'Don't think you'll be fishing all the time while you're over there, Ben.'
How many times had I heard this in the last few days? It was September and, as
usual, I had left my holiday preparations to the last minute. We were just about to
embark on a trip to arguably one of the greatest sporting events in Australia's history,
the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and all I was worried about was finding the best
hiding spot in the caravan for my eight weight.
'Just one rod?' I pleaded. 'C'mon, it can go under the bed, and don't worry, I
can't wait to see all the events.'
Now don't get me wrong; I had been looking forward to this trip for years. The
opportunity to see the world's elite athletes right on our very own soil was a once
in a lifetime experience. However, the chance of an odd bass or two in between
the swimming and the hockey was too much of an attraction.
Mum admitted defeat. I was allowed to take one spinning rod and a small tackle
box - nothing more. Well, that restriction soon went out the window. To my one
spinning rod I added two fly rods (hey, you never know when you might need a
spare), and my small tackle box grew into a Plano shoulder bag busting at the
seams with reels, spare spools, spare lines, flies and supplementary terminal tackle.
I thought including my vice and materials was stretching things just a little too far.
We stopped overnight at the Hay Caravan Park, right on the banks of the Darling
River. Alas, the river was in flood, although the promise of a murray cod or two by
the park owner was enough for me to store this place in the back of my mind for
a future fishing trip.
The next day saw us travel through the Blue Mountains. It was an overcast day,
giving the mountains a greyish haze about them, quite apart from the colour that
gives them their name. The lushness of the area was evident as we headed down
through Kurrajong, past the various apple orchards and herb gardens. With the
bellbirds chiming in the background, it was rather hard to comprehend that in a
few minutes we would catch site of the largest city in the country.
Our destination was a property just out of Richmond on the Nepean River, owned
by my uncle. Close to the train station, we found this to be an ideal base from which
to head into Homebush. After unpacking the car and setting up the annexe for the
van, it was nearing dusk. Oh well, the fishing would just have to wait till tomorrow.
The next morning I awoke with the anticipation one gets when waking up in a
foreign destination. A quick breakfast and I was in the ute and driving down to
the river armed with my spinning rod and, well, not much else. You see upon
opening my bag I discovered that I had left my lure box at home. However, not
to worry. A journey to the esky resulted in the discovery of some skirt steak, a
proven fishtaker back home. Now, you may laugh at this, but rest assured my
grandpa has been using this for years and, let me tell you, it sure has worked for
him (well, on mullet and tommies anyway). Nevertheless I was pumped up and
ready for some action.
Now the Nepean River was not how I remembered it. It was seven years since
my last visit and what I remembered as once being gently sloping banks were now
close enough to be classed as sheer-faced cliffs; I guess my memory wasn't that
My next task, to make myself a float (I never even thought of bringing one of these).
A piece of reed did nicely and I quickly rigged up my rod with a size four chemically
sharpened beak hook tied to about three foot of 3kg monofilament directly under
the 'float'. It was near impossible to walk along the river bank in search of likely
bass territory due to the enormous creeper growth, so I just had to make do with
what was in front of me; a nice little snag protruding out into about six foot of water.
I cast out and waited. It was a beautiful still day, the tranquillity interrupted only by the occasional bellbird call. Five minutes had passed and not a touch. I decided that perhaps I was not getting down deep enough, so began to retrieve my rig.
BANG!! About three metres from the bank my line suddenly stopped and began
heading for the snag. Fishing with only 2kg Pretest and using an ultra light seven foot Shimano estuary rod I certainly had to be careful not to hit the brakes too suddenly. After a minute or so I managed to get the fish up to the bank where, to my
astonishment, I had landed my first Australian Bass, a fish of about 35cm. Well,
I was absolutely stoked. I yelled out to mum, who came running down from the
ute, and managed to take a couple of snaps before I quickly released the fish to
fight another day.
For the next twenty minutes I felt on top of the world. I never thought that I would
feel this way about catching a fish that I knew so little about. I guess I felt a sense
of achievement that I had actually gotten by with what crude bass fishing skills I
had and managed to come out on top. I was thrilled.
