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Bait fishing for Bass, Murwillumbah style


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Roughly, a bit over 27 years ago, John, one of my best mates moved from Sydney to Murwillumbah on the far north coast. He'd done a little bit of fishing in Sydney and down the freshwater end of the Shoalhaven River near Goulburn, but although he liked fishing, was fairly inexperienced as a fisherman and rarely went out by himself.

After he settled in, I went up for a holiday and of course we went fishing a few times, mostly lure fishing for Flathead in one of the many estuaries, or beach fishing, mainly for Tailor. At holiday's end, I returned to Sydney, but John had got the fishing "bug" back and started going again regularly. 

Networking with others he met, John started trying a few different types of fishing, such as live baiting for Mulloway, bobby corking for Mangrove Jack and fishing for Bass around the upper Tweed River and Clarrie Hall Dam. We both had a bit of experience catching Bass down near Goulburn on the Shoalhaven, which in fact were "bi-catch" when we were after the giant Carp that had infested the upper reaches of the river, but in general knew relatively nothing about Bass fishing, other than reading a few articles on them.

As a teacher, John got time off with all the various school holidays and started to have plenty of success with catching Bass, mostly on bait. I liked going up whenever I had time off and we'd often do our "fishing trifecta" of Bass in the early morning, Flathead spinning through the day and either beach or Mangrove Jack fishing in the early evening- great days if you love fishing!

The first time I went Bass fishing up at Clarrie Hall Dam with him, an early morning start was planned and bait needed to be caught before fishing the morning. The bait was to be live shrimps and we drove about 20 minutes west of Murwillumbah, to the freshwater end of the Tweed River, just outside Mount Warning National Park. I've read a bit about catching shrimps before, mostly with baited traps, using things like cat food and Sunlight soap for bait, but had never seen it done. John had 2 traps (one for each of us), but it was the location he chose to place them, that surprised me. A narrow, quite fast flowing set of rapids about knee-to- thigh deep, with small boulders and river-stones, a fair bit of white-water and reasonably fast current flow. After baiting the traps, they had to be weighed down with a couple of large stones, once in place, we left them in to be collected early next morning.

On arrival at dawn the next morning, retrieving the traps revealed a surprising number of shrimp, of three different varieties. There were heaps of really small clear brown ones, ranging from about half an inch long to about an inch and a half, these look pretty much the same as the shrimp found near the sea-grass beds in saltwater. Next ones were very much the same colour but had long "spindley" arms with tiny claws- these were slightly larger, up to about two inches long, and finally the ones he got excited about, almost black ones with a caramel coloured stripe down the centre of their back. These black ones were probably twice as thick in the body as the others and reminded me of "rock prawns" -very similar to restaurant "Scampi", without the arms and up to about two and a half inches long. These he said, were the "gun" bait.

We kept the black ones and the ones with arms and just a few of the tiny variety (they might be just immature "armed" variety, I don't really know), tipped the keepers into an aerated bucket and headed for the dam, some ten minutes from the shrimp spot. 

We drove through a foggy morning mist and the gate to the dam was open earlier than the stated 7 am, so we parked  not far from the dam wall and a ten minute walk had us beside the water, well down below the spillway wall. Looked great, but we had to get wet to cross to the other side, so shoes off and across the narrowest water. Pretty cold wading across, shoes back on quick smart. Arrived at the spot, which was a nice looking pool about 30 odd yards long by about 20 wide, with a small faster flowing section coming from the dam.

The rig was simple, 6 lb mono with a size 6 "mosquito-style" Hayabusa brand hook and a single split shot pinched on about a foot above the hook. Rods were 6 foot light Ugly Sticks with 1000 size spin reels. Method seemed easy enough, put a shrimp on and cast into the faster flowing bit, letting the current take the shrimp into an eddy of calm water, where it would sink down to the bottom. As soon as a bite was felt, you strike straight away, so as to hook them in the mouth. Every now and then, the shrimp would get to the bottom, avoid the Bass and manage to make it to safety under a rock, where you'd get snagged. A few snags and we decided to try using tiny foam bobby corks that we use for fishing for bait like poddie Mullet and snub nosed Gar.

This proved to be really successful. We set the tiny running corks about four and a half feet deep, with just a slightly larger split shot pinched on about fifteen-eighteen inches up from the hook. Cast out into the flow and the water would take it into the same eddy. Within a couple of minutes, down would go the cork and most of the time you'd hook up a Bass. Pretty easy fishing to be honest. We caught a heap of them, from about 7-8 inches up to about 14 inches long, one after another, until we heard a heap of cars above us on the road heading to the dam wall. 

