Copeton Waters State Park is a haven for bushwalkers, nature lovers and water sport enthusiasts alike.
WORDS & IMAGES John Denman
It was early spring and already the nights on the western slopes of the New England country had begun to cool. A fire crackled nicely, not far from the tent, and a small stack of wood meant we’d be warm for another night yet. We were camped at Copeton Bay in the 900ha Copeton Waters State Park, NSW, and had taken the option of a powered site for a change.
Copeton Dam is a huge impoundment not far from Inverell in north-western New South Wales. Holding back the waters of Gwydir River, it was built for water releases to cotton farms further west, but has become an important asset to campers and fishers in its own right. Well-stocked with Murray cod and yellow belly, anglers look to snare themselves one of the big cod that prowl the underwater structure below.
Campers, though, are well-served, regardless of their recreational bias. There are a reasonable number of powered sites in the previously-mentioned Copeton Bay, but there is also wide scope for informal bush camping throughout the park. Cabins are available for those who choose not to rough it, though roughing it is a favourite pastime for the most visitors to Copeton. By opting for an unpowered site, you can take your pick of a wide range of picturesque locations around the fringes of the dam.
Sitting by your camp, sundowner in hand while the setting sun makes its final light show is the sort of thing memories are made of. On the other hand, you may prefer to be out in your boat at this time of day trying to tempt a cod with your choice of lure, a deception that works with surprising frequency.
Most water sports are catered for on the waters of Copeton. Waterskiing is one and, while fishers and water skiers don’t always get along, it’s rare for them to clash here. The dam’s sheer size is a contributing factor but, here, fishos usually operate closer to the shore and around snags, and snags and waterskiers are not compatible.
With the sort of freestyle camping that happens in the non-powered areas, it’s hardly surprising to see some of the places that camper trailer owners can get into. When you’re fishing quietly along the banks of a secluded cove, you’ll often encounter a well setup camp with owners enjoying themselves in splendid near-isolation.
With the dry inland climate and mostly clear skies, photography is a popular pursuit at Copeton. The gaunt skeletons of long-dead trees, jutting boulders and often tranquil waters can make any happy snapper a bit of a Cecil Beaton. Wildlife, too, abounds and it would be a rare day in your camp if you were not visited by a variety of birdlife as well as the ever present eastern grey kangaroos.
There is always a good time and a better time to visit any attraction and Copeton is pretty much the same. Due to its location, winters are usually cold. Even when the sun is out, the middle of the year is chilly here, so you need to take that into account with clothing and sleeping gear. If crowds are not your thing, you should avoid holidays such as Easter or Christmas. Summer is a good time, although the flies can be a bit of a problem. It’s the same as any form of bush travel; you pick the time that suits your preferences.
Apart from Murray cod and yellow belly, there are other fish here including the introduced redfin. These are a pugnacious little fish that are willing takers of most lures or baits. I hooked one that decided to try a big Bassman Codman spinnerbait on for size. The fact that the redfin was little bigger than the lure did not seem to bother it a bit. Redfin are reputed to be very good on the table, and being an introduced fish, that is, non native, you can catch as many as you like.
But most fishers come here to catch a cod, and there are some big ones in the dam. As cod are the apex predator here, they’re usually found near the dead trees and rocks waiting for a free feed. Quietly moving through this sort of area with an eye on the sounder is the best way to start. Most fishos here will use lures of some sort, and the favourites are usually spinnerbaits or diving hard bodies.
The Bassman Codman spinnerbait by Lismore lure-maker Glen Casey is a standout performer here. It’s a big heavy lure that sends out a solid pulse from its blades as it is retrieved. Spinnerbaits are a lot better at freeing themselves from snags than hard body lures, and find a lot of favour for this reason alone. On the day we were out, we couldn’t get a hit on either the Codman or a hard body so we switched to a smaller version Bassman. My wife Liz was instantly rewarded by a crashing strike that nearly ripped the rod out of her hands.
With the Shimano Jewel rod bent severely and the 4000-size spin reel yielding line, I leant over and tweaked up the drag a little, then went back to standing by with the big Environet. The water was surprisingly clear and I got an advance look at its great head as Liz slowly worked the rod to bring her prize to the boat.
“It’s a bloody monster,” she later recalled.
But, at the time, the net shot was uppermost in my mind. The cod was eased towards the waiting net and then gave a last minute lunge, so we began again. We managed to boat it on the next attempt and I was surprised at the weight. Gently lifting it out of the net, it was photographed and released. To watch a fish like this disappear back down into the depths is something else. Cod fishing is never a certainty, regardless of how good the fishery is, and that was our only one for this trip, but there will be more and, once again, I’ll look forward to seeing a fish that is almost as big around as it is long, slip away back into its deep green home.
The Copeton Waters State Park is 550km north-west of Sydney and 440km south-west of Brisbane.
There is a cafe with indoor and outdoor dining areas and shop that sells fuel, although motorists will find prices more competitive at Inverell, 40km away.
Powered sites start from $35 per night, with bush camping available from $23 per night.
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