How to

Bushwalking for Bass

There are any number of isolated creeks and rivers with healthy populations of wild Aussie bass. One of the best ways to get amongst these iconic native sportfish is to pull on a pair of hiking boots and go bush! MARK PHILLIPS reports.

AS we shuffled our way along a wombat pad that snaked between hillside boulders and gums I caught a glimmer of water through the broken tree tops. After a 3am start and a challenging walk, that little flash of water was enough to induce a good dose of bass fever in any keen fisherman. Like it or not, I had to stop and get the rock out of my boot that had been annoying the hell out of me for the past 10 minutes. I sorted my rock problem out, stood up and took stock of the day. High above my rugged perch a new blue sky stretched forever; at that moment the Australian bush seemed to be at its best, full of colour, sound and the crisp scents of spring.

The sight of my mate 20m down the hill in front of me snapped me out of my ponder and I scrambled to catch up. Upon reaching the water’s edge we quickly rigged our rods, a thick morning fog drifted over us as I tied on a gold spinnerbait and sent it hurtling through the misty air. Three turns of the handle later, my six kilometre walk was rewarded on the first cast of the day. Our plan had come together: this would be a day of bass fishing to remember for more than just the fish.

Packing a day pack and heading off on foot to catch a few bass can be a pleasant and rewarding way to explore water that is unreachable by boat or canoe. But this type of adventure fishing requires some careful planning and preparation if you want to get the most out of your day in the bush and return home safely.

Get In Shape

Most of the backpack style trips that I have done have involved plenty of kilometres and no shortage of steep climbs and descents. It requires a reasonable level of physical fitness to comfortably complete a day walking, scrambling and fishing in the bush. If you haven’t done much walking and you’re thinking about taking on a pack fishing adventure I suggest you do some training in the weeks leading up to your trip.


It always pays to collect as much information as possible about your fishing location prior to your trip. Google Maps is a good spot to start; this will give you a general idea of the area you are planning to fish. Just remember, however, that the internet is no substitute for a good detailed topographic map.

A couple of rules to remember when bushwalking for bass include getting permission to enter private property, understanding your capabilities in the bush and always leaving detailed information about where you are going in case something unforeseen happens.

When you sit down to plan your trip take the time to make a detailed timeline of your day. Start from your entry point into the bush until the moment you exit. Estimate how long it will take you to walk to your fishing location, how long you will have to fish, then how long it will take you to walk back out. You need to take into account the type of terrain you’ll have to negotiate on each part of the time line. It pays to be conservative with your estimations. As an example, I know I can easily cover four kilometres an hour on a clean level trail on a 25 degree day. If the temperature is higher, the scrub is thicker or I’m climbing or descending, I could easily halve this distance, depending on the conditions.


This brings us to a very important part of your preparation: your backpack and the amount  of weight you will carry, most of which will be water. It’s imperative you take enough water to hydrate yourself for the duration of your walk and time spent fishing. Never assume even the clearest river or creek water is safe to drink – the dead cow or wallaby that’s lying in the pool above you could have you vomiting violently within an hour. In cooler spring weather I will consume between 3-6 litres of water during a 10-hour backpack fishing adventure. If the temperature gets extreme you will need to be drinking a litre of water an hour to hydrate your body and reduce the risk of heat stroke. Water weighs a kilogram a litre and you will be carrying it on your back, so it pays to plan your trip in cooler weather for both comfort and safety – I can’t stress enough the importance of this.

As an extra precaution you can also carry water purification tablets that can be placed into a bottle of water collected from a running stream. These chemicals will make the water safe to drink within an hour. This is a back up if you run
out – do not take the gamble on finding safe drinking water once you reach your fishing location.

Choosing a pack

Choosing a good day pack is a matter of personal choice; prices start well below $50 and soar to over $200 for more exotic specialised equipment. Choose a quality pack that is robust, has good zippers and plenty of easily accessible pockets for things like leader material, pliers and other fishing essentials. Try it on in the shop, with some weight in it if possible, and get a feel for how it sits on your shoulders. If you’re not sure about it try another brand until you find one that fits the budget and your body shape.

What to pack

What you carry in your pack will depend on the logistics of your trip and, importantly, how far from help you’ll be if something goes wrong. For an easy walk up a local creek, you may get away with as little as five kilos of gear, whereas a 10-hour day spent walking and fishing a more remote location may see you carrying 10-12 kgs. I try to keep my pack weight below 12kgs, which can be a challenge when you consider your water ration, camera gear, GPS, food and fishing tackle. Always take more food and water than you think you’ll need – if the pack’s too heavy leave a few lures behind.

