It’s that time of year again: bass seasons seem so short when they are over. While I’m currently enjoying the sunny days of spring-time Vancouver and looking forward to spending a summer on the lakes of Ontario, the buzz of cicadas has long since ceased and the sweltering hot days spent canoeing the Williams River are over for at least a while.
The 2013/2014 bass season was pretty epic for Dick and me, to be honest. Starting the season as novices with only a handful of bass to our names, we did the research, made plenty of plans, and spent good time on the water. I think that payed off. We learned a lot this past season.
Opening Day couldn’t come quick enough for us. We had moped about for most of the winter wishing we were chasing bass, and the week-long stint of fantastic beach fishing we had experienced in July wasn’t enough. I’d lashed out and picked up a super new setup specifically for bass, just to keep them in my thoughts. Never mind that the first couple of fish I landed on it were XO salmon and a 20lb mulloway, I couldn’t wait to get it working the river.
August 31 found us stepping out to explore a new section of the Williams that I had heard about. We put in as the afternoon wore on to get an idea of the place, finding some nice sections of a beautiful river. Watching big catfish and eels cruise beneath us was amazing, and when we spotted the solid forms of bass lurking in a deep hole we really couldn’t wait. A sly cast from Dick had him on the board! We quickly released the fish and headed back to our camp to enjoy the fire and a beer.
Opening morning dawned clear and bright as we cruised through the mist and cast everything we could find, but alas! A perfect zero for Opening Day, even when we dashed to our old haunts closer to Dungog, reminded us that we still had plenty to learn.
Undeterred, the following Friday afternoon found me (Dick had other commitments) hightailing it out of work and driving into the darkness to explore The Branch river. Putting in on a moonless night and paddling a river I’d never explored was an exciting adventure, and I scrambled over several portages before noises drew my attention in the inky blackness. As I drifted through the night I could have sworn I’d come onto a school of frenzied barramundi. The water was erupting with boofs and pops and I found that the river was funnelled through a metre-wide gap in a rock bar, where schooling prawns were being intercepted by bass! I scooped a couple of prawns and drifted one down on a weightless hook. It didn’t take long to be snapped up by my first fish for the season! I rolled my swag out on that rockbar by the water and fell asleep listening to the feeding frenzy while a koala bellowed in the night.
A quick phone call had us decide to make an afternoon dash up to Dungog to catch the last of the daylight. Dick had gone all out and bought himself a new setup that had to be christened. We hadn’t really done any night fishing at this stage so decided it was worth a go. A bit of surface disturbance had us swapping soft plastics for surface lures, and that was when a light switch turned on. We caught eleven fish in the space of an hour or so, with most casts being pursued. How had we missed this before? The dusk feeding session is a fantastic time to be on the water and we missed few opportunities to fish it from then on. I was back at our out-of-town location the next weekend and found the same burst of activity just on dark and for a short while after.
The fish I caught that weekend showed all too well the tough nature of migration. These fish had obviously just gotten back up to this area of the system, and low water levels had left the travellers in a pretty beat up state. Dorsal spines scarred, broken and in some cases completely gone; tails torn and tattered; and skinny bellies. No wonder the fish were feeding hard. From our observations, these injuries apparently repair in a short space of time; even dorsal spines seem to grow back. We caught several fish that showed early stages of this; with soft fleshy growth on their damaged fins which I assume is a new spine in the making. Later on in the season you don’t see any fish that are permanently disfigured from these injuries so I assume that they heal.
The Williams River fish are by no means the biggest bass in NSW. As soon as you hit 30cm in this system you are looking at a big fish, and our average ‘good fish’ range between 30 and 35cm. I had two 36cm fish to my name and was happy with that, until Dick and I found an otherwise inconspicuous hole that turned out some fantastic fishing for the few weeks that fish resided in it. We came upon the hole accidentally when Dick put a plastic in that was immediately nailed by a hefty 37cm fish, and with that he took the record.
Our next outing on the river a few weeks later found us exploring a nearby stretch of unlikely looking water when the sound of Dick’s drag made us both a little over excited. Following some tense moments while the fish paraded about in front of some snags, the pressure started to tell and it planed out across the river and into the landing net. At 39cm it is our current record and was a beautiful fish.
A Weekend to Remember
Anyone from eastern Australia (or even New Zealand if they had good hearing) knows that the ‘13/’14 summer was a cicada summer. They deafened us for weeks on end from December, and fed all manner of creatures until they were sick at the sight of the buzzing bugs. I’ve come to realise that full on cicada activity is a gift from the gods to a bass fisherman.
Dick and I were keen to see what the fish were like when the cicadas were on, and we weren’t disappointed. A surface fishing session that spans the entire day, with a fish sitting in every bit of shade watching the skies for falling insects. Fish striking at cicadas all around you while you decide which one to cast to next. Putting a cast on a fish that has just taken a bug, and having it launch itself out of the water and grab the lure literally before it lands. Halcyon days. Fifty-six fish between us for a day and a half on the water was a highlight of the year.
Some New Water
A new year, a new river to explore. I had accidentally come across the Crawford while mooching about along the road from Booral to Buladelah, and immediately I wanted to fish it. A narrow vein of water completely roofed in by trees; a hidden, silent place.
I was back a few days later with the old man in tow to get him his first bass. The place lived up to expectations. Being as narrow as it was, we fished in a leapfrog fashion and had only travelled about 100 metres downstream before I found the first fish of the morning. This continued for the next few hours as we paddled and scrambled through some beautiful country and tangled with hard fighting fish. Eighteen for the morning was a nice way to spend the day.
Keeping a notebook and recording details of each outing is something that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to get into outdoor pursuits in a serious way. The amount of knowledge that is catalogued can be impressive and will make you better at your chosen pastime.
My key tips for becoming a better bass catcher would be as follows:
- Get a water craft. The amount of access this opens up is phenomenal.
- Get good at casting. You will only catch a daytime bass if you put your lure in front of it.
- Lure efficiently. Have choice, but don’t go overboard with lure selection. You will waste time mucking about changing lures when you could be fishing.
- Get crepuscular. Dawn and dusk. Fish them.
- Know your river. Explore new places, but learn your home turf well enough to never go fishless.
- Think outside the snag. Search out underwater structure, and don’t overlook unlikely places until you’ve tested them.
Our season finished up with 133 bass brought to hand over, amazingly when I count it up, 16 days on the water. It definitely feels like more than that but there you go. Jobs: getting in the way of bass fishing since forever.
I might not be back for a while, but I’ll be looking forward to when I next slip down the Williams, underneath the river oaks and the cicadas’ endless hum.