A few mornings ago I made the pre-daylight trip up the valley, travel mug in my lap. I didn’t have the canoe with me but that wasn’t going to cramp my style. The good thing about bass is that you can get to them on foot if you feel like it. The other day reminded me why bank bashing for Aussie bass is a good approach.
First light came a little late on an overcast morning as I waded through the bankside vegetation. I knew where I wanted to fish but river fishing for bass has the knack of distraction. The first glimpse of water proved irresistible and I crept into position atop the steep bank, looking down onto the stillness of the water otherwise hidden from the world by weeping lilly pilly.
My first cast of the morning was just an underarm lob from my lofty vantage point. The little surface lure managed to get delicately hung up over a twig and I let the ripples settle before commencing the less delicate ‘tea bagging’ retrieve style. Simply wobbling the rod tip was enough to get the lure into a little dance aided by its supporting twig, and a flash darted out of nowhere to strike at the jittering lure, missing the hooks. I paused for a few seconds to imitate a mortally terrified creature before giving one more tentative wobble. With a smack the lure was snatched off the surface and line pulled tight as a dark green bass attempted escape.
Working my way downstream I found the bass were more than willing to cooperate. I hadn’t fished this section on foot even though I’d done so from canoe many times. The river was just narrow enough for a long cast to make the opposite bank and several times I found tough fish dragging me into far flung snags but was lucky enough to bring them back out.
Because I knew where each riffle was and the character of the river it was easy enough to wade back and forth covering the best spots as I came to them. Approaching from the bank was actually a benefit in some areas where you just can’t get a cast from the water due to the enclosing vegetation. From the bank I could sneak in under the blanketing canopy and observe hidden lairs. While it was still early I observed fish poking about their homes before I cast to them and got to see their reactions to my surface lures. A few times I saw multiple fish following lures but not striking – probably not what immediately comes to mind when we think of bass. I even saw lone fish slowly appear beneath the lure, imperceptibly rising through the water column to stare, unmoving, at the deception floating on the tip of their noses. These fish never struck. Of course, others just smashed it.
A steady stream of captures kept me entertained as I explored. The rain that the day had promised fell but it was nice to be out, and the fish didn’t care anyway. I kept pulling fish whenever I got casts up against steep banks or in tight structure. It really is surprising what you can drag them out of sometimes.
As I started to get peckish and the bite slowed after midday I decided to turn around. Cutting through one bit I discovered that what I’d always thought were two uninspiring creeks was actually a single oxbow, steep banked and heavily vegetated; and more importantly unnoticeable from the water. Surely this would be where a big fish would live undisturbed!
I crept about in the gallery forest and peeked over the edge of the bank at a little pool below me. It was too open to get to the water without being seen so I just fired the lure out from where I was. Before I knew it a fishy shape was on the lure and I pulled back but hooks didn’t hold! Now the bass was out in the open for me to admire and it was a beauty, heavily built and with light outer edges to its caudal fin. It patrolled the pool and I shot another cast out. Immediately it honed in on the object and sidled up underneath. I stared. It stared. I gave the lure a twitch. It stared. I didn’t move the lure. It stared. I moved the lure. It stared. By the end of the retrieve the diver was just bobbing helplessly against shore while the fish continued to show insufficient interest. Then it disappeared. At least I hope it will be there next time.
Bank fishing for bass is one of the most accessible forms of sport fishing available to us on the NSW coast. You don’t need fancy gear or boxes of lures to be successful and almost every half decent creek linking to major coastal river systems has a resident bass population. With their keenness to take surface lures these fish become addictive; and there is always the thought that the next pool or hollow could hold the monster you’ve been looking for.
What better way is there to spend a rainy day?