. They generally have deep water very close to the bank, and the inherent nature of the rock, means that there will be plenty of nooks and crannies for fish to use to ambush prey. The small coves that cut into the face of the bank meant that at their entrance, the water was much deeper than what it had been. These are like finding the spot within the spot. The spot might be the rocky bluff wall, but the spot within the spot on this particular day was these little coves that provided something unique along this stretch of bank.
12:06pm – My first cast into the first one of these coves produced a small mid thirties bass that hit hard for its size. I began fishing fast between each of the coves that cut into the bank. As I’d approach each cove, I’d slow down and pick apart each one. Soon I had put another four small bass in the boat.
12:38pm – By now it was time to head back to Brisbane. My first trip to Borumba had been a resounding success. Never having fished here before, I relied soley on my knowledge of fish behaviour and seasonal movements. Before winter’s chill hits south-east Queensland, the surface bite will continue. Shallow fishing in our impoundments will continue to produce good numbers of bass, yellowbelly and saratoga. But remember to adjust throughout the day. As the sun rises fish tighter to the structure, or try fishing slightly deeper. Then during the middle of the day find areas where fish can transition in the water column, places like the edges of old creek beds are perfect examples.
Attempting to break down and figure out a new piece of water in one day can be a tricky task. Sometimes it takes a little more time, but by paying attention to the time of year and the changing weather. You should be able to identify likely spots or areas that fish should be using, and hopefully experience the kind of day like I experienced the first time I went to Borumba Dam.