Bring back the boof

Graz and I had a cracker of a weekend down at Wallaga Lake. It all started on Friday morning. A leisurely start had us on the road by 9am, eagerly anticipating the weekend ahead. Travelling down the coast road via Bateman’s Bay, our spirits were slightly battered by constant road work and Sunday drivers on Friday (wtf?!), but it kind of added to the excitement of the weekend’s fishing that lay ahead. We finally made it down to Wallaga Lake around lunchtime and hit the water. Note to self – take the Monaro in summer and the coast road in winter.

Not wanting to mess around, we had the boat in the water and cruised over to my favourite spot; a beautiful stretch of water between the Island and the causeway. The locals call it the ‘telephone poles’. First cast, flathead. Aw yeah! After about 5 or so more we had our fix, which also coincided with them going off the bite a little, so decided to head around under the bridge to have a look at the flats. All of the flathead were caught on darker coloured solf plastics fished on or near the bottom in around 1.5-2m of water. We were getting quite a few touches from leatherjackets too, which was a little frustrating as they can make quick work of any plastic, no matter how soft or hard. The bloke at Bridge Motors had some good advice on this: fish slower and keep the lure closer to the bottom, as the leatheries will only hit it once it comes up a fair way of the bottom. Will have to try this.

Anyway, the flats is where the fun really started. Not sure who tied on the popper first, but before long we were both getting boils and strikes left right and centre. Graz was first to hook up, scoring a lovely bream of around 35 cm on a bushy’s stiffy. I took a bunch of great photos only to realise a short time later that I had the camera on the wrong setting. The result was a completely white photo. D’oh! Sorry Graz…I’ll put the results in the soon to be published blog on fishing photography: fail edition.

A number of fish followed, with a nice trevally on the surface being a highlight (and a first) for me.

Part of the popper lucky-dip; my first silver trevally on the surface. They put up a great fight! This one went back to fight another day

As the weather was deteriorating and we were running low on fuel, we called it on the flats and decided to go and have a try for the elusive monster of the estuary – the ‘jewbanger’ as they’ve been affectionately named. Positioning ourselves in around 14 metres of water, we started casting big plastics around. It didn’t take long before we both had hits, but no hookups unfortunately. I’ve heard that jewfish can hit fairly softly, so we were both pretty excited at getting some hits in the deep water. They might have been flatties – I’ve caught them here before – but I’d rather convince myself they were school jewies. Next time I’ll put in a few more casts. I think if I make it part of my Wallaga Lake circuit I’ll get one eventually. The spot we were trying has all the hallmarks of a good jewie spot. The water drops off from 1-2 metres down to 12-14 metres very quickly, has some nice rock walls on one side and a large basin on the other. Add to this lots of baitfish, birds and some tidal flow and it won’t be long before I crack a Wallaga Lake jewfish.

Anyway, after a few beers and some cricket we hit the hay and recovered for the following day. Saturday was one of those days where I’ll be saying for years ‘remember that day at Wallaga Lake when bla bla bla’

This is how it went. We did more or less the same circuit as Friday, starting near the telephone poles. Graz had drawn a bit of a blank with the flatties on day one, landing only a few fish, but he quickly redeemed himself with this great fish:

Graz with a lovely Wallaga Lake flathead taken on a dark coloured 4 inch plastic and a 4.5 gram jig head

After putting a few more in the bucket, along with a few nice little tailor that got in on the act, we decided to head back to the flats and try our luck. The Wallaga Lake flats have all the characteristics of a good fishing spot – deeper channels adjacent to shallow sand flats, interspersed with that lovely ‘mottled’ look of deeper weed beds and sand holes.

Weedbeds and sand holes – the perfect combination

All around us there were baitfish skipping, fish boofing and ‘kissing’ and the odd tern getting in on the act. It didn’t take long to start catching fish.

One of the better bream we caught. This one was taken on a surecatch popper. Don’t scoff at the cheap stuff! I tried a few other expensive poppers, with slightly ‘heavier’ action, and caught way more fish on the surecatch. I think it was due to the smaller, more finessy bloops

There was no one technique that caught all of the fish. In my experience, bream will usually hit after a fairly long pause. On this occasion, the fish were responding to all sorts of different techniques. Sometimes a non-stop bloop bloop would get a fish; other times they were hitting after a pause. The most effective technique for me seemed to be to wait until I was sure a fish was following, then give the popper a few erratic twitches. If the fish had a boil or strike, I would give the popper a few really erratic twitches, trying to imitate a scared prawn or the like, and often the fish would come up and smack it. I think the important lesson for me here is to mix it up…just keep trying different things until you figure out what is working. At one stage after not getting a strike for a few minutes, Graz said to me ‘it’s gone a bit quiet’. No sooner than he’d said that and BOOF! He was on to a nice bream! Sometimes old Murphy’s works in reverse!

