Patrick and I arrived at the river at 6am just in time to see the first rays of sunlight hit a very coffee coloured looking Tweed River. As is often the case, after a period of 12 weeks without rain the heavens opened up just a few days prior to the trip. The much needed rain had certainly stirred things up and visibility must have been 6 inches at best. Undeterred Patrick worked his fly at all likely looking snags and eventually found a hungry bass that took a liking to his Donny Brasco fly.
Judging by the colour of the water and the amount of rain we received it may take another couple of weeks before things clear up.
It has now been 4 months since the floods in March and Clarrie Hall Dam is still undergoing some change. The water is still coffee coloured but this will likely have a positive effect on the lake. It could be said that impoundments are in a constant cycle consisting of boom and bust phases. Clarrie Hall is probably in the latter phase now. My theory is that the elevated water levels and turbidity during the floods has cut off the cabomba weeds light source. Subsequently there has been a major die back of this invasive weed. The die off of the weed probably led to more turbidity which in turn caused more weeds to die. A kind of positive feedback loop. Hence 4 months later the dam is still turbid.
The good news is that much of the cabomba weed is now dead. This has exposed the edge of the lily pads making lure fishing a much easier proposition. The die back of the cabomba has also made access easier in a number of places including the boat ramp area which was previously choked with weed. The lily pads have had a bit of a shake up too and now there are gaps between the pads where anglers can swim a bait.
The Tweed River has also undergone some change. There has been some extensive erosion on the river bank where riparian vegetation has been removed for farming…..no surprises there. (River bank planting in these areas is desperately needed to stop erosion and siltation of the river.) However I was very pleased to see numerous new snags in the river. Some of these snags are absolute rippers and will no doubt hold good numbers of bass. On a charter yesterday Dan had some success fishing these snags with a Donny Brasco fly. On a number of occasions the bass appeared to be only sideswiping the fly but Dan managed to connect with a couple of nice fish. When the bass return from their spawning run in September there should be plenty of action to look forward too around these new snags!
I headed to the Tweed River today for a solo ‘bass fishin mission.’ One of my all time favorite lures are the smaller size ‘finesse’ diving minnows that dive to about 2m. I believe the smaller models around the 40-55mm length are less intimidating to a bass than the larger ones. Therefore they are more likely to be snaffled by even the most finicky fish. Most small diving minnows-baits come with two very small treble hooks. These hooks do a brilliant job in hooking bass first time, every time. The fine gauge wire ensures the hooks penetrate the bass’ skin, even if the bass is just side swiping the lure to drive it away from its territory. These hooks tend to stick to anything that comes near them. This is great for hooking fish, but unhooking them can be a real issue.
Some species such as bream tend to have a tough mouths for dealing with shells and crustaceans. However the bass’ mouth contains some very fine membrane. This thin almost transparent layer of skin is often where the hook ends up. As the fish kicks and struggles either in the water or in the boat, the membrane can be pierced several times and thus becomes entangled in these tiny trebles. Major tears in this membrane can result when the angler tries to unhook the bass. These tears can be so severe that the outer edge (maxillary) of the upper jaw can come free. I have even caught bass that were missing their maxillary on one side completely. I can only imaging this is from a previous capture and release where the angler struggled to unhook the fish.
The eyes are another vulnerable part of a bass’ anatomy that can be pierced by these small trebles. With one treble firmly lodged in the mouth, the other treble can end up in the eye. This has happened to me on an occasion where the bass was kicking in the net and landed eye first on the hook. This is a particularly troubling thing to witness. When fishing in waters that are heavily pressured by anglers I have caught bass with one ‘milky’ eye. I suspect these milky eyes are from hook injuries. These kind of eye an mouth injuries mouth injuries would obviously hinder the fishes ability to find and eat food. The good news is that you can make a few simple modifications to lower the risk of injury to our native fish.
Firstly, ‘de-barb’ all the hooks. Simply take some pliers and flatten the barb on all hooks on each treble. This ensures that any hook piercing can easily be removed. This significantly reduces any potential damage from occurring to any fish you plan on releasing. Using barbless hooks doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced hook up rate either. As long as you keep a ‘tight line’ when playing the fish (which you should anyway) there is no reason why the fish could spit the hook.
The second thing I like to do is cut off one hook on each treble, so you now effectively have 2 doubles (not trebles). Again this reduces the chance of injury to the bass whilst not compromising your hook up rate. Sometimes I go one step further and replace the trebles with a single lure hook. But I think modifying the trebles already provided with the lure is cheaper, easier and takes advantage of these small sticky hooks. Both these modifications can be made with a simple set of pliers.
With all my hooks now modified I had a trouble free day on the water today. I managed to land 9 bass averaging about 36cm long. All the strikes from the fish I caught today were converted into landed fish. My customized hooks worked brilliantly.
