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Dawson River Fishing - Garry Fitzgerald

The Dawson River is one of the main trubutaries of the mighty Fitzroy River system of Central Queensland. Rising on the central Downs north of Injune close to the well known Carnarvon Gorge National Park, it is commonly crossed by many tourists, but rarely it seems fished. As it winds eastward, the Dawson crosses the Leichardt Highway at Taroom and again at Theodore skirting the Precipice National Park along the way as its path takes a more northerly route. Passing through the towns of Moura and Baralaba the Dawson River gains some momentum where the Don River joins it before it crosses the Capricorn Highway and finally meets with the MacKenzie River north west of Dauringa to form the Fitzroy River. Along its course the Dawson River has several weirs on it with varying degrees of public access.

The Dawson River is steeped in fishing folklore with tales of bulldust and corrugated roads leading to remote fishing holes and the associated big fish tales.
Barramundi are the main target is seems for most anglers here however the word barramundi (or simply barra) can be a touch misleading when talking to some locals along its course. What many a local calls a Barramundi the majority of Australian anglers refer to as Saratoga, so there may be some confusion.
While there is no doubt that Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) were once here, and thanks to restocking efforts in the lower sections of the river, still are present and catchable, the true icon of this river is the Southern Saratoga (Scleropages leichardti).
Also known as Dawson River Salmon, Tropical Trout or simply as 'Toga, Saratoga are a fantastic sports fish that will readily take bait, lure and fly. The can commonly be seen swimming just under the surface beating a pad up and down their favourite piece of water. Most often seen swimming solo, at the right time of year saratoga can form small groups of two to five and when the spawning season is in full swing, large congregations may form around suitable structure. This is rarely seen and is a sight to behold when fish pair up and begin a rythmic courtship dance, noses often out of the water, in perfect unison.

Click on images for larger view


Saratoga can be one of the most frustrating fish to catch, yet also one of the easiest. Being part of the Bony Tongue family of fishes, Saratoga have hard areas in their mouthes which can lead to them throwing hooks either on the strike or on one of their frequent airial performamces when hooked.
Casting a fly in front of a fish seen cruising would have to be one of the most enjoyable forms of fishing going however one of the best ways to get a strike from a Saratoga is to cast / troll spinners. Either the tradtional celta style spinners or the more fancied Spinnerbaits work equally as well with the little known and even less used Buzzbaits being a game breaker at times. Basically if it spins, its a chance.
While the purists would have you believe the only way to tangle with a 'toga is to cast lure or fly, the dead set easiest way to catch one is to put a hunk of steak under a float, toss it out and wait for a fish to find you

An rarely sought after species by travellers but one that is the prefered target of many locals is the Golden Perch or Yellowbelly. What is not known about the Golden Perch in this catchment is that it is different to the Golden Perch caught in the Murray / Darling catchment and their tributaries. There is little by way of looking at them to pick the difference so there is little to worry about except that the Fitzry strain dont tend to grow as big as their Murray / Darling cousins.
A favourite way to catch Golden Perch is to bob a (preferably) live shrimp or cray around snags. A well known way to target these fish is to fish on the bottom side of a weir when it is flowing; the migrating fish cant get past the barrier and are susceptible to over fishing. That is why most weirs have a no fishing zone either on the top side, the bottom side or both.

One overlooked species in the Dawson River is the Fork-Tailed Catfish (Arius grafei). This species is said to grow to 70 or 80 cm if you take the many fishing books as gospel, however in reality the Forkies of the Dawson River and its sister systems of the Fitzroy Catchment grow to well over a meter. I was once fishing a hole near Theodore and had a 65cm Saratoga next to the boat when one of the biggest fish I've ever seen in sweetwater tried to eat the whole thing. It was easily 1.3 meters long and had to be 50 - 60 pound. It killed the saratoga, managed to rip 4 or 5 runners of my rod before breaking the last 30 cm of the tip off. That rod just wasnt built for fish of that magnitude!!
Forkies of all sizes tend to show up when least expected especially of bait or lure, but rarely on fly from my experience.

As previously mentioned, Barramundi (yes the big silver ones with pink eyes) were once widespread in the Dawson river, however due to the construction of the many weirs on this river and the systems dowstream, Barra became a very rare capture. With the intruduction of fishways that acutally work to some degree and the tireless efforts of various fish restocking groups, they are recovering in numbers becoming a drawcard in their own right. I dont think it will be too long before the many anglers that go chasing Barra in many of Queensland's stocked lakes discover the potential of the inland opportunities that are available.

Other less glamorous species that can be caught in the Dawson River include Silver Perch, Eel Tailed Catfish, Sleepy Cod and Spangled Perch. These are mostly caught with a fresh bait fished from the bank, often around snags.

Camping is permitted at most of the major weirs with varying degrees of facilities.
Hotel / Motel available at various towns along the Dawson River. See Accommodation page for details.

Access points to the river are spread out but fairly consistent along its course. Most weirs and bridges offer at least the opportunity to wet a line from the bank, if not the chance to drop a roof topper tinnie or canoe / kayak in. Some of major weirs have boat ramps for the trailer boats.
Some of the common access points are listed below. Outside of these, most of the land along the Dawson River i
s private property. As a general rule, if there's a fence dont cross it without asking permission. If you ask permission to access the river via private property and are denied, respect the land onwers rights and move on.

The Author with a typical Dawson River 'Toga

Glebe Weir - 30 from Taroom on Theodore Rd
Bank access & boat ramp. Toilets, drinking water & picnic tables provided.
Caravan and camping sites at weir. Bush camping at Wide Waterhole.
No fishing 100m upstream and 200m downstream of weir.
Ph Taroom Shire Council - 07 4627 3211
Saratoga, Golden Perch, Silver Perch, Catfish, Sleepy Cod, Spangled Perch.

Orange Creek Weir / Cracow Beach - Cracow
Small bank access area with bush camping permitted on higher ground only. No facilities.
Roof topper boats can be carried to the water on the top side of the weir.
No fishing 150 meters downstream
Saratoga, Golden Perch, Silver Perch, Catfish, Sleepy Cod, Spangled Perch.

Theodore Weir - Theodore
Boat ramp provided.
BBQs, toilets and picnic tables provided.
Hotel / Motel type accommodation in Theodore.
Saratoga, Golden Perch, Silver Perch, Catfish, Sleepy Cod, Spangled Perch.

Moura Weir - Maura
No camping at weir. Camping is permitted at Apex Park just upstream.
BBQs, picnic shelter and toilets provided.
Boat ramp provided, no restrictions.
Barramundi, Saratoga, Golden Perch, Catfish, Sleepy Cod and Spangled Perch.

Baralaba Weir ( Neviile Hewitt Weir ) - Baralabla
Boat Ramp provided. No restrictions.
Caravan and camping sites at the weir with bush camping along the river. Ph 07 4998 1369
Barramundi, Saratoga, Golden Perch, Spangled Perch, Catfish, Spangled Perch and Sleepy Cod.

Capricorn Hwy Bridge
Bank angling only. Possible to carry a canoe or kayak only to the water.
No facilities. Private property along river banks. Worth a stop on the highway for a look or photo.

The Dawson River holds a special place in my heart. Not just for its fishing but for the people I've met there and the sheer beauty and serenity of the place.
I'm sure it will become a special place to you if you go exploring the region. I'll definately be going back there many many times in my lifetime.

Garry Fitzgerald


Dawson River Region

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Copyright© 2007 Garry Fitzgerald. Sweetwater Fishing Australia