After a few more fish Graz had the awesome idea of trying further up on the flats. I was quite content trying to outsmart wily bream, but I’m glad I listened to him! No sooner had we anchored up in around a foot of water and Graz landed this aggressive little whiting:

A nice little whiting taken on a bushy’s stiffy (Rache said this lure makes her think of Kambah Pools). With a bit of wind behind you, these lures cast a mile. However, as I alluded to before, the have a large, noisy bloop that sometimes seems to scare the fish if they’re a bit finicky

Despite getting a little overexcited, we decided it was time for some lunch and extracted some sandwiches. Meanwhile, fish were flitting around all over the flats, with small kisses and the occasional boof getting the better of me. Putting my half eaten sandwich down and while still chewing away, I couldn’t resist a cast towards some commotion up in about 20cm of water. A few bloops and BANG! The telltale lizardy tail of a flathead erupted in a spray of foam, sending baitfish and whiting shooting in numerous directions. So mid lunch, I wound in this nice flattie:

Pliers and lip grips come in handy when operating on flathead

With full bellies, we disembarked the boat and started casing poppers around. For about half an hour, we caught fish on every second or third cast. Mostly whiting, but a few more flatties and some mullet also got in on the act. Frustratingly, all of the whiting were just under size-around 25-26 cm-but it was nonetheless an awesome little session. They were just so agressive, with many of the fish taken within half a second of the lure hitting the surface. Sometimes we wouldn’t even need to move the lure!

Graz hooked up to a fish in less than a foot of water. Beautiful conditions. Note the weedy patch in the background…many of the fish seemed to be sitting near the edge.
A little mullet that got in on the act

After around half an hour the fish seemed to shut down a little. We were only catching the odd one here and there so decided to head back into the deeper water to try for a few bream. It might have been the tide change that slowed them down. It had hit low tide and I suspect some cooler water was making its way in from the ocean. The bream didn’t seem to be playing ball, but we got a few more fish, the highlight being a nice tailor that Graz nailed on the surface.

It’s nice when they get hooked in the corner of the mouth and don’t snip you off!

By this stage we were both getting a bit tired and the non-stop popping was starting to take its toll on our shoulders and wrists. The ice was running low so we decided to call it and head back to base for some R&R. After cleaning the fish and having a beer this was the result:

Graz having a nanna nap

Despite having fished hard for the last 24 hours, the itch still hadn’t been sufficiently scratched and we decided to head off, on foot this time, to see if we could catch a few more. We checked out the beach briefly and had a few casts in a likely looking gutter, but the lack of water meant there were few fish. We saw a school of baby salmon that could have been tempted with a small plastic, but gave it a miss. Sadly there was a tonne of rubbish on the beach that appeared to be left there by a friendly looking bunch of locals. We picked it up and put it in the bin, making sure to give them a good stare as we did so. Why would people go and have a picnic in a beautiful place then spoil it like that? Anyway, as anglers it’s important we tidy up after these fools (and other anglers who are similarly foolish). It might seem frustrating at times but it certainly helps, both in terms of the environmental and amenity perspectives but also in terms of public perception toward anglers. Not wanting to get too political here, but it’s interesting how the visual impact of some fouled line, bait packets and VB cans can be so powerful, whereas the visual impact of purse-seine caught tuna or trawled flathead and ocean perch is virtually non-existent. I always try to encourage people who consume fish to think about the comparative environmental impacts before slandering recreational anglers, many of whom are given a bad name from a small minority of irresponsible wankers.

Next we went back around to the flats and waded the banks. Graz had a cracker of a session but I only landed a few fish. Sometimes that’s what happens! I think he’d landed a few tailor, a nice bream and a couple of flatties before I got my first fish – a small snapper of around 15cm!

Graz with a nice bream taken from the bank
The conditions were almost too perfect…earlier in the day we had a bit of a chop on the water which seems to help the fishing

On Sunday we decided to head out on the boat again to see if we could snare a few more fish for the freezer. After trying for half an hour or so at the telephone poles, it became apparent that it was going to be tougher than the previous two days. The wind had shifted around to a north-easterly and it was far cooler. Perhaps the fish were full from the previous day, when many of them had been coughing up small baitfish and a surprising number of nippers when landed.

With only a few small flatties and touches at the telephone poles, we decided to head to the flats again to try our luck. On the way, I got breath tested by the coppers, which was a bit of a novelty. Typically, they didn’t laugh at my light-hearted jokes about not trying to see whether my boat gets up on the plane (I don’t have a license, but I can honestly say that the little 9.8 horsepower does NOT get my tinny on the plane, despite the cocky copper assuring me that it would). Whilst boatside, with me holding on to their rubber ducky, one of the cops leaned over and inadvertently hit their boat into gear, almost taking off with my boat and some other lads on the other side. Needless to say, this didn’t seem to improve our relationship with the stern looking fellows but provided a bit of a laugh once we’d disconnected from the law to continue our fishing.

Despite a nice chop on the water, we weren’t getting the boils and follows we’d had on the previous two days. We could see the fish following from time to time, but they were hanging a foot or so beneath the poppers and weren’t interested in having a go. I decided to tie on a stick bait, which I’ve had very little success with in the past, and managed a nice bream and a tailor. I’m sold by the ‘walk the dog’ style when the fishing is tough. It’s much slower than popping, but seems to do the trick.

the extra finesse of the stickbait seems to work when the fish aren’t aggressive

Graz finished off the session with a nice tailor, that ended up as part of lunch:

Crumbed tailor fillets and a nice salad. Delicious

It was great to see that Wallaga Lake keeps on improving. I’m sold on the fact this should one day become a designated recreational only fishery. Surrounded by national parks and the beautiful Gulaga mountain, this is a stunning part of the world. Something I was thinking about during this trip is how fishing lets you reconnect with nature. In our busy city lives, surrounded by concrete, ambition and superficiality, I sometimes forget how important it is, as humans, that we try to understand and reconnect with the natural world around us. It’s good for the soul.

Lee Georgeson, February 2012

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