Yakkin’ about bass

Now’s the time to get on the water and chase summer bass, and what better way to do it than by kayak. Mark Fraser reports.

Bass fishing from kayaks is fast growing all along the eastern coast of Australia, and for good reason! There’s something about that early morning launch; flicking surface lures under any cover you can find and waiting, waiting for a swirl, the glassy surface to erupt, then holding on for the ride as you try and land an Australian bass.  

I’m fortunate enough to live on the NSW far North Coast and most weekends I’m able to live out this dream. And kayaks are the ideal watercraft for doing it. They easily get you into remote bass haunts, and make the experience even more enjoyable.

Getting started
My choice of ’yak for fishing skinny creeks is the Australis Barra. At 2.8m and a mere 18kg, it’s easy to unload solo and perfect for long treks in to new water. The Barra is 77cm wide, thus it’s very stable and manoeuvrable. These traits are important when shooting rapids, negotiating low overhanging trees or just getting into position for a cast.

Australis also offer a Barra “fishing model”, although I opted to set my ’yak up to suit my fishing style. I see that as the best part of purchasing a new ’yak; decking it out just as you want it with rod holders, shock-cord storage, dashboard, upgraded seat – all  easily affordable options.

Bassin’ gear
There are many different fishing combos aimed at bass fishing, but you can’t go past an ultra-light setup for slender waterways. Ultralight gear makes landing a bass of any size exhilarating. My favourite combo is a G-Loomis SR541 4”6’ ultra-light spin stick with a Daiwa Certate 2000 reel loaded up with Sunline PE 6lb braid and 8lb FC Rock leader. This set-up has provided many of my best bass and is my first choice when going for a paddle. The short rod is much more manageable and easier to protect in tight country. A shorter rod also increases the number of casts you can make.

As for lures, bass will react fairly well to any lure if the conditions are right. Everybody has their favourites and there are plenty to choose from including hard bodies, soft plastics and spinnerbaits. Surface activity is more likely during low light and sub-surface feeding during the day so it pays to have a variety of both surface and sub-surface lures in your arsenal.

Accuracy = success
The most important factor of all is accurate casting. Bass like to hang under overhanging foliage, undercut banks, around submerged structure or in weedbeds. For this reason it’s important that casts are accurate and as close to bass holding areas as possible. The closer a cast is to snags and cover, the greater the chance of a bite. And as long as you use lures you’re confident in,  you should catch bass.

My good mate Tristan Mace and I proved this when fishing a favourite creek in far northern NSW recently. This eastern flowing waterway is bordered by rainforest and is one of the best bass creeks I know.

We’d planned a new run, higher up in the  system, that neither of us had fished before. Thanks to Google Earth we measured the length of the trip (just under 11km) and located the entry and exit points. The weather man said that there would be minimal wind and up to 20mm of rain, but we liked our chances of staying relatively dry.
We arrived at a ranging set of rapids just before first light and although the water  was up slightly due to rain we were anxious for some early morning topwater fishing.

We set off immediately down the first set of rapids, then another, and another! It turned out that was to be the trend for the first half of the day. There was minimal distance between each set of rapids; most of which we could paddle down, some  required us to portage and drag the ’yaks around. We battled on, taking in the scenery and enjoying each twist and turn that the magical place threw at us. Although our lures didn’t receive any interest from bass we were having fun negotiating both big and small rapids and squeezing in rapid fire casts at every pool in between. Continuing downstream the pools became larger and more fishable. We made cast after cast tight into any snags, cover or overhanging banks, without result. We decided it must have been the weather, the water flow, the barometer – basically anything other than our fishing ability.

The water was reasonably dirty  and visibility was down to about a foot, which differed from the crystal clear water that usually flows there. We were hoping that along with the dirt and extra water entering the creek, so would food that would switch the bass on and give us a top notch session.