A couple of must have items I pack include a mobile phone, maps, handheld GPS, matches or a lighter, toilet paper (which also comes in handy to start a fire),  lightweight spray jacket, LED headlight and a compression bandage. For more remote trips, taking a 406 MHz EPIRB is highly recommended. If you are in the middle of nowhere and you’re faced with a life threatening situation, get to some open ground and set the EPIRB off. These units are compact and and cost about $450, which is pretty cheap considering they could well save your life.


Choose clothing that protects you from the elements, breathes well and will convert if needed, such as zip-off pants that become shorts and long sleeve shirts that roll up as the day warms. Well-known outdoors apparel companies such as Columbia manufacture excellent bushwalking clothing that’s light, dries fast and is extremely durable. I have a couple of Columbia shirts that I’ve worn to death over the years and they’re still going strong.

As mentioned, I always carry a light weight waterproof jacket in my pack in case the weather turns bad or I’m caught out after night fall. Always make sure your clothing is adequate to keep you alive if you get stuck in the scrub overnight.


Boots are another piece of essential kit that are worth spending a few extra bucks on to get something light, robust and durable. There are many brands to choose from and most good outdoor stores will advise you on something suitable. I have just purchased a new pair of Hi-Tec boots that cost me about $170. That sounds a lot for a pair of hiking boots but these are extremely comfortable. Take it from me that you appreciate the comfort of good boots a few hours into a tough slog through the scrub! 

One of the hardest choices to make when selecting boots is whether you buy a leather or synthetic boot. Leather repels water and is durable but doesn’t drain and dry that well if you get your feet wet. Synthetic boots drain and dry much faster. Believe me, walking all day with wet feet is no fun and can get painful very quickly. Since fishing a creek or rover usually sees you get wet feet I reckon a pair of quality synthetic boots is a good option to go for if you fancy a few bushwalking-for-bass sessions this spring/summer. Which ever sort you opt for, ensure you “break in” your boots before embarking on a major trek – your feet will love your for it!


I usually carry a small lure box with an assortment of different styles of lures including hard-bodied bibbed minnows, spinnerbaits and surface lures. I can assure you that you’ll end up getting a few snags fishing from the bank and it can get tricky retrieving them without going for a swim. A Tackle Back is a handy item to carry in your pack; this little gadget will save you a bomb on lost lures as well as saving  precious fishing time.

I use a lot of spinnerbaits for this style of fishing as they cast well and are very snag resistant. They also give you the ability to cover a variety of depths by simply letting them freefall longer or slowing your retrieve. Old favourites like Storm Hot’n’ Tots and Rebel Crawdads still get a swim as well as the newer Japanese models such as the Ecogear SX60s and Sammy surface lures. Always crush the barbs on your trebles; it causes much less stress on the fish and you if you end up with a treble in your hand in the middle of nowhere.

When it comes to rods I suggest you leave your favorite GLX Loomis or Ian Miller custom at home. I have broken several rods, one from slipping on my butt on a slippery rock and one from getting the tip caught up in the scrub. It’s very easily done and on most trips we now carry a spare rod between us and take turns to carry it. It’s a long way home if you break your rod and an even longer day if you have to watch your mate catch all the fish. The two rods I use are both 6”9, 2-4 kilo graphite models that have proven to be very durable in the scrub. One is a baitcaster and the other a spin rod. I fish my spinnerbaits on the baitcaster and use the spin rod for lighter bibbed minnows. I tend to fish a little heavier than I usually would out of a boat or canoe (8lb FireLine) so I can point the rod at snagged lures and give it a decent yank to retrieve them from tree branches or submerged snags. The same goes for leaders. Depending on the country I’m fishing, I’ll use either 10, 12 or 14 pound fluorocarbon. It sounds heavy but you will thank yourself when you pull that first $25 lure free from a snag. Most of the fish in these quieter areas are far from shy so you don’t have worry about spooking them with heavy trace.

Bush benefits

Heading off the beaten track by foot is a great way to experience all the great Australian bush has to offer. You’ll spot all manner of native and feral wildlife as well as bass doing some amazing things. I remember watching an over 50cm bass cruising the edge of a large sunken log. I sat quietly and watched for a couple of minutes from my elevated position before it got the better of me and I put a cast up the side of the log to catch it. I still remember laughing as I released the fish, thinking “how good was that?” 

Slogging through the bush, climbing over rocks and logs with a pack full of fishing gear, watching out for snakes and sweating in the midday heat may not be every angler’s cup of tea, but it’s a fantastic way to get away from the crowds and get some exercise. It’s also one of the rawest and most enjoyable ways I know to appreciate wild Australian bass in their natural environment.

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