The native approach
SECTION: freshwater features
THIS country’s wild native fish population has taken a rapid decline over the past 50 years. Most of our natives require seasonal water flow and regular water temperature patterns to thrive and multiply.
Unfortunately, the construction of dams and weirs means regulated river flow which spells irregular and unseasonable water temperatures. Add to this the fact that many natives migrate upstream to spawn once the water levels and temperatures increase and you can start to see the devastating effect these structures have had, and are still having, on the natural life cycle of native fish.
Keep in mind factors such as poor land management practices along our rivers, pollution and competition from introduced species like carp, redfin and trout.
However, all is not lost: The saving grace for us recreational fishers is the regular stocking of many of our impoundments and some rivers. These stocking programs are undertaken, monitored and managed by organisations such as NSW Fisheries, local fishing clubs and various acclimatisation societies.
Many of our dams, lakes and reservoirs, as well as small sections of some rivers, are now regularly stocked and carry improved habitat which, in turn, has produced some amazing native species fisheries.
I prefer to fish most of the impoundments from their banks. Native species such as silver perch, golden perch and catfish are regular captures from the banks. A boat allows you to gain foot access to many more kilometres of banks and foreshores.
Too many freshwater fishers think they have a boat so they should fish from it. In many cases, this may be true but remember that fish are almost always found around structure and in the vast majority of our inland impoundments, the best structure is found close to shore.
The other advantage in having a boat is that you can move from bank to bank relatively quickly and, if need be, you have the option to troll or ‘bob’ baits around submerged trees or log piles.
When land-based, I normally give an area an hour or so and if I haven’t generated any interest on bait or lure, I will move on and seek out the next likely-looking shore.
If you are fishing a lake for the first time, spend the first few hours investigating the shoreline. As you do this, take a mental note of three or four areas that have good structure nearby as this can save you plenty of time later in the day.
My main plan of attack is to spend a few hours on the afternoon I arrive at a location checking out spots before selecting a bank to fish the remainder of the day until dusk. I will have stored a few spots away to attack the next day, knowing I won’t be wasting any valuable fishing time searching where to fish.
If the old grey matter isn’t working too well, draw a rough mud map and jot down the banks to fish as you move around in the boat. If you have a GPS unit, plot these locations as you go around. I’ve been using a hand-held GPS, which makes life easy, but a rough, hand-drawn map will suffice.
Another option is to part with $7 or so prior to your trip and purchase a topographical map of the lake or river and then pencil in the areas you wish to explore. The other bonus in doing this is that you can mark spots where you caught fish for future trips.
When undertaking this form of prospecting, I’ll normally have a spin rod rigged with a small minnow or soft plastic grub. At each likely-looking bank I will have a dozen or so casts to suss out the water depth and try to pinpoint snags and weed beds.
Most of we fishos are tackle freaks. Most blokes I know have three or four different outfits and this can be an advantage when chasing various species. However, you can cover most techniques in most locations with just two outfits. And remember, you are allowed only two outfits rigged with hooks at any time on inland impoundments.
Because most of my bait-fishing in impoundments and rivers is from the shore I have found that an extra 30cm or so in rod length, compared with standard 1.8-metre models, can assist in casting and controlling fish around bankside weed.
When fishing with an unweighted bait you will always be faced with a bow in your line and the extra rod length helps in keeping the line out of the weed close to the bank.
Last season I purchased a small baitrunner-style reel and experienced an almost 100% hook-up ratio. The jury is still out on whether this was more good luck than good management but I intend to continue using this type of reel. Within a few seasons I will be able to make a more objective conclusion but my feeling is that these could be the way to go.
This outfit can also double up for lure casting, whether you are spinning from a boat or the bank. Again, the extra length allows you to work your lure around trees, weed and rocks.
The second outfit you will require is for trolling and for lure-casting in rivers. A small, quality baitcasting reel filled with 6kg to 10kg braid is perfect for both scenarios. The thin braid allows your trolled native lures to attain the manufacturer’s intended maximum depth and gives you unquestionably better feel than mono.
Use a mono leader of a bit longer than the rod so that you have some give or stretch when connected to a fish. Murray cod, in particular, can give a quick, powerful surge when close to the boat or bank and without this mono leader that can spell disaster. Keep the rod length below 1.8 metres – it gives you better control.
