Big bass, crisp, cool, nights with clear skies, camp- oven cook ups and sharing laughs with mates is all part of the bass fishing and camping experience.
Kayaking angler Dave Brace knows what it takes to catch Australian Bass during the cooler months. He shares his experience with WTW.
Schooling Australian Bass within impoundments – dams and lakes– of Queensland and northern New South Wales can be an easy option for a fun day on the water during winter. Even though the fish can’t spawn within the land-locked fisheries, female bass nonetheless school up to breed in their natural environment during the months of June, July and August, and can grow to trophy-sized proportions in excess of 50cm.
During these cooler months, female Australian Bass put on lots of weight as they fatten up and produce roe during their seasonal breeding rituals and are sometimes as round as they are long. Their large, caudal fin can move big amounts of water, and that makes for exhilarating fishing once a fish is hooked, especially from a kayak.
Choice of equipment
A 2000 or 2500 spin reel matched to a 3kg- 6kg, seven-foot graphite rod is a good combo for targeting bass from a kayak. Depending on the environment and the structures within particular ecosystems, it’s smart to start with 10lb braid as the main line in a hi-vis yellow or green. Attached to the main line, a fluorocarbon leader of between six feet and seven feet is also recommended.
In clear water, downsizing the leader to between 6lb and 8lb can entice a better strike rate, but be mindful of what lies below the surface. These fish can fight pretty dirty if given the opportunity. I use Platypus Fishing Lines, Platinum Plus braid and 10lb Stealth Leader, but I have used up to a 20lb leader on occasion.
Soft-plastics would hands down be the most versatile lures. They can be used for so many target species. Z-Man’s soft plastics ElaZtech design lures are 10 times stronger than some competitors’ product and will last many fish over. Lures like the 2.5″ GrubZ, the 3″ MinnowZ and the 3″ GrubZ are all worthy of taking pride of place in the lure tray.
There’s also the option of attaching a jig spinner. The small Colorado blade of the jig spinner adds flash and amplifies the lure’s vibrating qualities. Rigged on varying weighted jig heads it allows swimming the lure either on the surface, lower in the water, among structures or fishing them weedless. There’s no doubt soft-plastic lures are the most fish-like representation, but they’re usually too hard for an opportunistic feeding bass to strike. Blade-type lures and ice jigs are also a necessity when targeting these fish during winter and are very worthy of a mention, especially if the bass are predominantly schooling and holding closer to the bottom.
Spinnerbaits are another lure every freshwater angler should have.
Again it’s the flash and vibration from either the Willow or Colorado blades attached to the lures that attract unwary fish. Dave prefers to target bass with spinner baits weighted at 3/8oz or 1/2oz from TT Lures, and in the colours of Purple Blue Scale, Purple Glimmer and Gold Scale.
During very tough periods of fishing, especially when the weather deteriorates, lures can be also coated liberally with Pro-Cure’s range of Bait Scent to entice wary bass.
Where to find them
In the cooler part of the year schooling bass can be located off points, old creek beds in deeper water and on flats well away from any structure. With the use of a fish finder, spend time on the water searching the lake. Sometimes it might take an hour or more to find fish.
Trolling lures behind the kayak while searching is a great way to catch solitary fish, or maybe fish from a small school that may have been outside of the fish finder’s signal while passing. Once they’ve been pinpointed, it’s a matter of changing lure presentations with varying techniques to see what attracts them.
From experience, trolling lures through large schools is a very effective way to catch bass. However, casting and retrieving lures at bass in big numbers can be a bit more challenging – yet most rewarding. Unfortunately Australian Bass do shut down easily and go off the bite once a few fish have been caught from a particular school, especially if the catch is released back into the group. To prolong the bite period, some anglers place the catch in a live well, but once a school has shut down it’s best to leave the area and find another school nearby.
It’s always worth returning to the original spot later in the day, though.
As a precaution, be mindful of local fishery regulations on possession, size and bag limits for Australian Bass. It would also be sensible to check if you need a fishing permit and/ or a licence. Regulations can change from lake to lake.
The ‘countdown method’ is paramount when it comes to catching bass down deeper.
How is this achievable? Here’s an example.
If you’re in five metres of water and the fish are concentrated in a thermocline, or just above one, in about 2.5 metres of water, counting down your lure to the right depth and placing an imitation bait in their line of sight is crucial. Position your kayak over the schooling fish, let the lure sink all the way to the bottom while counting how many seconds it takes to reach its destination from the time the lure first hits the surface. You’ll know when the lure has hit the bottom because no more line will come off the reel and excess line will float on the surface.
