This massive impoundment in the central-west region of NSW boasts fantastic camping and the chance to tangle with trophy golden perch, as well as other natives such as Murray cod and silver perch. Local angler MATT HANSEN reports.
DURING the 1980s and ’90s, Lake Burrendong, near Wellington in central-western NSW, was widely considered a great place to catch a feed of stud redfin. Cricket score catches of these introduced English perch were on the cards for anglers “bobbing” lures and baits in the main basin. Come 2012 and the redfin are still on the bite, but now it’s the chance of stud native fish in the form of golden perch (aka yellowbelly) and Murray cod that has anglers turning off the Mitchell Highway weekend after weekend to explore “The Dong”.
Lake Burrendong has long been the backdrop for many a fond memory with rod and reel in hand. From casting plastics in the thick fog for surface feeding redfin on a brisk winter’s morning, to sinking lures off steep rock walls and timber lined points in the summer for goldens, this massive impoundment continues to go from strength to strength as a freshwater fishery.
Week after week, what is simply known to locals as “the dam” sees both visiting and resident anglers take to the water. Anglers can use one of the three boat ramps located in the Lake Burrendong State Park, Mookerawa State Park or the Mudgee end of the lake to launch a boat and set up a comfortable camp in search of some fishing fun, or perhaps even a trophy native for the photo album. Camping is also permitted around the perimeter of the lake, making a weekend visit an attractive option for anglers wanting to get away from it all.
Yellowbelly that push towards and even break the 60cm mark are a common catch at Lake Burrendong for anglers using lures and bait. Impressive trophy fish with humped shoulders and small heads populate the dam, thanks largely to local restocking groups such as the Wellington Fishing Club, which has for the past decade stocked the impoundment with fingerlings made available via community generated funds.
The winter months see impressive schools of yellowbelly congregate against the trunks and limbs of gigantic sunken trees, in anywhere from two to 50m of water, depending on the location of the thermocline. Anglers game enough to brave the chilly June/July conditions often report incredible numbers of fish stacked up hard against the trunks of the ancient trees.
Lake Burrendong is loaded with snags, a factor that’s no doubt responsible for the impoundment fast becoming a trophy golden perch fishery.
The warmer months see goldens move to the shoreline and graze much like cattle on the open plains or flats. Casting into extremely shallow water around the lake’s margins is a very successful method for lure fishermen using suspending shads, lipless crankbaits (rattlers and silent models) and small soft plastics. Often the strike and hook-up occurs as the lure makes its way across the shadowy curtain of shallow to deep water, where ambushing goldens sit in self-appointed positions of assumed safety ready to shoot into the shallows to take advantage of a feeding opportunity.
Even now, massive catches of redfin are possible at Lake Burrendong, with soft plastic presentations out performing other methods over the past year or so. Fishing small curl tail offerings fished on 1/16, 1/8 and even 1/4 ounce jig heads is a sure fire method of securing a feed of redfin, once a suitable rock point is sounded out or schooled fish are located in the main basin. Winter sees glassed out early mornings that are perfect for sight casting to feeding fish on the rim of the lake.
One such morning, we thanked the fishing gods as we were blessed with a complete “glass-out”, with barely a ripple as far as the eye could see. After letting the outboard, along with our fingers, warm up for five or so minutes, we set off across the main basin with our navigation lights creating a red and green cocoon in the foggy canopy.
With beanies on and polar fleeces zipped up to the chin, we slowly cruised towards one of our favourite rock walls in the main basin. We engaged the electric motor before tying on a selection of small hard-bodies, suspenders and Celtas. The light was starting to burst through above us and we could finally start to define the water’s edge, rocks and structure.
We positioned ourselves about 25m from the rocky point at the start of our casting run, and began flicking our lures as close to the edge as possible. We could clearly see fish activity and fins cutting at the surface of the water. The local redfin were obviously in full feeding mode. The reports of amazing redfin catches from other local fishermen were soon proved correct, as we filled the livewell full of solid redfin to 35cm in no time at all.
Although fast becoming a talked about fishery due to the size of its resident yellowbelly, Lake Burrendong also turns up the occasional oversize Murray cod. Competitors in the 700 strong field for the 2011 Lake Burrendong Classic C&R comp had their chins on the floor when Neville McClair trolled up a 1.16m Murray Cod with an estimated weight of 60 pounds to easily take first prize. Slowly dragging a size two green Stumpjumper in just 15 feet of water, Neville told the crowd at the presentation that it was the fish of a lifetime. From all reports it took plenty of getting to the boat after entangling itself in three lines and making surge after surge for the depths of Burrendong’s main basin.
