Where is your favourite bass fishery? Simple enough question, and one would think after chasing bass competitively for 10 years in more than 20 locations that I would have one answer. Each fishery is curiously unique from the next as is the behaviours of the bass therein. So after some deliberation I have managed to reduce the list to five of what I believe are the best bass dams in Australia.
Glenbawn makes the top five list clearly for fish ability, there are almost all types of terrain to entertain any angler’s interests or favoured techniques. I have targeted bass in Glenbawn on Fly less than 8 inches from the bank and then on soft plastics in more than sixty feet of water near the bottom. Whatever your panache Glenbawn concurs, the dam is long and the topography alters constantly as you make your way towards the river at the top. The fish in the main basin will respond differently to the fish in the 8 knot zone up the back and are typically of a different calibre. At one end of the dam the fish will be fat and healthy whilst at the other it looks as though they haven’t eaten for a month and this changes seasonally. I theoretically break the dam into 3 key areas, I would be confident that the fish will be biting in one of these locations at any point in time. Main basin to the start of the narrows being area 1, narrows through to and including the boot is area 2, then the boot through to and including the 8 knot zone for the final area. It helps to have at least one confidence spot in each of these areas to assist with locating active fish each trip.
Glenbawn is a structure focused dam, no matter where in the dam or what depth of water I find the bass they always associate with some form of structure. This can be as intense as heavily timber strewn banks, or can be as subtle as the river break line at forty feet descending to sixty feet. When I am fishing deep water for Glenbawn bass I often find that they are still containing themselves to a tree even in eighty feet of water. This becomes difficult when you need to drop a line class to as low as 4 pounds to entice the bite. My favourite time to chase bass in Glenbawn would have to be winter. The early morning starts are a little chilly but the fact that I can consistently get onto bass that will bite quickly warms things up. Fishing in winter is typically but not limited to deep water, there are fish on the edges but the fun is to be had out wider. Utilising a sounder and a vertically presented lure you can literally watch the fish follow and attack your lure on the screen. These deep fish have a comfort zone that they like to sit in, you will notice them have a crack at the lure as it leaves their zone either going to deep or too shallow. Keeping the lure in their comfort zone will often result in plenty of follows but no commitment to strike.
When Glenbawn bass are hard to tempt I find myself resorting to soft plastics, it is difficult to better a well presented paddle tail in this dam. These lures are not limited to a particular depth of water or type of structure. However my go to plastic is a ¼ ounce rigged Ecogear power shad. I trim the plastic slightly to make it fit flush against the base of the jig head, the jig head should be colour matched to the plastic to give a realistic guise. In keeping with the natural look it should have a fine wire small gape hook that is easily hidden within the bait, this won’t deter the bass on those subtle bites. I fish the lure close to the bottom even when fishing the steeper banks as I know the fish will be concealed by the structure. The depth of water will determine the position of the boat, the steeper the bank the closer the boat will need to be in order for the lure to maintain close proximity to the bottom. Sounding the area with your fish finder is by far the most accurate way to determine where the lure needs to be. Or simply pay attention to the screen whilst you are fishing and make adjustments to the technique on the run.
Lake St Clair
Lake St Clair is a fishery you either have a passion for or despise, it can be windy and difficult to fish however once you get an understanding for this dam it quickly offers up the bass in a reliable consistent manner. If any impoundment was to be coined with the term predictable it would be St Clair, the dam has almost the same terrain throughout its entirety. The bass move in 3 stages, from deep in the weed itself, on the outer fringes of the structure then out wide and repeat the process in reverse as the season’s progress. Typically you should be able to locate bass shallow at the start of the day regardless of time of year then progress slowly through the ranges out to deep water. By deep water I am referring to 50 or even 60 feet, the fish from this depth need to be released straight after capture or carefully looked after due to barotrauma if you want to keep them for a photo. Don’t limit the techniques for fishing this depth to soft plastics or ice jigs. Deep fish are not necessarily shut down or inactive they are just at a depth that is comfortable and may contain he food source they are chasing.
Weed weed weed and more weed, St Clair is the best place I know of to be confident in fishing weed beds, if you can master the art of fishing these defined edges with either suspending hard bodies or soft plastics you will catch fish anytime of the year with a little persistance. Depending on dam levels and the past season the bass may not always be referencing the outer edge of the weed line. The receding water level will create a canopy of green over the top of the otherwise sparsely spread columns, creating an ideal midday cover from the sun with easy ambush at the fringes of the weed. In early spring and summer bass will position themselves on the inside edge of the weed towers sneaking up to the grassy banks for a feed at first and last light, then retreat back to the inner fringe for cover awaiting their next waylay. Fishing in heavy structure can be frustrating and expensive at times, with lures getting fouled or tangling up even getting buried to the point of no return. However a few simple modifications to standard techniques or out of the box lures can minimise this. Running single hooks as appose to trebles on hard bodied lures including blades is a simple yet effective way to keep the weed off the lures and has little to no bearing on the hook up rate.
