One of the most popular native sports fish where I live on the NSW South Coast is the little Aussie battler, Australian Bass. Together with its cousin the Estuary Perch, both species are an easily accessible target in the countless tidal rivers on the coast. In this article, I will provide an insight in to the way I target these fish on these rivers, as opposed to targeting bass in creeks and streams beyond tidal influence.
On the NSW South Coast there are endless options to target Bass and EP’s. All tidal rivers which have fresh water tributaries should be considered an option. Flipping that around, any fresh water creek or river which meets the salt, will have bass. It is important to remember that bass are primarily a fresh water fish only moving to the salt to spawn, and EP’s live in salt to brackish water so the upper reaches of the tidal rivers approaching the tidal limits is where you should regularly come across these two species. In relation to the two of the larger waterways on the coast, the Shoalhaven River and Clyde River, that generally means upstream of Nelligen and Nowra bridges. It is in these upper reaches that you will encounter some stunning scenery, with untouched forest meeting some spectacular natural features such as sandstone rock walls and cliffs.
Structure, Structure, Structure
When looking for specific structure there are a few favourites that I will cover: Timber and rocky snags; rock walls; grassy edges; and deep open water. My favourite, and perhaps the most obvious, are the many snags such as fallen trees and rock boulders that line the river bank. Most lures, surface and subsurface, will work in these areas but I like to favour crank baits. The standout lure for me is the Pro Lure D36 crank in Flash Green, Tiger Shrimp and Matt Black, and throwing these deep divers hard up in the snags and slow rolling them makes for exciting fishing as you anticipate a strike. The big bib easily bumps over structure and the fast diving action ensures they quickly swim down to the strike zone. I often add a suspend dot to the lure, as bass and EP’s love some hang time. If a simple slow roll doesn’t attract a bite, suspending it in their faces can sometimes tempt a strike. I like to add just enough weight to allow the lure to suspend, depending on the density of the water (salt water is more dense, so lures will have a faster float rate). Testing the lure next to your boat may be required depending on the conditions.
The second structure I love to target is steep rock walls and cliffs, where fish like to hang tight up against the rock and sometimes in the undercuts, waiting for food to drop or flow past them. This is a favourite area to throw surface lures such as the Pro Lure SF62 Pencil hard up against the structure. The SF62 in Mangrove Shrimp worked great last season when bass and EP’s were dialled in on the surface, feeding on shrimps and insects. Wafting soft plastics down the face of these rock walls can be a great method as well, particularly when the fish are less active. My soft plastics of choice are the ever reliable Pro Lure Grubtail and Pro Lure Live Yabbie. The Grubtail is a popular bass pattern, with Motoroil, UV Worm, Jade, and Pearl Shad my choice of colours. In the Live Yabbie, Pearl Green, Mud Green, Bloodworm and Pumpkinseed UV are my go-to. I normally have a few different weights options to choose, from a light 1/28 hidden weight down to a 1/8 for fish sitting deep. On my local I find a 1/20 or 1/16 is a good starting point.
In the upper reaches of rivers you will typically encounter grassy edges, commonly featuring bull rush and muddy banks. It is along these edges that bass like to sit in ambush to feed, particularly during the peaks of the tide when the reeds are covered in water. Surface lures, especially early in the morning and late afternoon will work particularly well, otherwise throwing a crank bait parallel should see results. When fishing these areas, it pays to keep an eye on the top of the reeds, as any twitching movement within may indicate a fish.
Fishing open water for bass and EP’s is normally a fall-back option when the edges are not producing. I like to keep an eye on the sounder for any schools of fish that are sitting deep off the edges. On the sounder, bass, EP’s and bream looks very similar in terms of the arch pattern, and often schools of different species will mix, but a thick school identified on the sounder is always worth a shot. My favourite lures to throw at schooled fish are soft plastics and blades. Favourites include the Pro Lure Live Yabbie, Paddle Grub and Pro Lure Sicvibe in any of the shrimp patterns. Estuary Perch in particular love feeding on shrimp, and the Live Yabbie is a great lure to target them in the deep. Select a jighead appropriate to the depth and current, and send it down. A series of slow hops or twitches will entice a bite if the fish are feeding.
In my experience, bass are fairly habitual in terms of the snags they prefer. So once you come across some good edges, they tend to fish well season after season. The difficulty is trying to keep these hot spots a secret from your mates! EP’s are fairly similar in their habits, although studies have found these fish to be extremely migratory. One day you may find them, and other days they are simply not there. They are also more likely to be caught over a wider area of the river, sometimes well down stream in the salt.
Gear and Techniques
The great thing about targeting bass and EP’s is that you don’t have to modify your tackle too much from your regular bream gear. A quality spin stick in the 1-4kg range and around 7’ matched with a 1000-2500 sized reel loaded with 4-6lb braid and 4-8lb leader will do the trick. If you want to get more technical about your gear, you can choose a rod and reel specific to the technique you will be doing on the day. If cranking around rock walls, snags and tighter structure I choose a 6’9” 13Fishing Muse Gold 1-3kg rod, with a 2000 reel loaded with 0.6PE Gosen braid and 4lb leader. I’m a massive fan of using straight through fluorocarbon when fishing cranks in open water, but around structure I like the direct contact with the lure and increased pulling power. For surface lures, plastics and vibes I choose a 6’10 13Fishing Omen Black 1-4kg rod, matched to a 2500 high speed retrieve reel, loaded with 0.6PE Gosen braid and a 4lb leader. I always start with a light 4lb leader and up the ante to 6lb or 8lb if the structure is extra gnarly or when I feel a little under gunned. The high speed reel allows me to control my retrieve speed and offer a bit more power when fighting fish if required.
Natural conditions including the weather seem to have an impact on the behaviour of the river natives. Air and water temperature, barometer and moon phase can all have an impact on your results so it pays to keep a record of your sessions so you can keep track of the conditions which seem to be best for your local river. In terms of tide, movement is important but my previous results and history would suggest a run-out tide is optimum.
So there’s my take on targeting bass and EP’s in the tidal rivers on the South Coast of NSW. The fighting capability, stunning scenery, and prospect of encountering some quality by-catch (bream, flathead and mulloway) place these species high on my list and I encourage you all to hit the upper reaches of your local river, so you too can encounter these awesome sports fish. And remember, catch and release is encouraged to ensure the long term viability of both species.
Don’t forget that Bass and Estuary Perch have a zero bag limit in NSW tidal rivers during the winter months from the 1st May until the end of August, to protect both species during their vulnerable spawning period.