October is my favourite time of year to fish the Hunter Valley. The nice warm days with cool nights make camping at either Glenbawn or St Clair quite pleasant, with predicable weather for a fun weekend away with friends and family. The water temperature should be hitting 20°C+ in the impoundments and this means fired up spring fishing. A lot of fish have lost their winter weight and there will be big fish on the move to shallow water. You’ll notice they take on a darker hue of bronze or black, to help camouflage themselves in the shallow clear water.
Glenbawn’s catchment has seen some good rain over winter; the water level rose quite some way. The weed beds are the best I’ve seen them in years. If these levels maintain this month, the shallow water fishing should be on fire. It’s time to break out the reaction lures and heavier line, because these guys mean business. No more little taps on soft plastics – these fish will nearly rip the rod out your hand as they try to crush your favourite reaction lure. Whether you’re using a topwater lure, crankbait, bladed jig, jerkbait or spinnerbait, they’ll eat it. Target shallow water structure around weed and timber.
Always remember that when it comes to casting an edge, fish are light oriented. Overcast days will see you catching fish up high in the water column all day. On clear days with no wind, it’s a different story. The bass bite their heads off for the first hour or two and then, like a switch, they turn off. They bide their time until the last hours of light before they start biting again.
By moving out deeper and slowing down, you can still catch some fish on blades, tail-spinners, plastics or trolled deep divers. At this time of year with the water temperatures warming, the crawfish and yabby populations are becoming active. Fish are starting to focus on them too. One of my favourite techniques to target these shut-down edge fish is with a skirted jig and plastic craw trailer.
As the sun gets higher, it will draw fish tighter to cover. A jig is one of the best ways to target them. A 3/8-3/4oz football or arkie style jig, dragged slowly or with tiny hops along the bottom, will hopefully catch you some bass and golden perch. Try focusing on the outside edge of the weed around timber and rock.
The fishing at Lake St Clair should be heating up too. Bigger bass at the lake are caught on topwater lures, and October is the month to do it. A popper, walk the dog style, cicada imitation, paddlers and even hollow belly frogs will get eaten. Like any style of fishing, it’s about working out what the fish want. Try different lures and styles of retrieves until that one bite tells you how they want it.
Super shallow water in the low light is where you want to target the bigger fish. They will be up tight on the edge, hunting in the shallows. Get yourself parallel to a bank, so your whole retrieve stays in the strike zone. This can get you quicker results and you can cover more ground to find those active fish. If the topwater lures aren’t working, a reaction bait should. With St Clair’s weed being so thick this year, a spinnerbait or bladed jig will pop through a lot better than a trebled lure. Concentrate on following the contour of the weed. Your retrieve will see the bass or yellowbelly dart out and slam your lure.
As with any reaction lure, upping your line weight is a must. Fish won’t shy at line thickness. You’ll need at least 12-20lb to survive the initial shock of the strike. When a fish buries you in the weed or timber, the thicker line will give you time to get over to the fish, and try and bring it to the surface.
St Clair and Glenbawn are similar to fish at this time of the year, and the same goes for how fish react to light. When the fishing slows at St Clair due to the sun, you can change it up by slowing down and sinking lures into the weed. A weedless-rigged craw plastic or skirted jig, worked along the bottom through broken weed or into holes, works really well. Or, sink a weedless-rigged swimbait or paddle-tail to the bottom through the weed and swim it out, to target fish hiding deep in the weed and escaping sunlight.
The Hunter River bass population will be making their way further upstream this month. This means the fish are starting to spread out and become more active. When fishing the lower tidal reaches, it pays to keep in mind that these fish are very much attuned to their environment. If the tide is not quite right, it will keep them tight lipped so don’t waste your time running around looking for fish. Fish come on the bite when they’re ready, so concentrate on one stretch of river and fish as the tide moves through its cycle. Once you work out what stage they bite, you can run the tide and hopefully catch fish throughout the lower system. All your typical river bass lures will work this month, with the topwater bite becoming more prolific.
Tom Slater with a golden perch caught at Lake Glenbawn on a swimbait.
A Lake Glenbawn yellowbelly caught on a lipless crankbait.
The author with a Lake St Clair bass caught on a Bassman Mumbler.
The author caught this bass at Glenbawn on a skirted jig.Reads: 144