Late one Sunday afternoon toward the end of winter, I decided to go down to my local river and try my luck fishing for Bass. Now this is a stretch of water I know pretty well but being so early in the season, well actually before the season really, I wasn’t overly hopeful of success.
Not knowing exactly what the condition of the river would be at this time of year I packed a basic selection of lures covering everything from surface to deep diving, my idea was simply chuck as many different lures as I had until I had some success.
When I got down to the river I found it was running clear, a good sign but boy was it cold, not such a good sign. Still having made the effort to get myself down to the river I wasn’t about to let a bit of cold water stop me, now to get to all the good stretches of the river you need to wade through a bit of water, not really being winter anymore and in the interest of getting ready quickly, I chose not to wear my neoprene waders, opting instead for shorts and a pair of wading boots. Now before you think what a fool, in my defence, it had been a pretty mild winter, it was virtually spring anyway, the sun was out and it was quite warm.
Being happy with my choice of attire I grabbed my rod and backpack and headed off toward the best pools. It wasn’t really until the first river crossing that I fully realised the error of my ways, did I mention the water was cold! Still it was only about knee deep and if that’s as bad as it gets then no problem, I mean who can’t handle a bit of cold water on the legs hey!
Having passed on a few of the lower pools I settled on an interesting big, slow moving pool that had a very shallow edge that ran about two thirds of its length before dropping off into a much deeper section. The attraction with this pool is that you can wade out about ten feet or so in shallow water and cast to the opposite bank where the water is deep and the bank side trees hang low onto the water, perfect for Bass. Having convinced myself that this was the perfect pool for the conditions, I made my way thought the undergrowth which was just bare sticks at this time of year and scaled down the steep bank to the waters edge.
I stood there on the edge of the river for a little while just soaking up nature, the sights, sounds and solitude, knowing that I was the only person stupid enough to be out wading a river, bass fishing in winter.
After observing the pool for a few minutes I rigged up a shallow running plug type lure and made my first cast……straight into a tree on the far bank! Clearly my lack of fishing trips over the winter period was paying dividends. Now as all good Bass fisherman know, the only good thing about throwing one into the trees in winter is that you can easily see where it is and it’s generally easier to get back, or at least that’s what I hoped! Having finally run out of patience after trying several finesse methods I settled on the hand fisted, brute force approach and ripped it back out of the tree at a great rate of knots. It’s at about this time you realise the relevance of Newton’s third law as you just manage to move quick enough to avoid wearing a low flying lure!
Having regained my composure and about thirty odd feet of slack line from the tree behind me, I set about removing the damaged line and reattaching the lure. Not to be beaten and quietly confident in the fact that things could only get better from here I made another cast. This time I managed to get the lure wet, things were looking up. Being a floating lure I let it sit there on the water for a few seconds and then twitched it a couple of times, just enough to make a few rings in the water, then slowly started to retrieve it.
Now usually if there is a Bass anywhere within a few feet of the lure and if their in the mood, you can expect to get hit, although expecting a surface strike at this time of year is probably a bit optimistic. Well you guessed it, absolutely nothing happened, in fact nothing happened for about the next half hour, so after about fifty casts to every conceivable bit of structure within reach I decided that there’s no fish here and moved on to the next sure thing pool.
Now to get to the next pool you actually have to walk up past it and then carefully wade back down the river for about twenty or thirty feet trying not to spook any fish as you go. So having once again made my way to the waters edge, I moved slowly back down the river immune now to the cold water as I had pretty much lost the feeling in my lower legs after spending the last half hour standing knee deep in it and took up position opposite one of my favourite runs.
This section of the river consists of a skinny column of fast turbulent water from a shallow stretch up stream which snakes its way down dredging a deep gutter in front of the half fallen trees on the far bank and washing out cavernous fishy hollows deep within the mess of tree branches and underwater snags that stretch back into a small creek mouth and seem to go on forever. This snag has produced some ripper fish in the past and there was no reason to suspect it wouldn’t still be holding a good fish or two, despite the fact that most of the big breeders would have gone down stream for the winter.
A quick change of lure and I was all set to have a go at this run. Now the problem with this run is where to start, I mean, there is about four or five spots that would make perfect first casts. In light of my casting accuracy thus far I chose to play it safe and cast slightly upstream and let the lure drift back down against the snag.
The lure hit the water a little short of where I had intended, (those who know me best will tell you this is not unusual), and started to drift slowly down toward the snag. I gave the rod a twitch and just as the lure began to move it disappeared in a massive surface strike. I instinctively lifted the rod tip and came up solid on a good fish. I managed to get a couple of feet of line back on the reel before my customer realised he was hooked, once he did, he proceeded to take back that couple of feet and few more just for good measure.
The fish was now back deep in the snag form where he came and I was loosing the battle fast. There was nothing else for it, I had to go deeper and get back some of that line and maybe a better angle for dragging this fish out of his front door. So I grit my teeth, took a deep breath and waded out deeper into the run. Remember that deep gutter I talked about, well it was pretty deep, about chest deep from memory, and the water, Oh Crap!…. did I mention the water was cold!!!
Now I’m not sure if it was the cold water that was making me gasp for breath or the fact that I now had two extra lumps in my throat, either way it was cold and I was wet and I hadn’t managed to turn this fishes head yet. Safe in the thought that I couldn’t possible get any wetter, I hoisted the rod tip high and applied maximum pressure hoping my knots would hold. Well the fishing Gods must have been smiling on me that afternoon because I felt the fish turn its head and suddenly I was recovering lost line. The fish came out of the snag and into the gutter; I started back peddling as fast as you can when you can’t feel the lower two thirds of your body and eventually found shallow water.
Once on higher ground the fight fell further in my favour and now confident my knots and line would hold I played the fish to the bank. As he came up out of the gutter I got my first good look at what was causing me all this trouble, it was a beautiful river Bass of about forty centimetres. Now this may not seem all that big especially for anyone used to catching impoundment Bass, but this was a quality fish for this river and well worth bragging rights with the fishing mates.
Once landed, photographed (Polaroid lie detector evidence above) and duly admired a very wet and cold angler returned this magnificent fish back to the water so he could go tell the story of his fight to all his mates. As for me, I went home cold and wet with a grin from ear to ear; you know Sunday arvos just don’t come much better than this.
Words and Pictures by Brendan Keogh Copyright Brendan Keogh 2013