Ideally the best time of year to fish St Clair would have to be the close of September, with the key bait being light weight paddle tail plastics in as shallow as water as you can find. The fish will be behind the weed beds in amongst the grass and patrolling as shallow as possible rushing anything that moves. At this time of year it is not uncommon to catch a fish almost every cast in the right locations even though you create a disturbance in the shallows each time. I typically like to run a translucent plastic when I am chasing bass in super skinny water particularly when the sun is high in the sky. Although I have found that the fish will respond quicker to a solid coloured lure when visibility is poor at either first or last light. A 1/6th jighead is as heavy as you need so that you can still impart plenty of action mid water without it wanting to drag on the bottom. Bass in this shallow water are ravenous and on the job so don’t be coy about the action of the lure, get it in there and draw attention to it.
It is a tough battle between Cania and Borumba as to which is the more scenic of the two. They are both great dams for a by catch of Saratoga and both have the capacity to access bass on top water. I am sure that everyone will attest to the fact that any fish on surface is worth ten on an opposing sub surface technique. Cania dam is built in the Cania gorge and subsequently has some peculiar underwater structure, amazing sheer drop offs to excess of a hundred feet of water are just one of Cania’s quirks. This dam has the feeling of being remote and appears to have been left behind in time. The timber in Cania is one of my main attractions to this location, you get rewarded for an accurate cast in this dam never goes unrewarded. Often when you lure finds the target it will be engulfed without compromise as it makes it first motions towards the boat. When you know you are on the fish in Cania you can take the time to plan your casts and more importantly your escape strategy for when you hook up. With the masses of timber the fish are often deep in it and more comfortable so you can approach closer to the structure to get the ideal cast without risk of spooking an awaiting bass.
Cania bass fight hard! I am not sure why this is, may well be because they are one of the highest locations to find bass or just that they have become accustomed to winning battles amongst the timber and continue to do so. They are not massive fish, there are 50 plus centimetre fish in there but mainly high 40’s fish is what you are chasing. Even though Cania’s fish appear leaner than their southern cousins they can and will play dirty. They are unquestionably one of the toughest fighting bass I have come across and the terrain they call home definitely puts them at an advantage. The water in Cania near the lower end of the dam is almost gin clear, however up the top in the timber is a different story. Stained water allows me to run heavy leaders and tough resilient braided lines giving the best opportunity to keep my lures. I have lost more lures to fish in Cania then all the other bass dams combined. The top end of the dam was never cleared prior to filling with water so as you can imagine it has some intense underwater structure that plays into the hands of the bass when it comes to lure repossession.
My favourite technique for appreciating how hard Cania bass strike is throwing reaction baits like the Jackall TN 60. I have literally watched as my lure swam across a snag just clear of the outer limbs as a bass crashed through the branches and tried and vain to stitch me up back in the said tree. Put the lure as deep in the timber as you can wilfully let yourself, as the crank bait approaches a stick the line will get heavier and the lure vibration tighter until the lure finally cracks the timber and glances off. Strikes will hopefully but not always happen as the lure juts free of the snag. Most strikes occur on the pause and if you aren’t paying attention you will be bricked and lure less before you realise you were hit. A slow roll is often all you require to entice Cania bass but with all types of fishing it pays to vary the retrieve until you are getting the best response from the fish. I often run two rods one with a rattling TN and the other a silent version so I can easily switch between the two, natural colours work best regardless of water clarity.
There is almost only one word I require to describe Borumba dam and that is picturesque. Borumba is one of the most majestic bass fisheries I have had the pleasure of competing in. Despite being a great bass fishery Borumba is known to most anglers for its prestige Saratoga fishing. This dam is a great location if you want to fish surface lures and feel as though you are miles from any other person. This dam is a maze with steep banks and lots of timber so it is the ultimate location for sneaking away into a corner to get that peaceful fishing experience. No matter what your style of fishing preference Borumba has it all from weed beds, to heavily structured bays and open flats. The best time to visit Borumba is in the spring when the fish are on the flats as well as hitting reaction lures in the timber. If I could only take one rod to Borumba it would be a baitcaster outfit so I can manipulate all the accurate white knuckle fighting in the timber as well as being able to fish my favourite lipless vibe or tail spinner out on the flats. Borumba bass are black and solid, for their size they are heavy and use that weight to their full advantage once hooked.
