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Fishing Trip From Hell?

Have you ever had a fishing trip where everything seems to go wrong? When I hit a kangaroo on the way to the dam recently I should have seen this as a bad omen. Later that day I hit a rock in the boat and snapped the shaft on the electric motor. I also broke 2 of my favorite (and most expensive) lures and after 3 days of solid fishing, I caught absolutely nothing!! But with scenery like this I really can’t complain 🙂

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2017 Floods

A tropical low  (a remnant of cyclone Debbie) moving south has collided with a cold front moving north over the South QLD/Northern Rivers area. An astonishing 602mm of rain was recorded at the town of Uki, near Clarrie Hall Dam, over 2 days (30&31st) of March!! Needless to say the Tweed River was in flood and the town of Murwillumbah suffered some inundation. Clarrie Hall Dam is looking very turbid to say the least and it will be a while before conditions settle down in both the dam and the river. Fishing charters will not be running for at least a couple of weeks.

The good news is that the river will benefit from a good flush out. Once the river recovers there will be a whole new world of fish habitat to discover 😉  Here is what the river looked like in flood

Pre-and Post Spawning Bass Fishing Tactics

Each winter Australian bass turn their minds to spawning. Biological urges compel female bass to head downstream in search of spawning grounds. Their annual migration can take them hundreds of kilometres down river to the eagerly awaiting males. During these cooler months’, large schools of migrating bass can be found at various points in the river system. These congregations can be vulnerable to over exploitation by fisherman. When targeting these iconic sport fish, there are a number of things the recreational fisherman can do to ensure good catch rates for years to come.

Australian bass are catadromous. This means they migrate downstream to spawn. Most catadromous fish migrate to the sea to spawn, however bass only need move into the brackish water to breed. Rainfall events between May and August trigger the females to move downstream into the estuary to breed. Males tend to remain in the estuary after spawning, whereas the females move back upstream where they remain until the following season.

Bass prefer to spawn in water of low salinity (about 1/3 sea water). Therefore, it could be predicted that; in most south east coastal Australian river systems bass will be congregating to spawn during the winter months where the salt water meets the fresh. The exact locations will vary each year, dependent on conditions such as salinity. However, spawning often remains within the vicinity of a predicable part of the river each year. The predictability of these congregations of spawning bass make them vulnerable to over fishing.

spawning bass

Post Spawning Tweed River Bass

Some anglers would argue the key to conservation here is catch and release. But it is likely that the trauma caused to a fish after capture and release would at the very least ‘kill the mood’. At worst the eggs or the milt may be purged and spawning for that individual is delayed until next year. Our native fish already face enough adversity through loss of habitat, pollution, over fishing etc. Thus, targeting spawning bass is simply not good practice. Despite this, in NSW the laws currently don’t appear to prohibit targeting spawning bass. From June to August each year a zero-bag limit applies, but fishing in these areas is still allowed. This raises a few questions. Does this mean catch and release anglers can still legally target bass in rivers over winter? More importantly is it ethical?

 

 

Pre-spawning and spawning bass fishing tactics

Perhaps the best rule of thumb is to fish for bass in your local dam during winter. Bass in our rivers are busy ensuring future generations of bass, so they are best left alone to do their thing. The good news is that bass also tend to congregate over the winter months in our dams as well. Their instinct to spawn often has them forming schools in the lower catchment. Large congregations of bass can often be found near dam walls or spillways that prevent their migration downstream. Of course, there is no saltwater in our impoundments, so the bass can’t breed anyway. So, bass fishing over winter can be guilt free and highly productive.

In the cooler month’s schools of bass tend to hold down deep out in the middle of the dam. Cycling through a variety of deep presentations such as ice jigs, blades, soft plastics and lipless crankbaits are the ‘go to’ baits over winter. At times these schooling bass can be tight lipped, so varying retrieves and presentations is the key to success on any given day. Perhaps the most valuable technique is to ensure you don’t disturb the school too much. Pressuring a school by the capture of numerous fish can cause the school to shut down. A captured and released bass somehow puts out a vibe which often alerts other fish to possible danger. By temporarily retaining the fish in a live well, the angler can catch a number of bass before the school wises up.

Post spawning bass fishing tactics

After spawning female bass want to return home to their freshwater habitat. September is the best time to intercept these post spawning females as they make their way home. The freshwater areas immediately above the estuary are the areas to focus on. Spawning activity has left the bass hungry and competition caused by the presence of other bass, means they are particularly vulnerable to capture. Care should be taken not to over exploit the fish stocks at this time of year. Tackle choice plays a large part in the conservation of the fishery.

