How to

A Bass Fishing Chronicle


Bass are deservedly popular with many east coast anglers and hold a special place in our collective sportfishing folklore. DAVID GREEN looks over a lifetime spent chasing these tough Aussie battlers.

I GREW up in Pennant Hills in the northwestern suburbs of Sydney. “Penno” was a very different place in the 1960s, and as kids we did unspeakable acts such as trapping rabbits around the blackberries, catching eels and tortoises and spending countless hours hunting snakes and lizards that we kept in a menagerie of cages, cabinets and tanks. We were always keen for the chase. If it moved, swam or had scales we were onto it. The same chase was also applied to any fishing opportunities. If you look at Pennant Hills today there are no kids setting rabbit traps, it’s illegal to collect reptiles and the area is not known for any fish apart from gambusia, eels and wild goldfish. Kids roamed the bush in big mobs after school in my day, and catching stuff and sport filled all our after school time. As long as you were home by dark it was all fine.

My first encounter with a bass was in our local creek in the pool below what we called “the second waterfall”. This creek drains into Berowra Creek as a part of the Hawkesbury river system. I doubt any bass remain there today, but in about 1967 my mate John Owens caught a “bass” on a piece of meat while fishing for eels in Elouera Park. Like all our noted captures the bass was brought home in a bucket and put in a fish tank where it went belly up in about two days. Bass weren’t called bass back then, they were perch. In truth, we didn’t know what this fish was and we looked it up in the Gregory’s Fishing Guide that belonged to my old man. It was a genuine perch (aka a bass).

At the time we were developing quite good angling skills, but serious fishing missions were all based on school holidays and mostly involved saltwater fishing in Cowan Creek, Brisbane Waters and Lake Macquarie. We read every fishing magazine we could get our hands on, and while bass weren’t on our target list, as kids we were always curious to check out any water of potential. Somewhere around this time, as a keen junior angler in Kur-ring-gai Hornsby Angling and Casting Club, I met Max Finch. Max was the first genuine super serious passionate bass fisherman I ever met, and he was a goldmine of information. I probably annoyed the living shit out of him, but he was a patient man, and I remember looking into his tackle box that was an Aladdin’s cave of bass lures. The first bass lure I ever bought was a medium sized yellow Flopy that I bought at the Pennant Hills Barber shop. In those days, barbershops were a very male domain and most sold fishing tackle. I’ve still got that lure in a withered perished form, but it represented my secret weapon for any little creek, drain or waterway in Sydney suburbia. As Max had explained, it was all about how the lure landed. Flopys landed with a soft “plop”, just like an insect hitting the water. Flopys also had adjustable bibs to change the running depth of the lure. On Max’s advice I used the deeper setting in the day and the shallow setting at dawn and dusk. That Flopy went for a swim in some pretty obscure places, but my first success was in a pissy little tiny creek that drained into Akuna Bay at the end of Coal and Candle Creek. This waterway was quite short, and in a pool marginally larger than a bath tub about 20cm of finned bass fury leapt upon the lure and was unceremoniously reefed out onto the bank. It was quite surprising where bass turned up. Every little bay in the Cowan system that had a little creek running into it held a few small fish, and there were some beauties as well as estuary perch in the upstream sections past Bobbin Head.

My mate up the road’s uncle was a keen fisho. This bloke, Dave Hardy, also owned a canoe and a Kombi van. With two canoes strapped to the Kombi we started working further afield, and Cattai Creek near Windsor was our main spot. We’d paddle the canoes upstream in the afternoon and work our way back just on dark casting Flopy lures under the overhanging willows. We caught a lot of bass on those trips, a few of the bigger ones close to a kilo. My outfit was a blue Shakespeare 2400 eggbeater on a rod I made myself on an MT72L Butterworth blank. We made all our own rods in those days. The line was six-pound Amilan S. On some trips we fished the mouth of Cattai Creek and caught estuary perch and bass in the same spot. A new lure emerged on the scene at the time, the Shakespeare “Little S”. It was nearly as good as the Flopy and had better hooks.

I went on plenty of trips with my mates and neighbours chasing bass all around Sydney suburbia. I caught bass in Cattai, Crosslands, Fullers Bridge, Galston Gorge and in the Lane Cove  River. While mostly small, they seemed to be in every bit of likely brackish water you could find, and if you persisted the bites came. We’d walk the bush following creeks for surprisingly good fishing. Galston Gorge was one of my favourite spots. The creek had plenty of small pools and some surprisingly good bass that were keen to play, particularly with small Celtas and Jitterbugs. In the deeper sections the Flopy reigned supreme, and we bought a few micro versions that were deadly weapons in the smaller creeks. We swam for snags and walked miles through bush, much of which is now suburbia.

