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Wild River Bassin’
  |  First Published: April 2003



ONE of the greatest fishing revolutions in recent times has been the expansion and development of impoundment fishing in Australia. And perhaps no species has benefited more from the evolution that the Australian bass.

Who’d have thought 10 years ago that there would be dedicated bass tournaments, and that one species would be largely responsible for the development of purpose-built boats and have such an influence over the gear stocked in tackle stores? These new techniques and equipment are now readily used, and in many cases mastered, by anglers up and down Australia’s east coast.

The excitement that comes with riding the crest of the wave that is impoundment bass fishing can be all-consuming at times, and it can be easy to forget that bass can be caught in places other than stocked dams.

Large majestic rivers that punctuated the east coast of Australia used to be the domain of large and powerful bass, and the small backwatered creeks were perfect places to tramp the countryside by foot or visit by canoe. These days you may have look and work a little bit harder, but there are still many locations that can produce consistent, and sometimes exceptional, wild river fishing.

WHERE

The true centre of wild bass fishing would have to be Central to Northern NSW. The region has some of the most famous bass fishing rivers in Australia. The Clarence, Richmond, Nymboida, Mann and Macleay Rivers, along with the numerous tributaries that make up their relevant catchments, are perfect places to begin catching bass in the wild.

As you move further up the east coast, getting closer to the Queensland–NSW border, the Tweed River becomes one of the better options. While the system suffers heavily from agricultural practices in the region, it still produces consistent results. The bass numbers may not match those of rivers to the south, but the existence of trophy-sized fish within the system act as a real drawcard.

As you make your way north of the border, the fishing becomes a little less reliable, and in most cases you’ll have to look a little harder and work a bit more studiously to get a near equal result.

In the late 1990s the region was fortunate to receive a substantial dumping of rain. It was enough to liberate thousands of bass into the rivers and creeks that exist below the dams. While a large percentage of these fish succumbed to the heavy angling pressure that was thrust upon them, there are still populations of escapees in the rivers, and they’re there waiting for anglers to seek them out.

The body of water that benefited most from the deluge was the Brisbane River. The months following the flood saw exceptional fishing. The quantity and quality has diminished since these glory days, but the fish are still there, and should be considered a precious and valuable fishery considering their existence so close to the hustle and bustle of the Brisbane metropolitan area.

For a truly remote and pristine experience there’s probably no greater place to visit than the Noosa River. The upper reaches are some of the purest bass habitat you’ll find in the region, and are held in high affection by many of the pioneering bass anglers. These fishos value the area as one of the more time-honoured wild bass fishing locations in Queensland.

Further north, you can find the odd bass in many of the creeks and rivers, though local knowledge and inside information are largely required for success. Some rivers have had their stocks enhanced though, and are now reliable and consistent fisheries. The Burrum River, which lies below Lenthalls Dam, is one example. This river also contains barra and mangrove jack, making it an ideal place to launch a canoe and spend a day fishing the lily-lined waters.

WHEN

When you think about chasing bass in the wild, it’s common to associate the fishing with warm and balmy Spring days and Summer nights. While these are largely the optimum months to target bass, it doesn’t mean that it’s fruitless to spend time chasing these fish in the cooler months. Spring and Summer do see an increase in the level of surface activity and fish caught on the topwater, but Autumn and Winter can enable you to get amongst the larger fish that are fuller in condition and often easier to locate.

Periods of drought and flood can place considerable stress upon the species, greatly affecting their behaviour and physical condition. The seasonal climate fluctuations also impact on the abundance of bass, where they’re caught and their size. The biological clock of the bass sees them spend the warmer months in the freshwater reaches, and then move into the saltwater and brackish reaches during Winter and Autumn to spawn.

HOW

The type of craft that’s most suited to this style of fishing is different from what’s customarily used when fishing impoundments. You can use a more traditional bass boat in some locations, such as the lower reaches of the Clarence, with the area around Copmanhurst being one of the most popular. However, in most cases, and particularly in Queensland, your craft needs to be smaller, lighter, and easier to man handle.

The size of the vessel is best matched to the size of the water you’re fishing. As the waterway gets smaller you downsize in craft, from boat to canoe, to kayak, and finally to foot. I prefer to fish from one of the red Coleman Canadian canoes. They’re robust, light, easy to handle by one person, and are as stable as a canoe as you can get. And when matched up to an electric motor, they make travelling considerable distances an easy task.

TACKLE

The tackle best suited for catching wild bass is practically the same as impoundment bass tackle. One thing to remember, however, is that rods no longer than 6’6” in length are the go – especially when fishing from a canoe or on foot in heavily vegetated countryside. The decision on spin or baitcaster is a personal one, though you should consider the design and size of lure you’re using when making your choice.

The most popular lures when fishing for bass in the wild used to be diving crankbaits. However, while they’re a great lure, I think the spinnerbaits are the best all-round lure in the rivers and creeks. From small 1/8oz in skinny little creeks to 1/2oz and 1oz in deep running areas like the Clarence Gorge, they’re an excellent option. You can buzz them across the surface in low light conditions or slow roll them through a heavily timbered section sitting in a deep hole on the outside bend of a river.

If most people had the choice, however, I’m sure they’d opt for catching bass on surface lures to clock up the numbers. To most people, catching a 50cm+ bass in the wild rates higher than one caught in a dam, and catching a bass on a surface lure rates higher than catching one on any other lure. That means catching a bass on a surface lure in the wild may be as good as it gets!

However, the ability of today’s bass anglers to target fish with lures that in the past they would have been hesitant to use, will result in an increasing number of wild bass being caught on a greater variety of lures. In many situations I think some of these previously unused lures would be the best tool for the job.

CONSIDERATIONS

Australian bass have been victims of ill-considered agricultural, urban, and industrial practices over the years, resulting in reduced fish numbers. One of the measures introduced to address the downward spiral of the bass populations is the introduction of a closed season to give them protection during their breeding phase. This regulation currently exists only in Queensland, and runs from June 1 to August 30. All year round there’s a minimum size limit of 30cm, and a bag limit of two fish in possession. NSW also has a bag limit of two fish, but a larger minimum size of 35cm.

I highly recommend that all fish caught be released. These guys suffer enough from loss of habitat, so try not to add another straw to the camel’s back by killing them. The loss of bass fishing in the wild would be a great shame, as they are enjoyable to catch.

1) Small plug-shaped divers and surface lures cast well into cover and attract wild bass.

2) Surface lures can be particularly effective in low-light conditions.

3) Canoes are an excellent way to access small water.

4) Always concentrate on thick structure as it holds predators year-round.

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