How to

The lure of bass

AUSTRALIAN bass are one of our iconic freshwater fish. In the wild they are catadromous by nature, meaning that they move from freshwater to saltwater to breed. This means that the survival of the species in wild fisheries is dependent on the health of the major river systems that flow east of the Great Dividing Range.

The natural occurrence of the species is between the Noosa River in Queensland and the Gippsland region in Victoria. Over the past three decades bass have been bred in hatcheries, and extensive stocking has taken place in many coastal impoundments.

Impoundment bass have thrived in the dams, and most of the recreational fishing effort has been concentrated on these stocked fish. These artificial populations are quite resilient and robust and with a large available food source bass over 50cm are relatively common in many dams. Without access to saltwater, these impoundment bass are unable to breed.

I first fished for bass when I was a teenager. I fished in the creeks around Galston Gorge, Crosslands, St Albans Common and Cattai Creek. We also caught good bass around Penrith and in the Lane Cove River near Fuller’s bridge. The creeks upstream from Bobbin Head were particularly productive as well. We walked into a lot of remote little creeks in the heart of Sydney suburbia and caught a few bass in just about every place we tried.

Bass fishing back then was relatively uncomplicated. A French made lure called a “Flopy” was all you needed. These innovative lures made by the Rublex company in France featured a soft rubber body mounted on a metal frame. They had three sets of double hooks and an adjustable bib that let the lure run at different depths. The lures came in three sizes but we tended to stick to the medium sized model in the yellow colour. Because of the soft rubber body, they landed on the water after a cast with a very natural sounding “plop” that seemed to attract bass from quite a distance. I had one particular lure that I swam for on more than a dozen occasions, often in really cold water. As well as bass we also caught estuary perch but we just thought they were bass with bigger eyes!

As we got older, we made our own canoes and with the advent of “P” plates expanded our horizons. We fished further afield and had several great trips to the upper Clarence River, fishing the gorge country and the river around Copmanhurst. In this wild fishery nearly all the bass we caught were under 40cm and casting Flopy lures to the bankside vegetation at dusk was generally effective. There were plenty of times where we cooked bass on the coals of a fire and at them off the bone under torchlight.

Fast forward over 40 years and bass fishing seems to have become incredibly complicated. The old Flopy lures lie perished and shrivelled up in a remote tackle box to be replaced with trays and trays of newer lures designed to catch bass in a variety of environments. Buzz baits, spinnerbaits, mumblers, chatterbaits, soft plastics, jerk baits, vibes, minnows and fizzers, poppers and tail spinners are now all essential parts of the bass anglers tackle box. Instagram famous wannabees crowd social media feeds with big bass caught on lures made by their sponsors. Bass tournaments with fast boats are thriving in many areas. It is far removed from being a kid with a backpack and a rod walking to a hidden secret creek!

The following is an overview of the types of common modern bass lures, looking at how they work and when and where to use them. The first important thing to understand is how bass behave. These aggressive predators are opportunistic feeders that adapt to a wide variety of conditions and eat a wide variety of food items, from relatively large baitfish through to cicadas that crash onto the water surface.

While a relatively small fish when compared to other catadromous species such as barramundi, they are apex predators in most of the wild rivers that they live in and are one of the most aggressive fish in the wild rivers they live in as well as in stocked impoundments. They are tuned into detecting vibration, flash and surface disturbances. Like barramundi, bass are an implosion feeder, sucking in their prey by rapidly opening their mouth. When they take insects off the surface you commonly hear a distinct “pop”. Bass have no teeth.

The first highly successful bass lure type to understand is the spinnerbait. When I first saw these lures, I was highly sceptical of them and my fishing mate described them as “space junk”! In the early nineties the Hinze Dam flooded and thousands of bass went over the dam wall into the Nerang River. Fishing in flooded pondage we caught dozens of bass on gold and yellow spinner baits and just about every cast was slammed by aggressive hungry fish. Since that time I’ve been a spinnerbait convert and these are one of my favourite bass lures to use. Without a doubt, spinnerbaits produce the hardest hits from bass of any lure type. They slam these lures with extreme aggression. The bite is a sudden jolt.

Spinnerbaits consist of a lure head to which a skirt is fitted. The rubber skirt can be made in a myriad of colours with flash and soft plastic trailers added for effect. The lure head is fitted to a stainless-steel wire boom that is bent to carry either a single or multiple blades. Narrow blades (“Indiana” blades) rotate faster than the bigger rounder Colorado blades that are commonly used for Murray cod. Most bass spinnerbaits carry narrow blades in gold or silver. Spinnerbaits tend to work best in the warmer months of the year when bass are at their most active. They cast like a bullet, are relatively snag resistant and catch a lot of bass. The addition of a stinger hook will increase the hook-up rate on these lures. Gamakatsu make a range of stinger hooks that slide over the main hook. A small piece of tubing or bead can then be placed over the main hook point to keep the stinger hook in place. For bass I tend to use spinnerbaits in ¼ to 3/8-ounce models. I’ve always found purple to be a very reliable skirt colour. Spinnerbaits are a great lure to use when bass are suspended in sunken timber. Carrying a variety of colours and sizes lets you work out what the bass are feeding on on a given day. While bass are an extremely aggressive predator, they can be quite fickle when it comes to colour preference on a given day.

