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In search of river bass
  |  First Published: November 2007



JAMIE ROBLEY helps you look outside the square next time you’re on the river.

BREAK-OUT QUOTE: “Bass don't read the rule books and, really, there's a chance of finding them just about anywhere.”

SECTION: Freshwater features

MAPS:

Facts

ILLUSTRATIONS: 0

Over the years it's been well documented that successful river bass fishing is largely about casting to bankside structure.

Fallen trees, steep banks and boulders are some of the main types of structure that we are told to aim our lures at. The truth is, though, if you target only those types of structure, there's a good chance you'll miss out on a swag of other bass.

So where else should we be casting to find more bass in our rivers? As with all fish, bass don't read the rule books and, really, there's a chance of finding them just about anywhere. They can be caught out in clear, open water, next to an insignificant mid-river rock, around weed beds or just about anywhere there's enough water to cover their backs.

After years of hurling lures at fallen timber and the like, I now feel as though I've missed out on a hell of a lot of good bass simply from having a closed mind. Now, when I take the canoe out on bass water, the casts get fired off left, right and centre.

There are, however, certain spots on each river that seem to hold more bass and they can be targeted in different ways with a variety of lures or flies.

So let's get stuck into it and take a closer look at exactly where, when and how to extract more bass from your local river.

WEED BEDS

Most rivers have plenty of weed growth and in some areas weed beds can be quite extensive. Thick weed growth provides bass with plenty of shelter from bright sunlight and predators and also makes a good place from where they can ambush any passing food. Aquatic life thrives among the weeds so it's like a big kitchen pantry for bass. In short, weed has the lot.

From an angling perspective, weed beds can be easily overlooked in favour of more obvious-looking structure like big boulders or logs. It's a matter of opening your eyes and mind to what the fish prefer, rather than what we think they might prefer.

On the negative side, weed can also foul your lure hooks, making fishing difficult. There are however, ways to get around this.

As a starting point, it's best to run a lure or fly parallel to the edges of the weed beds rather than straight over the top of them. There are also usually plenty of smaller pockets of clearer water between the weeds where you can cast with less chance of getting caught up. Think of a well-aimed cast in those small pockets as you would when casting at the base of a fallen tree.

Bass will inhabit weed at any depth but, as a guideline, they'll be easier to catch adjacent to deeper holes or channels through the middle of the day. The fish move into the shallow areas towards dusk, through the night and at dawn can linger well into daylight.

Surprisingly, many bass will hit a lure in water as shallow as a metre even around the middle of the day.

OPEN WATER

Walking over some high banks along a well-known river south of Sydney a few years ago, I started spotting bass swimming around in open water. They were well away from any significant structure, just doing fishy stuff, much like mullet, bream or whiting. The more I walked the banks, keeping an eye on the water, the more bass I spotted.

When you think about it, most bass water we fish is a bit murky, deep or we are fishing right at the water level, unable to see down into it. So we don't normally see bass swimming around willy-nilly.

The simple fact is bass obviously can't spend every minute of every day tucked away under the cover of structure. They move around, by day or night, and the quieter or more secluded the water, the more likely they are to do so.

In other words, as long as you're on the water, it's probably a good idea to fire off the occasional cast anywhere. To the left, to the right or behind your back.

If there's a lure in the water a bass may see it and have a swipe. If the water is deep, let a lure sink to the bottom before starting the retrieve. If it's shallow, cast and wind straight in or when using a surface lure, just let it sit there, out in the middle of nowhere. While this sort of strategy could seem like a waste of time at first, try it over the next few months and you might be surprised by the results.

STEEP SHADE

Another strategy that's worked well for me at times is to work the bottom adjacent to steep banks, so that a lure lands on the water about 2m out from the shore. Depending on the gradient of the bank, a lure landed a couple of metres out should hit the bottom very close the where the vertical contour meets the true bottom of the river.

As a lure falls, it could be spotted and attacked by a bass. If not, it might get hit as you work it back towards you. Once again, we're working a lure through places that may not really seem so obvious.

There doesn't have to be a tree, log, boulder or point to aim a lure at because there might be much more subtle structure down deep, like a small rocky crevice, single boulder or even a sunken twig where a bass could be lurking.

TACKLE, TACTICS

There are about a million rods, reels and lures out there that will catch us and bass at one time or another. For now, though, I’ll just run through the gear that I've been using with great success and perhaps it could do the same for you.

Baitcasters have long been the primary tool of the east coast bass angler. I used to use them but these days I use only threadline gear. If the debate about casting accuracy comes up, forget it. Threadlines or baitcasters, it's not just the reel that does the casting it's a combination or rod, reel, line, lure and your own skill.

Above all, what really makes an accurate cast is practice. The more you do it, the better you'll get.

My current weapons of choice are a G. Loomis SJR720 rod and Daiwa Sol 2000 reel spooled up with 10lb Castaway braid. Leaders are mainly a 2m length of 4kg Siglon FC Rock fluorocarbon. The 6’ rod is the perfect length for my canoe fishing and the sensitivity is great for working around the weeds, where you can feel even the most minute strand on the lure.

IN A SPIN

Despite the current trend towards lipless crankbaits, I'm a huge fan of spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits. I also won't go bass fishing unless those spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits are purple. They can be purple and white, purple and clear or purple and black. Purple and purple is also OK!

Spinnerbaits can be used in many different ways. In most cases, I'll just cast out and start winding straight back in. Around shallow weed, I flick the bail arm over and start retrieving the instant the lure splashes down, so it doesn't have a chance of falling into the weed and snagging up.

Spinnerbaits can be allowed to sink down and crawl along the bottom but for deeper water, especially close to those steep banks, I'll tie on a Chatterbait every time. Chatterbaits are amazingly effective when slowly jigged along the bottom, in a similar way to working a soft plastic for flathead.

Of course, surface lures like the good old Heddon Torpedo and Jitterbug remain a popular choice of serious river bass fishos. There's no doubt they work a treat after dark and it's a serious novelty to experience some of those crazy surface strikes.

But there can be times when floating weed is so thick that a sub-surface lure could make a more practical choice. Out of the lures that I've tried, the Chatterbaits, with their strong wobble, seem to be among the most weed-resistant or even weed-repelling.

ON THE FLY

Large sinking flies also have worked well for me around weed and along steep banks.

Inspired by the Bass Vampire style, I tied up a few much larger versions using a variety of mainly purple materials. I simply figured that bass hit pretty big lures without much hesitation, so the flies I tied are around 10cm to 12cm long with heaps of synthetics and marabou and glowing green lead eyes.

These flies worked perfectly when cast and retrieved along the edges of the weed or sunk down next to steep banks and simply stripped back. While I'm no expert when it comes to fly fishing, a simple, straight forward retrieve at a moderate pace scored enough fish to keep me happy.

So next time you're on the river looking to hook a few wild bass, don't worry too much about extreme casting accuracy. Just get out there, cast all over the place and have some fun in the process. Put a bit of thought into it, but remember, bass are where you find ’em.

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