Wilderness Bass – Another great Northern Rivers sojourn
The walk in was tough. Those of us that had not done a previous walk to carry in the inflatables or done a food drop were now carrying a full backpack plus the yak. My legs were turning to jelly and we were not even half way there! The younger members of the party made it to the bottom in good time and returned to help those of us who were struggling. Thanks Peter, I owe you one! Finally we were there and after collapsing in a heap, headed to the river for a refreshing dip.
After setting up camp at the creek mouth, thoughts turned to a bit of exploration. The din of the cicadas was deafening as we waded and rock hopped upstream. Some small bass were found right in the rapids, but it was the deep dark pools we were searching for. Images of some monster bass from these long forgotten pools filled our thoughts as we pushed on. Young Scotty was having great success with beetle spin type lures and small soft plastics.
As we sat around the campfire that night, discussion centred on what lay ahead for the next seven days. The river was up considerably and there was plenty of flow. This was sure to make the paddling easier over the shallow sections of sand. However, the concern was that the rapids may become more dangerous as a result of the extra water pressure. The tension was palpable and it was hard to get to sleep with the thoughts of what tomorrow may bring.
The backpacks were strapped onto the inflatables and we headed off early next morning. Bass were encountered straight away and things were looking good. The first big rapid proved a major hurdle and our first portage was required. Carrying backpacks in one trip and then returning to carry the kayaks proved backbreaking work. I was hoping the other rapids would be easier to navigate. At least the weather was kind. Cloudy with the occasional shower was much better than blazing sun!
As it turned out, most rapids could be either paddled or roped through. The bass loved to congregate at the head of the pools, so there was keen competition to be the first into the pool to cast a lure back upstream. Multiple hookups were numerous and everybody was getting into the feisty bass. The size of the fish was not exceptional, but as usual, every time you hooked up a fierce fight would ensue. The boys were having a ball. This was surely wild bass heaven!
Where possible, nights were spent camped on sandy terraces, next to a large fishy looking deep pool. The evenings sitting around the campfire reliving the day’s action were a highlight. As always, tales were told of huge surface smashes and gut wrenching runs. The bass would then burry itself in the snags or dive into a crevice in the rocks, never to be seen again. As the night wore on, the size of the bass grew, just like Pinocchio’s nose.
One scary moment occurred when Andy was roping his kayak through the rapids. His foot became jammed between a log and the rocks and he was stuck. The pressure of the water coming over the rapid was enough to force his head under water. Luckily Paul was close enough to hold his head above the water while Rod extracted the foot from the jam. Disaster was averted, but it was a wakeup call for the rest of us. Andy was shaken, but the lure of the bass soon had him forgetting his woes.
After not seeing another soul for five days, we were shocked when a low rumble in the distance turned out to be a helicopter zooming up the gorge. Arriving at camp that evening, we found three bass fishermen already setting up camp. Personally, I found this a bit disappointing, as I thought of all the blood, sweat and tears to reach this point by our group. However, they turned out to be great blokes and we shared a campfire that night.
Every now and then, we seemed to stumble across what seemed to be schooling bass. When this happened, the fishing was electric; everybody was hauling in good fish and having the time of their lives. At one stage we saw Andy pull in four fish ahead of us. When Rod and I arrived at the same place, Rod pulled in four fish in four casts! Joel and Scotty were fishing machines, whereas Paul and I were quite content to soak up the atmosphere of this magnificent place.
I managed to catch some hot surface sessions early in the mornings. The guys did not seem as keen to drag themselves out of their sleeping bags! Fizzers, surface poppers and crawlers all produced some good fish. The go-to lure for me on the trip was the old faithful Jitterbug. I enjoy the solitude of the early sessions, so this worked out perfectly for me. The bass took surface lures right through the day. Whether this was because of the overcast conditions or no fishing pressure is hard to say.
As the trip was coming to an end, there was time to reflect on what had transpired on this wild river over the last seven days. The scenery was magnificent, no crowds or motorised bass boats to contend with, willing bass and great company come to mind immediately. This would have to rate right up there with the best wilderness trips I have ever done. A holy grail indeed
Words and photos by Graeme Bowes (the cod) 2008