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SOOTY MISSION

Paul Chew

Once in a while you find yourself having an itch that you just can't scratch and I found myself in this predicament. What itch was it you may ask and of course for me there is only one answer, the tenacious sooty grunter. While here in the Wide Bay we are blessed with a diverse range of fishing options, chasing these dark spirited natives is probably my favourite piscatorial pastime. Anyway, somehow the stars aligned and I managed a week off work to head north. I planned on spending a couple of nights camped on the picturesque banks of Lake Kinchant, before heading up to Eungella Dam to partake in the World Sooty Championships. I am not normally a competition type angler, however this competition is a fairly laidback affair, with plenty of laughs and a big bonfire both nights.

So taking us back to the start of the trip, we had good friends Talina and Suzie stay here for a couple of nights chasing their maiden bass. Then we made the long, arduous trek up the roadwork ridden Bruce Highway to Lake Kinchant. On the second day I took Jode to a little creek not far from the dam. Choosing to throw ZMan 2.5" GrubZ rigged on one of TTs #2 Jig Spinners, we walked the creek, taking in nature at its best, including pristine rainforest and cold clear running water.

After losing a couple of better fish in the creek proper, I decided to move to a side creek that was running a lot slower and it was here that I cast my Copper Penny coloured offering into a deeper pool. It was hit savagely on the drop! After a short tussle my first sooty of the trip slid onto the sand. While only a little pup, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face. This was what I'd travelled ten hours to experience and I guess that's what makes it special... the whole sooty experience.

Normally with hardbodies I use a twitch and pause type retrieve, similar to bass style fishing, but I found on this particular afternoon the fish were responding to an ultra slow wind, where you could just feel the blades of the Jig Spinner ticking over through the 6lb braid. As the sun was sinking into the horizon I cast my offering along a big tree that had fallen in during the floods earlier in the year. It was crunched as soon as it landed. The little rod buckled and I felt the 10lb leader rubbing on the timber, so I held steady pressure and out he came. While only a little tacker, I was stoked at finding a few to get the trip off to a great start.

The next morning we packed up camp, headed in and picked Andy up from the train. It was then that we headed up the hill to the home of some of the fattest, best conditioned sooty grunter around. These guys up there certainly are on good pasture and trying to extract them from the thick timber can result in some spectacular bust offs at times. So for those that don't know, the sooty comp is run over three sessions of around four hours each, give or take. I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank Jeff Eales and the rest of the MAFSA crew for a awesome, well run comp, where the emphasis is certainly on having a good time and enjoying yourself.

The first fishing session was a write off for us, having motor troubles and me spending half the session checking for water in the fuel, among other things. Back at camp we grabbed a burger and beer from the catering area and checked out the fish being weighed in. There were some crackers weighed in, which once again fuelled our enthusiasm for the morning session. Our general plan for the morning was to try and find an area away from most of the boats and work lures through the tops of the sunken trees.

Morning found us racing up the dam after getting the nod from the starter, into a brisk 15-20 knot Sou-Wester, so we veered into the lee of one of the islands to try to make fishing bearable. Because the sun hadn't risen I chose a bigger profile TT Lures 1/2oz Striker spinnerbait in Purple/Mauve Scale, while Andy went for a TT 3/8oz Vortex in Red Nightmare. With the wind making fishing hard, we picked a likely looking drift lane and started peppering the trees in around 15 metres of water with our chosen lures.

Part of the reason for choosing spinnerbaits was that fishing anything else was near impossible with the big bow in the line from the wind. After only half a dozen casts I cast into the middle of a big broken off limb of a long ago sunken tree, clicked the little Lews baitcaster into gear and started the big blades on the TT spinning ever so slowly. After only a few cranks the Egrell bent into a horrible curve and the drag protested while giving a little line. Once clear of the timber I eased the pressure a little and a minute later my first sooty of the comp slid into the net. High fives all around and he went into the live well.

We started fishing again, trying to pick a clear path through the trees while avoiding a couple of other boats. I cast out again, just as a bullet of wind came down the range and hit the boat. While trying to stop the boat from crashing into a tree, I felt the braid give a tick, so instinctively I struck... nothing, so started my retrieve again. Almost immediately the Striker worked its magic again, much to the annoyance of 'straight rod' Andy, and we had our second fish in the well. The super slow retrieve was the standout of the session. We fished pretty hard, missing a few more half hits and enjoyed some good natured banter, until the wind just became too much and we headed in to the weigh master and the coffee brewing at camp.

The final session was a frustrating one, with some massive gusts of wind leaving the Minn Kota powerless to stop the poly crashing into trees, then it would drop out to be really good fishing conditions for a while. I really should know by now not to mock Andy, as I really got my butt handed to me in that final session. His Red Nightmare TT Vortex really came into its own. His technique of casting to the far side of the sunken trees, counting to about 5 and then slow rolling the lure through the trees attracted quite a few hits and resulted in a couple of nice sooties taking up residence in the well. The fish had definitely gone deeper after the fishing pressure of the last couple of days and fishing deeper and slower worked ok for us. Once again we picked our way through the trees and back to weigh the fish and pull the boat out.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend, with the array of TT and ZMan lures certainly making it successful for us. We learnt a few things and next year we will probably fish deeper sooner and maybe add a stinger hook to the spinnerbaits that aren't fitted with one. Other than that I don't think we will change our approach too much. So this finds me sitting here recounting the trip and you wouldn't believe... I think I feel that itch starting again. Till next time...

Tight lines... Chewy.

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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017