Mike O’Neil and his wife hit the Grey Nomad track for some well deserved travel plus fishing popular east coast impoundments.
Impoundments provide ideal hunting grounds for Australia’s fearless band of fishing grey nomads. And, for some, they are an integral component of their wandering lifestyle, providing, relaxation and entertainment as well as helping put food on the table.
Some of this State’s larger impoundments offer modern facilities to complement their foreshore sites. These, however, come at a price. Lake Burrendong near Dubbo springs to mind as does Lake Windermere, near Wellington, Lake Glenbawn, near Scone, and Lake Keepit near Tamworth. All offer excellent facilities and fishing but you do pay prices comparable to coastal caravan parks.
And then there are those special impoundments where you can still find a free camp right at water’s edge. My favourites are Split Rock Dam, near Manilla, and Copeton Dam, near Inverell.
Yellowbelly, bass, silver perch and cod can all be caught while fishing from the shore in these areas, but a boat and motor increase your chances of success and provides the necessary mobility to explore the length and breadth of our inland waterways.
Impoundments are not the only avenue open for the wandering fisher, there are any number of rivers in this great country where you can pull your van or motor-home under a shady tree and set up camp at water’s edge… and unless Mr Rudd decides to throw a tax on all things Aussies like to enjoy, it’s free for the price of a tank or two of petrol.
There are many choices when you finally bite the bullet and part with hard-earned cash for that dreamed-of rig… a rig to smash the shackles of workplace blues and set you on a course of adventure and piscatorial pleasure.
What vehicle best suits your needs? What type of van should you buy? Should it be a pop-top or a full van? Should you go the whole hog and splash mega bucks on a fully-kitted out self-contained everything off-roader and tag along with the Gall boys or perhaps settle for something a little more middle-of-the-road and have some cash left over for other essentials… like fishing gear and fuel?
It’s all a matter of personal choice… with a dash of realism chucked in for good measure. Not everyone wants to ford the Jardine River with the snorkel sticking out like a submarine periscope, but many of us want to head into areas where a blacktop-rated van won’t go.
Today’s caravan industry moguls recognise this fact and have tailored some damn good rigs to service this niche market. They’re called dirt-roaders… not as tough as the full off-roader but tough enough to get you off the blacktop and on to the dirt tracks that access some great fishing and camping locations.
One of my mates went the full Monty when he finally saddled up for his dream-rig. He peeled off around $117,000 for a Bushtracker and another $75,000, give or take a few grand, for a tricked-up troopy cruiser.
I spent $33,000 on a Jayco Outback Discovery and $40,000 on a 3.0 litre Navara… its horses for courses really. I drag mine in some places the manufacturers would probably say it’s not designed to go. However, it works. I just poke along and everything seems to hold together.
With the rig sorted, it’s time to turn your attention to mobility on the water. Should it be something simple like a canoe propelled by a small outboard or electric motor; or will you opt for something more substantial in the car-topper range.
Like vans and motor-homes, today’s market is flooded with boat/motor choices. Selecting the right combination for your individual needs will ensure enjoyable and hassal-free boating. Weight, power, launching and retrieval aspects need to be carefully considered.
Select a rig that you can easily manage. We don’t want anyone putting their back out or having a heart attack because the outfit is too heavy to handle comfortably.
The problem of hoisting a boat on top of your tow vehicle can be overcome with the addition of one of a variety of commercial boat loaders. Or you can do as I have done, fit a rear roller on your roof rack and get the wife to hoist it up (I love a strong woman).
My outfit is a 3.45 Mako Topper dinghy mated to an 18hp Tohatsu. It gives me big horses for a little boat but by the time I jam a large esky, 30 litres of fuel, my canine fishing buddy Bosun, wife Adele and my 112kg frame into its cavity. So the boat needs that extra power to get it all zipping across the water at a good pace.
Importantly, this tinnie rig it is light to handle, weighing just 65kg. Adele and I can easily stand the boat up and place the bow on the rear roller of the roof racks then lift the back up and roll it forward into position. While a boat loader would make it easier still, you can get away with a few small modifications to simple roof racks.
I opted for the Tohatsu two-stroke because of its power-to-weight ratio and its reputation as a tough little unit. At 46kg it is manageable hoisting it from the back of the dual cab; anything heavier would be pushing the envelope just a little too far.
Small-boats have their own special attraction… they open up river systems and impoundments for exploration and provide access to out-of-the-way fishing grounds. And when you can tow all the comforts of home along with you, it opens up unlimited applications.
Late last year we set off for a six-week touring trip down the south coast of NSW and into Victoria, taking in some spectacular scenery and waterways. We stayed in some of that state’s prettiest spots… places like Caringal Scout Camp outside Errica, on the Tyers River, where two small streams with good numbers of brown trout and large freshwater yabbies, merged at the river junction.
Then there was the Quarries campground on the banks of the Mitchell River, 4km north of Briagolong (Lat: 37 48 50 S; Long: 147 05 19 E); this area offers extensive bushwalking, taking in old mines, rugged mountain country and picturesque waterway. The walking tracks are colour-coded and signposted with directions and distances from the main camp.