There are often break-ins to cars left there, so John stopped fishing to run back and check what was going on. As he was leaving, I thought I'd better follow him, grabbed the backpack, rods and tipped most of the water out of the shrimp bucket, just leaving about an inch in there with the remaining 8 or 9 shrimp.

By the time I'd crossed the creek and put my shoes back on, then walked most of the way back, John was coming back with the news that the cars were all fishermen from the original "Australian Fishing Championships Bass Tour" and were being filmed just standing on the dam wall, rods in hand. Not fishing, just getting a bit of footage for a show that they were going to film on the dam later. 

Since we had some shrimp left we decided to have a last go in the big pool below the dam wall, where the spillway overflow meets the outflow from the pressure relief flow, the two flows meet in this large deeper pool and there are quite a few fish in there, including really large Mullet, Catfish, Eels and of course the Bass. We had a few drifts each with no takers, then decided to set the corks about 6 or so feet deep. In the mean time, some of the Bass tour guys came down for a look and a chat, no rods though. They smiled when they looked at our set-ups and started giving advice on what would be a more likely way to get a fish or two. It was genuinely friendly advice and they were interested in what we were doing. We told them we'd already caught heaps, but I don't think they believed us, not at that moment anyway.

Meanwhile no takers at 6 foot, so we went down to about 8 foot and bingo! a Bass each straight away. A double hook-up pretty well straight after throwing in. The other guys nodded approval as we got the fish in, slightly better size in this pool. Released them quickly, same as all the others, and re-baited. Bang! straight away, another double hook-up! Fought these ones in and one of the Bass guys said if we got another double, he'd love to have a fish if we didn't mind? "No worries" was our reply. Another two shrimp cast out, another double hook-up- it was too much for the guys and four of them literally ran for their gear. The four who remained, were impressed and started asking plenty of questions, which we were happy to answer. 

The guys returned with some gear and as we now only had a couple of shrimp left, and I was interested in seeing up-close what they would use, we stopped fishing and had a sandwich while we watched. The sun began poking over the hill and was just starting to hit the water on the far side of the pool while we ate our food and watched the Pro's do their thing. 

The Bass guys must have tried about half a dozen different lures each and tried different retrieves and techniques, without a single fish caught. It was decided that the sun must have stopped the bite, or the water-flow might have slowed or something. 

I couldn't help myself, I gave John the "cue" and we cast 2 of the last 3 shrimps in, just like earlier, double hook-up pretty quickly!  There was stunned silence for a minute, then laughter all round! As a "teaser", I asked if anyone would like the last shrimp, "just so they'd get one" - "cheeky bugger" one of them said and as nobody dared take the shrimp, we made a "symbolic" gesture and let it go.

We left the Bass guys there and went back to the house to change fishing gear for our next mission, the Flathead spinning.

Over the years, we've fished those same two pools stacks of times and tried lure fishing there most times, but have never caught a Bass there on a lure- down further about 2 km, plenty of Bass on surface lures, just not up at the dam.

We stopped fishing there when we saw 2 Platypus there three trips in a row, they are so rare for a city bloke like me to see, so we decided the "Platypus Pool" is now off limits for our Bass fishing trips.


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Another great story waza.

I often fished a similar method in the upper Shoalhaven. A bobby cork about the size of your thumbnail, but with the splitshot right up against the cork and a leader about 2.5 - 3 feet. 

Live crickets were the bait and fished on the surface. You'd throw into the fast flowing water at the head of a pool and as soon as the bait left the rapids, they'd get walloped in a spectacular surface strike.

Edited by Green Hornet
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1 hour ago, Burger said:

Geez you tell a good story Waza.

You should do a book!

Fishing Stories, Tall Tales and True by WazaTheFisherman.

Be in all fisho’s Chrissy stockings I reckon! 🥰

Hi Burger thanks, these stories are all true! I started writing my own "memoirs" a while ago, not originally intended for others to read, but due to the current situation, decided to start putting them on. Have quite a lot, and there are some that really don't sound believable, regardless they're true, so have steered away from them, well, so far anyway :D

You might notice that quite a few don't really have that much fishing in them, just trying to put things on related to fishing as an alternative read!

Regards Waza

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11 minutes ago, 61 crusher said:

Another great yarn Waza, loved the bit where after heaps of casts the two  of you get the double hookup & then to rub it in offer up the last shrimp 😎

Hi Dieter yes was cheeky, but I was wondering if they had simply gone off due to the sun now being above the pool or they weren't interested in the lures. I have since learned that Bass LOVE those black shrimp, no matter where you are. 

We got the same black shrimp down the Shoalhaven and got Bass on them straight away as well

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