My mates and I have been fishing together since our early teens. We’ve fished for trout, Murray cod and estuary species.
Growing up in the Central West, we didn’t have any opportunities to fish for bass and we knew little about them. But we always thought that they looked like a species that would excite us and that one day we would plan a trip to chase them.
Almost 12 years later, after marriages, kids and everyone moving away, we decided to meet for a bass trip. In the good old days, organising a trip simply meant picking up the phone but these days, four grown men with families take about a year to get away for a fishing weekend.
Our research showed a few river systems that definitely stood out as premier bass fisheries and the Macleay kept coming up. A couple of us had driven the Armidale-Kempsey road and when I did it I thought it looked like a cross between the Snowy Mountains trout streams and western Murray cod rivers.
Bass fishers seemed very mysterious, especially when trying to extract information from them.
They also seemed in general to have a genuine care for the environment in which they fish. The articles I had read went on about the bass fishing experience, the places it took you, the scenery and the wild country where these fish are found.
So we based ourselves at Bellbrook, on the upper Macleay for a weekend.
I read every article possible on bass and watched every bass DVD but when I got on that water, my confidence was low. Fishing for a species for the first time in a location we had never fished before, I felt it was going to be a long day and I’d be happy with one fish.
As all this was going through my head, mate Paul Flitcroft put in a perfect cast tight up against a bushy bank and swam his lure along a vicious-looking log. With two cranks of the handle, his shout, ‘I’m on’ was music to my ears and he brought in a bass around 35cm long.
With the next snag in sight in the middle of the river, I cast my trusty Murray cod spinnerbait just at the base of the branches and it was clobbered by another 35cm bass. And so this went on for the next two days, during which some definite patterns emerged.
I now know why some of the best casters in the industry love their bass fishing and vice-versa. After fishing for Murray cod for a number of years, I’m reasonably confident in landing spinnerbaits and cod lures where I want them.
But casting light lures tight up against the bank with overhanging branches in the way is another matter.
It was no coincidence that the best caster amongst us caught the largest and probably the most bass.
On that weekend, if you landed your cast exactly where you wanted it, you would catch a fish. If you were off the mark just a little – no fish: it was as simple as that.
I did pick up little tricks that worked well. If I saw a spot where I wanted to land my lure but couldn’t, I’d sometimes cast the lure upstream and let it float to the desired location and then start cranking. This filled some of my casting deficiencies.
The best retrieve seemed to be either slow and steady or slow with a pause and twitch.
Sometimes the best way to draw the bass’ attention was to hit the bank, tree, branch or rock and then let the lure drop to the water and sit there.
Another technique that seemed to work for me was to retrieve a floating diver like a surface lure, just twitching it to go just underwater and then letting it float up again.
A lot of bass seemed to come from the back eddies and backwaters close to fast flow.
By the end of the weekend, we were competing to cast to these spots.
In the rapids, we looked for that quiet spot just out of the fast flowing water.
I’ve caught my fair share of a variety of species and as fighting quality goes, bass are up there, especially those from that fast water in the upper Macleay.
Bass are somewhere between a bream, a trout and a Murray cod in fighting ability.
On this particular trip a lure that stood above all others was the Berkley Fat Dog in ‘snoop’, a purple-gold colour.
For once in my life I actually didn’t lose a lure all weekend and after a while I was going to desperate measures to retrieve that lure. It accounted for all our big bass except one, which was caught on a Jitterbug surface lure.
So if you have ever thought about chasing river bass, I highly recommend doing it on the upper Macleay.
One thing we definitely noticed was the lack of public access to this part of the river, with plenty of ‘private property’ signs on farm gates. On the first day we gained access to the river from Blackbird Flat reserve, which is a camping ground about 20km past Bellbrook.
We launched our tinnie from there and went upstream and caught plenty of fish. There is some great water up that way but you will need to do some hard yards by getting out and walking canoes, boats and the like through some of the faster shallows.
One day, we drove to a property and asked very politely if we could fish on the owner’s land. When doing this, always respect the farmer’s right to say no and at times you can expect to be spoken to quite harshly. This obviously means someone has wrecked it for you – just say ‘thank you for your time’ and move on.
In saying this, I find walking in with a small gift in hand, possibly a six-pack, often seems to work.
• The author stayed at Bellbrook Cabins, phone 02 6567 2115, http://macleayvalleycoast.com.au/accom_result1/bellbrook-cabins.