SPRING and early Summer is a great time to be alive in South East Queensland, with many fish species really coming to life. One of my favourites is the Australian Bass. Sure - you can easily catch these guys all year round, but it’s during the warmer months that my favourite method really begins to fire. And what would be?
Surface lures! These fantastic little pieces of plastic and wood bring heart-starting strikes guaranteed to impress anyone the first time they experience it. Bass just go ballistic for them. They love nothing better than getting up in the shallows and belting a fizzer zipping above their heads.
You can target topwater bass in their natural riverine state as well as in impoundments. While there are a lot of dams that’ll produce bass, not all of them do so on the surface. Well… not consistently and reliably, anyway. The better topwater dams – Clarrie Hall, Cressbrook, Hinze, Baroon Pocket and Maroon – all share certain characteristics. These features include weed banks and lily beds, shallow sloping points and bays, and timber.
Another factor that influences how well a dam fishes on the topwater is, naturally, the main diet of the bass. Somerset and Moogerah, for example, have bonies and aren’t noted for their surface fishing, while Clarrie Hall and Maroon don’t have bonies and fish very well on the surface. As far as the bass are concerned, why bother looking up for your food when you’ve got it right there schooled up in front of you?
When topwater fishing, you need to present your lure near the food source – up tight against lily beds and across the top of the weed beds. That’s where the bass will be waiting to nail your lure. Fishing shallow bays and points is also highly productive – so much so that, when visibility permits, you can see the bow-wave of cruising fish mooching around looking for food. When this happens you can actually sight-cast to the fish, which is a rare thing for bass.
Most of the rivers that contain bass will also produce them on surface lures. This is because these rivers generally have plenty of timber (usually bankside) and overhanging foliage and shaded areas. These features just scream ‘surface fishing’!
The warmer Spring and Summer months tend to be the most productive times, but this doesn’t mean that anglers can’t do well during Winter and Autumn. One of my best sessions was on a freezing Winter’s night when the smart thing to do would have been to retire to the warmth and sanity of home. But who cares about hypothermia when you’ve nailed over 50 fish in just over three hours?
Being as light-shy as they are, the best time to fish for bass is between dusk and dawn and during other periods of low light. It’s great that the fish prefer these kind of hours, because life can get uncomfortable in Summer – particularly on those stinking hot days when the only sign of activity is the constant noise from water skiers. At times like these, launching your boat just before sunset and fishing into the cool of the night is a great idea. And for me, there aren’t too many things more enjoyable than a moonlit night on Maroon surrounded by aggressive bass eager to tear my fizzer from the tranquil surface.
The best outfit for topwater fishing for bass is pretty much the same as what you’d use for casting crankbaits and small spinnerbaits. I prefer a rod that’s around 6’6” and rated around the 2-4kg mark. The length enables me to get that extra distance, which is a big bonus because it allows me to cover that much more water.
I like to match this rod to a spin reel as opposed to a baitcaster. I do most of my surface fishing at night or during periods of low light, and using a spinning reel means there’s one less cast to go wrong (i.e. backlashes). Gelspun line is best. At night, while you’ll usually hear the strike, it’s through the rod hand that you’ll confirm that you’re connected, and the low-stretch properties will transmit the hook-up far more efficiently. This is vital when you’re dealing with a fish that can bring you undone in the initial stages of the fight.
Now to the exciting part of the equipment: the lures. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to surface lures, owning more of these guys than any other style, and I’m always excited when a new surface lure arrives on the market.
Most of the lures that I favour for surface bassin’ fit into either the fizzer or popper category. Many fishos have big raps on paddlers, but I’ve never done that well with them (that doesn’t mean that they don’t work though). Some of my favourite fizzers are the enigmatic Heddon Tiny Torpedo, Bill’s Bugs, Producer Turbo and the Cotton Cordell Crazy Shad.
Popper-wise, there are a few more to choose from on the tackle shelves. One of my newest discoveries has been the Rebel Crickhopper Popper (also good on bream), and some other proven models include the Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R (the 2” and 2 1/2” versions), Arbogast Wobble Pop and River 2 Sea Bubble Pop. This last one worked exceptionally well for us at the last Clarrie Hall Bass Classic, getting us our larger fish.
Larger fish can be picky when deciding what they’ll take off the surface. The more subtle presentations are often what will bring about their undoing, and one of the better lures for this is the stick bait. The 3” Heddon Puppy is productive and easily available, and the next big bass that’s fooled by one of these certainly won’t be the last.
Because it’s not always possible to catch bass on the surface, it’s that much more special when it happens. You won’t always catch endless numbers of fish, but nailing just one a fish on a surface lure is worth catching five on a crankbait or soft plastic. To me it is, anyway!
Another bonuses of using surface lures is they can allow you to draw those larger fish, and what better time for this to occur than during that precious dawn period in a tournament? These lures might have a comparatively low strike to hook-up ratio, but the advantages far outweigh this shortfall. And naturally, honing your angling skills will go a long way to improving your results.
So with the warmer days and the increase in wildlife activity upon us, make the most of it! Grab your canoe or boat, hit the waterways, and get amongst the bass. There are few things better than mooching along a weed line with only the sound of the electric motor whirring away, while you cast poppers and fizzers at rises and boils that pop up in front of you. The feeling when the fish glides into the net is second only to that priceless instant when it detonates on your fizzer!
1) When the sun is up, concentrate on shady areas with surface lures.
2) Shallow snaggy or lily-lined areas are an idea feeding place for bass in low light.
3) There’s no problem getting your hands on a decent selection of bass surface lures. Most tackles stores stock a variety in the right size range.
4) The Rapala SkitterPop requires a bit of skill to work properly. Try to work it quietly for best results.Reads: 333