Tenterfield Dreaming

Being a part of the OzFish family certainly has its benefits. I recently had the opportunity to fish with one of our passionate OzFish Chapter Presidents, Harry Davey. He’s such a great example of what OzFish embodies – loves his fishing and wants to

make a difference. Harry and his crew have done some great work rehabilitating local fish habitat and I was happy to reap the rewards!  

There is nothing quite like the feeling and anticipation for the next fishing trip. I expect every keen fisherman knows this feeling. The days before any trip my thoughts are dominated by large hard fighting fish and this time was no exception. Tomorrow I was heading west, over the Great Dividing Range, to a place where green and gold fish lurk in the creeks that wind their way across the tablelands.

Tenterfield is a bit of a piscatorial dark horse. Anyone passing through the town could be excused in thinking there is no fishing there. A few small and turbid drains can be seen from the road but there are no majestic waterways that one often associates with good fishing. But these drains, small creeks and waterholes are home to some of our most sought after native freshwater angling species. I was here to target the iconic Murray Cod and Golden Perch.

A large New England pool in summer

After meeting up with Harry I was keen to get started. The first creek Harry took us we had to access through private land. To do this he had previously gained permission from the landholder. I later learnt that unless you knew the local landholders, accessing the creeks to wet a line was very limited. Also during the drier times of the year the creeks were reduced to a series of isolated waterholes, sometimes barely a trickle of water connected them. These waterholes could be as small as a standard size living room or as long as a football field, but Harry assured me they all held fish.

Harry releasing a Golden Perch

We pulled up right beside the creek and jumped out of the car, eager to get a glimpse of the water. The stretch of creek looked so good we couldn’t get the kayaks on the water quick enough. It was late afternoon so Harry tied on a Jackall Pompadour surface lure and I chose to flyfish with a black streamer fly. Harry was first off the mark when a solid Golden Perch of about 40cm attacked his offering with gusto. I was happy to land my first Golden Perch on a fly and caught a nice little cod shortly after. That night we set up our tents and Harry cooked the best T-Bone steak I have had in a long time.

The next morning, we set off on foot downstream in search of the next waterhole. There was quite some distance between pools but we managed to find 2 or 3 holes that were very fishy looking. The fish were playing hard to get that day, but we managed to tempt a few small cod on the Pompadours. The water was clear and the habitat looked to be pristine. We could only imagine the water was perhaps a little too warm and the fish were reluctant to expend energy. Harry explained the fish could be fickle at times and if they are not in the mood to feed, they would simply ignore our lures. With that in mind we packed up camp and set off for ‘fishier pastures.’

The author with a small cod that took a liking to a black streamer fly.

Passing through Tenterfield we decided to stop in at Harry’s to check the cricket score. We were happy to see the Aussies were giving the pommes an absolute thumping at 9 for 662. While I watched the cricket over a cold beer, Harry cooked us a lamb roast. Over lunch we discussed our options for the next fishing location. Harry recommended we try his ‘go to’ spot where he knew of several large cod up to the magic 1m mark that lurked in the depths. I wasn’t about to argue with him. This was quickly turning into one exceptional fishing trip.

Harry with a nice Golden Perch taken from the kayak.

Once again Harry called ahead to get permission from the property owner and when we arrived he was there to greet us at the front gate. He was happy to see us and to my bemusement, chaperoned us whilst we fished all the waterholes on his property. He was keen to see what kind of interesting beasts we could pull out from these small pools that dotted across his otherwise dry featureless paddocks. The first waterhole we visited was very small, only about the size of a backyard swimming pool. Harry explained to me, that from previous experience, there was at least 3 cod in this hole and 4 ‘yellas’ (Golden Perch). Furthermore 2 of the cod were over 1m long!  

As we stood there contemplating what offerings to cast into the pool, thunder clouds formed slowly overhead. It was late afternoon and the light was fading fast. Harry again chose a Pompadour and I tied on a surface popper style fly. When Harry offered me first cast I was a little excited to say the least. I shot out a few false casts with the fly line and placed the fly right next to the only snag in the pool. I retrieved the fly with short sharp bloops but it drew no response. Harry tried his luck casting his surface lure to the other side of the snag. As soon as he engaged his reel there was an almighty BOOF!

Harry eventually got his lure back a few weeks later after loosing the cod again it floated to the surface!

The loud ‘boof’ sound and the huge explosion of water that followed could only be the result of a very large Murray Cod. Harry had his eye on Pompadour at the time, but the explosion of water was so large and happened so quickly that he never saw the size of the fish. But with experience we knew the cod was over 1 metre long. During that split second the explosion occurred, the cod had turned and snapped off Harry’s lure. All we could do was laugh in amazement and move on to the next hole.

 

Harry with a nice cod

This hole was no bigger than the last. Again Harry offered me first cast. After the first few bloops of my retrieve the fly was smashed by dark green shape, but the hook failed to stick. We both continued to pepper the hole with our offerings. After losing his Pompadour Harry had tied on a spinnerbait and it wasn’t long before he had a nice Golden Perch in his landing net by the side of the pool. Harry and I aren’t big fish eaters, so we released all our fish that weekend.

Fly fishing for Murray Cod is exciting stuff!

That afternoon we drove from paddock to paddock locating the pools amongst the long grass. It amazed me how resilient our native fish would have to be to live in these isolated conditions. It was summer and there was barely a trickle of water connecting each pool. During the drier times of the year the fish would have no access to other parts of the creek. They were totally reliant on food sources within each pool. Fortunately, Murray Cod and Golden Perch are great survivors. They adapt to these conditions by eating a wide variety of food; insects, frogs, snakes, lizards, birds and even each other.

This probably explained their opportunistic behaviour in attacking our lures shortly after hitting the water. Anything such as a cicada or a bird that was unlucky enough to fall into the water would be on the menu. No doubt the fish would have to compete with each other to make it to the food first. This made for some exciting fishing. However usually after the first fish was caught, the pool would shut down. The fish knew something was up. They were wising up to us.

The next pool we found was quite long, about 50m. It took me several attempts to launch my fly over the long grass and out into the middle of the pool. After the first few twitches of my fly, the signature ‘boof’ of a nice cod enveloped my offering. As Harry scrambled for the net I frantically stripped the line and played the fish to the side of the bank. It wasn’t long before we had a beautiful cod in the net. After taking some very ‘happy snaps’, we released the cod and headed to the next pool.  

Me with a nice Murray Cod taken on a surface popper style fly

In the fading light we slowly made our way home, applying just “one more cast” to each pool on our way out. We drew a few more responses and Harry landed a nice ‘yella’ but the fish knew something was up and had become very tight lipped. I drove back to Tenterfield with Harry, we said our goodbyes and I hit the road. During the 3 hour drive home highlights of the weekend played through my mind like a commercial for Fish’n with Mates.  The fishing around Tenterfield had surpassed all my expectations. Mentally, I was already planning the next trip.

 Simon Fitzpatrick

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