Geoff Volter targets bass and saratoga in a popular Queensland impoundment

Nestled in the Mary River watershed in South East Queensland is the beautiful Lake Borumba. It was formed when a dam was constructed on Little Yabba Creek in the mid 1960s. The catchment contains a beautiful mix of subtropical rainforest, sclerophyll and vine forest amongst steep hills and valleys. Colloquially known simply as ‘Borumba’, it’s within two hours of Brisbane and an easy day trip for the many fly fishers of the area. Borumba is well-serviced with a bitumen road all the way to the launching area and a concrete boat ramp of reasonable standard. In busy periods or when the ramp hasn’t been as serviceable, many boat owners have taken to launching next to the ramp on hard gravel. There’s a loading and rigging area adjacent to the ramp as well as basic amenities and picnic tables. The closest camping spots are minutes from the ramp. On the weekends the dam is a very popular venue for water skiers, wake boarders, kayakers, picnickers and sightseers. The motorised activities are restricted to within the main basin, which leaves a significant amount of the lake, and arguably the best fly fishing water free from the fossil fuel burning thrill fanatics. Watercraft greatly increase the opportunities to fly fish here. CROWD CONTROL Due to the pluralistic demands of the dam and the school and public holidays, the weekends during warmer weather are the busiest periods. Even at these times an early start or late finish is a simple way to beat the crowds. Sunrise and sunset are always worth the effort, even if no fish are caught — it’s hard to regret being on the water in beautiful surrounds as the light changes. In its upper reaches the dam is almost riverine in nature, and at all water levels there is a high probability of colliding with submerged timber if care is not exercised. The original creek beds were lined with tall trees. Though now flooded for over half a century, much of the timber still stands. Travelling at low speeds, maintaining a visual watch and even following a GPS course very closely should all be practised in the name of safety. The main basin was clear felled before flooding. There is a buoy line delineating the end of this area. It serves as a barrier for ski boats. Due to the excellent forest and riparian coverage, water quality does not greatly suffer from turbidity after rain. It also means that there is a healthy wildlife population to view. Over the years I’ve seen feral pigs, deer, wild dogs, cattle, lizards and snakes. Bird watchers are very well catered for too. The area can be prone to fast building and fast moving thunderstorms. These are more likely to occur in the warmer weather but it pays to keep an eye on the forecast, bearing in mind that safely evacuating the upper reaches at speed is risky due to the submerged timber. The lake has an interesting history. Stocked soon after construction, by ground breaking fisheries scientist Hamar Midgely, Borumba was one of the first officially stocked lakes in the state. Midgely initially stocked it with southern saratoga (Scleropages leichardti) from the Fitzroy River system. Later stockings have included Australian bass, silver perch and golden perch, snub-nosed garfish and a number of Mary River cod. For many years the lake had its own hatchery and stocking group that ensured healthy populations. This was overseen by local legend John Rowe, an angler of some note, who introduced many anglers to their first saratoga. BASS BASICS Despite the half-century history of the lake, it was free of bony bream until the last 15 or so years. Prior to that the forage present was restricted to shrimp, eastern rainbowfish, firetail gudgeon and a host of aquatic invertebrates and their larvae. Each standing tree acted as a high-rise ecosystem. Most had a cloud of baitfish around the trunk, and thick spider’s webs adorned most branches. With the arrival of bony bream, the bass seemed to grow to larger sizes and to hunt deeper in the water column. The bony bream form large, dense shoals throughout the lake. The food supply on the tree trunks decreased and the surface bite became less regular too. The advent of the big bass tournaments certainly developed and refined techniques and a lot of what Harry Watson authored in FlyLife #19 is still very effective. If anything, the rise and adoption of side-imaging depth sounders has facilitated even more precise deep presentations. Some of the most productive schooling bass spots are in the main basin and can be prone to water traffic on weekends. Once a school of hungry bass is found the fishing can be quite fast. John Schofield’s Bass Vampire has probably accounted for more bass than any other fly. As much fun as bass are, most fly anglers visit Borumba to chase saratoga. SELF SUSTAINING SARATOGA The saratoga are well suited to dam life and are one of the few freshwater fish that can complete their lifecycle within the constraints of a dam. Morse covers both ’toga species adequately in FlyLife #83. Perfect conditions for strong recruitment of juveniles occur with rising water in late spring into summer. There is plentiful food for the young fish and ample cover for them to grow safely, hidden from predators. Breeding during spring, a small number of large, well-advanced babies are released by the mouth-brooding parents. At the end of their first summer they are big enough to avoid becoming a meal