Have you noticed that bass seem to like low light conditions? Whether your fishing in the shade under a tree, at dawn or dusk or on overcast days, the bass appear to be more active in these situations. My theory is that predators such as birds of prey can see a fish better on a bright sunny day, because the light penetrates deep into the water column. But low light condition appear to give bass the extra confidence to move closer to the surface to feed. Perhaps evolution has played its hand here and any sun bathing fish have been quickly dispatched from history. The wiser more cautious bass have lived to pass on their genes to the bass we see today.
With a thick coverage of clouds my fly of choice was always going to be a surface fly. Twitched in amongst the cabomba weed it was only a matter of time before my frog imitation drew a response. After landing one fish and dropping another, the heavens opened. As the rain poured down I noticed I could no longer hear the popping sound of bass inhaling the gudgeon against the surface of the lake. Perhaps the rain had scared the baitfish down deeper and the bass may have followed. I quickly switched to a deeper presentation.
A lead eye clouser is such a versatile little fly that can be worked at a variety of depths. Retrieving the fly along the edges of the weed resulted in a couple of feisty bass attacking the tasty looking morsel. After some perseverance another fat bass was in the live well. By now I was soaked to the bone, so I released the bass and made a hasty retreat for home. But rain hail or shine Clarrie Hall Dam always offers up some gold.
For me the biggest challenge when fly fishing from a kayak is line management. During the retrieval of the fly, the line must be stripped into a pile somewhere. Once the fly is retrieved and a subsequent cast is made the line inevitably becomes tangled around any conceivable nook, cranny or edge that the line can find. This can be very frustrating. So let’s look at some options.
My first preference is to strip the line into a clear space. But with a pile of tackle, rod holders do hickies and gizmos that I like to take fishing, this is usually not an option. My second preference is to use a towel. A simple towel can easily be draped across any rod holders, sounders, pliers etc preventing your line from becoming snagged. In addition a towel serves a number of other purposes when canoe/kayak fishing. It can be used as a rudimentary bailer, mopping up every last drop of intruding water. It is amazing how much water even a standard bath towel can hold. On long sunny day trips I often use the same towel to keep the sun off my legs.
A more familiar choice for fly anglers is the stripping basket. This can be any container that simply collects you line as you retrieve. I have seen fisherman using everything from their hats to a washing basket. However if you are fishing from a kayak with very limited space such as a pedal kayak, you can’t go past a personal stripping basket.
I recently tried out a new basket from South Pacific. The basket is easily fastened around the waist using the plastic buckle. When in the standing position the basket sits nicely around the hips. When in the seated position you can just slide the basket up your torso a little and collect the line just above your lap. At first it took a little practice to deliver the line into the basket, but it became second nature after a short while. I must say I was very impressed with this bit of gear and will be sure to bring it with me on all Fly Fishing Charters in the Native Watercraft.
If I had a bucket list, somewhere near the top of that list would be to catch Murray cod on fly. Well last weekend I made that dream come true, although it took some doing. During the week leading up to the trip the conditions couldn’t have been worse. Easterly winds and a low barometer were forecast. To top it off the recent rains had dirtied almost every river in the area. All accept one. The Severn River.
After the long drive I met up with Nick and we hit the Severn. The river looked great. It was running clear and warm. But the low pressure system and easterly winds Heralded that the cod fishing would be tough. As tough as it was, we patiently probed our flies into the depths of every fishy looking snag. Nick was first of the mark with a solid little cod of about 50cm. I encountered a few bumps and follows before I had my first hit. There is little question when a cod hits your fly. They tend to hit it hard. Whether fishing with a fly or a lure, that familiar strike delivered from a cods’ powerful jaws always puts a smile on the dial.
With the first strike, I simply failed to set the hook hard enough and the fish swam away. But I didn’t make the same mistake twice. When the next strike came I lifted the rod sharply and drove the hooks home. I was very happy to feel weight at the end of my line and shortly after had my first Murray cod on fly in the net. He wasn’t going to break any records but I was stoked. My First Murray cod on fly!!!!
The next day we tried a different section of the river. The easterly wind fired up and again it appeared the fishing would be tough. As we worked the pools and runs from our kick boats no strikes or follows were forthcoming. I decided it was a good time to replace my leader. The very next cast I let the fly sink deep across the face of a snag under a willow tree. To my amazement the fly was smashed hard and I immediately set the hook. I gave the fish no line as I knew it would bust me off if it headed back into the sticks. Suddenly the line went slack and the tell tale boil of a large tail fin surfaced. Upon closer inspection the uni-knot in the leader had pulled. It was definitely my bad. I have tied hundreds of uni-knots before but not in 30-40lb fluorocarbon line. I’m not exactly sure what went wrong but from then on I vowed to leave longer tag ends and set the knot really tight. Loosing that fish was a bitter pill to swallow. Not only did it feel like a very big fish, but the knot failure was my fault and to top it off the fly I lost was a ripper.