 

Bass with missing mouth parts

Bass with missing mouth parts

All the usual array of baits tend to work in September; spinnerbaits, diving minnows, soft plastics, blades, lipless crank baits, flies, surface baits etc. With such an increase in the likely hood of catching high numbers of bass, it makes sense to moderate your approach. First, try using baits that are less likely to cause injury to the fish. Baits with single hooks such as spinnerbaits and soft plastics are less likely to cause injury to vulnerable mouth, eyes and throat parts of the bass. A bass hooked with a single hook is also much easier to release and less likely to cause injury to the angler.

 

September/October is an ideal time to fly fish for bass. Fly fishing can often be a bit daunting due to lower catch rates compared to fishing with lures. But with plenty of hungry bass around now is the time to practice ‘waving the wand’. Focus on the shady areas around snags during the day with clousers and streamers etc. Tie on surface flies such as Dahlberg divers in the low light conditions of early morning and late afternoon. A fly is also far less likely to cause injury to a fish’s mouth parts and eyes compared to many other baits.

Gold Coast Fishing Charters

Bass Fly Fishing

When the fishing is tough using lures with double trebles increases your likelihood of hook up. A fish only has to sniff a fine gauge treble and it is hooked. But when unhooking small fine gauge trebles from a high number of captures, you may notice the injuries these trebles can cause to fish. These hooks tend to stick to and penetrate anything they touch, including the fish’s eyes, throats and gills. Modifying trebles by flattening the barbs and even cutting off one of the hooks goes a long way in ensuring the survival of released fish.

At this time of year it is possible to pull a number of fish off each snag. If your intention is to catch and release and you have a live well, be sure to detain each fish temporarily. As with bass fishing in the dams, your catch and released bass might alert the rest of the school to your presence. It is important here you know the local rules and regulations in the area you are fishing. At time of writing, in NSW taking of only 1 bass over 35cm from rivers and 2 from dams is allowed. So even if your intention is catch and release, possession of numerous bass in a live well may not be allowed? In this case the alternative is to release each fish at a distance from the area you wish to keep fishing.

Conclusion

To ensure future stocks of Australian bass, anglers would benefit by altering their fishing locations and techniques just before, during and after the spawning season. In winter avoid fishing in rivers, instead concentrating on dams. Use catch and release friendly tackle such as baits with single hooks or flatten the barbs on trebles. By following local rules and with a little forethought, the iconic Australian bass will be around for many future generations to come.

Simon Fitzpatrick

 

Lake and River Charter March 12, 2017

We arrived at the dam at 7am ready for action. As we were unpacking the gear the natural beauty of our surrounds demanded our attention. The mist slowly rising from the lake, revealing lotus flowers in the morning light. I heard someone comment “just being here was worth it already”. It is always such a pleasure to hear people appreciate the natural beauty of this wetland as much as I do. My job was already done and we hadn’t even wet a line yet.

The 5 of us diligently peppered the lake with our lures throughout the morning. We cycled through a number of different presentations, altering our retrieves and changing lures. But we had no bites at all. The water at Clarrie Hall is currently very turbid. I haven’t seen it this colour before and I am not sure what has caused the turbidity. With no significant recent rainfall, the discolouration it is likely due to an algal bloom. These events can strip the water of oxygen leaving the bass lethargic and unwilling to eat. High temperatures alone also decrease dissolved oxygen levels and may have resulted in a die off of some aquatic weed. This could further exasperate the issue. Either way the fish were certainly ‘off the chew’ so we decided to head for the river.

It was good to see the Tweed had recovered from its previous turbid and somewhat stagnant state. There had been just enough rain to flush the system and it looked great. Using spinnerbaits and hard bodies the boys worked all likely looking snags. By 5pm the boys had caught about 10 bass between them. They worked hard for their fish and deserved every one of them. Their enthusiasm, appreciation and help throughout the day was awesome. Days like this its a real privilege to be a guide. You guys are welcome back anytime!

Simon

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Kayak Bass Fishing Charters

Join me on a Kayak Bass Fishing Charter. Your courtesy pick up from your Northern Rivers accommodation will take you to the most pristine local waterways where the bass are fat and healthy. I will accompany you throughout the day, sharing all the local secrets on catching Australian bass.

Simon Fitzpatrick Bass Fishing Guide. Bookings and inquiries

North Coast Shark Net Trial

I discovered some interesting truths about shark nets whilst writing an evaluation on the Shark Net Trial that is taking place off Northern NSW beaches. It is quite long so if you want to cut to the chase just read the Abstract and Introduction at the start and the Conclusion at the end. Enjoy! and be informed.

