Not everyone who visits Tinaroo catches it, but our group got it – bad. We’re pretty sure it started at Coroner’s Corner (formally known as Struggling Cow Stretch and Dead Cow Bay), but I’ll get to that in a little while. First, let me give you some background about why we’d put ourselves through three days with the Tinaroo Twitch.
It all started in the late 1990s when the old man, Wayne (Keeney) Keene and a few mates were doing Hinchinbrook houseboat trips with local guide Dave "Lumpy" Milson. They decided to make it interesting and had the epiphany that there needed to be a trophy for the biggest barra of the trip. A suggestion was made for a leader’s jersey or jacket, like the Master’s green jacket or the Tour de France’s yellow jersey.
What they came up with was a moth-eaten brown cardigan, the "brown cardie" as it would forever be known. Wayne’s wife Raelene did some masterful sewing and the back of the cardie now boasts fish-shaped patches with each comp winner’s name, date and the size of the barra.
Now, fishing the brown cardie comp is a pretty prestigious affair. It’s invite only, and honestly, I only got in as a direct descendant of one of the founding fathers. And speaking of good fortune, I was, until Tinaroo, the holder of the brown cardie thanks to an 80cm-plus Cape York barra that smacked my Reidy’s J-Walker on the previous comp. However, the real reason we were at Tinaroo was because of the gentleman who wore the cardie before me, Paul Gordon, better known as Paul the Fridgie. Paul is immortalised on the back of the cardie with a 113cm barra from a houseboat trip in Missionary Bay. The biggest fish to ever win.
Sadly though, Paul passed away this year, aged just 54. I only met Paul at that one comp when he fished with the quiet, easy-going, perpetually-thirsty manager of the Pompuraaw croc farm, Pompuraaw Pete. And while I remember Paul being a really likeable guy, what really sticks with me is that he was a thinking angler – he and Pete spent the first few days sussing out the area and then formulated a plan which earned him a 113 and the cardie. He will be missed.
So, this comp was to be known as the Paul the Fridgie Memorial Brown Cardie Comp. We were staying at Lumpy’s place in Tolga (eating his homemade pizza, drinking his hand-roasted and ground coffee etc) and fishing the dam during the key bite periods. Making up the group was Lumpy and Keeney, the old man, Pompuraaw Pete, Jimbo Lee (maker of Jungle Lures), Bruce Riddle, and a good friend of Paul’s, Arthur Sclippa. It was a good group and there was a lot of fishing prowess amongst them. Unfortunately, barring Lumpy, there was very little impoundment fishing experience and even less Tinaroo experience.
The old man and I were confident though. I’ve got a few runs on the board with big fish at Kinchant and Teemburra, so figured I’d just fish Tinaroo the same way. With this in mind, I stopped in at Proserpine Bait and Tackle on the way north and grabbed some paddle tails from Keitech big enough to club a seal with (note: the author in no way condones the clubbing of seals) as well as a big Zerek swimbait. I also picked out the biggest B52s I had, and reckoned I was on a winner.
We did make one mistake – morale wise. We stopped in at Hinchinbrook and smacked barra and jacks for two days on the way up. They were on fire on the flats. We must have boated almost 30 barra over both days, plus three good jacks and assorted trevally, cod etc. It was manic fishing and very visual. It’s safe to say we were on a high when we finally arrived at Lumpy’s place. We had barra mojo and a swagger like two anglers at the top of their game. We were fools…
Now, Pete had a mate in Dimbulah who was a close as they come to a Tinaroo expert, so he stopped in to see him on his way and produced a map with some likely spots and a list of bite windows, based around tidal changes (or something like that). One of the spots was a stretch of curved bank where water from one arm of the dam was likely pushing onto. I say likely, because all I can base that theory on is a dirty water line and the direction of what minimal wave action there was (when there weren’t skiers). The old man and I fished a nearby point for the first session where we thought we might stand a chance (it was the kind of point I’d fish in Kinchant). The other three boats worked this stretch of bank, on which I am told was a struggling, sick cow. We got a couple of bumps and saw a few fish that may have been barra on the old man’s Garmin sidescan. I lost my big Zerek swim bait first cast when I backlashed it on 20lb braid, which snapped with a crack and sent the lure flying into the deep. Shortly after, a coxless fours rowing team stroked right into where we were casting, so close I could count the fillings in their teeth when they smiled and said, "don’t worry, we’ve seen you!" A less couth pair of anglers might have bounced paddle tail plastics off their stern, but we just shook our heads in amazement.
The other guys got a few hits and hooked up to a couple of monsters that threw their hooks. Wayne and Pete were fishing together and one moment Wayne got a smack that turned his Jungle Lure backwards and the next moment Pete got destroyed by a freight train of a fish! They were the first to fall – they had "the twitch". We fished hard until ten that night and found fish boofing in weedy pockets at two different locations, but no one raised a fish.
