Reading bass water
  |  First Published: February 2008

One of the most important aspects of successful fishing is being able to read the water so we can determine where to fish and then how to fish our chosen spot.

We've all heard about ‘reading’ a beach, in other words picking the difference between a deep gutter, a small hole, a rip or a sand spit. Then once we can start to understand exactly what we're looking at, the next step is to work out what tactics to apply.

This principle applies to reading potential bass water. Sure, many anglers who regularly fish freshwater will probably have a sounder on board and that can make things much easier. Water depth, temperature, bottom structure and fish aggregations can be seen on a sounder but that's only part of the picture.

We still have to work out what lure or retrieve technique may be the best approach.

What about those of us fishing from a small canoe or even on foot? No sounder? No problem. It's time to open your eyes and take a good look at the water, bankside structure or the surrounding terrain.

Much like reading a beach, a high vantage point will provide a much greater view when we first glance at a new stretch of water and a decent pair of polarised sunnies are invaluable for spotting underwater structure. At times you'll even be able to spot the bass themselves. The more you look, the more you'll see.


Bass fishing in big tidal rivers like the Clarence, Macleay or Hawkesbury can be spectacular, with some of our biggest wild bass calling such waterways home. Such huge rivers can, however, be a bit daunting when it comes to picking a suitable stretch of water to fish.

To get started, there are just a few basic guidelines to follow. Through the warmer months most bass are found further upstream in purely freshwater and as we move into the colder months, most adult fish try to make their way downstream into slightly salt or brackish water. At this point we should keep in mind that there is now a closed season for bass fishing each year from the June 1 to August 31.

Seasonal movements of bass are also influenced by rain or lack of it, so the more rain a catchment has received, the more likely bass are to have moved further downstream during Winter. In really dry times, salinity levels may be quite high in the upper reaches of a river and so the bass may not migrate very far down at all.

Once a major stretch of river has been picked out, we then have to determine smaller sections that may be worth fishing.

Bankside structure is the first thing to look out for. Weed beds, rocks, boulders, points, sharp bends, bridges and fallen timber can attract and hold bass.

A reliable food source, in the form of shrimp, whitebait, crabs, yabbies or herring should also be present if bass are to be found in numbers. This is the stage where we may need to be more observant and wear those polarised sunnies to help see into the water.

If there's not a lot of life down below, what about insect activity above ? Beetles, flying ants, cicadas and moths are something to keep an eye out for and, more specifically, dense congregations of any of these sorts of insects.


If we can work out to some extent the major food source in an area it will help when it comes to lure choice. Surface poppers or fizzers work well when insect activity is greater. Thin-profile plastics like Berkley Bass Minnows and Atomic Jerk Minnows are effective if whitebait are present and prawn imitations like Atomic Prongs are obviously suitable if prawns or shrimp appear to be on the menu.

If it's difficult to see exactly what may be the more dominant food source in any area, it's probably a good idea to try the ever-reliable lures like spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits, lipless crankbaits and diving minnows. I always go back to a small to medium spinnerbait as a reliable starting point.

Water depth is another factor to consider. Around quite shallow weed beds you may like to try surface lures, even through the middle of the day, because they can be worked over the top of thick weed without snagging up too easily.

In much deeper spots of 4m or more, my first choice would be a Chatterbait that can be allowed to sink and hopped along the bottom in much the same way as one would work a soft plastic for flathead.

For those who prefer lipless crankbaits, Lucky Craft LVs, Jackalls and TD Vibrations are some other highly successful deepwater lures.

Most lures can be worked in average depths of between 2m and 4m with varying success. Once again, spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits are my first choice when it comes to casting along weed beds, steep banks and fallen timber, while bibbed lures like Viking Talismans are great for slowly trolling adjacent to the same types of structure.


Some of us will have favourite lure colours that we tend to go back to time and again. Purple has become mine over the past 18 months, although black, white, green, orange, brown and chartreuse are all quite popular and effective. Steve Prott has a very interesting article on clear lures for bass in Fishing Monthly's CATCH annual which is well worth reading, so that's another colour or ‘non-colour’ choice to think about in some situations.

If you're still a bit confused, here are a few basic guidelines that most experienced bass anglers go by.

• In dirty or muddy water try black or dark purple on a lure that has a lot of flash or vibration so it's easier for fish to locate. The same theory also applies when fishing after dark.

• In very clear water try subtle or natural colours like pale olive, light brown or as Steve Prott suggests, clear lures.

• A wider range of in between colours may be effective in slightly discoloured water or through daylight hours.


Bass can be found in very small pockets of shallow water, particularly in small, secluded streams. No water really is too shallow for a bass to swim in, although they generally prefer the safety of a shaded rocky overhang, weed bed or fallen tree if they can get it.

The top or bottom ends of a pool are also more attractive to bass than the middle, unless there is some form of structure in the middle.

I used to neglect one particular shallow pool on a North Coast river, simply paddling past it on the way to the next, much deeper, pool. That changed when one day I spotted a huge submerged tree right in the middle of the pool.

With the aid of polarised sunnies I spotted a number of bass, as well as a few bream, eels and catfish all hanging under the shade of the old tree trunk. It didn't take long to catch a couple of bass from it and every time since then, that shallow pool became a stop-off point that was well worth a few casts.

A key aspect of fishing very skinny water is to realise that bass can probably see you before you can see them. So it makes sense to wear dull clothing or even camo colours and very quietly creep along, casting ahead of you as you go.


• Take note of the season and recent rainfall to work out which part of a river to fish.

• Keep an eye out to observe any sign of aquatic or insect life that bass may feed on.

• Select lures that are roughly the same size, shape or colour of such food items.

• Wear polarised sunglasses which will help you see into the water.

• Bass can swim in very shallow water at times so don't neglect the shallows.

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