What do you do when you’re fishing a big waterway and your sounder packs it in? Freak out and give up or rely on your angling instincts? WARREN KEELAN finds out.
IN an age where we rely on technology as a tool for successful fishing, not to mention safety and navigation, you can understand why we tend to freak out when electronics break down, malfunction or just die. At some stage or other in an angler’s life, equipment failure of some description will occur. It’s inevitable. It’s how you deal with such a setback that makes the difference between, in our case, an average fishing trip or something out of the ordinary!
Lake Glenbawn, located in the Hunter Valley about four hours north-west of Sydney, is one of those special places which all anglers should visit at least once in their lifetime. It’s an
incredibly large body of fresh water, surrounded by rolling hills, high rock faces and an abundance of natural structure including fields of dead trees, hidden coves and steep ledges – literally a lure caster’s playground. Each year, thousands of fishos make the journey from all over the country in search of the lake’s piscatorial treasures – the iconic Australian bass.
Ian Brown, a good mate and self-confessed “bassaholic”, was returning for the fourth year in a row, and with reports of the lake being at full capacity I couldn’t miss the opportunity to jump on board to take part in what was to become one of my best fishing adventures to date. Living vicariously through Ian’s stories just didn’t cut it and I was in need of a few of my own. So with the dates locked in it wasn’t long before we were clocking up kilometres on the road to Glenbawn.
Hitting the fresh
It was mid-afternoon by the time we’d unpacked and rigged a few lures, but with the Skeeter at full tilt, we were at one of Ian’s favourite locations within minutes of launching. But by the time I had sorted out a lens for the Canon and finished rigging up the Contour video cam at the rear of the boat, Ian was already locked onto his first fish.
He’d released yet another chunky bass of about 35cm before I’d even wet my line. However, it only took a few casts to come tight to my first Glenbawn bass. Measuring just shy of the 40cm mark, I
realised we were in for some exciting times, and with the surrounding scenery looking like something out of a classic landscape watercolour painting, we couldn’t have been much further from angling heaven.
I’d dreamt many times of fishing Lake Glenbawn, but to actually be releasing a cracking fish as the sun retreated east over the mountains felt really special. Work, mobile phones, computers and other mind occupying stresses seemed to fade with the sun. The afternoon just seemed to improve with fish after fish making their way to the deck, including a few larger models reaching the 40cm length. We both encountered at least one or two bust-ups along the way. It was at this point we decided to conserve our energy and head back to base for a few cold refreshments, but with little wind about and just enough light left to rig up, the urge to peg a few surface lures around the lake’s shallow edges was just too great to ignore.
Light had all but left the afternoon sky, and as the distinct sounds of mini surface explosions became audible, I loaded up a Maria top-water lure and sent a cast out into the darkness. My first cast was met with an unfriendly crack – yep, I had found the rocks. Depth perception becomes a problem in low light so it’s up to the angler to judge each cast, but then every lure is different and require various amounts of casting power. As I began to retrieve, my lure was met with a grenade-like blast. Which unfortunately failed to hook up. I let my lure sit for a second or two, knowing that bass tend to swipe at a lure in attempt to disable their prey before actually committing to the take.
My patience was soon rewarded with yet another explosion, but this time my rod was pulled forward and line screamed from my spool. Ian was ready with net in hand and after a quick scoop we had our first evening bass of the trip. After a couple of quick photos, and a healthy release, hunger set in, meaning hot food and cold beers became the priority.
The following morning we were greeted with a warm orange glow as the sun peeked over the horizon and lit the clouds above. Anticipation of supercharged surface action filled our thoughts and as we hit top speed we noticed the sounder was a no go! After what seemed like hours of fussing about we decided it must be a wiring issue. It was prime fishing time and as neither of us were specialists in the field of marine electronics, we fired up the engine and continued on.
Glenbawn is a huge impoundment, measuring 60m in depth in some areas, and is filled with countless potential hazards surrounding its endless fringes. Having no sounder posed some big issues but what determines your outcome and success from here comes down to how you deal with problems. Fortunately for us our outboard motor still turned, the electronic version was fine and we were in the safety of inland waters. What we couldn’t see using our sounder we made up for using experience and instinct along with a dose of good old fashioned luck and persistence.
Drawing from knowledge
With the dam at capacity, we had the opportunity to put our bream skills and knowledge to work by hitting the edges and working our lures in and around structure. Other than the fact that we were left without choice, it was just logical in this environment that there’d be the odd fish roaming for food along the shores. Instinctively, we’d made the right choice.
