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Report: On the yellowbelly trail

IT was with great relief I headed north west to escape some of the sub zero temperatures of my home patch. I was late getting away and it was just on dark as I reached Bourke in far western NSW. Fuelling up I continued towards the Queensland border in ever increasing darkness. Roos and emus were quite thick.

Coming into Fords Bridge the lights illuminating from the Warrego Hotel were too inviting to pass by without calling in to see the locals, have a break from driving and take on some sustenance.

Fords Bridge has a population of four but there must have been some of the local cockies about as there were a dozen or so patrons. Closing time and I headed towards Hungerford again, but after several narrow misses with the local wildlife I decided to roll out a swag at a good camp spot I knew of a bit further up the road. Kerribree bore is Australia’s first genuine artesian bore and was drilled in 1886 and still spews out lukewarm artesian water and is a great spot to roll out a swag.

Starting before sunrise I headed towards the border and just as the sun got up I opened the gate into Queensland. Nothing stirred in the sleepy town of Hungerford aside from a few feral pigs that were tearing up the side of the road in the search for a meal. The razorbacks gave me only a cursory glance before continuing on with the cultivating of the ground.

Hungerford sits on the edge of the Paroo River which has its beginnings in western Queensland and generally terminates on the floodplain south of Wanaaring in NSW. It is only during floods that the Paroo River eventually connects with the Darling River near Wilcannia in NSW.

The Paroo can be at best described as an intermittent or ephemeral river system. The permanent water holes around Hungerford and north into Currawinya National Park can offer some phenomenal fishing. The most sought after fish in these water holes has to be the fish known throughout the outback as the “yellow belly” a name which when used to describe these fish is a great misnomer as they don’t have a yellow belly at all but are a very white fish and have been called “white perch” or even callop.

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The golden perch or “yellowbelly” when encountered in rivers like the Paroo is more white than golden or yellow.

These waterholes do not clear, the water looks more like Bailey’s Irish Cream and these delicious fish marinate in it, growing fat on a diet of yabbies and freshwater shrimp. I remember reading an article by Greeny on yellow belly and remember where he said that someone told him that “yellowbelly taste like coral trout”… Greeny countered that with a comment somewhere along the lines of “it don’t taste like any coral trout I have eaten”… which can in itself be true as some yellowbelly are near inedible and could turn some people off eating freshwater fish for ever.

The fish from the muddy inland streams can be the equal of any fish that swims, a beautiful white fish, their colour developed to give them some camouflage in the milky water. These “white perch” don’t have to be purged in clear water to get rid of the muddy taste as there is none and yes they can and do taste like the finest fish that swims.

These big muddy waterholes have very few snags and logs and are best fished with shrimps or yabbies and the fishing can be so hot that at times it takes only seconds from when the bait hits the bottom and a fish takes the bait.

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If you sit with your rod and hook the fish the moment they bite then it is very rare that a fish will swallow a hook.

Best way to catch your shrimps and yabbies is to get a 20 litre bucket and perforate it with holes and tie in a yellowbelly head and guts and fill the bucket with fresh gum leaves and sink this in the water hole.

A great meal can be made from yabbies and shrimp themselves and can rate much the same as prawns and cray!

Other fish I have caught in these water holes have been the European carp and the most surprising was the golden catfish which I thought was only found in the Cooper Creek system.
The name Macquaria ambigua sort of says it all, first found in the Macquarie River in NSW the ambigua part I leave up to you.

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Native fish specialist Rod Harrison with a lumpy yellowbelly caught on fly at Windamere…

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… and a solid river fish caught on a lure.

Personally I never eat a yellowbelly from the most written about dam in NSW, Windamere as these obese and distorted fish can be some of the worst tasting fish ever and for me it’s a great catch and release dam only, actually the majority of freshwater dams in eastern Australia I reckon produce yellas of questionable taste!

Others will say that fish from these dams taste ok and some they have secret ways of soaking them in milk for two days either side of a full moon and making them taste alright … for me give me a yella from the Paroo, Cooper Creek, Barcoo, Thomson, or any muddy outback stream where the fish have grown fat on a diet of yabbies and shrimp!

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A few fresh fillets grilling over a campfire – hard to beat!

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