Words & Images: Colin MacDonald
So you have planned a fishing trip, and have decided to give one of our many stocked freshwater dams a go. I get it; the idea is sound. A place constantly stocked with… fish; how hard can it be to catch them? Surely they will be jumping in the boat! As you leave the ramp however, you are suddenly confronted with miles upon miles of beautiful, fishy looking structure. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day to fish, and you can’t possibly cover it all! You begin to panic. What happened to all the research and all the planning the night before? You analysed the weather, you had a good look at the barometer, but where the hell do you start fishing? If this is a scenario that sounds all too familiar to you, then fear not fellow fisher, we at Hooked up Magazine are a sympathetic bunch, and are here to calm you down, put your mind at ease and direct your casts into those fish holding areas!
Timing is Everything
Australian bass can generally be caught during all hours of the day, but like most freshwater fish, will peak during the low light periods of sunrise and sunset. So for those wanting to fish for bass on top-water lures, these are the times you really want to be on the water. Under the cover of these low light conditions, these opportunistic feeders will leave structure to find sustenance. Fishing the surface is a very exciting way to fish, bass will hunt down your lure with some explosive and aggressive takes that will leave you shivering with adrenalin. As the sun gets higher, fish will generally move back into cover and the top water bite will taper off and it’s time to move on. At this time of day it can be hard to locate active fish so you really need to cover as much area as you can. The “Run and Gun” method as it’s known is a great technique to employ at this time of day. The idea is as it sounds; cover as many spots as you can. Hit each bay or tree line with a few casts, and if no success or no fish found on the sounder then move to the next one. Sometimes you can mark a lot of fish but if they don’t react, then my suggestion is to mark them on your GPS and move on. Another successful method of locating active fish is to troll the edges of the dam. Which works very well.
The right structure
There’s one thing that freshwater dams are not short of and that is structure. With so many different types of structure available (both man made and natural), you really need to have a bit of a an idea on how to fish each type or it can become an expensive and fruitless mission that will end in frustration, tears or just a big fat doughnut. If you know the area you’re fishing, and there has been recent rain – look for previously exposed, but now submerged, structure… recently flooded areas can be a great starting point when fish finding. Barb wire fences, old tractors and islands full of cows, as surprising as it sounds, can really get the fish active. New ground to a bass is like the opening of a new shopping mall, and they will be lining up for a feed! Hitting the Wall The Dam wall is a great place to target Bass. Usually very deep water is best fished with soft plastics or lipless crank baits that put out plenty of vibration that bass will pick up on their lateral lines. Long casts towards the wall with a slow lure and a hopping retrieve down the rocks will produce fish as you work your way along the wall. Make sure you’re covering the whole water column when employing this successful technique. Golden perch are a very common by catch when fishing the wall in this manner, but are always welcome. A small down rigger will help get your lures down deep into that strike zone around the thermocline where bass will sit. Keep an eye on the sounder and have a couple of casting rods readily available if you mark up a school in depth that puts your trolling lures out of your the strike zone. If you can, pull up on the school and drop your casting rods into the school, keep an eye on your troll rods as the sudden paused bait can induce a strike as they sit idle.
Rocky points and under water hills are also excellent spots to target bass in the dams. A range of techniques and lures can be employed here, but the trick is to use something weedless as you will be very prone to snagging in the heavy growth of weed, grass and shrubs that grow around these areas. With recent water rising, areas that were previously above water are the best locations for this, but with extra vegetation still quite alive, can be prone to snagging. Small bibbed hard body lures and spinnerbaits work extremely well on this structure as they are the most snag resistant, but you will also have good results with lipless crankbaits. Bass will tend to sit in the shallow water in these locations, so punch long casts into the shallow stuff and engage your lure as soon as your lure hits the water. If the wind is up, then try to fish the windward points as this causes a bit of turbulence in the water that can bring fish onto the bite. It’s a little bit harder to fish, but well worth the extra effort. Tackling Timber Fishing sunken timber can be an expensive endeavour when throwing the wrong lures as nine out of ten times that lure isn’t coming back! Throwing spinnerbaits is probably your best chance at hooking a fish and getting your lure safely back through the minefield of branches and tree trunks. When fishing the trees, throw a long cast past your targeted tree and give your lure ample time to sink down into the depths. As you get the retrieve into gear, flick the rod downward a few times to make sure those blades are working. The idea is that your bait will be at the desired depth as you come past the tree and working correctly. A good sounder is worth its weight in gold when fishing the trees as a lot of the structure you want to fish is underwater, so lining up your casts can be difficult using above water landmarks.
Long grassy meadows that turn to long flats of heavy weed and grass are also a great place for a bass to call home. These grassy knolls tend to be between two to six metres in depth and, despite having no significant structural features, they can hold more fish than anywhere else in the dam.These areas are where lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits come into their own. With their loud vibrations, these lures rumble through the weed stirring lateral lines of fish metres away bringing the bite to your lure instead of the opposite. These areas are quite expansive so big long drifts will allow you to cover as much area as possible when hunting these fish. Throwing big long casts in towards the banks with a slow rolling retrieve back towards the boat is the most successful method. Don’t allow your lure to sink too far or you will get snagged up in the weed that may cause you to lose the lure or spook the fish. On these shallow flats it’s well worth employing some stealth to your approach.
Setting up your boat for bass fishing can also have a large impact on your success in the dam. An electric motor is an absolute must for this type of fishing. Not only does it offer great manoeuvrability, it also helps you navigate through the minefield of snags and rocks, and gives you some added stealth when fishing the shallower water sections. A good sounder is another great addition to your bass fishing craft, however if your budget can stretch a bit further, looking at one of the newer generation sounders with structurescan will really blow your mind. There’s nothing better than being able to see the wonderland of structure underneath the surface. Seeing all the branches on trees, bait schools and even marking individual fish, it’s almost unfair on the bass! Another very overlooked item is the trusty old lure retriever. When throwing high end lures through timber and heavy weed you are bound to snag up the odd lure and these things can save you a bit of coin on some of those lures than can be retrieved with a little bit of effort. Lure choice itself can be a touchy subject for people, we all have our favourite brands and colours but you will need a few staple types to get you into the fish. Having a range of spinnerbaits with different weights, different coloured skirts and blades is mandatory when dam fishing. It’s also good to have a range of vibration baits and lipless crankbaits in your arsenal. When it comes to crankbaits…the louder they are the better they will perform. If trolling is your thing, then a few deep divers in natural colours will be great, don’t feel you need to go too small on lure size, as bass will have no issues hitting an 80-90mm lure. Soft plastics and small football style jigs are also great baits to have available. Though not as popular as spinnerbaits and vibes, they are a great bait when fishing deep schools and around the less snaggy areas such as dam walls and rock bars. They are also worth a throw when you are looking for a more subtle action when fishing a shutdown school of bass. When selecting your outfit for bass, don’t go too heavy. A lot of people fish for bass like they fish for barra, but I find bream size gear 2-4kg outfits are perfect. Running mid to light fluorocarbon leaders of around 8-12lb is ample on these fish and keeps some fights around heavy structure very exciting. As you can see it’s not as overwhelming as it looks when fishing these Dams. The trick is to have a game plan, cover lots of ground, fish the right areas and results will follow. Don’t forget to fish the low light periods for some explosive surface fishing. Ultimately enjoy your time on these special dams, in addition to the great fishing, the flora and fauna that thrive around the dam can be also be breathtaking. So even if you are having a doughnut day, enjoy the scenery, there is always tomorrows early morning bite to look forward to!