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Bass on hard-bodies
  |  First Published: September 2003



Once you’ve learned the basics of bass fishing, you’ll find that this brackish and freshwater dweller will provide consistent and exciting sportfishing, allowing you the opportunity to catch sizeable fish on a wide range of artificials in a variety of locations.

From western Sydney suburbia to the South Coast and New England tiger country, there’s no shortage of bass water waiting for the enterprising angler to discover. Another of the many things I really love about bass is that they are one species where lures are the best method of targeting them. Whether it be lure or fly, they are absolute suckers for a well-presented artificial.

Basically, bass are a year-round proposition in Northern NSW. During Summer/Autumn they push into the brackish and fresh reaches; during Winter, they move into the salt or brackish waters to breed. This journey lasts only a few months and not all fish go at the same time – many don’t go at all.

To an angler, this means that once you learn to read your local or favourite stretches of water, year-round bass fishing awaits you, with a variety of lure techniques at your disposal.

Being fortunate enough to live on the NSW North Coast, I’m absolutely spoilt in terms of the number and variety of rivers that I can choose from which hold really good populations of seriously big bass. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with chucking lures to eager but basically small fish in heavily-fished metropolitan rivers. I did it myself for many years and enjoyed every moment of it. But after fishing for bass up here for the past four years, I’ve learnt a few things.

Bass don’t rate until they’re over 45cm; they’re called bass if you let them go; they’re called perch if you eat them; and they’re red bass if they’ve got fangs!

Essentially, there are two forms of bass fishing which I enjoy most and they both involve using hard-bodied lures, either hard-bodied shallow divers or hard-bodied surface lures.

For me, bass fishing is all about spectacular river scenery, plenty of bankside snags, lily beds, boulder banks and overhanging trees that provide shade on even the hottest days.

At times I’ll fish bigger and deeper downstream waters on the Clarence or Macleay rivers with spinnerbaits and weighted soft plastics but, in general, I restrict most of my social fishing to small coastal creeks and big-river tributaries.

In these skinny systems, the water depth and variety of bankside structure means that I rarely switch on a sounder, I could probably stand up if I fell in and nearly all of my fishing relies on accurate casting to visible structure.

There’s a decade of coastal fishing and exploring just waiting anyone who wants to find it along the North Coast. Even on the more popular stretches, it’s rare to see another boat or canoe on the water.

In the minds of many, random bankside casting for bass is inconsistent and scattergun in its approach and is an old-school way of targeting the species. But when it’s done with thought and accuracy, it can be a red-hot method of locking horns with some of the biggest and most dominant fish across a long length of waterway.

After fishing for mangrove jacks with live bait during part of this season, I’ve hooked as many as 11 fish on mullet from the one snag – a snag we normally make a handful of lure casts at and move on. Recently we landed six fish between 45cm and 50cm from one average-sized log, after first working the same trunk over with a variety of proven lures three days in a row without so much as a follow.

I’m yet to try the live-bait experiment on bass – something inside me won’t let me do it – but with half a dozen live shrimp or cicadas on board, I’m confident the results would be equally eye-opening.

There’s a growing suspicion in my mind that for the majority of estuary luring in search of bass, jacks or bream, particularly around dominant snags, the few fish we do tend to catch on artificials are only the tip of the iceberg.

The sheer numbers of fish that reside around available structure is something we often overlook, particularly when, for one reason or another, the bulk of the fish choose to reject our offerings. It’s worth remembering that the greater the current flow, the more fish you’ll generally find where you expect and hope them to be.

Slack water is not a particularly good time to be bankside casting for bass and jacks: We find that during these times of no flow, bass and jacks can be feeding anywhere, often in shallow or open water. On other occasions, fish stay on the snags but go into a shut-down mode and won’t start feeding again until the tidal flow returns.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I do believe that bass are one of, if not the most consistent estuarine lure-takers. Repetitive casting to the one snag is rarely successful; most fish seem to hit straight away or not at all.

DOMINANT SNAGS

The term ‘dominant snag’ is something I use fairly loosely, but given time on the water you’ll soon begin to pick out the grottos that consistently produce the most fish and you’ll see certain similarities in their features.

One of my favourite snag types is a log that falls into deep water but, on the way, extends across lily beds. Even if the bank it protrudes from is shallow, as long as the timber reaches the deeper water, the log and surrounding lily fringes will generally be holding and feeding stations for quality bass.

Other dominant snags are sunken trees on the outer corners of sharp bends and dog-legs in the river. If the river is still tidal, these areas will generally have current eddies and, in combination with some shade, can produce some very big fish from time to time.

Some rivers have significant stretches of overhanging trees that throw shade onto the water throughout most of the day. These areas can be extremely productive and will push your casting skills to the limit as you try to flight your plug beneath the overhang and to the back of a dark recess that could hold the bass of your dreams.

Regardless of the structure type, tight casting is paramount and the farther you can keep your boat or canoe away from the bank, yet still come up with the same accuracy, the better. In skinny water, bass can be easily spooked and if you’re quiet and keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll witness some amazing feeding and fearless responses to your offerings.

My rod work when using smallish shallow divers usually involves a controlled landing, followed by a lift of the rod tip, which pretty much works the lure along the surface for the first half a metre. Then I turn to a stop-start retrieve that has the little diver behaving like an insect that isn’t quite sure where it’s heading or about the danger it’s in.

I always have prefer buoyant lures that allow me the creativity to work them on the top like a surface lure, but also as a diver that can be floated over partially submerged timber.

If you’re into catching big bass on surface lures, then the North Coast has an unlimited number of rivers that provide excellent topwater action. Whether it be early in the morning, late in the afternoon or under the cloak of darkness, if you find some good mid-water weed beds with some dominant snags nearby, then all you need is to add a big fizzer, chugger, or crawler to have some serious fun.

Transparencies

1

Heading out for another day at the office on the North Coast. Unlike many southern bass waters, the North Coast has the size of fish to match the scenery.

2

Big Dave Rae with a couple of North Coast specials. The fish in his left hand rates as a quality bass

3

Steve McKenzie with a thumper of a Glenbawn fish taken on a 60mm Oar Gee.

4

John Lambert and the author took this fantastic double-header in a tributary of the Nambucca on Knol’s Natives on a falling tide in the brackish zone off a deep snag.

5

Gorge country like this holds big, hungry bass from Spring to Autumn – and even if you catch nothing, the scenery is a feast for the eyes.

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