by Jason Ehrlich •
Coolmunda Dam was completed back in 1968 by damming the Macintyre Brook just east of Inglewood. The lay of the surrounding land is relatively flat in comparison to other Queensland lakes, but with the catchment of another two smaller creeks, the dam can fill after a good downpour. The chief use of the lake is to supply irrigation water and town water supplies. During the dryer times when the demand for farming water is high, the lake can be drawn down rather quickly.
The deeper parts of the lake are around 16m when full; once you venture out of this old flooded river bed, you’ll soon find the gentle sloping banks taper away gradually and much of the lake’s perimeter is very shallow. This can make fishing a little tricky.
Tossing a bait in from the shore is only a viable option when the water level is higher or from some of the steeper edges. A vessel to reach the deeper water is certainly beneficial and knowledge of where the creeks and river run will ensure you stand a much better chance. The species on offer are eel-tailed catfish, spangled perch, silver perch, golden perch (yellowbelly) and the mighty Murray cod.
Coolmunda can be reached from the Cunningham Highway between Inglewood and Warwick. The ramp is a stone’s throw away from the turn-off 13km east of Inglewood. This puts it a little further away from the major centres. Still, it’s a popular place on weekends and attracts plenty of fishers and water skiers during the warmer months. With good facilities on offer, it’s also popular with caravan owners.
Places to Stay
Two location options for accommodation are available. The Lake Coolmunda Holiday Park is situated on the drive in to the boat ramp. Here you will find air-conditioned cabins, laundry, barbecues, an amenities block, powered sites, shaded tent sites, a swimming pool and a tennis court. Unlike a lot of other lakes and camping spots, pets are welcome, provided they are kept under control. For bookings, give the park a call on (07) 4652 4171.
Closer to the water, you will find the newer camp area. Powered sites for caravans and camping are available. There is a great amenities block and barbecue area as well us undercover tables. Shaded sites are limited. The benefit of staying so close to the water is you can leave your boat in overnight and jump in and out as you please during the day. Bookings and more information can be made through The Lake Coolmunda Holiday Park on (07) 4652 4171. There is also an onsite caretaker to manage this campground.
A few minutes from the dam towards Inglewood is the Matilda Roadhouse. You can grab your fuel and a few basic supplies here as well as a great home-cooked meal. For motel accommodation, groceries and pubs you will need to drive the 13km back into Inglewood.
What to Expect
Coolmunda is a big round open lake with a surface area of 1645ha when full. This can make it a bit choppy when the wind picks up. The area can also receive some severe storms at times, so whack in a few extra tent pegs and keep an eye on the weather and wind when fishing. Having said this, most of the time smaller boats over 3.4m long are fine to access the fish at Coolmunda. Even kayaks can be used, but it’s a fair paddle to access the best water.
The boat ramp is great when the water levels are above 60%. As the dam drops more, the concrete disappears and you will be launching from the gravel below the ramp. The lower the level, the trickier it gets. Smaller boats are fine with cars at low levels but you may need a 4WD if you are dropping in a big heavy boat.
When the level is above 60%, there are few obstacles in the dam’s main basin. It always pays to watch your fish finder to keep an eye on the depth if you are unfamiliar with the lake. As you venture further up the dam towards the timbered creeks, there are some very shallow areas out in the open water. Lining the creeks and rivers are also some big old tree stumps. Provided you have 2m of water under your boat when you’re outside of the creeks and river, you will be pretty safe to poke along without hitting anything.
Catfish and spangled perch are native to the lake and breed naturally. The golden perch, silver perch and Murray cod are natural to the Macintyre Brook system but are heavily stocked with assistance from the Queensland Stocked Impoundment scheme. Make sure you have a current Stocked Impoundment Permit if you are fishing on the lake.
A lot of anglers are happy to head out to soak a bait in the hope of catching a feed. This is a good year-round option as it seems to produce a few fish at all times. There are quiet periods when the fishing is tougher. Generally the winter months are much harder to produce fish on lures (apart from Murray cod) and bait is the best option. Worms are great for the catfish, spangled perch and silver perch.