When trolling for natives I always hold my rod, not leave it in a rod holder. That way you will instantly know if your lure has just swum into a snag or has been hit by a fish.
It also allows you to quickly release the tension on the line if you do get snagged and, in the majority of cases, it won’t ram the bib of the lure and hooks into the underwater obstacle. The short rod also enables you to get in tight to the bank when trolling. In some areas this may be only metres from the edge.
Golden perch, or yellowbelly, are the most abundant native fish throughout the Murray-Darling system, principally because of their resilience to varying water salinity and extremes in water temperatures.
Goldens are an excellent species to target because of their abundance and because they will scoff many varieties of bait, hammer a lure, or slurp a fly with gusto. They aren’t the greatest freshwater fighting fish, particularly impoundment goldens, but their river cousins are normally fitter, more streamlined and tenacious, giving a much better account of themselves.
Most of our enclosed fresh waters have an abundance of food for goldens to feast on and these fish spend their entire lives within the tranquil waters, reaching amazing weights in comparison to their length. Most anglers don’t target goldens for their fighting abilities but more the sport and enjoyment of simply catching fish.
The undisputed king of the freshwater, the biggest ever recorded was 113.5kg and nearly 1.8 metres long. The oldest Murray cod has been assessed at an amazing 47 years, which should be more than enough reason to release these beauties unharmed after capture.
Under normal conditions cod spawn between September and December. There is a closed season on these fish from September 1 to December 1 in New South Wales and the ACT.
The best way to tangle with cod is by trolling, which will allow you to cover plenty of water and seek out the best holding spots. Remember, big cod are the top of the underwater food chain and will take up the best position and cover available to them.
On occasions this may mean you will need to get a lure or bait deep into a snag. Trolled lures won't do that trick, so casting a crash-diving lure or large spinnerbait could be the answer. If this fails, try bobbing a big grub or large yabby near the bottom of the cover.
When you hook up, hold on – these big fish don't have much endurance but over a short distance are extremely powerful.
I love walking along a river casting for cod. River fish are generally more attractive in appearance and quite aggressive towards uninvited visitors in the shape of lures or large flies.
Often referred to as bream or grunter, these hard-fighting natives are my favourite freshwater fish. Almost non-existent in many rivers now due to river regulation and angling pressure, these beauties aren't difficult to catch once you locate them.
Without doubt, bait-fishing is the most productive method for silvers. There is still a bit of a misconception out there that big silvers (more than 2kg) turn vegetarian and won't eat worms, beetles or insects. I am no fish biologist but I have taken fish many fish over 2kg and several over 4kg on worms.
Scattered weed beds close to the shore are the best areas to target silvers. If these areas have some sunken timber nearby, you are in prime silver country.
Silvers are a lot like brown trout in that they can be finicky buggers at times. During low pressure systems and periods when the fish just aren’t on the chew, they can be renowned for dropping baits on the initial take. In an attempt to compensate for these half-hearted takes, I always place my rods in holders on the shore and lay the rod almost parallel to the ground. I have found that this set-up offers the least resistance when a fish takes the bait and begins to run. Keep those leaders and lines to a minimum diameter and lose the lead if possible.
Most of my bass fishing is in rivers with lures. I will leave the impoundment techniques to the experts who spend much of their time refining techniques and chasing these fish. Hunting bass in rivers and small brackish backwaters by canoe or small punt is very relaxing and rewarding. It requires good casting skills because getting your lure or fly under overhanging trees is critical.
During daylight bass will hold up tight against the bank or under dead trees and will rarely venture far from this cover to grab a lure or fly so accurate casts are essential.
Probably the best technique to induce a strike is to use a small floating surface lure or fly. Cast up tight against a likely-looking piece of cover and allow the offering to sit on the surface. Then give the rod a short, sharp twitch to move the lure and cause the most water displacement possible. Continue to do this for 30 seconds or so, then retrieve your lure.
If you complete several casts like this for no result, then try the same process in the same area, this time using a very small, subtle movement of the rod tip. Early morning and late afternoon, then right into the night are the best times for river bass.