When we borrowed the old man’s car for a few hours we often managed to get into some pretty remote country. I’m sure dad never realised the 4WD potential of his Holden Premier but we got it up some tough bush tracks in areas such as Colo, Crosslands and the back of Berowra Creek. There were some bloody big bass in the upper Nepean, and a couple of blokes a few years older than us caught genuine seven-pounders in a land locked bit of water out the back of Penrith. A fellow known as Tad Wantuch knew the spots but his lips were sealed despite our constant enquiries. Tad’s gun lure was a Heddon Pumpkinseed, an ungainly looking lure but it did catch fish.

While I was at uni we went on several long-range canoe trips chasing bass in the upper Clarence and west of Coffs Harbour near Glenreagh. We also fished the upper Macleay. These canoe trips were very simple. Some of these trips went for a week, which was pretty rugged in one set of clothes. The best success we had was at Copmanhurst in the upper Clarence, where we caught dozens of bass up to about 45cm. We relied on bass as food, as we soon got sick of eating Vesta dehydrated meals. It was basic at best but great fun and my tackle box held six lures. The bass box I have now probably has more than 300 in it.

During my final year of medical school I did an elective term in the Emergency Department of Nambour Hospital. That was in 1981. I soon linked up with the local fishos, and Gerry McDonnell, still a good mate, took me bass fishing in the Noosa River near Harrys Hut, and we also fished in some of the creeks draining into the Maroochy River. This was really great bass fishing at the time, with stacks of fish for the taking. It enthused me for a later move to Queensland. When I started work at Gosford we mostly fished the salt, but the canoe was still used a fair bit. I really loved fishing Wyong Creek. I remember one horrendous trip where we took my soon to be mother-in-law out for a paddle and a fish. I’ve got a big old Canadian style fibreglass canoe that I’ve had for more than 25 years, and with (my then girlfriend and now wife) Kerrie in the front, me in the back and my mother-in-law-to-be Dawn parked on an inflatable mattress in the middle it was ungainly at best. When I found that Dawn was petrified of water it made it hard. She wouldn’t shut up and was a constant source of advice. I was keen to fish surface lures on dark, so we put Dawn on the bank, used one of those disposable barbecues to cook a feed and I rigged the gear. As we slowly paddled back Kerrie and I worked the lures along the edges. Crazy Crawlers were the top lure in Wyong Creek at the time. Just as Kerrie was lifting her lure out of the water it was monstered by a big bass in a suck that would do justice to a reasonable barra. Dawn just about jumped out of the canoe in panic, Kerrie busted the bass off and I lost my favourite yellow and red Crazy Crawler that I then blamed my mother-in-law for. Bad, bad move. But then again, that was the first and last time Dawn ever went in the canoe.

We moved to Queensland in 1984 and shortly after arrival started dragging the canoe on the top of my panel van into remote places. We did some great camping weekends on the Noosa, and later went on missions to the Nymboida and upper Clarence where I caught my first four-pounder at the Clarence Gorge. By this stage the Mann’s 5 plus (the fat one) was the No.1 bass lure. I also fished with Jeff Adams in the creeks around Glasshouse Mountains. These great creeks would later supply brood stock for the stocked impoundment program. It was beautiful country.

The upper Tweed around the base of Mount Warning was another great place to fish, and I also fished a great creek near Stokers Siding with Clive Easton. Clive caught a beauty one afternoon. It stitched him up but he dived in and wrestled it out. It was about 45cm long.

The stocked impoundment program began in the early to mid 1990s, if I remember rightly, and the Hinze Dam near Nerang soon became a fantastic place to take the canoe. The bass seemed to stay small for the first 10 or so years, and it wasn’t until about four years back that 50cm fish turned up regularly in the Hinze. In search of bigger bass we went to Lake Moogerah and I caught my first 50cm specimen on a spinnerbait there about nine years ago. This fantastic stocking program saw bass fishing change forever. I’ve spent time on most of the bass dams, but these fish are a far cry from fishing the wild fish creeks and rivers of my youth. The dams were way too easy. We’d often catch more than 40 in a session in the Hinze early on with no particular finesse, just dragging lures behind a paddled canoe, then an electric motor on the back of my tinny.

A few floods about a decade back saw bass invade the Nerang  River when they went over the Hinze Dam wall. There were bass all through the river.

The bass that went over the dam wall permeated into every brackish section of the canal and lake estates of the Gold Coast, and Robina Lakes is now an excellent fishery in its own right. Bass are amazing creatures and as I’d learnt as a kid that any section of brackish water connected to a saltwater river would hold these tough little Aussie fish, it made sense they’d get into the local lakes.

I suppose, like the jewie article I did a few months back, that some species just seem to follow you through life. I just like bass. They are like my Jack Russell terrier Spud. Fearless, tough, hardy little buggers which are full of attitude. I always enjoy chasing fish like that.

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