As the cool winter months start to roll in and the daylight hours get shorter, OzFisher Jonathon packed his bags and headed north for one last crack at his favourite species – the Australian bass – in one of his favourite locations, the Bellinger river.
Traditionally, the Australian bass is a fish synonymous with hot, sticky summer afternoons and hungry snakes lurking in the long grass. Jonathon opens up about how to catch the fish which he refers to as the ‘Aussie battler’.
“Being a fish that eats insects and small crustations that fall to the water’s surface, I traditionally would focus my fishing sessions on the times when the bugs and cicadas are out to play – which so happens to fall around Christmas.
For this session, however, I found myself fishing the cool, flood affected waters in April, which saw fast flowing, gin clear water navigating its way through the Mid North Coast of NSW.
My plan was simple – kayak down the river for 3-4 hours casting large profile spinner baits tight up against the tree line to lure out any resident bass. I knew that as the water cooled, and with the recent floods flushing the system out, the numbers of bass available wouldn’t be as good as they were in summer. But I was confident that a ‘ressie’ or resident fish would still be marking out its territory on a quality snag.
I launched the Yak around 1:30 in the arvo and had very little paddling to do. The water still had a lot of flow in it, which was good for me. I was confident that I would get a shot at a fish as the light begins to fade, so was happy to soak in the surroundings for a few hours before fishing hard in that last 90 minutes of light.
As I pass my third rapid or waterfall for the day, I find myself crossing an area of river which was no deeper than 50cm and was filled with thick long grass that had been submerged from the recent flood. I can remember thinking that I’ll reserve my casts for a better section, as this is too shallow for a bass.
Funnily enough, as I start to wind my spinnerbait back in to avoid a snag in the grass, a 44cm model came out and smashed it right on the edge of the Yak. Whilst this river has provided me with plenty of sessions where 20+ fish is not an anomaly, a 40cm plus bass is certainly not a regular occurrence, so I was over the moon.
The fight was intense. I was running 10lb braid, with 8lb Fluorocarbon leader and fishing in an area were coming in contact with the bottom was a certainly. As the fish surrenders, and the bass makes it way over to the boat, I cradle lifted it out of the water, took a quick photo and gently let it go to fight another day.
Australian bass truly are Aussie battlers. In winter they head down to the salt water to spawn, schooling up on rock walls and general keep quiet. Yet when the summer months hit, they travel huge kilometres up stream to take control of the skinny backwater of even the most secluded creeks and rivers. The bit that gets me is that they navigate their way through all the rapids and fast flowing water, the same ones I trip over trying to carry my trusty yak across. These fish are tough!
Like all good fishing sessions, I like to take a few learning points away from the day. This was a lesson passed on by a mentor of mine, Michael Guest, who despite doing nearly everything in the game, is still open to learning new things from fellow anglers”.
For me, today’s lessons were simple;
- Grass beds will provide adequate cover for bass even when the sun is sitting directly above. Don’t think that tree stumps or steep banks are the only areas worth targeting. If there is solid habitat, the fish will be there.
- Fish move around and you never know when one is around the corner or close to your line – so be ready.
- Following a flood, bigger bass will resist the flush and stand its ground in a selected area to mark its territory for next summer.
- Don’t every think you work a fish out – be open to learn knew things and always be taking mental notes on when or why you didn’t catch a fish.
I pulled the yak out around 5pm and headed back to a nearby town for a well-earned beer. On the drive back, I had the thought that this part of the world would be perfect for some habitat restoration. No matter how spectacular, every waterway needs a little helping hand. So I’m not shocked to learn that OzFishers in the area are doing just that. The OzFish Coffs Harbour Chapter recently had a team of dedicated volunteers of recreational fishers undertake some habitat mapping of the Bellinger. This is usually the first step in habitat restoration initiatives and all recreational fishers young and old can do it. By doing so, the team are able see any gaps in the river system which is lacking sufficient habitat and can use this information to plan for future restoration work. It will be better for you now and for future generations.”
Jonathon Bleakley is the Media Manager for OzFish Unlimited.