Words & Images: Dean Norbiato
If gluttonously big yellowbelly fill your fishing fancies, stop dreaming now. Don’t even bother scanning the internet or asking friends about how to fulfil this freshwater fantasy – I’ll save you the trouble! All you have to do is rally the troops, pack the finesse tools and point the rig in the direction of western NSW and punch Windamere Wonderland into the GPS. Affectionately known as ‘Windie’, the small dam is nestled in the central tablelands of New South Wales, some 35km from Mudgee, and proudly wears the tag of Australia’s premier yellowbelly fishery. Each year more dodgem car-sized yellowbelly are yanked from its pristine waters than any other lake, dam or river. If this sounds like I’m hallucinating in my own Windamere wet dream, ask any angler who has fished its waters and they’ll attest to its freakish perch and amusement-like wonder.
So if all this sounds up your alley and you’re looking to take your own gallop on a monster callop, dust off the finesse gear and let’s work out where to start the joyride.
Windamere Dam is relatively young. Public access to the dam is along the Illford-Mudgee Rd, 35km south-east of Mudgee via a coin-operated boom gate at the entrance of the Cudgegong Waters Park – the only accommodation on the lake shore. Since its inception the dam has been successfully stocked with golden perch, silver perch, Murray cod and eel-tailed catfish. The catfish were indigenous to the Cudgegong River prior to the dam’s construction and frequently chase down a lure intended for their bigger brethren that inhabit the dam. But it is the plague-like population of portly golden perch that has cemented this dam’s place in the fishing annals as a five-star ‘must visit’ freshwater amusement park. Fortunately, the dam is also devoid of the destructive European carp and redfin. While there is a small population of goldfish that you will often see swimming through the weeds, they are relatively harmless and cause no issues to the native fish.
When you rock up to Windie the first thing you will notice is the abundance of fishable structure. It’s like the dam was built, all those decades ago, with the sole purpose of constructing the world’s best yellowbelly dam. Compared with a lot of other daunting native haunts such as Eildon, in the country’s south, Windamere is a small to medium-sized dam. Outboards in the 20-30hp category are more than sufficient to buzz anglers around the dam. Anglers who navigate right from the only boat ramp on the dam, inside the Cudgegong Waters Caravan Park, will be taken up the Cudgegong river arm of the dam. Steep banks and copious amounts of drowned, standing timber litter this area.
Not as popular with anglers as the main basin, due to the heavily guarded tree-lined banks, it is an area not to be discounted as it habitually accounts for some of the biggest yellowbelly every season. Veering left from the boat ramp will quickly spill out into the dam’s main basin and you’ll be hard-pressed to keep the spin rod in the holster. Viewed by many as a lure caster’s paradise, the dam’s main basin is dominated by endless open weedy bays, rocky outcrops and vertical timber. The natural snaking nature of the dam sees small inlets, bays and pockets created all the way up to the dam towards the manmade wall. Each of these areas comes with its own unbridled potential, but all require subtle variations in technique and tactics to ensure you get your own seat on this golden rollercoaster ride.
Arguably the most profitable of all areas to target trophy yellas in Windie are the abundant open banks. While slightly different in shape and size, what links them all is the sheer biomass of monster yellowbelly. Large schools of undernourished fish swarm the dam’s margins, as they forage for a feed in an effort to put on any condition they lost over the chilly winter period. Popular prey in these areas includes small baitfish, shrimps, yabbies, worms and other creatures and crustaceans that live in the dam’s dense weed. When targeting these shallow areas in the 1m-3m depth bracket, we like to strap on the polarised sunnies and suspending minnows. Commonly built like a stick minnow with a long thin bib, these neutrally buoyant lures such as the Jackall Squirrel 67SP or the River2Sea Jerk Shad comfortably reach 3m on the crank. Unlike lipless crankbaits, these lures need to be cast tight against the bank and twitched and paused back to the boat. It is paramount to vary your twitches and pauses to impart a fleeing baitfish action on your lure. Suspending minnows are great for targeting perch pigging out in the shallows because their neutrally buoyant nature will see them, when paused, hang in the fishes’ face, goading them to strike.
Most standing timber in Windie is in slightly deeper water. Obviously there will be clusters of trees in shallow bays, but as a general rule they inhabit water in excess of 3m. As a result of the slightly deeper nature of the water, we rely on lipless crankbaits to entice a bite when fishing between 3m and 8m in depth. When cranking through the trees, the two most common retrieval methods are a ‘slow roll’ and a ‘hop and drop’. As the name suggests, the slow roll is a simple yet effective way to target springtime perch with lures such as the Jackall TN60, Jackall Mask Vibe, TD Woofer and Megabass Vibration-X Jr. Standing in a boat 15m-20m from a cluster of trees, the technique requires the angler to pitch their lipless lure between the standing timber, before letting it waft to the bottom. Once the lure touches down simply engage your handle and at a slow walking pace wind your lure back to the boat – it’s really that easy! The second method is as simple as it is effective and requires the same set-up cast as the slow roll. Once the lure achieves depth you gently lift the rod tip (hop) to 10 o’clock before slowly lowering (drop) the lure making sure you wind down the slack. Repeat this process until the lure is back at the boat. A word of warning, failing to take up the slack of the line during the down phase will lead to missed opportunities, as yellowbelly who pluck at a limp line rarely find the hooks.