I did not get another opportunity to give the bass another go for three days. I
managed to find out where the tackle shop, named coincidently the Australian
Bass Angler, was in Penrith and, despite Mum and Dad's despair, managed to
convince them to take us in there. I would have to say I went close to spending
two hours in there. The diverse range of lures, flies and tying materials is something that is rarely seen back home and consequently my eyes were agog for much of the time I was there. The guys there were really helpful and I thoroughly recommend anyone heading over that way to call in to check out what's happening on the local scene. Among other things, I ended up purchasing one of John Bethune's Kokoda Spinner Baits.
'Gee, they must have been hungry,' I was told when mentioning I caught the bass
on skirt steak. I figured that with the right gear surely I would be able to get a heap. Well, that was the logic anyway.
By the time we got back to the caravan it was nearing dusk; perfect time for the
bass according to the guy at the tackle shop. So again I made the trip down to the
river, this time armed with my fly rod, my new spinner bait and a little more knowledge. I figured that if I cast out to the end of the snag and work my way along the edge of the protruding branches I would have the best chance of hooking up. Sure enough, first cast I hooked into a small bass of around 25cm. For the next half-hour before dusk I got nailed cast after cast. Not every hook-up resulted in a fish landed, but the little fellas sure did have some fight in them and constantly I found myself battling to keep them away from the threatening snags. After releasing eight or so fish, the bass appeared to go a little quiet (it was now nearing dark), so I ventured through some of the thick growth a little further up the river. I eventually came to a spot that was bound to be home for a bass or two; a nice deep hole with a sunken tree log protruding out at forty-five degrees from the bank with some nice weed cover in close. Again the plan was to cast out near the end of the snag and work the lure back towards the bank parallel with the tree trunk, and again my
plan worked. Second cast I got nailed right out at the end of the snag, and a strong fight resulted in me landing my biggest bass of the trip, a fine specimen of 44cm. Next cast to exactly the same spot saw me get hit again, this time it appeared a bigger fish. Despite trying desperately to keep the fish from retreating back into its home, I was outdone, the bass managing to wrap my new lure around the snag. Not only did this end my fishing for the time being (that was the only lure I had with me), I had also lost a 50cm plus bass, something that certainly would have capped off
a fantastic session's fishing.
Two days later and another trip back to the tackle shop saw us armed with a new
spinner bait and a couple of dahlberg divers. Now I suppose you could say I am
greedy. After initially setting out to just catch myself one bass, I was now desperate to catch one on fly. Sure enough, later that afternoon I took the ute back down to the river with the expectation of landing my first bass on fly. Unfortunately, I did not realise just how hard it would be to make a cast from the bank, especially with my experiences as a saltwater fly fisho, where the only thing I worry about hooking up on my backcast is my left ear. I guess with a little more experience casting in confined areas, I may have been able to get the fly out far enough to give myself a chance.
As the Olympics drew to a close, so too did my fishing. When the trip began the
thought of catching a bass was purely a distant dream. However, with a little bit
of local advice every cast ended up being made with an air of expectation that it
would produce a fish.
Bass weren't the only fish that were prolific in the Nepean. European carp, herring,
mullet and eels would also have provided some great fun on light tackle in the
shallow water. The tackle I used for the bass was an ultralight Shimano Estuary
rod accompanied by a small Silstar spinning reel filled with 2kg Pretest. I tied
the spinner bait directly to the main line using a blood not, however a shock
leader may be used as added reassurance against bigger fish. Due to the fact the
water was slightly murky I used a black and red Kokoda John Bethune spinner
bait. Although I had no success with the fly rod, I was told that surface poppers
such as dahlberg divers, small crickets, frogs and mouse patterns work well.
A word of warning though, red bellied black snakes are also abundant in and
around the banks of the river, and I strongly recommend wearing rubber boots.
Also, much of the riverfront access is via private property, so permission to fish
needs to be sought beforehand.
The Olympics may be over for another four years but, rest assured, it won't be
that long before I'll make the journey across to the east coast in search of another
bass or two. This time however, there won't be any restrictions as to the amount
of gear I can take, not unless my mum plans to come along. ~ Ben Smith