Juvenile cod also turn up from time to time, lurking off rock walls and amongst dense dead timber. Anglers casting lipless crankbaits for goldens often get a nice surprise, with fighting fit “greenfish” assaulting lures cast tight to the bank, particularly on the change of light periods at dawn and dusk. An ever present food web of small redfin feed Burrendong’s cod, with those fish caught sporting a healthy girth and beautiful colouration.
Trolling lures at night in the main basin area is another preferred method of turning up a cod for Burrendong anglers, with steep rock walls often over 20m deep at the face the first place to try for one of these iconic natives. A late night troll under a May full moon once saw around six cod come to the landing net in a little under three hours for myself and a mate, with the best being just over the 70cm mark, and the rest all juveniles between 40-55cms.
For some time now, fishers have been prohibited from taking catfish from the Macquarie River, with many anglers left scratching their heads as to why when they appear to be so thick along much of the river’s length. Catfish are a common catch particularly for bait fishers through the townships of Wellington, Dubbo, Narromine and Warren, but due to all but disappearing from the Murray, Murrimbidgee and Lachlan Catchments, anglers can no longer take catfish from western flowing rivers such as the Macquarie. Anglers can, however, take catfish from Lake Burrendong, with night fishing using baits under a running sinker producing plenty. Grazing goldens and monstrous carp will also turn up in surprising numbers at times and scoff baits intended for a catty.
Silver perch at times over the past decade have been thick to say the least, but numbers seem to have dwindled in recent years. One thing’s for sure though, if you hook a Burrrendong silver, hold on, as they pull like a bass on steroids! Even small Burrendong silvers that slam a cast or trolled lure make a good account of themselves, heading back to where they came from at an alarming rate of knots, with the angler often believing they’re onto a much bigger fish.
Info for visitors
At full capacity, Lake Burrendong is three and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour. As you can imagine, such an enormous body of water means you rarely, if ever, experience any problems with the crowds often associated with coastal waterways.
Public access points are divided into three sections covering every major point of the dam, including Burrendong State Park, Mookerawa Park and the Mudgee end.
Burrendong State Park is the most established of the public access points, and park facilities include boat ramps, playground equipment, kiosk for eat in or take away and fuel, free gas barbecues, nine-hole golf course, volleyball courts, tennis courts and a skateboard rink.
All access points are set in natural Australian bushland with diverse wildlife calling the foreshores home, making it this a great holiday destination if your family enjoys getting amongst the lizards, kangaroos and abundant birdlife for a day or two. Access allows anglers to launch a boat or fish the banks in any given arm of the lake.
Lake Burrendong State Park is a not only a great base camp for chasing trophy golden perch and cod, but also for visiting many other fantastic local attractions such as The Wellington Caves and Phosphate Mine, Lake Burrendong Sport and Recreation Centre, Burrendong Arboretum, The Old Dubbo Gaol and the world famous Western Plains Zoo. For more info, check out http://www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au/lake_burrendong.
The Inland Waterways Rejuvenation Association (IWRA) stages the Lake Burrendong Fishing Classic each Easter. The comp is one of the biggest freshwater C&R events around. Given Lake Burrendong’s reputation for big yellowbelly, these natives are the No.1 target species, along with cod, redfin, silver perch and catfish.
The Central Western community of NSW has gotten right behind the comp, with close to $40,000 in cash and prizes for the 2012 comp to be handed out. Feature prizes include a 4×4 Skamper Camper offroad trailer, a Quintrex boat and motor and a holiday accommodation package.
The not-for-profit event attracts competitors from around NSW. Organisers expected about 1000 entrants for the 2012 event, which ran from April 6-8. Proceeds from the Classic assist the IWRA in providing ongoing fingerling stocking and native fish release programs; rejuvenation of riverbank habitats and waterways; educational programs to promote sustainable best fishing practices with community groups and local schools; works in conjunction with government authorities and fishing club organisations to provide constructive results; promoting the region; and providing improvements to local waterways and resources. Sounds like a bloody great comp! Fishing World was one of the sponsors of the 2012 Lake Burrendong Fishing Classic and we urge all interested anglers to head to iwra.com.au to check out details of the 2012 comp. Meantime, stay tuned to fishingworld.com.au for this year’s results.