If standing timber is the domain of the deeper perch and the wide, expansive bays the shallow dwellers, then the rocky points are best described as a combination of the two. The rocky points that jut out the entire way as you boat up the main basin are all unique in depth and structure. One point in particular, on the right-hand side halfway up the dam, has fished differently each season. But once you crack the code for that season or depth, you can fill your live well with multiple 60cm-plus fish. As a general rule, I always like to first comb the rocky points with suspending minnows in that shallow 1m to 3m range. Careful not to spook them, we start 30m off the point and rifle a series of cross-cross casts over the shallowest area of the point, stuttering and pausing the retrieve. After exhausting this option, working down the gradient of the point, massaging each shoulder to 3m, we switch over to the lipless lollies. Using both hard and soft vibes, blades and small spinnerbaits, such as the Bassman Carl’s Compact, we then interrogate the deeper sections of the point. Again with a criss-cross approach, we work the main apex of the point before turning our attention to each edge of the point. Before leaving we also blast a handful of long probing casts in the extra-deep water, say 10m-plus, at the front of the point.
Many angling pundits, propped up by corporate sponsorships, will tell you that each and every lure requires a different angling combo. Well that simply isn’t the case, unless you are right at the pointy end of the tournament scene or just won the Lotto. From past experience, if you have a graphite rod in the 1-4kg bracket that stands between 1.95m and 2.15m, you are more than equipped to tackle any gnarly perch. To complement the combo all you need to do is strap on a quality 1000-2500 sized threadline or bass-sized baitcaster. Personally, when I’m chasing yellowbelly from a boat, I use a Venom RLFVS76 rod, paired with a Shimano 1000 Stradic CI4, spooled to the edge with 3kg PowerPro braid and a 2-6kg fluorocarbon leader. I find the extra height of the 7ft Venom spin stick imperative when flinging long, probing casts along the shore and through sticks. A small, compact spinning reel is just as important as a tall graphite stick, as it will also help achieve maximum casting distance. The one variable that I do tend to play around with is, thankfully, the cheapest component of my arsenal – my leader. When fishing out deep with lipless crankbaits and heavy blades I opt for a heavier leader, somewhere in the vicinity of 3kg-4kg.
Conversely, when finessing with suspending minnows I tend to scale back my fluorocarbon, right down to 2kg. Not only does this see the lures presented more naturally, the invisibility of the overall presentation means a detectable strand of leader does not spook these shallow-dwelling fish. When combining thin-diameter braided mainlines and fluorocarbon leaders I habitually opt for the no-fuss ‘Uni to Uni’ knot. While it can be ruthless fishing for such beasts with light line, I am yet, touch wood, to have the leader unravel at the knot.
Without question Windamere Dam is a yellowbelly angler’s Disneyland, with an array of ways dedicated to stimulating your fishing senses. With spring as its peak holiday season and yellowbelly as the number one crowd pleaser, you can see why hordes of anglers book a ticket each and every year. While other species such as Murray cod, silver perch and eel-tailed catfish help get anglers through the turnstiles, it’s the balloon-sized golden perch that are the most highly sought-after souvenirs. So, if you are looking for a freshwater rush this spring, simply saddle up a 60cm-plus Windamere golden and take the rollercoaster ride of your life.
Shallow Runners: Jackall TN60, Team Daiwa Pro Vibe, Lucky Craft LV RTO, Duo Realis Vib
Deep-water work: Jackall TN 70 / Doozer, Jackall Mask Vibe 60HM / Transam 95, Lure Strike Maxi Vibe.
Suspending presentations : Jackall DD Squirrel 67 SP, River2Sea Jerk Shad, Megabass Live X Smolt, Lucky Craft Pointer 48DD.
All anglers looking to spend more than a day at the dam are best to check in at the Cudgegong Waters Park. The quaint caravan park, with its old-world charm, has all the basic fishing necessities required, including a 2WD-accessible boat ramp, ice, fishing supplies and amenities including hot showers. If an ensuite, kitchen and double bed is more your thing, book well in advance as there is a limited number of ‘luxury’ cabins available. For those looking to camp, don’t stress, as there are ample powered and unpowered sites capable of holding hundreds of eager anglers. Make sure you pack some $2 coins, as you’ll need three of them to get past the boom gate at the entrance to the park.
Cudgegong Waters Park
Cudgegong Rd, Rylstone,
Ph: (02) 6358 8462