The next day we were back, for a day session. We decided to fish two bite windows – one between 11am and 2pm, then the evening bite from dusk until about 8pm. Both bites would coincide with theoretical tide changes (apparently). I was dubious of the midday bite. I’ve never had a hot bite in a dam, outside of winter, in the middle of the day. And, well, I didn’t get one this time either. The old man and I got two bumps each while rolling plastics. But Pete got spooled (he busted the backing) on a horse that took a big Storm Suspending Shad, and then jumped another fish off. This was in Dead Cow Bay (formally Struggling Cow Stretch). The name change having been brought about by the big black cow in the centre of the bay which now had its head in the water – and had stopped struggling. It wasn’t the only thing to die in the bay though – there was a big dead barra up on the bank also and plenty of dead glass soldiers at the feat of the "non-boaters" in each boat. All this death and hard luck was starting to get us down, but then the text came through. Lumpy had a 99cm. He’d gone back to a bay where they had heard fish boofing the night before and rolled a 60cm fish on a B52 before going to a Killalure Barra Bait – to get a little deeper. That change had produced the fish that earned him the leader’s spot.
Pete sent a text back to him though with a potential upgrade less than half an hour later. He had a 117cm, glistening barra in his hands and a grin on his face like a cat that had just caught a mouse. There was a catch though – Pete had literally caught the fish… by hand. He’d spotted it floundering in Dead Cow Bay, reached in and pulled it aboard. After a quick photo to stir the pot, it was released. Our hopes for its survival in Dead Cow Bay were slim.
We headed back for a nap and a shake-up. I’d drawn the straw to fish with Lumpy for the evening session and I thought it was my best chance. I planned to watch him like a hawk and see where he fished, why he fished there and what lures and retrieves he used. We got 100m from the ramp and a part in his outboard where the fuel line clicked into snapped. We snuck out on the electric, got a tow from another team and fished a point near where the old man and I had fished at lunch time. Then we moved around the other side of the point, ate some bikkies and drank a beer. What’d I learn? I learnt that beer and some good tunes from a waterproof speaker help to sooth the Tinaroo Twitch… But that’s about it.
That night we drank toasts to Paul the Fridgie, listened to all his favourite songs and Lumpy never took the cardie off once.
Day three dawned and I had a new game plan – I wanted to go exploring. We were fishing the day window again, just an hour later. I looked at Google Earth, picked some weedy, well timbered bays and creeks and decided to find some structure to fish. Bruce and Pete drove to Dead Cow Bay, cast for twenty minutes and then drank beer. Their fishing spirit had become a casualty of the bay… A bay they now called Coroner’s Corner.
We fished some really nice looking country and Keeney and Jimbo followed us and fished nearby. Both boats spotted fish in the 70s right up in the shallows, but no one could produce a bite. The fish we spotted was doughy-as and refused three offerings before swimming off.
Keeney finally got a nice fish in the 60cm range on a Reidy’s B52 back in the main basin that put on a good show and hit hard. However, that was all that was reported when three of the four boats converged for a debrief with an hour to go in the session. The old man and I had had enough. We agreed that Tinaroo had beaten us and decided to pull the pin early. The occupants of the other two boats put rods down and went to find Lumpy and Arthur. We’d just got back to Lumpy’s place when a text came through – Lumpy, fishing out of his back-up boat, had landed a 101cm fish on the same Barrabait lure. It proved the first fish wasn’t a fluke and we all agreed he deserved the cardie this round.
That night, we ate famously at the Tolga Pub, Lumpy shouted the bar and we retired to his balcony to try and slake the thirst brought on by the twitch. At around 1am Arthur coined a song about our trip which he called "The Tinaroo Twitch" by the fictitious "Coroner’s Corner and the Thousand Casts". He dubbed the album the Brown Cardy B-Sides and claimed that it had such hits as "Sidescan serenade", "I should have used live mouth-almighty" and "the dead cow shuffle". By the time we hit the sack at 2.30am there was probably an album full of song titles, but for the life of me, I can’t remember them.
The nine hour drive back to Mackay the next day was mild at best, but luckily the old man had hit the sack early so was able to steer us home for the first leg while I recovered from "some slight fogginess".
All in all, it had been an excellent trip with great company. What did I learn? Well, I learnt there is a day time bite window in impoundments that is worth investigating. And, I learnt that I have a lot to learn about Tinaroo!
Author’s note: if this story has raised any feeling with you, please know help is available. I’m sure there is a support group or a help line up on the Atherton Tablelands for sufferers of Tinaroo Twitch. If there isn’t – there should be!