All of a sudden we heard what sounded like a large waterfall a couple of hundred metres ahead. We raced ahead only to find a large causeway that would make it near impossible for bass to migrate upstream. We were also convinced our chances of picking up fish below the crossing were good. With our confidence revived we hurried down below the causeway and  launched. It was only a matter of minutes before I cast hard up to a snag and my lure, a Jackall Bros. Aragon Jr, was belted! There was a good amount of weight on my rod and all I could think was “don’t lose this fish!” After a solid effort she came back to the ’yak, a few happy snaps and I let out a sigh of relief. The fat, healthy 37cm bass kicked things off nicely, albeit four hours late. Like all bass we catch, she was released to fight another day.

Down another set of rapids Tristan was cursing after missing a fish on a Squidgy Bug rigged on a Betts Spin. Casting back to the same spot just inches from the bank, a few cranks resulted in “I’m on!” Sure enough, she’d come back. That’s one of the advantages of soft plastics: if a fish strikes it’s a lot more likely to come back again.

I could hear Tristan’s drag squealing and paddled over for a better look. After many strong lunges a nice 39cm bass was eventually won over.

Being somewhat sure we’d found the fish, I alternated between my baitcaster with the Aragon still tied on, and my spin combo and a Megabass Pagani Siglett. Being a mild, overcast day and having landed a few fish in quick succession I was sure we’d attract a few surface hits. A tight cast under an overhanging tree saw my Siglett smashed. The bass tried to bury me in the sticks before I managed to turn it and land the first surface caught fish of the day at close to 12 noon.

The fish were on. The very next cast was close into the bank and before I could blink another feisty bass had engulfed my lure. It was a smaller fish but two in two casts had me smiling. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convert the hat-trick.

We then turned over some good sized fish, with some above the 40cm mark – all on surface lures. It was then that the heavens opened up and drenched us. The rain, however, didn’t affect the bass, nor dampen our spirits. While it was raining, the most effective method of attracting fish seemed to be casting under cover where there was less surface disturbance. A variety of topwater lures worked with lots of pauses in the strike zone produced results. Due to the extra flow, casting into the many back eddies allowed us to pick up fish on a regular basis.

Back eddys formed behind protruding banks or large snags will often house bass that hang there out of the faster moving water, picking up food source pushed their way by the current.

It was late when we finally reached our exit point, but it had been a great day’s ’yak fishing in sublime country. All up we’d landed and released just shy of 30 bass.

Setting up a bass kayak
Successful outings like the one just outlined, justify the reasoning behind the way my ’yak is set up. On the front I’ve made on-top storage using shock cord. I use this for storing my lures/tackle box as it provides a very secure and safe option that hasn’t let me down through numerous encounters with low branches. My favourite addition is the kayak “dashboard” which not only supplies extra sun protection, but also makes handling fish and tying knots a breeze; always remember to keep the dashboard wet before resting a fish on the plastic as it will protect their slime coating. My dashboard comes with a tilting rod holder in which I store my second rod. As I use short rods for bass fishing the tips don’t overhang the kayak, meaning less chance of breakage. Having a rod holder there also means my second rod is out of the way when casting.

I’m all for comfort and try to avoid “’yak back” at all costs. For this reason I have installed a Kayak Couch. This accessory seat enables me to fish all day (and most of the night) in similar comfort to my lounge chair. The seat features extra thick padding on the base and a removable rod holder behind the seat. Two “wing bags” are located on the side of the seat providing valuable storage space for things like pliers, scissors, leader or a headlamp. The best advice I can give regarding storage is make sure all valuable items are attached to yourself or your watercraft. This can save the devastation of losing your favourite rods, reels and lures. I always store valuables such as my phone, wallet, and keys in a waterproof dry bag.

Safety is a major concern when fishing the skinny water for bass, especially if you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Personally, I try to fish any new spots in daylight and with at least one other person. This enables you to see what’s ahead and means a helping hand is there if you find yourself in trouble. Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return and always respect the waterways. Happy bassing!

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