A few goldens will also be taken on them, but there are better options. Live shrimp (which can be caught in traps set along the rock wall adjacent to the boat ramp) and saltwater yabbies are the best baits for golden perch. The occasional cod will take a live shrimp and just about any other bait in the water if they are really active. However, most are fooled with lures.
The best areas for bait fishing are up in the timbered creeks and along the edges of the old creek and riverbeds. When the dam drops to 60-80%, one of the best drop-offs is just out in front of the boat ramp.
Trolling lures is a good option over the warmer months. September through to April will see plenty of golden perch caught on hardbodied lures. The water always seems to have a bit of colour to it, but provided there is at least 50cm of visibility, you stand a good chance.
The Murray cod will take trolled lures all year round, but seem to fire up for short periods. The end of winter sees the action pick up and then it tends to taper off in December. Some years are better than others and when they are really fired up, you can expect to have several cod encounters each session.
Trolled lures are best worked along edges to the old creek and riverbeds. The area to fish is dictated by the dam level. Lures that dive to around 5m deep are ideal and these should be fished close to the bottom when just out of the deeper water of the old creeks and river. Zig-zagging this edge will give you a good chance of finding the more active fish, as sometimes they will be on top of the flat country and other times they will be suspended out in the deep water.
Always keep an eye on the sounder. Along the drop-off are heaps of old tree stumps. These bigger stumps are prime locations to find Murray cod. A lure bumping right alongside these structures is the best way to entice these fish.
Casting for Goldens
The golden perch love to eat small blade baits. The most popular lure used here for them is the Ecogear ZX40. The darker colours are perfect. Casting along the base of the rock wall between the boat ramp and the no fishing zone at the dam wall is a great option when the lake is close to full. Heaps of shrimp are found along these rocks so the goldens have plenty of tucker and small blades do a good job of fooling them.
Concentrations of fish will be found on the sounder along the drop-offs and sometimes through random areas in the timber. The junction of Sandy and Bracker Creek is a pretty reliable area to try. The small blades can be hopped vertically under the boat or cast out and hopped back along the bottom.
Lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits will account for a few golden perch up in the timbered areas. The same lures can produce cod too, so you are increasing your chances by flicking smaller offerings up in the sticks. The best depth to target is around 3m, deep but during the hot times venture out into around 5m as well.
Casting for Cod
The Murray cod in Coolmunda vary in size from tiny to well over a metre long. Legal-sized fish are in abundance with the average sized fish 60-80cm long. The cod don’t eat all the time, so they can be frustrating. All you can do is just keep casting and hoping. On some days it’s almost impossible to tempt them and others you will score multiple fish.
There are so many cod lures available these days but the best one to use based on overall success is still the spinnerbait. Big spinnerbaits tend to receive more attention. A cod-sized offering with a soft plastic trailer and stinger hook added to the main hook will be perfect for Coolmunda. I used to throw a lot of 5/8oz spinnerbaits but now prefer to use 1oz lures. I have seen the cod caught on all types of crazy colours, but still prefer the darker ones with red and black my all-time favourite.
When casting for cod, the timbered flats seem to produce best. Cast lures tight to the trees and always look for any submerged braches or trees as well. The preferred depth is 2-3m for most of the year. If you’re casting in deeper water, target the forks of the trees as well as down deeper around their bases. Don’t be afraid to cast through tight gaps as this can save the day when the action is slow.
Coolmunda is a great place to visit. You can mix up the day if you’re taking the family with a morning and arvo fish and a water ski and tube when it’s hot. Grey nomads love it for the ease of just jumping into the boat parked on the shore and going out for a quick session.
Lure trollers and tossers love the thought of catching the metre long Murray cod. Pet owners can bring their extended family and even take them out in the boat. It’s a lake with a lot to offer. Understanding how to fish it is half the battle but once you rule out the less productive water, it is actually quite easy to find the fishy spots.