An Evaluation of Shark Nets and Drumlines for Northern NSW Beaches

Simon Fitzpatrick

Hinze Dam Feb 16, 2017

Tom showed up keen as mustard ready to fish Hinze Dam for the first time. The weather had cooled since the previous days, so conditions were very pleasant out on the water. First up we headed straight for a nice looking bay where we fished the surface for saratoga. Tom tied on a popper and it wasn’t long before he had his first inquiry. The toga snaffled the lure on the pause, jumped a few times and spat the hook. Saratoga have hard mouths and throw violent head shakes when they jump, so staying connected with a toga is a volatile thing. I have heard many say “expect to land about 1 in 5 toga hook ups.”

We continued to fish the area but with no luck we decided to tie on spinnerbaits and fish the structure. We fished the edges of the timber where plenty of fish were identified on the sounder. But with no wind the fish just didn’t appear to be feeding. I threw everything I had in the tackle box at them but the bass were very tight lipped. In the afternoon the wind picked up but it appeared to make little difference. The bass were there but just not interested

As the shadows grew longer towards the end of the day we came across a school of bass that were keen to play. Both Tom and I had several hits from the school and we landed a fish each. We certainly worked hard for those 2 fish and we were very happy to take a couple of photos and release them to fight another day. Hinze Dam is a beautiful place and a valuable fishery. I can’t wait to get back there soon.

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Spinnerbait Me!

Spinnerbaits would have to be one of the most versatile lures for Australian native fish. Bass, cod, saratoga, yellow belly and sooty grunter all love ’em. They can be worked horizontally, vertically, deep, shallow and are quite snag resistant.  When fishing heavy structure many other lures would see you snagged up again and again when trying to present the bait to the fish. Fish will often strike after the lure has hit some structure, so it is best to get the lure right into ‘tiger country.’ The spinnerbait design allows you to clank and clang the lure right in among the timber, with only the occasional snag-up.  A tackle retriever such as a Tackle Back will help you ‘de-snag’ and about 9 times out of 10 you should get your lure back.

Today after a solid 2 hours fishing the surface I finally conceded that the surface temperature of 30 degrees was just too warm for the bass. Out deeper the bass could be seen on the sounder at around 7-8m holding tight to the sunken trees in the dam. There appeared to be a thermocline at around 6m and the bass were consistently sitting just below it. Using a 5/8 spinnebait I would cast and allow the bait to sink whilst counting to 12. This put the lure right in the strike zone. A steady roll back to the boat was enough to entice a number of bass. I landed 6 fish up to 40cm and had several other hits. I had a stinger hook on so it appeared that the fish were hitting the blades.

Happy days.

Simon Fitzpatrick

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Clarrie Hall Charter Feb 11, 2017

What do you do when it’s too hot to go fishing?……”MAN UP GIRLY BOY” and go fishing anyway!! With temperatures forecast to reach the high 30’s/ low 40’s it was always going to be hot. So with plenty of sun protection and plenty of fluids Ned and I hit the dam nice and early. To make things more challenging, there was not a breath of wind until about 1pm so it was a little sticky to say the least.

With the surface temperature so warm we chose to give surface fishing a miss and immediately tied on the Jackalls. Although diving minnows appeared to be the lure of the day for Ned, my lures attracted no fish. Ned’s little Jackall swam and swam all over the dam and by the end of the day he had racked up a total of 10 fish! I, on the other hand couldn’t raise a fin. I flogged the water with the same Jackall lures but in every other colour variation than Neds lure. It seems he had the ‘go to lure’ for the day and it was the only one in the tackle box. This for me confirms the importance of colour. On this day it was clearly the difference between an abundance of fish or none.

Over the years I have noticed this particular colour consistently catches more fish. It has always been my favorite colour for cod and bass fishing, but today really highlighted just how dominant it can be! I am almost at the point where I could throw out all the lures in the tackle box and replace them with ……….. ones. Anyway it was a huge pleasure to show Ned around our beautiful dam and put him onto some nice bass. Especially on his birthday. …..Happy birthday Ned!!

Simon Fitzpatrick

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Clarrie Hall Charter, January 3rd, 2017

After a long drought the heavens finally opened up last night. Parts of the Tweed Valley received 150mm of much needed rain. When Dave and I launched the Slayer kayaks on the dam this morning it was still drizzling. The overcast conditions remained with us all day which was a blessing compared to spending a day in the punishing sun. The low light conditions also provided an opportunity to fish closer to the surface.

Dave busily prospected using a variety of lures throughout the day. We fished the edges, we fished the surface and we fished out in the open. Fish could be seen on the sounder at all these locations around the dam. When the wind picked up a little we found a large school of bass on the sounder, suspended in the current created by the wind. We busily cycled through all that we had in out tackle box. We danced, slow rolled and trolled our offerings through the school, but the schooled up fish were simply not interested.

Using a variety of techniques and lures we caught a number of solid bass in various locations around the dam. The fishing was by no means easy, but with a little persistence, patience and know how, Clarrie once again offered up her gems 🙂

Simon Fitzpatrick

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