Buzz baits and chatterbaits are variations on the spinner bait theme. Buzz baits have a rotating “paddle wheel” that attaches to the boom of the lure and creates surface disturbance as the lure is retrieved. These are a fun lure to use and generate some wild surface strikes. Chatterbaits use a square metal plate in silver or gold to generate vibration and flash. They are a much more compact lure than a spinnerbait and are underused but very effective lures. They also work well on barramundi and cod. Lures called ‘Mumblers’ are an oversized chatter bait and are aimed at Murray cod.

In the early days of bass tournaments in Australian impoundments, hard vibe lures such as the Jackall Brothers TN50 and 60 produced amazing results on impoundment bass. By fishing these lures vertically, or by casting across flats and fishing with a sink and draw retrieve bass responded, even when they were seemingly shut down. Since that time a wide variety of vibes have been used on bass, and both hard and soft vibes have become major features of most bass angler’s tackle boxes. I like vibes that have fluorescent pigment and a degree of glow under a UV light. Most of the Jackall brothers’ lures incorporate these pigments.

Hard bodied minnows still catch a lot of bass but have become less popular in recent years. I still use a lot of them, particularly if I am trolling. Lures like the Tilsan Bass, now made in injection moulded form by Halco, are superb lures for bass and a range of other fish. When bass are holding in schools at depths of 4 to 5 metres, these lures are deadly. Deep diving lures that suspend are also very handy tools to catch bass. One of the beauties of inland impoundments is that with a small tinny and a few lures you can catch fish with your kids. Trolling hard bodied lures isn’t something modern day Instagram influencer anglers promote, but if you want a reliable way to catch bass this method ticks all the boxes. I’ve found black lures to be particularly effective in dams like the Hinze dam on the Gold Coast or lake Cania near Monto. Six kilo leader and fine braid mainline is all that is required.

Jerk baits are shallow running hard bodied lures that can be worked over flats and weed beds. A fast jerky retrieve excites bass into biting, particularly in the first few hours of daylight. Rapala make an excellent range of jerk baits that all work well. The key seems to be that the lure will stay under the surface on a fast “rip” retrieve, not dive too deep, and be either neutral buoyancy or floating. Most jerk baits have two trebles. A rear treble dressed with a collar of white fibre or feathers can stabilise the back end of the lure when you rip it. Like spinner baits, jerk baits often get a quite violent strike. They also work quite well for saratoga. A lot of the Queensland impoundments have a mix of species and generally hold bass, saratoga and yellow belly.

Soft plastics work well on bass and are great lures to use when bass are holding deep in the impoundments and are quite shut down. This often happens in the middle of the day in summer. Working small paddle tail plastics very slowly close to the bottom is often very effective. While these fish can be quite easy to see on a good echo sounder, they can be very hard to get a bite from! Small paddle tails fished on 1/8 to ¼ ounce jig heads work well on bass. Bass are also particularly susceptible to Gulp swimming mullets.

Catching bass on surface lures is an exciting way to fish. Small poppers with cupped faces work well, and small fizzers with duel propellors are effective also, but my all-time favourite lure for bass on the surface is the Mega Bass Siglett. This is a wonderful impression of a cicada. It has a soft body and soft wings and lands with a realistic “plop”. With a subtle retrieve it is an almost identical imitation of a cicada landing on the water, and bass and saratoga smash this lure without hesitation. I’ve tried a few similar lures but the Siglet is by far the best cicada imitation that I have used. Bass will eat surface lures at any time of day when food items are falling in the water but dawn, dusk and the hours of darkness are generally the most productive. Surface walkers like the famous Arbogast Jitterbug are great to use in the dark. You hear the paddling sound of the lure followed by a big splash as a bass smashes the lure. Black is the best colour to use when it comes to surface lures fished in darkness. This makes the lure silhouette against the night sky and makes it easier for the fish to find.

The above is a brief overview of some methods used to catch bass. Metal lures also have a place, particularly when vertically jigged, as do unusual lures such as ice jigs. Bass are a great Australian native fish and are found in pristine locations. It’s a very different fishery to that of my childhood, but it is great fun and few fish pull as hard for their size as a decent bass.

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