PHIL BENNETT gives some profound observations on how to make the most of a great time of year for chasing bass.
With the weather warming, many resident bass shake off the cold-water blues and start to actively feed again.
That’s not say they don’t feed during the cooler months, it’s more a case of intensity. Spring sees many fish fire up after the Winter chill, feeding strongly right through Summer and into late Autumn again. This first period of warm weather heralds the start of nearly six months of exciting bass spinning.
Like many keen bass fishos, I particularly enjoy the exciting warm-weather surface-feeding action.
Spring is a time when many insects emerge and clumsily buzz to close to the water’s edge or surface. For hungry bass this is a time of plenty as they capitalise on the abundant new food supplies.
For anglers it’s time to break out the surface plugs again, working stickbaits, fizzers, poppers and bloopers again in earnest.
While bass are actively feeding close to and on the surface during Spring, it’s certainly not their favourite place to reside.
There are still plenty of bass anglers out there who firmly believe bass are mid-water to surface-dwelling fish but if truth be known, they spend far more time deep alongside boulders and literally inside fallen logs and stumps, lying on the bottom and cautiously cruising the deep edges of weed beds and holes.
Basically, bass are very opportunistic feeders so if there’s an easy, non-threatening meal struggling above their heads, more than likely they’ll contemplate eating it.
A single fish is far more likely to sit back and think about taking a surface lure but if its mates are close by, it will usually strike with gusto.
From above the waterline, surface-feeding bass seem fearless and extremely aggressive but down below it’s another story.
I’ve had bass in tanks for the past 15 years and they’re certainly not the gung-ho fish many folks think they are.
Place a grasshopper or any other smallish live insect on the surface and they instantly know it’s there. The second it moves you can see the fins twitch but usually they don’t rush out madly and belt it unless they’re super-hungry or another fish might beat them to it.
More often then not they’ll stare up eagerly, seemingly building enough courage to take a swing. Then, with one determined strike they’ll charge, belting the living stuffing out if it.
If they miss a first attempt, often the bass will scoot back under the log, take a few deep breaths and contemplate another shot a few minutes down the track.
Bass have bloody good memories, too. The ones I’ve had in tanks soon learn what’s good and bad to eat.
One day a colourful Christmas beetle smacked into the window. Within seconds, I grabbed it, took the glass lid off the tank and flung it in.
One bass charged out excitedly, only to stop mere centimetres below the twitching beetle. Cautiously, it rose up nose-first, like an educated brown trout, but the flailing beetle’s legs found a firm hold on the fish’s snout.
Like a shot dog, the bass charged around the tank, trying to scrub off the beetle, eventually scraping it free on the submerged log. From that day on that fish never even looked at a Chrissy beetle again.
Other food items were never refused, with the absolute front-runner being witchetty grubs. I could hold a grub six metres from the tank and the bass would be staring directly at me, following every move I made.
Within a metre or two, they’d pace up and down the glass. Opening the lid to put in a grub was a tad scary, with boisterous strikes sending water flying.
Not far behind were earthworms. Wriggling worms held metres from the tank got a similar response. It seemed that anything soft and squishy was pure gold. Food that was hard and spiky was way down the list.
So what does all this bass tank stuff mean? Put simply, while bass are quite happy to feed on hard, spiky lures on the surface, most would much prefer a soft, squishy sub-surface offering like a rubber worm or grub.
That’s not to say sub-surface offerings are more effective, because pure hunger and competition means surface lures get belted regularly. It’s just the sub-surface offerings tend to be taken with far less forethought and caution.
But, like most bass fishos, I’d much prefer to flick surface lures around, perhaps settling for slightly fewer fish.
No matter what lure you end up tying on, Springtime bass fishing can be pretty spectacular. We’ve had days on the Macleay and other recognised bass hot spots that can see you hooked up from virtually the time you arrive until the time you finally decide to leave.
On such days the tally of bass caught can hit the roof. But, as with all fishing, the fish aren’t always suicidal and it’s usually the thinking angler who finds the most fish.
Anglers used to working pretty hard for their fish usually have the best results on Spring bass. Many anglers are used to putting in just that little extra effort needed in more difficult systems.
Successful anglers tend to be the ones with good casting skills who can place a surface plug, minnow or spinnerbait within centimetres of the chosen target. Lures landed tight to weed beds, rocky foreshores and deep under over-hanging timber invariably find the most co-operative fish – particularly when fishing a few hours either side of the prime times of dawn and dusk.
When the sun is low, casting accuracy isn’t as important. You still need to be able to cast reasonably well but you’ll find many fish are already starting to scout about looking for easy targets.
Once the sun sets completely in some healthier systems you can literally throw the lure over your shoulder and reasonably expect to find a fish.
There’s an interesting fishery I’ve been enjoying for quite a few years where schools of herring rise to the surface late in the afternoon, flick around vigorously until the sun sets and then go quiet again for the night.
I’m not sure if it’s purely a North Coast thing, but one thing is for sure: It’s the catalyst for some of the most exciting bass fishing you’ll encounter.
With the water warming in Spring the herring become increasingly active and, surprise, surprise, there usually is a mob of hungry bass rounding them up.
When the herring really get going, glassy sections of river look like it’s started to rain. By flicking various surface lures where you see the most action, success usually isn’t very far away.
Some of my bigger bass, around 50cm, have been caught this way, often slugging it out mid-river in deep, snag-free water.
Bass fishing in Spring can be very rewarding. It’s a time when many fish that have been quite dormant suddenly fire up and feed actively again.
For any serious bass anglers it’s arguably the best time of year to be on the water chasing these great little sport fish.
SPRING BASS TIPS
• Hone your casting skills before setting out – it’ll save quite a few trips freeing up lures in bankside vegetation and accuracy will increase your strike rate.
• Fish early and late for best results.
• Be alert to baitfish and insect activity, wherever it may appear.
• Bass can be shy critters: give them time to overcome their bashfulness. Especially if it’s a surface lure, they may have to move quite some distance to approach it.
• If surface lures and crankbaits aren’t producing, try dropping in a soft, juicy plastic grub or worm.
• Continue fishing into darkness, especially if there is a lot of insect activity.