Seriously sweet water in the Pioneer Valley and Eungella

Dusk on Eungella Dam is a magical time and fish will often move right up into the shallows to feed. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake
Over the next few weeks Lee Brake is taking us to a part of North Queensland known for its tranquillity, natural beauty and massive, marauding sooty grunter.

We start the journey at Eungella Dam.

Some areas really are well kept secrets. To locals they are cherished grounds for piscatorial potential and breathtakingly scenery, but to outsiders they are mere dots on a map destined to rarely receive a second glance. The Pioneer Valley is one such area.

Cam Pratt drops a spinnerbait down a big standing trunk. Light spin gear with 15lb braid is usually enough, but you do get bricked plenty too. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake

Nestled just half an hour from Mackay’s city gates the Pioneer Valley is a quaint string of small sugarcane farming communities that have sprung up along the banks of the Pioneer River and its tributaries. At its furtherest point is the rainforest beauty of Eungella, complete with Platypi and glorious crystal clear waters like the famous Broken River and the world’s premier big sooty grunter fishery, Eungella Dam.

Then down off the Eungella Range you have the pristine pools, rapids, falls and holes that make up Finch Hatton Gorge and just around the bend are the towns of Pinnacle and Garget and the visceral thrills offered by Cattle Creek’s population of marauding football shaped sooty grunter. Lastly, as you draw closer to Mackay, the communities of Marian and Mirani offer access to the River’s weirs and long stretches of fishing bliss with deep water, rocky rapids, fallen timber, old bridges from the pioneer days and of course, barra and sooty grunter.

Small topwalkers and poppers are ideal in smooth bays at dawn and dusk. Looks for areas with high consecrations of bait and bugs swirling the surface. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake

Oh, and that’s not even covering the Valley’s stocked barra impoundments; Kinchant and Teemburra, both of which contain numbers of barra and barra of such epic length and girth that they have to be seen to be believed.

All in all, it’s a travelling fisho’s paradise and is the perfect spot to spend a week, especially if you are a bank-bound or small boat angler. This area is an explorer’s heaven and with a small car topper, canoe or kayak you can take a step back and feel as if you are the only human on the planet. So, while space alone means that I can’t cover everything this week, I will do my best to give you a look at the sweetwater fishing available in this magic part of the world over the next few columns.

Sooty grunter do not have big mouths, so unlike barra, big lures are not your best bet. Try to use offerings around 8cm. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake

Eungella’s sumo sooties

Eungella National Park is the longest, oldest stretch of subtropical rainforest in Australia and is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘land of the clouds’. The township itself is around 85km inland from Mackay and is well known for the Platypi that can be seen frolicking in local Broken River, but for the angler it’s another 25kms of travel along a gravel road to reach Eungella’s best hotspot.

Lee with a fat Eungella sooty taken on a spinnerbait. Note the Squidgy paddle tail used to spice it up. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake

This is Eungella Dam, known chiefly for his stocked population of giant sooty grunter. There are barra and sleepy cod as well, but due to the area’s elevated nature and constant low water temperatures this dam has never really gotten a name as a barra fishery. Sooty grunter, though, are a different matter. Each year in May the local fish stocking group (MAFSA) hold the World Sooty Championships at Eungella Dam and the resulting weekend is an absolute blast as these fat, hard hitting, freight-train-minded fish and the attending anglers go head to head.

Dropping vibes down the trunks of deep, free-standing timber is a top tactic. - Seriously sweet water: Eungella Dam
Lee Brake

Fish are usually caught in one of three ways. The most exciting is the surface retrieve where anglers work gently sloping weed bends, rocky banks and points with small poppers, fizzers and micro stickbaits. The resulting strikes are not for the faint hearted and are usually best experienced at dusk and dawn due to the fish being more mobile. Once the sun rises, anglers will then move to target more solid structure. The fallen timber along the bank of the old creek bed and amongst various bays offers exciting action on snag resistant lures like lightly-weighted spinnerbaits, small bibbed minnows and lightly weighted soft plastics. Be warned though, fish around 35-40cm are often encountered tight in the snag piles and your chance at stopping them can be history in a heartbeat if you’re not properly prepared. Use medium weighted baitcaster tackle at around the 3-5kg range, 20lb braid and 30-40lb leader.

Lastly, the angler after a true ‘horse’ sooty of up to the 50cm mark (which this dam is famous for) will usually go deep. This involves working the thick standing timber in the more open water. Vertical jigging bib-less crankbaits like Rattle’n Spots, Threadybusters, Jackalls and Rapala Clack’n Wraps is very popular here and is best done by using a good sounder to pick the fishes’ feeding depth and sinking your lures to suit.

As a point to note, if you’re ever in the area after heavy rain, the ensuing runoff pouring into the top of the dam’s creek can draw fish like a magnet. Being in this shallow creek with water rushing in and black, football-like shapes scattered en masse beneath you is something that needs to be experienced to be believed.

A stocked impoundment permit is required to fish Eungella Dam. Camp sites are available and there are facilities and a single lane boat ramp. As a word of warning, unless you plan to visit the dam in the middle of summer, bring plenty of warm clothes – this place is cold!

Next week we will head down from the highlands and look at the Pioneer Valley and its pristine stretches of sweetwater. See you then.