Here on the tablelands it’s prime time for native fishing. The bass will be really starting to fire in the nearby rivers and we’re finally allowed to have a crack at the cod, now that the closed season is over.
But first up, I’d like to share a little story with you.
Matt Graham and I recently went on a little scouting trip into one of the headwaters of the Macleay River. After what felt like an interminable descent down a washed-out 4WD track, we arrived to find that the drought had reduced the river to a tiny trickle between occasional weed-choked pools. It was far from inspiring and barely worth fishing.
More from an unwillingness to face the climb out so soon than a hope of finding fish, we ventured along the river until we finally found a deeper pool with enough water to throw a fly in. A thick cover of callistemon shrouded the opposite bank, looking like a prime hangout for any bass that couldn’t get downstream in Autumn.
Two hours later, innumerable fly changes and more casts than the emergency ward after a football riot, we nothing to show for our effort – not even a swirl. The only fish we saw were the numerous monster mullet we spooked as we waded up the pool.
Facing an inevitable failure we did the only thing left to do. “Might as well soak up the serenity while we’re here, eh?” said Matt. We got a fire going, cooked a fistful of sausages and sprawled out in the shade for a snooze.
Refuelled and revitalized, we stirred as the sun disappeared behind the ridge and the shadows lengthened across the pool. If there were any bass here (and there just had to be), this would be the time to stir a response.
Opting for the most productive technique (I just told him he was being a piker), Matt switched to a light spin-rod loaded with a small, clear soft plastic grub. I stuck with the fly and tied on a foam bug in the hope that the fish would be out and hunting fallen insects in the late afternoon light.
Fishing back down the pool, things still didn’t feel right. Umpteen casts to likely cover and inviting outcrops produced no movement and we were starting to feel jaded. Just as we were about to head home, a plump bass materialised under my rod tip – nowhere near my fly!
At first I thought I was seeing things but then it was joined by several of its brethren. They seemed more curious of our presence than interested in a feed and a cast from Matt right on their noses confirmed this. The ensuing minutes were a comic act of multiple fly and lure changes, all received with renewed curiosity from the bass.
The offering would arrive with a faint plop and the whole tribe would rush over, fins erect, but still maintaining a healthy distance. Eventually, their attention started to wane and, one by one, they left the little window in front of us.
By now I had run out of bass flies and was tying on a size 12 Woolly Bugger from my trout box. As our last visitor started to mooch off, I hurriedly finished my knot and flicked the fly out in its path. The initial reaction was no different from the earlier ones: Fins erect, the fish swam over to the fly cautiously and paused 20cm away.
I started a retrieve of short little strips and then the bass rolled forward and followed only centimetres off the fly’s tail. I paused and it did the same, seemingly mesmerised by the subtle flash in the Woolly Bugger’s tail. It was so close that the marabou could have tickled its nose. To break the stalemate I twitched the line and was rewarded with a flash of bronze.
“Yeeeessssssss!” Using the rod to cushion the fish’s lunges on the 6lb tippet (put on to fit through the eye of the fly) it still took only a short time to subdue. At 35cm it was far from a milestone, but possibly one of the most rewarding I’ve caught.
For a short while I stood there, master of deception – fly-fishing genius, even! Then suddenly my illusions of grandeur were shattered when Matt pinned another small fish on a bright chartreuse spinnerbait. Oh well, you get that.
The point I’m trying to get across is that whether it takes skill, experimentation or good old-fashioned ‘arse’, it’s the people who keep trying something different (or just keep on trying!) who get results. In many situations, whether it be fishing for bass or other species, the person with a line in the water is going to have more success than the one who doesn’t.
Incidentally, one of the first bass I caught on fly was fooled by none other than a Royal Wulff – another example of thinking outside the square by using ‘trout’ flies, and getting results. Royal Wulffs and small nymphs also work a treat on the monster freshwater mullet in the Macleay. But that might have to be saved for another column.
A rather concerning issue that has recently come to light has the potential to do more damage to the New England trout fishery than the last hundred years’ worth of droughts. A melodramatic opening I know, but I believe it is warranted.
A short while ago I found out a couple of the Tablelands’ premier trout streams had not been stocked this season and in anticipation of a directive from by DPI Fisheries administration. This was the result of trout being identified as a ‘key threatening process’ for several endangered animals in or near these streams.
Local stocking groups are appealing in the hope of a compromise but no one seems to be holding their breath. The threatened species at the root of the issue is the stuttering frog. However, the glandular frog, Booralong frog and a species of spiny crayfish have also been identified as threatened in the New England area.
What hard evidence is there that trout are the major cause of a reduction of numbers in these species? I like to think of myself as an environmentally-minded person and would be more than happy to accept a temporary moratorium on stocking while research is carried out – as would most other anglers.
If there is convincing evidence that trout are to blame, then cessation of stocking can be justified. Instead, it seems that the responsible authorities are just going to stop stocking and hope that no one kicks up a fuss.
After phoning many numbers, it has become increasingly obvious that the only person allowed to discuss this issue is the DPI Fisheries media and they’re not returning my calls.
The big thing on most peoples mind’s come December is Murray cod season. With the good rain at the end of October and early November, the rivers should have at least a little more water than in recent seasons. After the breeding season the cod tend to be hungry and, combined with the warmer water this month, we can expect some exciting fishing.
I’ve always found December and January great times for night fishing with surface lures. The few nights leading up to the full moon are particularly productive and the best lure I’ve found for this fishing is the Mudeye Depthcharge, produced by Inverell lure-maker Jamie Flett.
Jamie is arguably the best cod fisherman in the New England area and when he’s not in his workshop making lures he’s out on the water testing them. This shows through in the catch rates of his range of awesome lures. These days, the Depthcharge is the first lure I tie on at night and I don’t think I’ve ever had to change it to get a strike.
During the day, deep-diving lures with a slow, wide wobble do the trick but the past couple of seasons I’ve been leaning more and more towards large spinnerbaits.
The big 3/4oz AusSpin Twin Spins with Colorado blades and a purple skirt are my favourites and will often pin fish when nothing else is working for me.
Many folk still don’t use spinnerbaits, believing that they won’t work for them or that they are cheating (try figuring that one out!). These people are really missing out.
If you haven’t given it a go, pop into your local tackle shop and grab a handful. There are many different tricks and techniques to get the most out of these lures but I still like a straight-out slow retrieve. Cast the spinnerbait out, let it sink, then just try and get it back!
After a long day full of multiple lure changes and no interest from fish, Matt Graham finally pinned this plump little river bass on a single-bladed AusSpin spinnerbait.
Even when the fishing is slow, the scenery of the New England gorges makes your day worthwhile.Reads: 598