Gorge Country Bass

Rivers of rock hold a fascination for fishermen. Paddling up the Clarence River Gorge in the stunning late afternoon light I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer rock walls that towered above me. In places the gorge’s incredible symmetry almost makes it seem like a deep man-made channel hewn in stone, but it’s all nature’s amazing work. I’d first made the pilgrimage to this special place around 20 years ago. While the imposing rock walls of the gorge remained unchanged, other things were different. Back then this land was in the grip of drought, the fishing was poor and I remember gazing on dry, dusty riverside paddocks strewn with desiccated cow shit while paddling upstream to the gorge. Thanks to recent life giving rains the valley’s pastures were now a vivid green and the river was alive and flowing. All this boded well for the bass fishing ahead.

I’d met up with my old best fishing buddy Mick Aubrey in Grafton and we’d driven inland to the gorge property together. Mick’s a gun all-round lure fisher and no stranger to long-time Fisho readers as he was on the cover of the January 2001 edition holding a nice dusky flathead. As we paddled our Australis Bass kayaks further up the narrowing gorge it was evident that the river was flowing hard and the place was alive with baitfish and insects.

I’d never seen anything like it in a freshwater river. While stopping for a brief break from paddling a large school of baitfish took shelter under my ’yak – incredible stuff …

In fading light we decided to troll bibbed diving lures as we paddled upstream. Almost immediately we were taking strikes from small bass, some not much longer than our lures. Then my Swagman Jumbuck was crunched by a better class of fish. After a short tussle I landed and released a healthy 35cm bass. After that darkness fell quickly and with no moon to guide our way we tried to use our headlamps to see. As soon as we turned them on our faces were enveloped with clouds of insects, so we gingerly paddled back down river in the dark, only turning our headlamps on at brief intervals to check our location.

Big river bass

After a full day’s driving and an evening’s hard paddling we were pretty well stuffed by the time we got back to our cabin. “The Shack” is one of the accommodation options provided by the Winters family on the gorge property and is a veritable home away from home for bass fishers. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we put the ’yaks back in the water and headed up the gorge in search of trophy bass.

Once again the river was positively jumping with baitfish. Things really started to get interesting around where the gorge narrows and midstream boulders start rising from the depths. Baitfish showering out of the water hard against the left hand side rock wall caught my eye so I paddled in that direction. There was an imposing rock located about a metre or so off the wall and the river flow was really powering through the gap. It looked a classic ambush position so I cast my spinnerbait directly upstream and cranked it back through the gap. It was slammed right where I spied the baitfish getting harassed and I was tight to a really good fish. The strong current swept my ’yak and the big bass downstream into a relatively clear pool where I was able to get to work and bring the fish boat side. It was a beautifully conditioned Australian bass around 43cm in length.

The Winters family have opened the gorge property to anglers for catch & release fishing.  This suited us just fine – like most keen native sportfishermen we wouldn’t have it any other way when chasing bass. After releasing that first big fish we continued upstream. This is where the single man kayaks really shone. Up to this point you could effectively fish the gorge from a small outboard powered tinnie or Canadian style canoe; you just have to be capable of dragging your craft up the shallow gravel runs located between camp and the gorge. However, once you got up into the boulder strewn top reaches, the ’yaks allowed unrivalled access to prime fish holding water. If you intend taking an outboard powered tinnie to the gorge I’d highly recommend you take a spare prop in case of damage from submerged rocks …

The further we went up the gorge the better the fishing got. The fish gods had finally smiled on us and I’m sure we were blessed with favourable barometric conditions as over the next 24 hours we landed a string of big river bass in the 40 to 44cm range. Throwing spinnerbaits and bibless rattlers up into the white water maelstrom created by the first gorge waterfall and cranking them back at high speed was the way to go. When you got the cast right and a big fish slammed your lure was when the fun started in earnest. These trophy bass took full advantage of the fast running water and dragged us all over the place. All we could do was hang on, then try and keep them from burying us under one of the myriad of submerged rocks that littered the upstream pools. “This is more like battling black drummer around the coastal rocks than freshwater fishing,” Mick said to me after landing another thumping big bass. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never had such extended fight times in around 30 years of bass fishing. And that includes the halcyon days of the 1980s Glenbawn Dam fishery when we were battling 2kg plus bass on a regular basis. I’m sure these tremendous tussles were largely due to the fact that these beautiful river bass were all in the peak of condition having been gorging themselves on the abundant baitfish as they awaited a river level rise to allow them to continue their journey up the mighty Clarence and its tributaries.

The highlight of the trip came late on our last evening. Mick Aubrey is one of the smarter anglers I’ve ever fished with and he had ingeniously worked out a way to get his Australis Bass kayak tethered in position immediately below the falls at the top end of the gorge. Of course, it was only a matter of time before he hooked up in such a prime location and after a titanic battle in the foam and suds, he landed his personal best river bass – a 505mm monster. The beaming smile on his face told the story; his previous best river bass was a 490mm thumper from the Chichester River many years ago. After a quick photo session we released this beautiful fish unharmed to return to her rocky lair and elatedly paddled back to the cabin.


Mick Aubrey smiles triumphantly as he poses with his PB bass, a 505mm beauty, caught and released in the Clarence Gorge.

Native pilgrimage

The next morning saw us up well before the sun for one last session in the gorge before the long drive home. However, things had changed overnight barometrically and everyone fishing that morning struggled to hook a fish. After what seemed a thousand fishless casts we decided it was time to paddle back and get on the road early to beat the heat of what promised to be a scorching day ahead.

Anyone who has a passion for pursuing our beautiful native bass should undertake the pilgrimage to the Clarence River Gorge at least once. It is one of those rare and iconic locations you feel privileged to fish. I promise it won’t be another 20 years before I return!

Mark Williams

Gorge Tackle & Tips
IN the fast running water we found tandem willow combination spinnerbaits such as those from the Bassman stable to be highly effective. Bibless rattlers also worked well in the fast running conditions. Bibbed divers were effective for trolling and casting in the lower reaches of the gorge in calmer water conditions. Light threadline outfits loaded with six to 8kg GSP braid and six to 10kg fluorocarbon leader worked exceptionally well for fishing the gorge environment. Two-piece rods are handy for packing away when paddling through rapids. I slammed into a midstream boulder taking the wrong line down a rapid and was lucky not to lose an outfit. The single man Australis Bass kayaks proved ideal for fishing the upper reaches of the Clarence River Gorge. Small outboard powered tinnies and Canadian canoes can also access the gorge and are popular with anglers preferring to troll lures in the lower reaches. Trolling bibless vibe type lures proved effective for other anglers during our trip. The prime time to fish the Clarence Gorge is during the spring months. It can get extremely hot in the confines of the gorge during the warmer months so take plenty of fluids and wear sun protection. Accommodation options available at the gorge include cabin and camping sites. Canoes are available for hire. For more info about accommodation and the catch & release fishing options available at The Gorge, contact Neil and Sue Winters on
02 6647 2173 or Check out their website at For general tourism info, see

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