By Robyn Harvey
The Queens Birthday weekend has traditionally been “craying” weekend in our extended family for well over a decade now and after missing out last year with the river still dangerously high from earlier flooding, we were able to revive our winter custom with excitement. We returned to the Gunbower Island, a few kilometres in from the small towns of Koondrook and Barham with our nets well repaired, frozen blocks of bait and plenty of fuel for the boat.
Free campsites are dotted all along the Murray and Gunbower Rivers, with some providing good access to the rivers. We followed the Murray track, encountering a few tense moments as the road turned to mud near the five mile break. At one point we improvised a track for my brother and his family, who were towing their campervan on a commodore wagon. We eventually settled at Nugent’s Bend.
The kids spent quite a bit of time fishing and managed to catch a small carp, silver perch and golden perch (yellow belly). Nothing that we could keep, of course. The craying was a little more successful, and the boys managed to haul in around thirty which were of legal size, not great by old standards but pretty good for recent years. None were over 12cms, a sign that the area had been well fished before us.
There are quite a few rules when it comes to fishing for Murray Crays. (AKA: Spiny Freshwater Crayfish, or Euastacus Armatus). After having our nets, crays, licenses and baits thoroughly inspected by the NSW fisheries this weekend, we were relieved to know that our knowledge of those rules was correct and up to date. Crays can be legally fished from May to August. Females with eggs must be returned to the water no matter what their size. Crays without eggs can be kept as long as they are above the 9cm length, from the rear of the eye socket to the rear of the main abdomen shell (which includes a small bump at the end). There is a bag limit of five crays per person per day, and a possession limit of ten per person. Only one cray, per person, can be kept in possession which is over 12cm. Hoop netting has to be a certain size, only five nets are allowed per person and floats are to have names, addresses and the letters HN (for Hoop Net) easily displayed.
We enjoy eating them the simplest way; boiled until their tails drop, then peeled and soaked in salt and vinegar for an hour or two. We may be biased but we all agree they taste much better than saltwater crays, somewhat sweeter perhaps.
Next year we have decided to avoid public holiday weekends as the popularity of the area grows. Guns are permitted in the Gunbower forest and we heard quite a few shots nearby, as well as rowdy camps playing music well into the night. One partially lost, drunken camper stumbled into our camp at night, giving us quite a fright when he abused us and refused to leave. Perhaps it’s a sign that we are getting older, but that kind of stupid behaviour just doesn’t seem funny anymore.
Apart from these minor incidents it is still a great place to camp. There really is nothing better than sitting by the fire with a hot cuppa (or a stubbie), watching the other boats go by and hoping that the boys bring back a couple of sizable crays each time they check the nets. It’s what we live for.
Check out www.dpi.nsw.gov.au for more info on Murray Crays and fishing regulations.