Thanks to the widespread success of bass stocking programs, achieving that goal is now a lot easier than it ever used to be. These days, there are numerous stocked impoundments spread right across Victoria, New South Wales and into southern Queensland. Plenty of these dams are within an easy day trip distance of the major population centres too, so there’s really no excuse for not getting out there and giving it a go.
Australian bass are one of our most iconic native species and fishing for these bronzed battlers is something every Aussie angler should experience at least once in their lifetime.
While catching any bass is great, for the authentic bass fishing experience I reckon it’s hard to beat the challenge of chasing them in the rivers and creeks, which make up their natural environment. These wild spawned river fish may not be as numerous, or as large as their dam dwelling cousins but to a dedicated bass fisho that doesn’t matter one bit. There’s just something so natural and wholesome about the traditional bass fishing experience that keeps you coming back for more!
I know some will probably disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that catching bass in rivers and creeks is a little more challenging than it is in dams. When you are fishing for bass in impoundments, your sounder does a lot of the leg work for you and you get used to relying on your electronic eyes to find the fish. When you are creek fishing you generally don’t have that luxury, so you are forced to use your own built-in computer (the one under your hat) to work out where the fish will be. Then, by interpreting the subtle little signals the fish send you, it becomes easier to work out the best way to catch them.
If you are keen to step outside the impoundments and give this type of fishing a go, you need to understand the way the different environments impact on the feeding patterns of the fish. The big bass in dams get that way from eating large amounts of baitfish like bony bream. They generally take their food in big, mobile chunks and then need some time to digest their meal. River fish on the other hand, tend to have a more varied diet with insects, guppies and crustaceans like shrimp and yabbies making up a large percentage of their food intake. As they undertake annual migrations and often have powerful river currents to contend with, they need to feed quite regularly to stay in condition.
If you leave out larger insects like cicadas and the occasional frog, the river fish’s prey is reasonably small. In fact, most of it is probably well under 5cm in length and has a fairly skinny profile. When the fishing is tough and you are struggling to get a bite, scaling down your presentation so that you imitate these smaller prey items can be one way of getting those hesitant bass to show a little more interest.
Getting back to the signs I mentioned earlier, what you are looking for are indications which can help you to establish if the fish are actively feeding or not. If they are in an active mood then it’s ‘happy days’! Active fish will belt large, noisy lures like spinnerbaits and bibless rattlers and they will also travel a lot further to get at them. When the fish are well and truly on the job, lure selection becomes simple and casting accuracy doesn’t matter so much. On the really good days, you can often be fooled into thinking that you’ve got the game completely sorted.
Sadly, the opposite is more likely to be the case and the fish will be a little reluctant to feed. Be it dropping water levels, fishing pressure, a sudden change in the weather or unsuitable water temperatures, there always seems to be something happening to put the fish off the bite. When they are in this sort of shut down mood, they tend to tuck themselves right back tight into the structure and won’t move very far at all to take a lure. Your presentation has to be right on the money and needs to stay in the strike zone as long as possible to be effective.
It’s this last scenario that has been occupying a lot of my time of late. I’ve been looking at ways to temp some of these shut down fish into feeding and I think I’ve finally cracked a bit of a pattern. I was having a bit of success fishing with bibless rattlers, like Jackals and Spots, but I just couldn’t help thinking that something that was a bit more like the food that the fish normally encounter would be even more effective.
Looking at the features that made lipless crankbaits so effective, I believe it’s the simple fact that they sink that is the most important part of the equation. When you are using these lures, you cast them in tight to the structure and allow them to sink down to the level the fish are holding. Dropping vertically like this allows you to penetrate deep into the strike zone and the hits often seem to come as the lure is sinking.
If you contrast that with most diving minnows and plugs, you’ll see a stark difference. All floating/diving minnows need to be retrieved to reach their running depth and by the time you get them to dive down deep enough, they have often been dragged too far away from where the fish are holding to be effective. All too often, they swim out of the strike zone without getting anywhere near inactive bass.
So to cut a long story short, what I was looking for was a sinking lure that had a nice skinny profile, rather than a deeper-bodied shad shape. Some sort of sinking minnow seemed to be the obvious solution and it didn’t take long to find just what I was looking for in the form of some small Rapala Count Downs. These little balsa beauties are generally considered to be trout takers of the highest order but since I’ve been giving them a swim in more northern waters, I’ve also found them to be just about perfect for the job of fooling shut down Aussie bass.
Fishing for creek bass with Count Downs is delightfully simple and very similar to the way you’d approach it with a Jackal, Cordell Spot or any other rattler. Simply pick a likely looking piece of cover and cast your lure in nice and tight to the structure. Then, on a slack line, allow the lure to sink down as far as you dare. As it is sinking, watch the slack line for any sort of movement and if it suddenly stops sinking, moves sideways or even twitches, close the bail arm and strike.
Most times, the fish will have been alerted to the lure by the gentle splash it made as it touched down. Then as the lure sinks it looks so natural that the fish simply swim over and inhale it.
Rapala CDs have a nice steady sink rate of around 30cm (or one old fashioned foot) per second. This makes it pretty easy to work out how deep your lure has sunk and makes it a bit easier to avoid getting snagged all the time or having your lure sink right to the bottom and getting covered in gunk.
As the name suggests, it pays to count slowly as the lure sinks. While it’s really only a guide, counting the seconds after splashdown allows you have at least a rough idea of how deep your lure has got before it gets hit. It’s amazing how often a number of fish along a length of creek will happen to be holding at a similar sort of depth. So, once you have an idea of how deep you need your lure to get, you can then use a similar count on the next set of snags.
For some reason, sinking minnows have never really been overly popular in this country and Rapala are one of the few lure manufactures to offer a range of sinking lures in suitable sizes and finishes. I’ve mainly used the smaller models for this sort of fishing, with the CD5 being a good all round choice, although the CD7 can be an option at times. If you can find them, the jointed 7cm Count Downs are also worth trying but since they have gone out of production, it’s getting hard to justify fishing with them as they are selling for ridiculous prices over the net.
As I started getting into this style of fishing, Rapala released an updated plastic version of their CD series called an X-Rap Count Down. I haven’t had the chance to try any of these yet, but they look like they’d have to be worth tossing. They are just a little bit bigger in the body than the original balsa Count Downs and can carry slightly larger hooks without killing their action. They also sink about 30% faster, which needs to be taken into account. Rapala also have the Ultra Light Shads and Minnows in their range. These 4cm and 6cm lures all sink and fit the size range nicely, so there’s actually quite a few different models to choose from, even if there’s not a lot of manufactures churning them out.
Even though sinking lures are heavier than floating versions, the small size of the artificials being used means spin tackle is the only practical option. My own outfit consists of a Yoshi SP-Snapper – SP72225. This snappy 7ft spin rod is rated at 2-5kg and it can handle so many different fishing situations that I’d be lost without it. The Yoshi matched to a high quality 2500 size spin reel loaded with 3kg Schnieder braid. A 1.5m of thin diameter leader material around 5-6kg completes the rig.