DESTINATION: Mary River, Queensland
BASS fishing is what you make of it. It’s fickle, tough work at times, and from personal experience, it isn’t hard to find yourself in a frustrating bass pickle. But stumbling across that one snag in a tight stream that continues to produce fish is a rewarding experience and one reason I love this type of fishing.
For me, the Mary River was my lucky break in bass fishing. The Mary is about three hours north of Brisbane and meets the sea near Maryborough. It stretches 291 kilometres towards Borumba Dam. The salt ends at a large weir, and from then on in it’s just you and your target species in freshwater heaven.
It was only recently I discovered what excellent fishing the river has to offer. And when a small, accessible area first became available to me a few years ago I jumped at the opportunity and was instantly hooked with the river’s variety and beauty.
Why fish the Mary?
You can expect to catch everything from bass, saratoga, sooty grunter, cod and even the dreaded catfish in the Mary. Rivers below a stocked impoundment are often full of the same species caught in the dam above. And often the fish share similar behaviours to the ones swimming above. When you connect two major impoundments to a river system – Lake Borumba and Baroon Pocket – and add a high annual rainfall and you get a system full of angry bass.
Over the past 17 years, little Baroon Pocket alone has had 44,355 bass released into its waters, while Borumba has received 100,000 plus fingerlings over the past two years. The dams also hold lung fish, Mary River cod and saratoga.
The Mary offers variety and different styles of fishing tactics. On a recent day trip with Dad, we used everything from topwater Jackall Pompadours to spinnerbaits. We also skip-cast soft plastics under the overhanging branches of the sheoaks and slow wound Mad Mullets. We even trolled deep divers in the middle of the system. All methods used resulted in some bent rods and happy faces. Best of all, a lot of these areas are only a short chug away from a fully functioning boat ramp.
All freshwater sections of this vast system are teaming with bass and other species, so there aren’t too many areas out of reach of the keen fisho. The easiest way of finding a spot is to use Google Earth, or a map, and follow the river north while locating nearby towns. Areas like Tiaro offer an easy entry, exit and fish. And for those looking to go that extra mile, further west, farm land locations like Boompa and Imbil are ideal for kayak fishing, but may require permission from the land owner.
The banks along the system are littered with fish cover, and depending on the area, you can expect to see overhanging branches, fallen trees, lie down logs, lily pads and some pretty special looking rock bars. All of the above habitats house the target species in numbers and that’s where you should concentrate your efforts.
Bass love the shade; it’s why they live tight in the snags, deep in the weed beds and down in the depths. The harsh sunlight, however, is hard to escape. The easiest way to fish is simply to hang on the side of the river that offers shade from the sun. The mornings will see bass in greater numbers on the eastern side of the river, hiding from the harsh early sun. Try the shaded west side in the fading afternoon light.
From experience, certain stretches of water produce more fish than others. For this reason it’s important to notice the small signs and you’ll gradually develop a sense for sniffing out the productive spots in the Mary.
Crack the code
The phrase “cracking the code” is something we hear a lot, and for good reason. The only way to crack the code is, quite simply, to fish the area as much as possible.
Each mission we experienced has been entered into a diary. We listed the successes of the trips and the elements active on the day; the barometer, wind, temperature, weather, time and moon phase are the six contributing factors that really dictate your success on the river. And all of these are easy to access thanks to technology.
Like all fishing, the days leading up, and days leading off the full moon has seen the most action in the Mary. The barometer has also had a big impact on our fishing experiences, and as the old bass fishing saying goes, “1020, bass aplenty”.
An early session last September saw the fish going gang-busters over our walk-the-dog lures, banking 15 bass in nearly two hours. However, by mid morning, the fishing had shut down. A quick glance at the barometer app explained the reason why. The pressure had been rising from 1010 to 1018 all morning, hence the good fishing, but took a steep drop back down below 1010 by 10 am. By keeping track on the weather it allows you to fish smarter, not harder.
On the day
Depending on your situation, pulling up at a good looking snag can be pretty exciting. After an early wake up, a tiresome drive, and a long, cold steam in the dawn hours to our favourite stretch, the first thing I want to do is put the electric down and start throwing surface lures.
Positioning the boat is key; assure that you are far away enough away from your casting point to avoid spooking the wary fish. Keep your boat or kayak positioned just within casting distance; any closer is too close. Matching the above with some accurate casting is an equation that equals fish.
Making sure your lure is constantly in the strike zone will increase your chances of success. Granted, you may lose a few lures to the nearby shrubs, but your fish count will increase dramatically!
I’ve found a slow wind, just enough to get your lure going, will trigger a bite. The Bassman spinnerbaits are my go-to lure on the river. Keeping the lure size down makes the bait an easy meal for any of the resident fish.
Fish with positivity, you never know what that the next cast could bring. If the fish just aren’t cooperating, switch it up and create your own luck. Make sure you bring a range of lures, because as I mentioned earlier on, you never know what species you’ll encounter next on this vast and fish abundant river. I’ll usually take two or three different tackle boxes filled with my favourite lures.
Mary River fish aren’t huge, and they don’t tend to be. Anything in the 2500-3000 range or a light baitcasting set-up is all that’s needed. Match this with some 12-20 lb braid and a light rod, and you can’t go wrong.
You’ll only require a light 10-12 lb leader. You could go heavier if fishing around heavy structure or if you’re expecting by-ctach from larger species like a cod or a sooty.
As I mentioned, bringing a large range of lures is important. A few of my favourites depending on the time of day include the Duo Realis walk-the-dogs. The tight action of this lure matched with a twitch, twitch pause retrieve is dynamite on the surface munching critters. As the sun sits higher in the sky, spinnerbaits are attached and sent into action. I found myself playing around with weights and sizes, but have always returned to the Bassman double blades in 3/8 ounce. Expect to lose a few thanks to hidden snags, but a slow wind out from the snag will tempt a hungry bass into having a crack. The same retrieve applies to plastics and divers. Most of my divers are around the 50-100mm size.
Get out there
Why is it worth travelling to fish this system? What sets this system apart from others I’ve fished is the diversity of species. Casting at a good looking weed bed, rock bar or snag could mean hooking a bass, saratoga, sooty grunter, or even a Mary River cod – this in itself excites me. In addition, the surface fishing in this river is exceptional, and can last hours after sunrise and start well before sunset!
All these qualities, in my opinion, makes the Mary one of the Australia’s best freshwater destinations. So, as summer continues and the water get warmer, it’s about time for you to visit this amazing system.