Bass Special: Sweet Water
The weather’s warming up, insects are on the wing – it’s time to chase a few sweet water bass! By KRIS SWERES.
AROUND this time of year a certain smell fills the air. The birds start singing earlier, the mornings get brighter and things just seem more alive. Throwing on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt doesn’t seem as crazy as a month ago and there is an overall feeling of life stirring.
This is the time that I really love to dust off a few trusty lures and head to the freshwater to tangle with a bass or two. To me, this is what being a fisherman in Australia is all about. Enjoying beautiful outdoor weather, some great natural scenery and one of the feistiest targets on offer.
Bass are a fantastic native sportfish and are available to many anglers up and down the east coast. They’re found in coastal rivers and streams from Wilsons Promontory in Victoria and north along the eastern seaboard to the rivers and creeks of the Bundaberg region in central Queensland. They’ve also been successfully stocked in many closed water impoundments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Without the pressures of netting and predation factors, they’ve thrived in these artificial environments.
Back in the old days a bass that pushed the ruler to 30cm was considered by many as a trophy specimen. Nowadays that would almost be considered a baby! I sat proudly for about 10 years on a photo of my personal best fish that cracked 36cm which I flashed around like a back stage pass to my mates. Boy, how the bar has been lifted in just a few short years of stockings. Guys are regularly hitting fish to 50cms and I have even heard rumours of 60cm + models lurking in the murky depths of certain dams. I used to love spinning in Sydney’s Manly Dam with Pegrons and Celtas in the old days and although fish were tiny, they were always a trophy.
A bass’s diet basically involves anything they can fit in their mouth. They are highly predacious fish and will readily eat a whole range of items. This can range from small terrestrial insects like cicadas and moths to lizards, frogs and even small mice. In the water, shrimp, small fish, school prawns and other crustaceans are on the menu.
Like many of our popular estuary/freshwater species, bass will snaffle a well presented bait such as a live yabby or fresh earthworm but throwing a lure at them is by far my preferred fishing method.
Over the years keen bass anglers have seen many new lures appear on the market, each seemingly deadlier than the last. Spinnerblades, rattling style bibless lures (Jackall’s TN series being revolutionary to say the least!), surface walkers, poppers, soft plastics and recently vibration blades have all counted for thousands of captures. The truth is, however, that most suitable lures will produce fish if they are thrown nice and tight into bass cover. Areas such as fallen trees, underwater root systems and weed banks that drop into deep water are prime targets. I have always loved submerged wood that backs off grassy tussocks and overhanging trees as the fish have cover and a food source all in the one spot. In rivers with water flow, eddies formed behind boulders can produce good fishing, too. Strikes around cover can be vicious and any half asleep anglers will receive an adrenalin packed punch to the heart when they do! Not surprisingly, casting accuracy is paramount when bass are on the fishing menu.
Having kept a bass for a while now in an aquarium I have witnessed these surface walloping beasts destroy small mealworms, crickets and feeder fish. They don’t muck around. Mangrove jacks and bass share the same determination when it comes to committing to their target, what ever it may be. Blink and you’ll certainly miss it.
Early risers will definitely be at an advantage when spring bassing, and this is without doubt the best time to tie on a surface running lure. Dusk is also prime time bass time. For years Australian bass have had an affiliation with lures like Tiny Torpedos, Crazy Crawlers and Zara Puppys which exclusively target the topwater. These days the Japanese-made Lucky Craft Sammy’s are deadly as are Tiemco’s Soft Shell Cicadas. There are plenty of other surface lures to consider, including the Aussie-made Nightwalker series from Halco. And the venerable Jitterbug still pulls plenty of fish as well.
Any fisho who’s cast out one of these type of lures to watch it land, ripples expanding across the glassy water, and have it demolished by an underwater stalker will know what I’m talking about. It’s visual fishing at its peak! Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to entice a response. Cast your surface plug to likely looking cover, let it sit for half a minute then give it the smallest twitch and hold your breath … few forms of angling can compare to the moment a fish smashes your tiny offering. Talk to any dedicated freshwater lure angler and chances are surface fishing for bass will be top of their list.
In recent trips vibration style blade lures have also received great interest from hungry fish. Casting near likely looking cover, letting the lure sink to the bottom and “hopping” them back seems to be the winning retrieve. Strikes seem to come exclusively on the pause or fall so be ready. TT Switchblades have been a winner with us but Ecogear and Evergreen Minimaxes work brilliantly too.
A good light to medium weight spin or baitcasting rod will suffice with line selection being an important factor depending on the type of terrain you will be fishing. Not only will snags and underwater obstructions account for lost fish and lures but the strike itself from a large fish can leave that hole-in-the-belly feeling when you retrieve a slack, weightless line after demolition has occurred. A main line of about 10-12lb braid tied to a leader of good quality fluorocarbon of around 12-15 lb breaking strain would be an excellent starting point. A handful of lures that include a couple of diving minnows, a spinnerbait or two and some surface plugs should put you in the game. As mentioned before, bass aren’t massively picky but good proven lures brands are the way to go. Rebel, Arbogast, Bassman, Jackall and Squidgy are all proven fish takers on my boat.
Bass and warm weather go hand in hand so as spring rolls on in, have a crack at a bass and experience what all the hype is about. See you out there!