We travelled the Great Ocean Road and pulled in for a few days fishing at Nelson near the South Australian border. From Nelson we jumped across the border into SA and followed the Glenelg River for about 12km to a great little free-camp site, suitable for about six rigs, right on the river with toilets and water.
A small public boat ramp between river huts at the reserve allowed access to the river and it wasn’t long before we had the Mako in the water and were headed off on a day’s exploration and fishing.
THE MIGHTY MURRAY
The mighty Murray River beckoned so we turned our heads towards Mildura, driving through a sea of wheat and barley for as far as the eye could see.
As we headed up through the mallee country, the wheat and barley gave way to citrus and nut crops. We had our first camp on the banks of the mighty Murray River.
Warned not to expect too much from the Murray, we were lucky recent rain had flowed in through the Darling system. We caught just one yellowbelly that evening… and it sure tasted good.
Next day we did a short hop and pulled up on the Murray, just west of Boundary Bend. Camp that night was downstream from Torrumbarry weir. We caught several yellowbelly and a small cod.
We stopped for a look around Mulwala (I have thoughts of heading down that way to fish in the Mulwala Cod Classic) and Yarrawonga before finding a campsite just north of Rutherglen, off the Police Paddocks Road.
This was one of the most memorable campsites of our trip, nestled amongst the river gums on the grassy banks of the Murray. The mornings were crisp and misty while the days were sunny and warm.
The next day we did nothing and we made a good job of it, watching a flock of swallows toil industriously along a small section of the opposite bank, darting in and out of a cluster of mud homes; fishing; reading and watching the sunset.
While yellowbelly and cod (in season) are taken in all the Murray waters, there are areas where carp are prolific. While we caught only a few during our trip, they could be seen in numbers in some sections of the river.
On the run up to Lake Burrendong, the Navara was losing radiator fluid, so I nursed it through the heat of the day (the problem turned out to be a sticking thermostat).
We pulled into the Lake around lunch time and set up right on the water’s edge, a perfect spot to launch the small tinny and chase a few of the big yellowbelly that haunt the snags and drop-offs in this popular fishing spot.
On the water early next morning, the 3.5m Mako Topper loaded up with esky, wife, dog, electric motor and refreshments for a full day zipped along under 18 horses of Tohatsu power at a very fast clip.
Adele bagged two redfin and a brace of hefty yellowbelly while I steered the boat, watched the sounder, worked the electric, took care of the dog, and unhooked lures from the snags above and under the water.
Luckily I caught fish the next day, because I was refusing to leave until I had a least one capture alongside my name.
We arrived at Lake Windermere around midday on October 24. The dam was at just 20 per cent capacity. I soon had the boat resting at the water’s edge… but we opted for a relaxing day and made plans to set off early next morning. I could really get used to this lifestyle, permanently.
The new day brought a change in the weather. Rainsqualls whipped across the lake and the temperature dropped. Only one fish came on board… but it was the biggest of the trip.
We drove through rain all day to reach Glenbawn Dam and set up camp at Wilga Tree flat, one of the more wet-weather-accessible camping areas on the dam foreshore. The weather was not up to grey nomad fishing standard, so we kicked back with a couple of good books and ate roast pork done slowly in the baby Webber. Not a bad way to finish off six free-and-easy weeks exploring some of our great waterways and impoundments… and catching the odd fish or two.
There is no doubt the Murray is a mighty river. In fact it is the third longest navigable river in the world after the Amazon and Nile. From its origins in the Upper Murray and Kosciusko National Park, it trundles through 2756km of which 1986km (from Goolwa to Yarrawonga is navigable.
During the course of its run, it spans the three states of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. Mankind has left an inextinguishable footprint on the Murray with the construction of four major dams, 16 storage weirs and 15 navigable locks and it is the major domestic water supply for more than 1.5 million households. Throw all its tributaries in the mix and you have the third largest water catchment on the planet.
The romance and mystery of the mighty Murray was captured in the television series All the Rivers Run, a story of love and early life on the river paddle steamers that carried wool, wheat and other goods to and from the communities established along the riverbanks.
The Murray is truly a remarkable river with a diverse and abundant wildlife population. It is steeped in history and tradition, a constant link to our past and window to our future. It is easy to immerse yourself in its beauty and unique environment.
LAKE BURRENDONG STATE PARK
Lake Burrendong State Park, located 27km south-east of Wellington (one hour’s drive from either Dubbo or Orange and five hours from Sydney) is a year-round prospect for fishers, nature lovers, bushwalkers, campers and picnickers.
It boasts a mass of subtropical vegetation and local bird life. While there you can experience the excitement of the gold rush days by panning for gold in the creek beds around the park. Murray cod, golden perch (yellowbelly), redfin and catfish are all target species for the nomadic angler and if you fancy a feed of yabbies, take along a small trap an set it in the shallows… or simply tie a piece of meat to a string and bob for a feed.