Although Borumba is a peaceful quiet place it can sometimes feel the pressure from too much fishing and boat traffic. If it is busy on the fishing side it can often pay to try in the broader stretches of the dam like the main basin, or even the lead up to the timber and scout around on the flats and ledges for schooling fish. The bass in this area appear immune to boat traffic perhaps due to the abundant water skiing in this area over the warmer months. My favourite flats technique is a mask vibe, these fish don’t seem incapable of resisting the slow fall of this soft lipless crank bait. I will always fish lures up a slope as appose to down, so that the lure is constantly in touch with the bottom without having to open the bail arm to release more line. I find most of the strikes are as the lure descends on the pause so I will fish a falling lure under a taught line with my rod extended at about seventy degrees. Not extending to the full ninety degrees on the lift gives a little stroke left should I need to drive the hooks home.
Lake Borumba is the ideal place to chase that all day surface bite, I have caught them at 11am and 1pm on a cloud free sunny day with less than a foot of shade against the rocks to hide their existence. With steep banks and over hanging foliage it means cover for bass and an ample supply of food constantly falling or being blown into the water. Borumba is possibly the only dam I will throw my bass surface lure on a bait caster. I do this so I can get accurate casts with soft landings and the ability to have the reel in gear as the lure hits the surface. A bait caster reel will cast more accurately and flatter than a spin reel in the same situation. A flat cast also helps to get it tight underneath the overhanging foliage. The other advantage is being able to lock down on the spool to prevent being buried in the timber then taking the pressure off as the bass moves to deeper water. Accurate casts are the key to getting strikes and making the lure look as natural as possible with where and how it lands. Keeping the lure close to the tip of the rod helps with accuracy ensuring the lure goes exactly where it needs to.
Somerset dam is by far one of my favourite dams and I am sure anyone who has witnessed it first-hand will agree. It is one of the places in Australia where you can catch cricket score numbers of bass at the same time catch that trophy fish people aspire to. My biggest bass in Somerset this season is 53.5cm fork length and 3.35kg, the biggest I have seen out of there recently is 3.83kg. I have caught more than a hundred bass in a day ranging from 45cm to 53cm moving around patrolling for schooling bass. When the bass in Somerset are firing it is not uncommon to catch trophy sized fish every trip. In saying that it is also possible to catch fifty fish one day and return to the same locations the following day and feel as though you are not on the same dam. I find once I get comfortable with a dam like Somerset that it is possible to almost always locate a bass, this does not always mean they will respond to a lure. The fish in Somerset are big and they are resilient, they will play you around the boat with a constant thumping of their head like you would expect from small tuna.
Fish in Somerset are definitely seasonal and predictable. I have way pointed a good school of bass on my sounder and found on my GPS page I have a waypoint within twenty metres of that mark that was created in the same month almost 4 years previous. The fish in Somerset reference the river bed when travelling up and down the dam, this makes a good focal point when searching for bass. I spend a lot of time looking for fish in Somerset prior to casting, if I can’t see them I typically don’t fish the area even if the reports say the fish were there. However if you are sitting on a lot of fish at times it pays to drive twenty metres away and cast back over the bass as they may be in a trance from the sounder. Typical places to start looking for fish in Somerset are the spit, pelican point and queen street. They should be in any one of those places throughout the year, in a dam as pressured as Somerset it pays to stop and check any soundings that look like fish. If I see 4 or 5 fish as I drive over a ledge I will go back and make sure there is not multiple fish sitting hard against the bottom.
Flats, drop offs and points are all fish holding structure in Somerset, fishing can be successful from casting up, down or even sitting on top of the break lines and ridges. When the fish reference the river bed like in Somerset it pays to somehow incorporate that line in the retrieve of your lure. If you are hopping a mask vibe or tail spinner try hopping it up the ledge from deep to shallow as it is easier to maintain contact with the bottom. When I am fishing flats I will still attempt to fish close to the ledge or near some form of bottom contour change. In this instance I like to use searching lures like big soft plastics rigged on half ounce jig heads. I will run fine braided lines so I can cast as far as possible and allow the lure to run close to the bottom covering as much area as possible. A slow drift across flats whilst using a searching lure can often help you locate a bigger or more active school of fish. If you catch fish on one technique in the morning don’t be afraid to change the lure or the retrieve style for the afternoon. Somerset is a unique dam in the way that the fish will migrate small distances during the course of the day and appear in different areas in the AM to the PM.