Without the customary summer floods our South Queensland impoundment bass have been confined to quarters. There’s been none of that ducking over the dam wall to take a look at what lies beyond! Populations remain stable, impoundment edges remain much unchanged so flyfishing for these great fighting fish isn’t too difficult.
A boat is pretty much essential of course, and so is a sounder that you’re familiar with. To catch bass you have to find them but, because the fish like to gather in big schools during winter, a sounder makes this pretty easy.
More on that later. First let’s look at the best gear for chasing bass.
Flyfishing demands that you use the correct tackle for the job, and there are two main styles of fishing to consider. Scenario one: there’s soft structure such as weeds or lilies around edges, which is ideal for surface fishing at times of low light. This special time sees bass actively searching close to the margins for their next feed. In impoundments such as Borumba and Maroon dams with their prolific weed beds, it’s sheer magic.
Scenario two: you’re in Lake Somerset, Wivenhoe or Moogerah. These dams are largely devoid of soft structure so there’s little incentive for bass to work shore areas. As a result, all flyfishing involves a fast sinking fly line with the angler using the sounder to locate fish in depths up to 15m.
On this basis a sinking line is important for impoundments without weed beds, a floating line used where weed beds are a feature. (Keep in mind that when the fish in Maroon and Borumba have finished their morning patrol of the weed beds they will school up in deeper water like their mates in the other dams do. Again, a sinking fly line will a great asset.)
With line selection complete the next consideration is the weight of the fly outfit. The larger impoundments turn out bass between 40-55cm, while Maroon has a smaller class of fish (but plenty of them) with a big one measuring around 38-40cm. A 6wt outfit fills all requirements. It might be a tad over-gunned for Maroon fish but it’s definitely not for some of the horses that will be caught in lakes Moogerah, Somerset and Wivenhoe this winter.
Being on the water at dawn or dusk with the floating gear in use should see the occasional rise around weed edges, so casting into a small bay, an opening in a weed bed, or next to lily pads will usually bear fruit, even if you haven’t seen much surface activity. Let your fly (a Grabhams Gurgler or Gartside Gurgler) sit until a fish finds it, and perhaps give it just a tiny twitch now and again.
When fishing deep water it’s entirely different. The sounder comes into its own and there’s a need to thoroughly understand what’s on the screen. Schooled fish are what we are looking for, and handy starting points to locate them are deep water close to the ends of points or areas of river flats next to submerged river or creek beds. The clue is to simply cover likely areas until you spot fish in good numbers.
If the fish on the sounder are bass it’s common to see them moving up, down and across a sonar screen (or appearing as a host of dots on a side scan unit). Dropping a marker or establishing a GPS waypoint is important as it allows you to work out what direction the fish are moving. And trust me on this – they always seem to move as they feed.
You’ve found the fish, now you need to catch them. The main flies used these days are still the ubiquitous Vampire patterns and bony bream imitations, both in size 2. Purple and black Vampires are much favoured but bass will also take red and purple or black and red Vampires. The smart move is to change a fly for another colour if it’s not taken after a few passes through a school. Bony bream flies are great simply because the predominant baitfish in the big dams is the bony bream.
Successful deep fly work involves getting the fly down into the schooled fish and then bringing it back through them in very small tweaks and twitches. If you can master the technique of only a 20cm or 30cm strip each time, with a one or two second pause between each, you should feel a bite pretty quickly.
Remember though, you can’t just lower the fly into the school of fish like a vibe or similar reaction lure. You should cast your fly as far away as possible, then allow it to sink almost to the bottom (counting it down as per the fly line manufacturer’s specs will make it easier). Then bring it back through the feeding fish for as long as possible. Sometimes it might pay to retrieve it halfway before dropping it back, especially if you feel a small pick. Remember that it’s important to keep the retrieve going right to the boat before you make your next cast; fish will often follow the fly right up and whack it in the last few metres of travel.
When fishing impoundments it’s good to make an early start as the schooled up fish seem to feed early then taper off towards mid morning. It might be cold and foggy but the fishing is usually worth it. Interestingly, evenings in the big dams are usually pretty quiet for some reason.
Remember that fishing most Queensland impoundments requires a Stocked Impoundment Permit, while Lakes Somerset and Wivenhoe also require boating permits. And don’t forget the red claw pots. Most impoundments have these tasty crustaceans and they are still catchable in winter.
A showing of bass on the sounder like this one means that a fish on the fly line won’t be far off.Reads: 987