by Lee Brake
When you live on the Central Queensland coast with miles of saltwater estuaries, beaches, shoals, islands and reefs within spitting distance, it seems borderline moronic to pack up a canoe and head inland along the old disused highways and through the dry scrub.
Exploring these waterways is a scenic, serene and often thrilling way to spend a morning. It's well worth the drive.
This desolate, derelict landscape is home to more than just grazing cows and kangaroos however; there are small isolated waterholes, creeks and streams that, though they flow hours inland from the coastline, are teeming with sportfish of the highest calibre.
Saratoga are not a great eating fish so are best released to be enjoyed as a sportfish for years to come.
Access can be tricky and Google Earth is your best friend when planning a trip to these areas, but overall a little pre-planning and some exploration – preferably with a 4x4 – is usually all that is required to find yourself immersed in some of the state's most picturesque piscatorial locations.
Once you've found a launching site, a suitable vessel is key. A canoe, kayak or small punt is ideal, however, stealth is of the upmost importance so forget the outboard motor. It's paddle or electric power here! The reason for this is the close-quarters nature of the waterholes and the spooky behaviour of the target species.
The top of the wish list for most anglers fishing these waters is the majestic saratoga. This ancient predator is usually found between 40 and 70cm but grows to around a metre in length. They are a strikingly beautiful fish that feeds actively on the surface. In fact we have often found that by watching for ripples under overhanging branches you can sight cast to these fish. In the majority of times, once the lure hits the water you're on before you can even engage the reel! The other option is to work shallow running lures on or just under the surface of the water. I really like unweighted soft plastics like 3-4' jerkshads rigged on a worm hook. Keep an eye out for small bow waves forming on the surface as a 'toga charges towards your lure.
Sooty grunter are often described as "footballs" due to their oval shape. These fish have wide, powerful bodies and tails and that first hit can leave you gobsmacked and lure-less. Graham Brake landed this nice fish on a Squidgy Wriggler.
As mentioned, saratoga do spook easily and are best targeted during periods of low light. Early morning is best, however, they will continue to feed in the shadows of overhanging trees throughout the day, especially if it's overcast.
The other primary sportfish is the sooty grunter. These gutsy little dark-coloured demons fight well above their pocket-rocket size and will easy brick an unsuspecting angler deep in the snags. These fish are best tempted with little minnows that dive to around three metres. Concentrate on any submerged timber, particularly bigger logs dissecting the main channel.
Check out the dental hardware on that saratoga! Lee was only using 20lb leader and was lucky his worm hook found the corner of the fish's jaw.
While chasing sooty grunter in this way, don't be surprised to see some sizeable forktail catfish charging out to smash your lure – or even a small sooty that you have hooked. These fish might be frowned upon by many sportfishos, but they pull hard and put a serious bend in the light gear that is at home in these waters.
Speaking of gear, a light graphite combo is ideal. I like spin, but baitcasters are fine too. Look for a short rod no longer than 6' 2' around 2-4kg with a reel able to hold 15lb braid. I like a light leader around 20lb, but 30lb isn't a bad option considering the dental hardware of the southern saratoga.
Make sure you check out the video below of a recent inland trip we undertook. You'll note the 16 foot Mad River Canoe we used as our vessel for the day. This canoe is fitted with an outrigger and electric outboard that provides a quiet and stable fishing platform.
Finding a spot to launch your vessel is the first major hurdle. Many of the established waterholes and creeks have steep banks.
If you want to have a crack at inland fishing, jump on Google and check out some of the creeks and streams inland of the coastal ranges of Central Queensland. There's plenty of fishy country out there, just be mindful of private property and make sure you take all your rubbish home with you!
Have fun and stay safe.