Beach, Estuary, Fishing stories, Kayak

Wonboyn (mis)adventures

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.

The sickie

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.

One of many road closures in the area

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 …

The Subaru Forester was no match for the Wonboyn River on this occasion

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.

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.

A very dark coloured little dusky – note the colour of the water in the background

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.

A solid Tailor – great fun on light Bream gear off the rocks

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.

Just like a chocolate a milkshake … only weedy

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 🙂


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4 thoughts on “Wonboyn (mis)adventures

  1. hey there, the ol catfish is my fviorate fish to go after. here is what i do and use. for baits, it really all depends on what type of bait that you would be comfortable with. for smaller cats, i like to use dough baits. those can be found at your local walmart. also know as stink bait. i prefer the one that is a mixture of chicken blood and shrimp. going up in size of cats i prefer to use liver. chicken, turkey, or beef, will be just fine. i like the turkey livers because they seem to be tougher and stay on the hook longer. now if you are wanting to go after some huge cats i use live bait such as bream or bluegill redbreast fish of that nature. for the rigging that i use. take a 2 ounce slip weight and slide it onto your line. if you are fishing a river with strong current you may need to step it up in weight but a 2 ounce is a pretty good weight to use in most conditions. ok now that you have a weight on tie on a number 2 or 3 trebble hook. regular bait or plastic worm hooks but the bait just doenst seem to stay on for a long period of time and when casting out there is more of a chance to sling the bait off. ok now that you have the trebble hook tied on go about a foot and a half above the hook and clamp on a small splitshot weight. you dont need a big weight just a splitshot that is a little bigger than the hole in the slip weight. that keeps the slip weight from sliding down onto the hook. now that you have your rig, if you are using the dough bait get out a dough ball and wet it a little. crack the ball open. not all the way run the shank of the hook through the dough ball. squeese shut the bait and pack it onto the hook shank and then press down onto the bait getting the bait ontop of the hooks and there you go. if you are using liver, keep the liver cold as possible when you are using them. keep them in a small cooler of ice. that will make the livers a little tougher and they will be easier to handle and stay on the hook longer. ok now take out a liver and use a sharp fillet knife and quater the liver you dont need the whole thing. they are usually pretty big. take a piece of the liver and run one of the hooks through it and then wrap the hook with the liver and then press down on the liver getting all the hooks in the liver and there you go. ok now fishing with live bait, use a good sized circle hook or a regular plastic worm hook. use the same rig just different hook. take one of the small fins right behind the head and snap it off and run the hook through its back right below the dorsal fin. that this does is make the fish sink and makes it flop around instead of swimming around. what the rig does is gets the bait to the bottom where the cats are and it lets the bait float around. flip open your bail on your reel or cut off the drag what ever you got to do to make the line come off your reel easily. when the cat grabs your bait the fish can run with your bait without feeling any pressure. alot of times when a fish feels pressure it will drop the bait so with this rig it can run for a little while and have time to swallow the hook. when you see your line bring unspooled let the fish run for a while. pick up your rod pull out a little line and close the bail and start to retreive your line slowly and once the fish tightens the line set the hook.ok man i know that i gave you alot but it really isnt hard. i hope that this has helped you out a bit good luck good fishin be safe and remember to share the experience

  2. Howdy, interesting to see Wonboyn that inundated with fresh water, have only been there twice (travelled down from Sydney) and had some good fishing both times, off Jewfish Beach (on inside of lake on South Side past the Boat Ramp area) and off the surf beach inbetween Greenglades and Baycliff, caught some nice salmon and bream off the beach. What a great place tucked away from the crowds, so only the keen fishos could be bothered driving in!

    1. I couldn’t agree more – very few people from Canberra ever go there, I guess they consider 3 1/2 hours too far when there are so many places only 2 hours away!

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