WHEN you think of fishing for Australian bass most people picture images of clear freshwater areas filled with snags and lily pads. While those areas are fantastic places to fish, especially in the spring an summer, the lower tidal areas which take in a much larger volume of water, also hold a lot of fish if you know when and how to find them.
The Australian bass is found in south-eastern coastal rivers from the Mary River in southern Queensland to Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. Although bass are very at home in clear fresh stretches of water every year if the season allows, they gather and make the journey downriver to spawn.
My understanding is bass seek a salinity level which allows neutral buoyancy for their eggs. This helps increase survival rates of the fry or young newly hatched fish. From here they are gifted with large amounts of food found downstream and grow and strengthen on the protein packed diet. The adult fish also remain in the lower reaches until spring rain and warmer temperatures start the hatching of insects like grasshoppers and cicadas which they return back to feed on. Somewhere in this travel to and from the spawning area great fishing session can be had, all still adhering to the seasonal closers of these wonderful fish. There are so many variants that will make chasing bass in the tidal areas more difficult but hopefully this article may help you in your quest for a more consistent results.
When broken down into parts, the understanding is relatively easy. The bass head downstream – do their thing – before heading home. Although, that seems straight forward when you add in varying rainfall amounts, moon phases, tides and availability and locating bait, things can get somewhat complicated.
Basically, as the days shorten and the air cools the food source declines. This coincides with the start of the migration downstream. Targeting them at this time doesn’t vary too much to fishing for them in other locations. It is the run back that is the difficult one to get your head around as the bass tend to move back a lot slower and their progress can be interrupted by presence of bait spread up and down the river. I don’t blame them; I wouldn’t head back home if the pantry was empty.
During this time when the fish are downstream they will have similar habits to bream and that’s when your sounder becomes your best friend helping you locate bait schools surrounded by hungry fish. As the cooler weather ends, the fish move slowly back upstream. They will hold in small groups or on their own on suitable structure such as peaks and holes, bridge pylons and moored boats. There is no rock solid time frame on how long fish take to move back and every year is different to the last.
Tactics and tackle
Targeting these migrating fish is usually done with plastics, vibes or hardbody lures all that should closely mimic what they have been feeding on. Hardbodies in the 50-80 mm seem to be what we favour and about 75mm for plastics. On the subject of rods and reels for this style of fishing, usually a spin outfit in the 2-4 or 3-5 kg range, a good quality fluorocarbon leader is recommended as bass can be very feisty and although nice to look at, they fight as dirty as possible.
When the fish have moved closer towards home, the season has warmed and the surface bite starts to kick off, you may choose to switch to a quality baitcast outfit. A 3-5 kg is a good starting point as the fish hit extremely hard and rapidly retreat to cover it also allows you to be spot on with your casting as the fish are spreading out and switching back over to an ambush feeder and generally taking up residence in tight cover.
Low light periods work best for bass and if you’re not punching the occasional cast into the sticks up the bank, you’re not working it hard enough, obvious signs such as restless or fleeing bait can indicate fish nearby and is worth further investigation also. I will often cast near water dragons which position themselves on a rock or branch as quite often these guys will park up above bait and launch themselves towards their breakfast. Also try to remember while still under the influences of tidal moments the “no run, no fun” principal applies as bass are still very much used to having their food delivered by water movement.
On the subject of surface lures try to match as close as possibly to natural prey. A couple of tips, my dad taught me early on when fishing in low light, fish a softer surface bait as you are less likely to spook fish with a misjudged cast if you bounce it of the rocks or logs and always fish parallel to the bank if you are having trouble with limited light as overcasting almost always lands you in the water.
Provided the seasonal weather pattern remain constant the fish slowly push further upstream and reside there until the days become shorter and they begin to head back towards the ocean in search of their chosen spawning ground and the whole process repeats itself.
Chasing bass in tidal areas can be extremely frustrating but rewarding at the same time. No two seasons are the same and just when you think you have it all worked out the fish will do something totally out of the normal.
I’m very lucky to have spent many season fishing alongside my dad who grew up chasing these wonderful fish. We have shared fantastic fishing sessions catching and releasing some lovely fish. We have also had some not-so-great outing which makes you wonder why it was you who hopped out of bed so early. The good times mostly outdo the bad and being on the water in the fog and doing battle with these little brutes takes some beating.
Another advantage of the tidal areas when chasing bass is at the drier times of the year by catch is never too far away, while fishing surface style lures bream will regularly smash a top water lure so don’t be surprised if that happens, other by catch species may include the old Flathead who will venture to the upper reaches when the time is right and also not the best looking by catch the forktail catfish are active lure takers and a large version of one of these guys tend to pull hard and keep you guessing.
The only other equipment that makes life easier is a form of watercraft. We use both kayak and small boat, depending on where we are fishing at the time. Whichever you chose is up to you but remember your safety equipment, especially lights and life vest. Depending on the time of year the water temperature varies a lot to the air temp which can seem to drop a lot of thick fog which can be dangerous to travel and fish in so plan with your safety in mind.
Chasing bass in tidal areas throws some challenging factors to negotiate at times but can offer many rewarding sessions not always available in other areas. We are so lucky in this country to have access to some amazing areas to fish, with the help of google maps and some basic knowledge which hopefully I have provided strap yourself in for some awesome experiences.
In still water or tidal areas when the season allows the Australian bass is a worthy opponent and definitely one to be enjoyed.