The Hawkesbury-Nepean has been going berserk over the past few months, with bass and estuary perch providing plenty of excitement.
However, many anglers I’ve talked to have found that yesterday’s oasis can be today's wilderness. Where 30 or more bass can be pulled in an afternoon from one area, can produce zip the very next day. Those who have been getting consistent results have been covering different sections of water, rather than sticking to favourite spots.
The Colo has been going off as well. Water temperatures can be very high during Summer in the Colo, hitting 28°. The active range for bass is considered to be 15° to 25°, so above this bass often aren’t co-operative. Fishing slower for them, getting lures in close to their hideouts and finding cooler water would be useful tactics.
Creeks will also continue to fire well, as they have done for the past few months. There are plenty of creeks with outstanding fishing and kayaks and canoes are the best way to access them. For others it’s a case of putting on your walking shoes.
Since the heavy rains of October, a lot of creeks once full of sand banks have been flushed clean and are starting to produce great fish, as they did before the long dry spell.
Surface lures have been smashed by bass fighting well above their weight, with mid-30cm fish pulling like much larger fish. With plenty of insect and aquatic life about, this is the time to get out your favourite surface lures. Early morning and evening are the times to work the surface.
However, there are times when surface lures will work throughout the day, especially when there is plenty of cloud cover, rain or in the shadows of cliffs or overhanging vegetation. Bass can then remain closer to the surface all day. For challenging fishing, place a cast into the shadows under a thick overhanging vegetation.
Losing a few lures can be frustrating, especially if it’s a favourite or they’re hard to come by, but I reckon there aren’t too many complaints when you pull top fish from their lairs. These fish can be unforgiving on dodgy knots or poor technique, so take your time to get it right.
Start by choosing a surface lure that represents the size and type of prey the bass are feeding on. Look and listen for what is about in the area. Perhaps there are black beetles, moths, crickets or prawns flicking the surface. The unmistakable drone of cicadas will be obvious. Around the Colo and other areas downstream, there are plenty of crabs as well.
Another way of finding what prey is nearby is to look out for the eastern water dragon. These reptiles love feeding on small animals such as frogs, crabs, small lizards and insects, which bass also like. Be careful, though: A water dragon has no hesitation in going after your lure and they are all claws, teeth and bad manners if you hook one!
Having worked out what you think is on the bass menu, try to match it with your surface lure. Fly-rodders have plenty of choices and if there’s not a fly to match the prey, you can tie one at home or have it made for you.
When you have tied on the right presentation, put it in as close as you dare to the strike zone. The mood of the bass, will determine how forgiving you can be with a poor cast. When the bass are in a full feeding frenzy, they’ll chase down a lure or fly from some distance and sometimes will compete with each other.
At other times, shut-down bass aren’t willing to chase a presentation far, which calls for patience and accurate casting or going home with a long face.
When the lure or fly hits the water, resist the urge to retrieve immediately. Let the ripples disappear or count to 10 or more. It can be agonising but it is tempting to bass sensing something in their territory – either food or an intruder.
Sometimes a surface lure or fly will be smashed on splashdown. Other days, a quick retrieve will work, while a slower retrieve is also tempting. Experiment.
On a trip to Lake St Clair a while back I witnessed the most amazing surface bass activity I have seen. At 4.30pm the dinner bell went and bass starting smashing prey on the surface all around me. You would have thought that an incredible afternoon of fishing was about to happen but no matter what I tried, no surface lure or fly would get them interested. The small black insects they were feeding on were too attractive.
Only one chunky bass took my black River 2 Sea Buggi and everything else drew a blank. Frustrated, I turned to the one lure that had produced all day. Breaking the usual conventions, I tied on my expensive lipless Jackall and retrieved it about 60cm below the surface – bingo! Despite the surface feeding frenzy, a deeper lure was the answer.
Sometimes people won’t talk much about their lack of success for fear of being seen as poor anglers, but sometimes you have to open your mouth as well as your ears to learn things.
I was talking to fishing mate Dave George about what had happened at St Clair, and his eyes lit up. He recalled being at John Bethune’s bass clinic at Bakers Creek Station a few years ago. With John watching from the bank, Dave was surrounded by the constant surface strikes of bass smacking insects. With the frustration rising and a heavyweight audience, Dave thinned out his surface alternatives fast. A Taylor Made Nugget, worked a metre down, produced constant action.
In late September Mick Roberts from the Australian Bass Angler in Penrith pulled a 502mm bass from near the M4 bridge at Penrith on a surface lure just before noon. It was a technique many anglers would not have chosen at that time of day.
Catching good numbers of fish or hooking a trophy like Mick’s can require stepping outside traditional boundaries. A lot of the techniques that we take for granted were discovered by accident or simply by daring to be different. In hard fished waters, especially, being different can work.
Bass anglers with a sense of adventure make a real effort to find little-fished water. The effort to get to such areas can be daunting but the rewards can be fantastic. There are all sorts of considerations when attempting to find such places, including the angler’s physical fitness, outdoor capabilities, access to the water, the terrain and potential hazards.
It’s best never to overestimate your capabilities because what appears easy on a map is often far more difficult in real life. If there’s any doubt, find an easier place to fish. No fish is worth your safety or of your mate’s.
There are plenty of places accessible through Crown land and any good topographical map should show these. If access is through private property, ask the owner’s permission before fishing. Word gets around pretty quickly among property owners when anglers do the wrong thing and ‘no trespassing’ signs go up.
If you’ve got kids, take them out for a fish over the Christmas break. They’ll love you for it, even though it can be a little frustrating trying to fish at the same time. Whether it’s bass, mullet, carp or any of the other fish about, there’s plenty of action to be had. My little fella, Nathan, is two this month and he loves his fishing already. It had to happen!
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While it's bass and estuary perch that make the news most of the time, mullet are real speedsters on light gear. There are plenty about at the moment and they make an ideal target when taking the kids fishing. Just remember to hang onto them!
Andrew Bagley caught this 375mm bass on a Betts Spin with a purple grub in the Devlin stretch of the Nepean. From a canoe or kayak, fish like this can make you feel like you're on the spin cycle in a huge washing machine.Reads: 517