Like most keen anglers, it really doesn’t take a whole lot to fire me up to go fishing. And when we’re talking about chasing bass, it’s an even easier task – just the sound of buzzing cicadas, warm weather and the promise of a light afternoon breeze and I’m as good as there.
I recently had the pleasure of watching Dave Seaman’s Wild River Bass DVD, which captures virtually every appealing aspect that bass fishing has to offer and no shortage of footage to get your casting arm twitching. The combination of picturesque waterways and large, cantankerous bass are part of the reason I originally moved to the North Coast and when the warm weather arrives, I make sure I spend plenty of balmy evenings well above the tidal influence.
There’s not a whole lot of difference between targeting bass on the North Coast and those in more southern climes. Perhaps the biggest difference is the size of the fish encountered.
For many years I fished the Central Coast, mainly in the small tributaries that feed the Brisbane Water and Tuggerah Lakes systems. These creeks, while quite pretty and containing a reasonable number of bass, never really held good numbers of large fish. You’d pin the odd fish around a kilo but the vast majority were around 200g to 400g. Even the more remote systems on the Upper Hunter seemed to contain large numbers of small fish.
No doubt in years gone by all these creeks and rivers would have held good populations of quality fish but the average size encountered today is a direct reflection of ever-greater human presence.
While much of the North Coast isn’t exactly pristine country (though there are some spectacular pockets if you’re prepared to explore), there are enough safe havens for resident bass to reach a good average size. And, thankfully, most anglers who chase bass, and particularly those in the less accessible areas, will usually have a very pretty good angling ethics and gladly release virtually every fish caught.
The combination of smaller population centres, comparatively harder-to-access waterways and a high number of anglers prepared to release most fish caught has made many of the bigger systems on the North Coast the last real stronghold for good numbers of quality wild river bass.
There are plenty of ways to target North Coast bass and many of the popular southern methods will certainly pull fish. Bass are bass, no matter where you find them, so any overhanging or submerged timber is well worth attention.
Quite often, those in a reasonable amount of water close to the head of a pool hold the best fish. It’s the old theory of the biggest fish taking the best cover.
Fully submerged timber swept by a steady flow is nearly guaranteed to house fish, though finding many of these trees can be difficult. Keep your eyes open for any apparent changes to current flow and look for tiny sticks that may be poking up in midstream. Quite often there’s a huge tree just below the waterline, often holding good numbers of quality fish.
Like all bass, those found on the North Coast are true ambush feeders. Often they’re quite stationary during the day, taking up positions where food supplies are likely to sweep by, and then they move out into more open water as the light begins to fade.
For daytime fishing we are again talking bankside and submerged timber with most fish facing nose to the current, patiently waiting for food.
This means getting your canoe or boat in a good position to present your lures on the up-current side of cover and casting them as close as possible so they end up right on the fishes’ noses. Just by casting slightly up-current and very close to timber you’ll increase your chances significantly of finding fish.
As the shadows lengthen, many of the bass previously found deep around timber will start to explore the more open water and weed beds.
It’s not unusual to encounter quality fish in midstream and some of the biggest my mates and I have taken have been miles from cover on some pretty open stretches of river.
Much of this mid-river exploration seems to centre around the local herring population. Many of the North Coast systems hold good schools of freshwater herring and around dawn and dusk they often feed quite vigorously on the surface, sometimes right across the river.
Bass are far from silly and will often be found lurking just below the herring schools. Needless to say, this is a great time to find really big fish far from line-shredding cover – and on surface lures, too.
One area that’s certainly not to be overlooked is the weed bed. Healthy, free-flowing systems are often fringed with large bands of weed, both ribbon or strap-type weed and another often referred to as ‘ox tail weed’ that frequents the fringes of the slow-moving pools. To anglers these types of weed mean good fishing grounds.
And because weed tends to grow in shallow, more sunlit zones, the best weed fishing usually takes place late and early in the day.
For me it’s compulsory to end a day throwing a few noisy poppers, fizzers or paddlers along the weed fringes. You can score some terrific fish as they patrol the fringes, looking for small baitfish and shrimp that abound in these zones.
And don’t forget to explore those little clear pockets between the weed beds and shoreline – these are terrific little hunting grounds for bass once the sun slips away.
The main difference between fishing the more southern bass waters and those on the North Coast is a slight upsizing in gear. I’m not talking major steps, just going a little heavier with main line and leader. Baitcast tackle is typically 3kg to 6kg braid with leaders from 8kg to 10kg. Threadline tackle usually is loaded with 3kg to 4kg braid and leaders of mono or fluorocarbon 3kg to 6kg.
We also use slightly larger lures. It’s funny really, in most other forms of freshwater and estuary fishing there’s a definite trend towards downsizing but on bass water, scaling up a little is certainly the way to go.
LURES – GO LOCAL
There’s an endless array of suitable lures for North Coast bass but some of the locally-made standouts are from Koolabung, Taylor Made and AusSpin. Koolabung and Taylor Made (both based at Port Macquarie) have a good selection of surface and sub-surface offerings renowned for tempting North Coast bass. Some standouts are Taylor Made Belly Busters, Tiny Nuggets and the jointed Surface Breaker. From Koolabung, it’s hard to go past the new 55mm Bass Raiders. For surface fishing, Bass Raider fizzers and poppers work a treat.
If you’re a spinnerbait fan, AusSpin make an impressive range that score plenty of bass each season and the new Chatterbaits from AusSpin are also making waves on the local bass scene.