Now you know how many seconds it took to reach the bottom, and knowing more active fish are holding halfway within that water column, it’s just a matter of counting your lure down halfway, engaging the bale arm of your reel and beginning to jig and twitch the rod’s tip using varying speeds with periodical pauses. When you become acclimatised and advanced at setting up and reading your fish finder, you’ll find you’ll be able to see your lure working among the school and even see fish following it and predict fish strikes when jigging.
Once you’ve exhausted this jigging method, try casting your lure at the fish still schooled halfway within the water column by casting the lure away from your vessel as opposed to dropping the lure directly beneath you. Either using a slow rolling or fast retrieval pattern, using small rod tip twitches and double twitches during the retrieve is an effective method to catch these fish.
Now let’s concentrate on how to target Australian Bass congregated in schools hugging the bottom.
As stated above, these fish are sometimes harder to tempt, having probably already fed and are in a digestive mode or are just sulking due to environmental changes within the lake. More often than not when a fish strikes a lure while in this mode it’s an instinctive strike. Various jigging techniques can be used to arouse and tantalise these fish to strike, however finding the right technique with the combination of lure colour choices is sometimes just a matter of continual trial and error. Once you’ve cracked the pattern the fish will react to the technique and lure presentation on repeated casts.
What about bass along a slightly undulating, sloping bottom with more structure?
After positioning the kayak within a distance of the bank where the fish are holding, let your lure sink to the bottom after casting towards land. Now, by raising the rod slightly and twitching the rod tip, the lure will quickly rise off the bottom like an injured bait fish only to flutter down on the pause. Repeat this technique, retrieving the lure over the structure and letting it bounce off the bottom every time. Be patient as the lure sinks. You’ll know when it’s reached the floor of the lake or an old creek bed when the bend in your line above the water suddenly goes slack.
More often than not an unsuspecting bass will take the lure as it drops after twitching the rod tip.
A few points
It’s important to remember when you’re retrieving your lure closer to the kayak, the higher your lure will be drawn away from the fish once the angle of the line becomes too acute. As a result, it’s also advisable to open the bale arm of your reel several times, just for a few seconds, and let the lure sink again during each retrieval. This will keep the lure in the strike zone for longer as you slowly retrieve through the upper layers of the water. With fish schooling tight on the bottom, using a heavier weighted lure will help in keeping that lure deeper, therefore among the fish for longer.
A retrieval pattern of just dragging the lure across a nil-structured bottom is sometimes enough to cause a fish to react and strike, as long as that lure is vibrating. Vary your speeds to find what excites the fish. A kill-and-burn approach could also be an effective method. To use this technique, after the lure has reached its desired depth, crank it back energetically with sudden and brisk pauses in between.
When chasing bass with Switchblades I use 3/8oz and 1/2oz weighted blades for varying techniques. TT Lures Switchblades have easy adjustable tow points which can be varied to sort out the best vibrational qualities of your lure. There are four optional tow points to choose from on each lure and simply moving the clip provided to one of these holes will optimise the lure’s ability to attract the fish. For a fast retrieve, place the clip closer to the front of the lure. For a jigging or slower retrieval pattern, move the lure’s tow point to the rear to give more vibration.
Choosing the colour of a lure has some bearing, however the lure’s action is far more important. When fish are schooling at depths of five metres or more the light penetrating to those levels is very minimal, and factors like floating sediment and silt dramatically reduce visibility. Taking all that into consideration, it’s highly likely the fish are seeing the lure in shades rather than the colours we see above water level.
A variety of coloured lures is most beneficial when using the abovementioned techniques.
Adapting and unveiling the secrets
Equipped with a variety of lures, a sense of adventure and a mind-set of putting in the hours on the water, some great Australian Bass fishing can be had during winter. Using the lures mentioned, every depth of water can be covered by using varying techniques and tactics. Many quality bass have been caught and released as a result, some of which were of the magic, 50cm milestone length.
The euphoria that surrounds this style of fishing still excites many anglers. No two given days are ever the same. Every week, every month and every year comes with its own book of challenges. As anglers, part of this experience is to unveil the secrets before us and we need to learn to adapt to changes within these environments. Sometimes thinking outside the square can be very effective fishing for this incredible species.
Australian Bass are hard-hitting fish. They strike a lure like a cannonball, are an opportunistic feeder and are great fun to target. Best of luck on your next adventure in pursuit of these Aussie beauties!