Ian positioned the Skeeter just metres from the bank and set the electric on 20 per cent throttle as we readied our lures in anticipation of the approaching timber. This method works well on snag-holding bream back on the coast and high up in the many local rivers and streams for bass so why wouldn’t it work here? The trick is ,,, well, there’s really no trick to it. Just an accurate cast within inches of the bank or any structure is all that is required, wait a couple of seconds and begin a steady retrieve back to the boat. You could throw in few subtle lifts with your retrieve but for this place simplicity is the key.
I pegged a Jackall TN60 into the zone and gave it a few seconds before turning the handle. Suddenly my reel squealed, bringing an instant burn to my thumb and bending my Interline in the process. It had taken all of a split second to be bricked by my first thumping bass. I certainly wasn’t in control of this argument and unfortunately without a chance of seeing my adversary it was game over. Lure lost – one nil to a real Glenbawn local.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, or how strong your gear is, some fish just stomp all over you. Our drags were so tight we struggled to pull line from our spools, yet it seemed all too easy for these aggressive trophy bass to rip line and bury us. Next snag Ian made the cast of the day, landing a spinnerbait right into the fork of a submerged tree, and catching the attention of what was to be the first in a succession of hefty, heavy fish. “Now you see why I love this place”, he said, “When it’s on it’s really on!”
On most occasions, fishing for bass in my backyard on the NSW South Coast requires nothing more than a heavy bream stick of between 3-6lb with a 2000 sized spin reel spooled with 6-8lb braid. The Shoalhaven and Kangaroo river systems, along with most local streams and tributaries, hold some decent sized fish. However, I soon discovered on my first few Glenbawn inhabitants that it doesn’t hurt to bring some heavier artillery when fishing an impoundment of this ilk. The bass in these waters are strong, and the bigger specimens will do you over, particularly in snag-ridden country, if given the opportunity.
On this trip we packed a couple of spin combos in the form of a Daiwa Black Label Technical Series rod matched with 2500 Caldias, along with a set of Interline/Zillion baitcast outfits, all
loaded with between 8lb and 20lb braid. In this environment it’s all about trying to extract big fish from their haunts before they bust you up from below so you need the right sort of tackle.
Our tackle boxes consisted of just three to four styles of lures. These include the ever popular spinnerbaits fitted with stinger hooks for that extra hook-up rate, lipless crankbaits from the
Jackall and Megabass range, Daiwa hard-body presentations such as the dynamite Double Clutch and Shiner series and an assortment of top water models for low light surface fishing.
Spinnerbaits are such a versatile lure for bass fishing. They are easy to cast, rarely snag and can be fished in both shallow and deeper areas of the water column. If you don’t have many in your armoury while staying at Glenbawn, pop in and say g’day to Peter from Lake Glenbawn kiosk/tackle store as he stocks a wide range of quality lures in almost every size and colour. He’s also happy to share info on the area and advise what’s biting on what and where. As far as spinnerbait colours, I like natural hues in olive, browns and white.
Knowing it would be another 12 months before we’d again launch a boat on the shores of this great lake, we decided to put in as much time on the water as possible. In the four days we stayed, we managed to launch and retrieve the boat eight times, exploring many kilometres of this awesome bass country in the process.
Each session on average produced between 20-30 bass of varying sizes. We both managed a couple of fish over 40cm, including a streak of double hook-ups, and plenty of missed opportunities. We also hooked a large golden perch, which unfortunately threw a lure at the side of the boat. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits were the standout lures of this trip, but without the heavier rods in the collection we would have found ourselves back in the classroom of bass 101.
While we were undoubtedly disadvantaged by our sounder woes, we managed plenty of great fish by using our instincts and working water that looked productive.
A fishing photographer, writer, filmmaker and web designer, Warren Keelan is based on the NSW South Coast. More details on his work can be found at warrenkeelan.com. This is the first of many articles Warren will produce for Fishing World.
Bass Fishing Tips
THE warmer months following late November are an ideal time to hit Glenbawn, as the schooling fish begin to hunt food in the shallows. Running the electric motor along the fringes of the lake allows you to cover more ground while weaving about the dead trees and rock faces. More importantly, you can fish with a level of stealth. Stinger hooks are essential when using casting spinnerbaits for bass. Ninety per cent of our fish were hooked on the stingers, but remember to keep them sharp. At this time of year sunscreen, hats and protective clothing is essential but bugs usually appear in the late afternoons and they can be real shockers! Ensure you bring a can or two of mozzie spray with you for protection against Glenbawn’s crazy insects!