Fishing Outback NSW: signs of recovery?


RECENTLY I returned to fish a section of the Barwon River, New South Wales, that I have not visited for quite a while. To be honest, the last time I was there, the river had declined to the point where it was basically a carp hole. Massive fish kills had occurred at monotonous regularity and made it pretty unappealing to fish. 

I first fished these western rivers in the mid 60s. It’s amazing to think that they once were the highways of the Outback, with steam-driven paddle boats plying the waters with goods for isolated stations and settlements, and returning with bales of wool stacked high on the barges.

Those early days, the years BC (before carp) were simply phenomenal . I guess, however, that if we could have seen the rivers when they supported a huge commercial fishery that peaked in 1918, then the 60s may have been considered only been average.

The 60s also saw the first cotton grown on the banks of the Darling River by Jack Buster, an American who made his home at Bourke. This cotton crop was to be the start of a boom industry started by a man who became a legend in the district .

Some say that in hindsight the growing of such water-thirsty crops in a semi-arid landscape should not have been allowed. One irrigation property has water storages that exceed 28 km in length and they are licensed to take 460,000 megalitres of water. If that’s true, it is obvious that downstream users would not be happy.


Water resources have recently made the news, with claims of mismanagement of these resources by some in our Government departments. It certainly has the locals talking !

I started taking my kids out to the western rivers in the 90s and we enjoyed some pretty good fishing .

Then the rivers really declined with drought, over allocation of water, the explosion of carp to the point that they make up over 90% of the biomass in some sections of the river, blue green algae outbreaks on regular basis, outbreaks of water weed along with the deadly black water and sometimes the toxic residues of chemicals used in farming being flushed into rivers during flood events.

Add to this nearly every good log along the water way was festooned with nails and metal spikes where dropper lines were tied and baited in search of the big Murray cod: set lines were used extensively along the rivers .

Out of the river and the banks are heavily infested with Noogoora Burr, Xanthium occidentale, which some say was he inspiration behind the development of  Velcro – it is easy to see why.

So it was we headed off more on a nostalgic fishing trip to visit old haunts of yesteryear, than with any real hope of catching proper fish.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope as a group of keen anglers around Brewarrina had banded together and started raising funds to buy native fingerlings to restock the Barwon River, as well as remove a token number of carp while doing so.


Arriving at our old campsite after a break of at least 12 years, there was a flood of memories. Looking at one log across the river, I  recalled the vision of my young bloke catching over 30 golden perch in one session, and of the big cod caught on lures during those rare times the river was clear enough.

I tossed a rod baited with worms into the coffee-colored water. Almost the instant it hit the bottom, the worms were taken by a fat female carp with a swollen abdomen containing maybe a million or so eggs. Carp after carp took the worm baits, with the majority of them being females heavily in roe. These carp were taken out into the lignum and a dump made to entice the feral pigs and cats in to feed: these would fall victim to a well placed shot later .

Shrimp traps set with cat food were soon producing, and these replaced the worm baits that were getting hammered by the carp .

The shrimp baits were also attacked readily, but more so by the huge hand sized blue-clawed yabbies that can be prolific in the waters of the Murray Darling.

My young bloke and his mates arrived not too long before dark, just in time to grab a rod bent to the butt by what turned out to be a good golden perch. It was a fat female with two egg sacs probably the size of two duck eggs, compared to one of the large carp whose egg sac was over 30cm long. The fat female golden perch was released to hopefully breedsuccessfully.


With the tinnies launched next morning it was all about fishing the logs. The technique here is not just to soak a bait on the bottom, but to bounce the bait around the logs, constantly working all areas before moving on, a style of fishing called “bobbing”.  While bait soaking could be classed as a passive way to fish, bobbing is as proactive as lure casting or fly fishing.

Our native fish are really in tune to vibration as their environment means they have to feed in muddy water, and a lot of feeding is carried out after dark. Eyes are not much use in these conditions.

Bobbing fresh shrimp baits was the best way to catch the small golden perch from amongst the logs along with the ever constant carp and yabbies. Bobbing large yabbies, on the other hand, would bring the bigger golden perch undone, and it was good to see nearly all the big fish were heavily pregnant females that were released to hopefully finish their breeding cycle.

After five days of fishing the logs and deeper holes we had caught approximately three dozen golden perch and untold number of carp.

It was the first time that our party has not caught a Murray cod during a fishing trip to this area, but I must admit I certainly didn’t expect to.

A big shout out to those local fishing clubs that are fighting to save these fishing in these iconic Outback rivers .

If you would love to experience the immense pleasure that comes with pitching camp on the bank of the coffee colored waters of our inland rivers check out.

These rivers are struggling. I for one hope to see the koi herpes virus released and the insurmountable numbers of carp reduced . Fishing clubs also express the desire to do something about the carp and are keen to help in the massive clean up of dead carp if and when the virus is released.

A snap shot of the health of the river can be seen with the catch records of the latest Brewarrina Big Fish Competition.

I think there was two cod caught over the weekend. The prize winning Murray cod was just 69cm with the runner up cod coming in at 54.5cm .

To see Murray cod along with golden perch being caught again is something to rejoice. It is testament to the good work of fishing clubs up and down the lengths of our rivers who are working to reintroduce the native species back into our rivers .

One organization , Inland Waters Rejuvenation Association is kicking goals big time. The work they have undertaken and the results achieved shows what passion and the desire to repair past damage can do.

Lets hope that in future we can fish these inland waterways and again catch Murray cod, golden and silver perch, and even the catfish.







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