for most predators. Saratoga are obligate surface carnivores. Just a quick glance at one shows that they are built for the job. They can hunt just below the surface without leaving a disturbance and their upward facing mouth and top mounted eyes make them adept at taking food from the surface film and above. They swim with a serpentine swagger and a benign arrogance. Their close cousin, the Asian Arowana is known as the ‘dragon fish’. The large scales and prominent pectoral fins help sell a convincing story. BONE OF CONTENTION It’s a commonly held theory that the simple calorific advantage that one easily captured bony bream provides over the equivalent weight of smaller foods changed their feeding preferences and habits. Most days, a number of cruising saratoga will likely be spotted, but the volume of larger fish can be found deeper, hidden from sight. Prior to the bony bream invasion they could readily be seen cruising just under the surface looking for drowning insects and other top-water morsels. Their large, lazy feeding swirls were a feature and certainly got the pulse racing. It was possible to sight-fish for them all day. In recent times sight-fishing is still certainly possible, but it requires diligence and stealth. The number of shots won’t be as great as blind casting for them, and the average size will likely be down too. When sight casting, a fly pattern with ‘hang time’ is perfect for staying in their face and eliciting a bite. The intention is to have fairly mobile tail material like rabbit fur, artic fox or marabou. All give maximum movement with a minimal strip. Suitable flies are the Toad, Makim’s Waterdragon and Vockler’s Toga Destroyer (FL#88). Sharp, fine wire hooks are essential, and barbless is a courtesy for friends and fish alike. BROKEN CLOCK THEORY In Borumba, saratoga can be found literally anywhere. They never really stop moving. They will hunt open banks, deep water, tight feeder-gullies, weed banks, water lilies, bays with submerged timber, shady edges. If you can find a spot with a combination of these, chances are that you will find some fish soon. As they say, even a broken timepiece is right twice a day. If it’s your first visit or you’re stuck for a place to commence, just choose a spot, sit on it, and start casting — eventually your time will come. Having said that, they do seem to prefer different types of habitat during different stages of the day. Assessing a location based on light levels and fodder will lead you to higher concentrations of hungry toga. Any enthusiastic sight fisherman’s first preference is to locate cruising fish and present a fly. A good first cast with an appropriate fly is essential. If you believe that the fish saw the fly and didn’t eat, then change the fly and /or the retrieve. In such a situation, a change down in size and a more natural colour can improve results. Small, slow strips maximise the fly’s availability to the fish. SURFACE TENSION After sight fishing, fishing surface flies would have to be one of the most exciting methods to fish. The anticipation of a strike coupled with the audio-visual stimulation of working the fly really adds to the experience. The low light periods and overcast days are great times to fish the surface. Deer-hair sliders and divers are fantastic for this style of fishing, especially if they sit ‘in’ the surface rather than ‘on’ it. It can pay to mix up the retrieve cadence and strip length until a successful pattern is established. GAME CHANGING Blind casting with sinking lines is also quite effective at catching saratoga, particularly larger ones. Although not the first to do it, local fly fisherman and fly-tier extraordinaire Chris Adams has taken this to a new level with his Yeezus Leech and Game Changer flies. These are great searching patterns and really boost strike rates. They are quite a bit larger than ‘accepted’ saratoga flies and have a lot more presence in the water. Favourite colours are black, orange, yellow, red and combinations of those. These flies are really more about irritation and motivation than imitation. Systematically searching depths and locations with a variety of flies and retrieves pays dividends in most fishing scenarios, and adapting this to saratoga is no different. As with all searching with sinking lines, keeping contact with and consciousness of the fly is a great practice. It’s a discipline as much as it’s a skill. The lines built on low stretch cores do assist with bite detection and hook-sets. I generally match the fly line to the fly being used, and then choose the rod to suit. Typically, I end up using a 7–9 weight rod. Saratoga have a large, upward facing mouth lined with a row of fine yet sharp teeth. Light tippets are at risk, particularly when they take the fly and turn away and downwards. A good starting point is a hard 16 lb tippet as part of a regular length leader. The first few lunges can be quite powerful. A few jumps are also likely, and saratoga generally save some wriggling and writhing for the net. Each one is special and a relic from prehistoric times. BACK UP Borumba is a great location for fly fishing. It’s close enough to Brisbane to be somewhat convenient, yet far enough away to deter the uncommitted. Some use it just as a back up option when it’s too windy on the ocean. Borumba is better than that though; the fishing is rarely easy but it is always rewarding.

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