Fishing the Outback

WHILE laying back in the swag looking at the crisp clear night sky and contemplating the stars above it’s hard not to think of Banjo Paterson’s reference to “The wondrous glory of the everlasting stars“.

Fishing outback rivers and water holes has immeasurable pleasures; whether these are catching prolific numbers of fish, dining on yabbies or freshwater shrimp or to further reference Banjo Paterson, “Sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,”
… “of pleasures townsfolk will never know“.

The vastness and solitude of the outback is something you can immerse yourself in. If you were to travel from Sydney in a north westerly direction to the back of Bourke then your trek will take you across numerous streams flowing west into the Murray Darling Basin.

Out here it’s sad to see how many streams and waterways have been degraded, drained of water and poisoned with toxic runoff from vast areas of river flats rich with herbicide and pesticide residue. This ends up concentrated in the river bed after the floods which stretch kilometres wide eventually fall back to within their banks.

Rivers suffer from blackwater events, blue/green algae, high concentrations of salt and toxic chemicals and heavy metal, yet when a new development is proposed, governments are always presented with a glowing Environmental Impact Statement and reports on how our heritage will be protected. The real fact is our heritage is being sold out from  under us and given to the mining and irrigation agricultural companies; one only has to experience the outback in a dry time to see the extent of degradation inflicted on these once rich streams.

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Populations of natives like golden perch are struggling against the relentless onslaught of European carp in the Murray Darling system. 

The biomass of European carp in sections of the Murray Darling is now believed to be as as high as 90 percent of the fish population.

The Murray Darling is not yet dead but it is on life support and its future is not looking all that bright. Now we give the Darling River a cursory glance as we cross this abused body of water at North Bourke in a quest to get beyond the management of government bodies.

It seems only a few short years back as kids we would have annual sojourns to the Darling River where European carp were unheard of. Golden perch, Murray cod, catfish, and silver perch were abundant. If the water was clear enough, lures trolled behind the boat were smashed with such regularity that at times the “old blokes“ would make us keep the lines in as they would say “it will take ages to get back to camp at this rate“.

Reports of visiting anglers over the past few years have been of carp only; this fact was being lamented by Outback Radio 2WEB as I drove along … a fishing comp further downstream at Tilpa returned only one yellowbelly and 138 metres of European carp, laid end to end.

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Warrego River, Cunnamulla QLD.

It is only when the non-perennial rivers are reached things seemed to improve. The land here is not suitable for cropping and the waterholes have protection from the irrigators’ pumps.

The land here is not ploughed, planted and sprayed with a cocktail of toxic chemicals – it is still the domain of the grazier!

The waterholes of The Warrego, Paroo, Bulloo, and Cooper Creek and tributaries can still offer fantastic fishing.

The Bullo River dissipates amongst the sand hills to the east of Tibooburra, into the Bullo River Overflow. it doesn’t add to the Murray Darling and as such it remains carp free.

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A typically pale coloured yellowbelly is a welcome sight outback these days.

Cooper Creek formed by the joining of two rivers, the Thomson and the Barcoo Rivers.  This is the only place in the world where the confluence of two rivers forms a creek. Cooper Creek drains to Lake Eyre and is also carp free; the invasive species here believe it or not is the Murray cod, an escapee from stocked farm dams further north.

The Murray cod doesn’t seem much threat to the creek as the waterholes are lacking the large timber snags which cod rely on to breed. Their numbers seem higher in the Cullyamurra Waterhole where there is a large rocky section at the head called Cullyamurra Choke. It is this rocky section where Murray cod have a chance to breed using the rocky bottom to stick their cohesive eggs to!

Cooper Creek offers fantastic fishing for golden perch, Barcoo and Welsh’s grunter as well as catfish.

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A catfish (top) and Welsh’s grunter (above).

Deciding on where to camp this year on the Paroo North of Hungerford I decided to roll the swag out on Corni Waterhole near the old boiler that once ran a large water pump used in irrigation. This large clanking fire and steam breathing monster is a relic of days gone by, thankfully now a tourist attraction and nothing more.

Driving into the campsite I could see it had not long be vacated by a previous group, toilet paper littered the ground behind most of the trees with in a 50m radius of the fire place, a pretty much common thing in the bush nowadays … seems people are just too lazy to dig a hole to bury their waste or even burn the paper to prevent it being blown about – humans are very strange and dirty animals.

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Paroo River, Eulo QLD.

First jobs first and a shrimp trap baited with dog biscuits was lowered into the muddy waters of the Paroo. The punt was launched and fishing gear organised.

If the fish are on, then trolling in the mocha colored water will still produce, as these fish rely on a sense to find yabbies and shrimp in muddy water, even in the dead of night. A 6km run down and back produced only one strike but the sounder showed plenty of fish.

The shrimp trap was a surprise as it was bursting full of large yabbies. Some were as big as a pumpkin. These are beautiful eating. My son even reckons yabbies are better than blue swimmers and muddies.


Yabbie feast on a hot campfire.

With a few shrimp and smaller yabbies sorted from the large lobster-like ones I flicked out a bait rod with a large shrimp kicking ferociously on the hook. The struggle of the shrimp came under the attention of a good golden in no time.

With yabbies boiled and cooling, a quick cheese damper was thrown into the camp oven and the evening meal was sorted. Fresh yabbies and damper for entrée with a main  being succulent white fillets of golden perch dusted in seasoned flour and fried to a golden brown in the camp oven with a generous serving of fresh cut chips.

Drifting off to sleep under the clear night sky ablaze with stars and satellites criss-crossing the sky I was looking forward to the coming day.

Rising with the sun I checked the shrimp trap. It was again loaded with large lobster-like crayfish with a few shrimps and smaller bait yabbies.

I grabbed a few of the smaller yabbies and shrimp and grabbed a rod and jumped into the punt and paddled across the water hole to a small log I had taken a liking to the previous evening. Tying up to the log I hooked a small yabby through the tail and lowered him to the bottom.

I had only “bobbed“ the yabby maybe a dozen times when the rod loaded and I lifted another good yellowbelly from out of the logs.

Whether you are on the Warrego, Cooper, Paroo, Bulloo or some of the better sections of the tributaries to the Murray Darling the fishing can be fantastic, and mixed with the history of explorers, cattle kings and sheep stations , the outback has so much to offer.

Yep, you have got to love this outback fishing!


Burke & Wills Dig Tree, Cooper Creek.


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