Somerset’s full and bass are on
  |  First Published: June 2009

One of my favourite flyfishing destinations during July and August has to be Somerset Dam, about a two-hour drive from Brisbane. I've received various emails on fishing Somerset, which indicate I'm certainly not alone in my affection for the big bass that live in its waters.

This year, however, things are a bit different. The dam we have known for the past three years has changed shape: it has expanded to take in a lot more country and has overflowed for the first time in many years. Fishing in Somerset Dam with the current high water levels is going to be quite different from what we've experienced in the last five years.

Rules of Play

Permit requirements are the same as for Somerset’s sister dam, Wivenhoe, on the Brisbane River. You will need an SEQ Water permit to get your boat on the water, and a standard SIP (Stocked Impoundment Permit) to cover fishing while on the dam. Normal outboard engines are permitted but an electric motor is a valuable asset for positioning your boat quietly.

Camping is available at either the Kirkleagh camping area on the northern end of the dam or at the town of Somerset just below the dam wall. Either venue will allow you to access the dam from around daylight during winter.

Working the shallows

Lake Somerset is currently undergoing a unique transition, fishing-wise. Large areas of grass that have flourished when the water levels were low are now completely submerged or, as is the case around the edges, standing in water. As the cattle have sounded the retreat, the bass have advanced. If there is one thing that these battlers do enjoy it’s a nice little romp in freshly submerged pasture, especially those areas that are in less than a couple of metres of water. It's here that crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, lizards and other goodies can be found. Small baitfish will also forage in these shallow areas, and bass are quick to zero in on them as well.

While the drowned grass is relatively fresh, anglers will find great opportunities for lake's edge fishing with floating fly lines and big bushy flies such as the Dahlberg Diver, Gartside Gurgler, Grabham's (Google these patterns as the tying details are easy to follow) and other surface offerings that bass hammer at times of low light.

Note that 'other surface offerings ' can include a simple popper made by gluing a cork onto a size one or size two hook, adding some flash for a tail and giving the body a coat of dull coloured paint.

Whichever fly you use, the idea is to cast it into breaks or lanes in the grass, allow it to sit for around 20 seconds, and then give it the tiniest tweak to induce the fish to take it. My experience indicates that continued pops and bloops don’t seem to work as well as just giving the fly a slight bit of movement now and again.

Fortunately for the fly angler, bass feeding around the edges by no means restrict their diet to tucker that's floating. These fish will also happily whack a sub-surface fly worked around the sticks and twigs at daylight or late afternoon. Again, the idea is to make a long cast and then bring the fly back at just enough speed to prevent it from snagging on submerged foliage.

After a few cast and retrieve sessions the timing will start to sink into your cranial computer; nothing speeds up a retrieve like catching the fly up and having to clear it after every cast. Know this though: bass are quite capable of grabbing a wet fly retrieved very quickly through standing grass, weed beds and the like, and sometimes the faster the retrieve the more they like it.

While the floating line is paramount when working fully floating or sinking flies in shallow water, there is another important consideration to ensure success: the stealth factor. Bass in shallow water are spooky individuals, so when you’re fishing from a boat the electric motor will play a big part in getting the fly to the fish as gently and as quietly as possible.

The clue is to cut the petrol motor at least 50m from a selected fishing spot and use the electric to glide slowly in to where you want to work your fly. Drifting is also very handy. A bit of cross wind that can keep a boat slowly moving while the team cast their flies is a blessing.

Timing is important but not crucial for success. Bass actively work the shallows during times of low light, which means that a foggy or dull morning will extend their active feeding time somewhat. Still, in a newly flooded dam such as Somerset it is amazing just how many fish can be taken by simply persevering after the sun has hit the deck, and the morning is turning into a little cracker.

My advice is that if a particular bank looks really good – there's a gentle slope into deeper water, and lots of grass is poking through the surface – then work it thoroughly. If fish are on the job and hooking up early, there is every chance that some will linger on, thus prolonging the excitement.

On the topic of floating lines, if you are in the market for one check out the Snowbee XS Extreme Distance Floating. Designation is XS-ED8F for my 8wt line and you can trust me on this: that line can really cast a big bulky fly a considerable distance in the hands of even a relatively inexperienced caster. The line is 46.7m long with a head of 20m, and has a very slick coating to further facilitate those long casts that can get a fly into the strike zone for bass and other surface feeders.

Next month: working the deep wet fly in Somerset Dam plus some locations where fish are holding in late winter schools, as they do. I will have to go there again personally to research this material. It's tough, but someone has to do it.

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