Still, the day was young and we continued floating on downstream. Then to our delight, the wind died down and the day started to really warm up. From then on the fishing vastly improved. We both worked hard and by the end of the day I managed about 4 cod averaging approx 50cm. Nick, being the local must have landed closer to a dozen cod, at least 4 of which were more respectable fish of around 60+cm. I watched him closely and tried to learn from his example. He had fly fished these rivers for many years with great success.
For the most part, the tactics used in fly fishing for Murray cod are similar to any type of lure fishing for Australian natives. Cast the fly/lure as close as possible to any likely fish holding structure and retrieve the fly with plenty of action, pausing occasionally to tempt a strike. Trying a variety of retrieves to see what works best on any given day is the key. Triggering a ‘reaction strike’ that day involved beginning our retrieve the moment the fly hit the water, with shorts sharp strips that would cause the fly to ‘pulse.’ I have seen this style of retrieve work with bass on certain days too. Other days they like the fly to just sit there motionless.
What surprised me more than anything was the type of habitat that we caught fish in. Of course the cod were found in the usual places around the best looking snags, but most of the fish came from sunny positions. When fishing for bass I only ever focus on the shaded areas as most often the fish are found under the trees. However it would appear that day the cod actually preferred more sunny positions. What surprised me even more was the depth of the water Nick was targeting. He had no hesitation in fishing snags that were in no more that 1ft of water!
The other surprising thing was how close Nick would manoeuvre his kick boat to the snag he intended to fish. What appeared to be paramount was getting that fly right up into ‘tiger country’ and if you need to be 3 meters away to do just that, the cod didn’t seem to mind. Nor did they appear to be put off by repeated casts, with the fly slapping the water, probing for a closer position to the snag. In fact if anything I think the cod were actually turned on by all the commotion. I clearly had some old habits to break.
We caught cod on a number of different flies that day but the pink ones were the flavour of the day. With the sun now fast retreating I excitedly gave a purple surface popper a swim, but it drew no response. As we made the long hike back to the car I reflected on what an awesome day it had been. A dream come true and hopefully the first of many more to come.
I am very excited to say that the fishing season for Murray Cod opens tomorrow! It has been a long slow closed season for me. I managed a few trips to Glenlyon Dam but landed no fish at all. For myself as with many Cod fishos, it can be a long drive to our favourite dam, so to come back empty handed can be a bitter pill to swallow. But when the rivers open to fishing on December 1st our options more than double. If a day out on the dam produces zero results, then a visit to the rivers around the impoundment might just save the trip and make the long drive worth while.
Also locating Cod in a river can be a far less daunting task than locating Cod in a dam because the fish tend to sit in certain predictable areas. ‘Cracking a pattern’ by finding the right combination of structure, shade and current will help to consistently locate fish in a river. Conversely, in a dam if the fish are ‘not on’ then it seems sometimes no matter what type of structure you fish, you just can’t draw a response.
With all that in mind, over the closed season much preparation has taken place. The fly rod, the float tube and some new flies from Kaos Cod Flies, all lie in anticipation of the open season. Minyon the Cod has personally eye balled and approved all the flies and blessed them with good Cod ‘ju-ju’. Stay tuned for all the action…..
I have fished many impoundments on the east coast of Australia but perhaps none as beautiful as Clarrie Hall Dam. I find it necessary to be on the water at sunrise to achieve the best results. At that time of day, as the rising sun slowly dissipates the mist covering the dam, the true beauty of this wetland materializes from the early morning haze. Lush green lily pads, purple and yellow lotus flowers come to light as the lake margins are revealed. The calls of water fowl echo and the popping sounds of Bass feeding are all part of the morning symphony as this ecosystem begins another day. Finally when the fog lifts, Mt Warning watches over the lake.
This particular morning I fished a tan coloured Dahlberg Diver, blooping it across the surface like a frog or insect of some type. Initially upon touch down I let the fly sit there for a while then gave as little action to the fly as possible. If that drew no response I would make short ‘bloops’ back to the boat. I had about 5 hits and boated 2 fish of around 33cm. About average for this dam. Once the sun rose higher I changed tactics, pulled out the spin rod and flicked out a small diving jerk bait. I immediately got smashed but the fished shot into the snags and spit the lure.
All in all not a bad 3 hours of fishing. If I had managed to convert a few more hits into fish landed then I could have had 5 Bass in the live well. Clarrie Hall is my local impoundment and I have fished it numerous times. The Bass are of modest size and I rarely come home with cricket score card numbers of fish, but the place is just so incredibly scenic. I will be back!