No Pain No Gain
With the school holidays coming to an end it was time for my last sojourn into the wilderness chasing an Aussie bass or two and I decided it was time to take a rookie on his first wild bass trip and show him the ropes. So I got in contact with Justin (justincredible) and he was mad keen to go on one of my adventures. Little did he know that I was taking him on the toughest trip I know and with the water 1-2 feet below its normal water level. At 18 km it was going to be a long gruelling day but where there is pain there is also gain!!
We launched at about 5AM and were greeted to a cool foggy start and a launch that was so low that it involved a good amount of portage before we reached some deep water. Eagerly we both began casting and it wasn’t long before Justin realised one of his reels wasn’t working properly as he had not backed the spool with mono and the braid was spinning freely upon the spool making the drag useless. This rendered his back up rod useless and left him one rod (thankfully) to fish with during the day.
We moved from pool to pool and I managed one solid hit in the second pool before it went a little quiet. Eventually though I noticed the tell-tale bubbles that appear when there is a thin protein scum on the water’s surface next to a particular snag. I have found that there is often a good chance than when these bubbles are quite large that it may indicate that a bass has been hitting the surface earlier in the morning. The bubbles hold their shape in still water due to the protein coating the water’s surface.
Sure enough the first cast in and a few twitches and I had managed my first bass for the day in the early thirties and so I now could concentrate on getting Justin onto a bass and also chasing a 40cm+ fish.
Once past the first few pools the bass started to make an appearance and the hits and the hook ups became more frequent. Initially a few of the fish were in the high twenties but then the size started to increase and the average bass hit about 35cmFL. Justin was using a purple shallow diver and I decided to change his lure to the Nobroko Softcada prototype so if he missed a fish he would still get the rush of missed surface hit.
I had managed another two fish before I noticed that Justin was having a few difficulties with his casting distance. Eventually he noticed that he had mis-threaded his braid through the top guide and had to remove the lure and retie the lure on once he had fixed the problem. It was soon after that Justin got his first bass surface strike. I turned to see the water settling around his lure and hear him comment that his heart was going a hundred miles an hour and thus a new bass addict was born!
I managed another bass before pointing out a large stand of timber to Justin to cast at. Being new to lure casting he was having some difficulty with his casting accuracy and as such was not getting the lure in tight enough to the structure to entice bass that were holding close to it. While he cast at the parts of structure on the open side of the snag I decided to cast into tiny pockets that required greater accuracy and even more luck to extract a willing bass out of if they hit. Sure enough on one such cast a bass exploded around the lure in tiger country and I was battling a fish with no room to negotiate except to lift my rod tip and hope I could drag it over the timber and into open water. This of course failed when the lure pinned to the timber and bass shook itself to freedom.
A few minutes later I cast across the timber that extended metres out from the bank at some overhanging shrubs and began twitching the lure to no avail. As I walked it back towards the kayak it past the outer tip of the timber I had lost a bass on minutes earlier. I was just going through he motions and chatting to Justin when my Sammy was belted and I was on to a solid bass. It desperately tried to brick me in the surrounding timber but unlike the previous bass I had the measure of this fish and after some careful negotiation I managed to slip a 38cmFL bass into the net.
The portage between pools was extreme to say the least and I knew this would be a great test for Justin. Many of the sections of the river that were previously paddle-worthy were no longer deep enough and required portage. To add to the difficulty the warm slow moving water had enabled slippery algae to grow freely on the rocks and made traversing them treacherous to say the least. Justin and I went over multiple times and the bruises and cuts we received ached for days afterwards.
The bass were consistently smashing our lures and although Justin was having difficulty hooking up he was loving the surface hits. Occasionally he would manage a perfect cast and every now and then bass would belt his lure and miss. Some of the fish were solid too and he managed to entice some solid bass to belt his lure but fail to hook up. At one point I had cast between some granite boulders and managed a 37cmFL bass only for him to comment “I wonder if another one is in there?” His next cast was a good one and as he retrieved his cast across a submerged boulder field his Softcada was absolutely smashed by a large bass which missed. It obviously was keen because as Justin retrieved his cicada it had another almighty strike to miss the lure again.
The bass seemed to be crazy keen for surface lures on this hot humid day. So much so that often they would hit the lure in such a frenzy that the lure would be thrown all over the place and they would miss it constantly. It was agonisingly frustrating! The bigger bass seemed to be the worst. In one pool I cast into a nicely shaded pool that had an overhanging tree precariously growing on a granite embankment. The water was deep and the minute the Sammy touched the surface I could see a bass belt along the surface towards the lure and pause. The slightest twitch set the big bass off and it erupted around the lure in a frenzy trying to grab it and turning the water’s surface to a chaotic mess. It went that hard I’m sure it couldn’t accurately close on my lure and in the end it must have exhausted itself and gave up on the chase.
I was lucky enough to manage one high quality fish that seemed more patient than the rest. A cast into some heavily shaded timber at the top of a set of rapids in a small pool saw a solid bass hit the lure with a hollow “Thuk” that seems to always signal that a good bass has had a crack at the lure. The battle ensued and I was lucky enough that the bass chose to fight me in the open water and although the runs were strong she had chosen an environment where I held all the advantage and with some patience I eventually netted my biggest bass for the trip at 43cmFL.
We continued to catch bass and miss twice as many. The size of the fish had now become even better with most fish over the 35cmFL. Eventually we reached the point where the stream dropped significantly and the portage became really tough. Even when the water was higher this section required some serious effort to traverse. Justin still hadn’t found his feet on the slippery rocks and as the day wore on and he got a bit more tired, bruised and battered he found the portages tough and slow going. He began to spend more time negotiating slippery rocks and less time fishing.
At one point as I waited for Justin to make his way down a particularly tough stretch of boulders I spied a large boulder in a small pool hat obviously had some depth around it. Knowing from past experience that such structures often held bass I decided to have a quick cast at it and sure enough a bass belted the Sammy in tight country and the mayhem of a bass belting the lure three metres away with no room to negotiate began. Eventually though the battle was won and a solid 37cmFL bass slipped into the net.
After numerous missed strikes Justin finally managed his first wild bass. He hadn’t quite mastered the ability to twitch the cicada and maintain tight contact with the lure and as such when the bass hit and hooked itself it had already swum past his kayak and upstream. Once he finally regained contact with the bass he eventually managed to play it to the kayak and I netted the fish as he didn’t have a net of his own. At 35cmFL it was his PB and a wild fish to add to the flavour of the moment. With a quick tutorial on how to handle a bass you couldn’t wipe the smile from his face!
As the day started to stretch on we began to paddle/portage more and fish less although the few casts into irresistible structures we saw yielded few more fish. Finally we reached our exit pool and I managed a couple more 35cmFL bass to finish the day.
Although exhausted, battered and sore and destroying a pair of old Vans that he had worn while on this adventure. Even though he nursed multiple cuts and scrapes from trekking across this wild and wonderful river system in search of bass. In spite of the multiple missed opportunities and only catching a single bass. This was his answer to “Would you do that again?”, his response “Hell Yeah!” Looks like a new addict has been born!