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Bassing the Riverweed of the Macleay
  |  First Published: January 2015



Two full days of rain and washed-out fishing trips has me sitting back and thinking about my bass season to date. It was only 2 days ago that we had a 40cm-plus bass chomped in half by an angry bull shark, and then 20 minutes later the misfortune to pull the hooks on a 50cm fish right next to the boat. Disappointment aside, this trip was eventful!

Location

While there are plenty of available bass fishing options on the mid north coast, the place I really enjoy fishing is the Macleay River from Smithtown to near Sherwood. If you launch from Kempsey boat ramp, you are pretty much central enough to go down or upstream. Riverweed can be found from Kinchela Creek all the way to Sherwood, with some of the best from Greenhills upstream at the moment.

Early morning surface sessions

On a typical bass fishing day, the early morning weed sessions are all about topwaters, with fizzers, walkers and poppers taking their share of the fish. Some lures we have had great success with this season include the Koolabung Soft Fizzer — a great lure on the Macleay, especially during a cicada blitz. Then there’s the Mazzy popper, which can be worked surface or sub-surface. The Mazzys really come into their own when the fish are a bit shut down and we have often used these when others didn’t produce. The Sammys are a good match for the baitfish that have been around this season.

There are plenty of great surface lures on the market that will get you onto the fish. I tend not to choose the $30 models, as with the weed being fairly thick in spots, it’s a challenge getting the fish out. They will quickly dive down and wrap themselves around the bottom half of the stems, and while it doesn’t always happen, it can be painful and tricky. Most times, going hard straight away is the best approach. It’s heart-in-mouth fishing and gets the adrenalin flowing, but isn’t that what it’s about?

Surface gear

For the surface fishing rods, we have been using G.Loomis spin rods in 4-10lb classes. These are 7’ and handle the situation well. We also use a range of custom spin rods with a similar rating. The reels are varied, with size 1000-2500 used, preferably Shimano Sustains and Stradics. These are spooled with 5-6kg braid. I lean towards the Super PE by Sunline, and use 7kg leader, preferring Sunline’s FC Rock. It doesn’t seem to worry the fish, but gives a bit of confidence in bulldogging them out.

Always keep an eye on leader and leader knots, as constant running through the weed can damage the connections and you don’t want the disappointment of losing fish this way! As it is, these bass are pretty quick to bury you around the long strands of weed, and this often results in the lure ripping out of their mouths.

Tides and surface

I prefer to fish a high tide. If it happens to fall in the early morning, then it usually results in a good session. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is not having excess weed laying on the surface, so less time removing it from your lure, and it also gives you a bit more water so you can try and stop them getting into the thick of the bed. Secondly, you can cast your surface lures over the top, as the fish will be laying in there.

When the tide is low you have to work the edges and the fish can be buried a long way back in the growth. We have tried fishing this thick weed when the tide falls, but it is very frustrating and we usually end up working the edges.

Spinnerbaiting

When the surface bite has died down, it’s time to look at other options, and spinnerbaiting is a great choice. With a multitude of riverweed stretching for kilometres, you can work through them all day with very pleasing results. For this style of spinnerbait fishing I prefer a willow blade as the top blade, and a smaller Colorado blade below. The 3/8oz spinnerbaits have been the lure of choice, with the Damiki GPS being a standout on the Macleay this year. One thing I think worth noting is that silver blades are excellent when the water is clear, and gold blades when the water is a bit murky. I carry a range of replacement blades and skirt colours, so if I find something is working, we can change to it without necessarily having a load of the same colour spinnerbaits in the kit.

Also very important is the use of a stinger hook. Fortunately, most spinnerbaits now come with these. Believe me, a lot of bass will be hooked on the back hook. We do occasionally use a plastic on our spinnerbaits and have found a 3” curl tail grub is very good at times. Various colours have been used with success.

Having good clear water so far this season has meant silver has been the go-to blade. As for skirt colours, white and purple have been the top 2 colours, but this changes regularly so don’t be afraid to mix it up. What seems to be doing the job for a period of time does change, and we need to be prepared for that.

Gear and methods

Firstly, this style of fishing is not overly complicated. We use baitcast gear, or the same spin outfits chosen for surface fishing, again in the 2-5kg range. Typically, 5kg braid and 6kg leader is usually heavy enough. I love using my baitcaster for this style of fishing and again I use a G.Loomis rod matched with a Daiwa Pixy reel. It just gives me great feel and control of the spinnerbait.

When fishing the weed, there are a couple of retrieves to use. The first is a consistent roll, and with this you can give a sharp jerk on the rod when feeling weed, which results in the lure coming through it. The second retrieve is a bit quicker, keeping it on top of the weed. You will have to work that out on the day, as different beds have different heights and gaps in the jungle.

We have been catching fish throughout the day using these methods, and time has not been important. Water movement seems to be the biggest factor. The bite will be better when the weed is lying down with the half tide to top, and then the top to half down being my preferred.

Persistence pays

With this style of bassing, we keep casting from bed to bed. We have noticed that the big fish will come any time of day, with our last 50cm bass being caught at midday. The other thing that has stood out is that you will be consistently catching fish in the smaller size bracket, and then a monster will come along and stitch you up. We have lost a few spinnerbaits to fish that weren’t turned before entangling themselves in the weed.

So get out there, tie on a spinnerbait, and kick some b-ass! Surface fishing is great, but it is also a great feeling to have the rod nearly jolted from your grip as a rampaging bass attempts to bury your spinnerbait in the greenery! Also remember that there are plenty of bull sharks around, so if a lure gets buried, don’t go in after it.

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