by Lee Brake
This week Lee Brake takes us to Teemburra Dam and we have a close look at this original impoundment.
Structure of all kinds is what makes Teemburra very popular amongst lure tossers.
I like Teemburra Dam. It’s an original. To the uninitiated all freshwater barra impoundments are very similar, but in actual fact the truth is very different. Each is unique and Teemburra is more unique than most.
This is because of a few factors. To begin with, it’s a complex impoundment that is a mishmash of rocky sweetwater streams, deep snaggy creeks, timber filled bays, long weedy points and submerged islands. It’s also home to many classes of barramundi and a ravenous population of sooty grunter. Because of all this variety Teemburra is not a dam you can fish with a single technique. It requires a vast repertoire of tactics and tricks and a willingness to experiment and persist. Get it right, however, and you’ll rarely find a more rewarding and picturesque location.
At a glance
Getting to this fantastic piscatorial location requires a short trek along a good, sealed road around 50kms west of Mackay, through the Pioneer Valley. Once you get to the small community of Pinnacle take the signed left hand turn and follow that road.
The dam itself was actually constructed back in 1997 and already contained a very healthy population of sooty grunter even before stocking commenced. The 1040 hectare dam was quickly recognised as an exciting fishing spot and the local stocking group, MAFSA, has done a wonderful job keeping it brimming with barra and sooty grunter of all sizes. In fact, the variety of fish sizes is one of Teemburra’s biggest drawcards and is attributed to a high survival rate amongst stocked fry thanks to the area’s abundance of safe structure for these juvenile fish to thrive amongst. Fish of 30-50cm are extremely common as these are in the early stages of their life cycle, and like human teenagers, they have a voracious appetite and little sense when it comes to prey selection. The next class of fish, say 55-75cm, are somewhat craftier and require more thought, but they are also available in numbers. Bigger fish, over 80cm, are not caught – and especially not landed – in the numbers that they are in the more open impoundments, but they are there. Sooty grunter also come in every size imaginable, and like the barra, they require their own specialized tactics to catch.
Because Teemburra is such a complex dam with such a range of fish and geographical features, it’s not possible to detail one single way to fish, instead let’s break it up and look at a few of the most effective techniques.
The lillies are prime cover for barra and bait. Working surface lures slowly past them is a good way to draw fish out to feed.
I’m easily bored and that’s probably why Teemburra is my favourite impoundment. It’s a place where a saltwater barra angler will feel right at home, especially if they’re used to working snags. Once you leave the ramp you’re faced with the choice of three quite substantial creek systems that existed before the dam was made. These are, from nearest to furthest, Pinnacle Creek, Middle Creek and Teemburra Creek. Each has countless metres of structure-lined banks and they are to lure tossers what the Spanish Main was to pirates – a perfect hunting ground!
Teemburra barra are often in numbers. The author's wife Alanna caught this one trolling a Classic F18
These creeks, and scores of tight bays around the main basin, are where you’ll catch numbers of barra. The best tactic involves accuracy and stealth much like you would in a saltwater estuary. Pick a bank or bay you want to work, deploy the electric motor and slowly work your way from start to finish, taking extra time to ensure your casts are landing right in the depths of the more enticing structure.
Lure choice is not critical, but snag resistance is. I like a lure that can be worked super slow and once twitched down will rise up in nearly the same spot. Also, because the lure is sitting still and there’s no tide to speed up the feeding process, barra will often get a chance to study the lure, so at times it pays to really match the hatch with a nicely finished lure. X-raps in 10-12cm are popular as are B52s and weedless rigged plastics.
A different tactic is needed once it comes to the bigger fish. They will still take cast lures close to structure – in fact my 113cm Teemburra PB was taken on a little 10cm X-rap right up on the shallows beside a fallen tree – but you’ll have a lot more success targeting what anglers call the ‘instinct bite’.
This tactic involves finding pockets of fish feeding or targeting areas where you believe the fish will come to feed at a certain time with lures that put out a strong presence in the water. This means vibration, noise and splash – these are you’re best tools for attracting Teemburra’s bigger residents.
Ok, so the bigger barra tend to be braver and thus more transient than the younger fish – their size means they are the top of the food chain after all. These fish will move around the dam and will shelter at times in the structure, but when they go into feeding mode, they’ll usually move out looking for concentrations of bait.
After rains BIG sooty grunter feed ravenously.
Bait concentrates in many places in Teemburra, but the most fishable and productive locations tend to be prominent points and submerged islands. Both points and islands are characterised by both a subsurface rise and a drop off. The bait will usually hold near the top of the rise, in the shallows, but will venture out to seek food – usually once the bugs come out on dusk. When they do, the bigger barra will be waiting. They patrol the drop off and boof down the bony bream and banded grunter as they leave the shallows. For an angler, these are the magic hours.
Most anglers will either tie off to a tree or anchor out from such a point or island and will bombard it will an assortment of lures until the fish come on the chew. The only accuracy required is picking the edge where the shallows meet the deep and once you’ve got your range worked out this can be a very exciting nocturnal technique.
Softies like Squidgy slick rig 110s are ideal for Teemburra's more open waters.
Lures can be a wide range of soft plastics, hard bodies and surface lures with each having their distinct advantages. Soft plastics are probably the most common and productive and are usually worked with a ‘rolling’ retrieve. This means casting the plastic up onto the shallows, winding it briskly over the weeds, letting it slowly flutter down the drop off and then slowly, ever so slowly, rolling it back to the boat. The best plastics for this are the ones that sink the slowest – thus have more ‘hang time’ – and the ones that can be wound in the slowest while still putting out maximum vibration.
Hard bodies are worked in a similar way but tend to be more susceptible to floating weed.
Lastly, surface lures are great for putting the fish in the mood and can either be in the form of stick baits ‘walking the dog’ off the shallows, poppers slowly blooped across or plastics, like frogs, rigged weightless and swum just under the surface.
Spin gear is excellent for rolling soft plastics and long casting to points.
If you’re after a change from barra, Teemburra is a very healthy sooty grunter fishery with specimens from the size of your hand to 50cm found in the tops of all three creeks. During the first kick of the wet season these fish will actually school up where run-off pushes into the dam and they can be caught in double figures on spinnerbaits, vibes, small minnows and poppers. Don’t underestimate them though; for their size they’ll pull a barra backwards and will fight dirty to boot.
An original impoundment
Hopefully that has given you a bit of a guide to fishing Teemburra Dam. It’s a beautiful place full of natural beauty and serenity that’s away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
In the warmer months storms are a regular sight. I've spent many an afternoon watching one approach while the barra bite their heads off!
If you’re planning a visit to the area, late spring and throughout summer are your best times as that’s when the waters at its warmest, however, late afternoons in both spring and autumn are very productive and, in winter, fish are still about till just after dusk when the temperature drops.
It might not be the dam where you’ll catch your biggest ever barra, but nor will you be wondering where to cast next – it’s more of a case of working out where not to cast! Everything just looks so damn fishy! Good luck and hopefully I’ll catch you out there.