Australian bass have always been found in the far eastern rivers of Victoria but in recent years – after extensive stockings by the Victorian Fisheries Authority – they are now widespread in great numbers all across Gippsland and the east of the state. The stocked fish are now well into the 40cm lengths and there’s still the odd chance of a 50cm monster bass that was already in the river before the extensive stocking program. Bass are a great sport fish and readily smash lures before putting on a show for the angler as they head for cover. Walking or kayaking these beautiful rivers is highly enjoyable fishing.
The rivers are more susceptible to temperature changes than the lakes due to being small shallow bodies of water. This means rivers warm up quickly after a few hot sunny days but quickly cool down in a cold snap. Fluctuating temperatures can shut the fish down if the nights are really cold and frosty as bass prefer warmer water. The bass in the Victorian rivers slow down during the cold water of winter but spring, summer and autumn are great times to be out chasing them. It’s also worth noting the mature bass move down to the estuaries of rivers to spawn over the winter period so this may also affect the fishing in winter.
Smaller Victorian bass rivers are best fished from the banks and the best fishing will come from walking as far away from the access points as you can. Walking is best suited to most of the smaller bass rivers and creeks or the headwaters and smaller sections of the larger rivers. You can kayak some of the bigger rivers, and in the lower sections you can get a small rooftop boat into the bigger, deeper pools, which allows you to fish the bigger sections of water with ease. So, pick a section of water that suits your style of fishing – boat, kayak or walking, it doesn’t matter as there are plenty of fish to be caught on all methods. Walking is my favourite and I like to jump on Google Earth and pick a section of river away from access points that has a few large pools I can walk to. I’ll then put the backpack on and spend the whole day walking up or down the river to get in and fish the larger pools. If you’re not afraid to walk 20km or so in a day like this, you will be rewarded with some great fishing. If walking is not your thing, don’t worry, there are plenty of fish to be caught close to roads – these fish just see a few more lures. If fishing from a kayak, drift trips are great, as drifting down the river from one bridge to the next is a great way to cover water without having to paddle back upstream.
The Gippsland rivers cover a massive range of habitats, from fast-flowing, clear rocky creeks to slow-flowing muddy drains. The headwaters of the rivers run through the bush and some rocky gorges, while most of the lower sections run through farmland. Bass inhabit all these environments and seem to do extremely well in differing environments. The bass have no problem hitting a lure whether in dirty water or clear water. Bass are an active aggressive predatory fish that eat everything from insects to crustaceans and small fish, making them extremely suited to lure fishing. A wide array of lures work on bass, but some of my personal favourites are surface lures such as small poppers or surface walkers. Spinnerbaits or spinner blades on soft plastics are a great option for turbid water. Hard-body minnows or jerkbaits are also worth having in the box and prove a great fish-catching option cast alongside structure. Use jerkbaits in the 5cm to 10cm size range similar to what you would use for trout or bream. As a general rule, surface lures are best used at night, early morning and late afternoon. When the sun is high and penetrating the water, you are better off opting for the sub-surface options such as spinnerbaits and jerkbaits. In the dirtier systems spinnerbaits and brightly coloured lures with some flash will work best. But in the clearer system I go for much more natural lures such as baitfish-coloured jerkbaits or soft plastics. Surface lures seem to work equally as well in clear or dirty water.
A 2 to 4kg-rated rod is perfect for bass fishing. You can use spin or baitcaster set-ups – it’s really up to personal preference. I prefer to use spin as I find it easier to cast light lures. Match the rod with a small reel spooled with 10lb braid, and I use 10lb to 20lb fluorocarbon leader of around 6ft. Leader strength should be adjusted depending on terrain and fish size. Bass can be strong, dirty fighters that will head for cover once hooked, so don’t be afraid to go heavy if there are big fish and heavy structure in the area. When running heavy leader around 20lb, it’s also worth upgrading the hooks on your lures to 2X strong, to prevent them from bending out on the big fish.
Bass, like any Aussie native fish, love structure. Rock bars, timber and weed beds hold bass in the bigger slower pools of the river. The heads of the pools where the water runs in are also a great option in the faster-flowing rivers. Generally, bass won’t sit in the shallow runs like trout do and will hold in much better numbers in the slower, deeper water where they have some structure or cover to hide in. Deeper pools in the rivers have no problems holding great numbers of fish and during a good session it’s common to catch multiple fish from a single pool. Due to the bass liking the deeper water and pools they don’t travel as far into the headwaters as trout would and once the river gets shallow and skinny, the numbers will drop right off. Overhanging vegetation and shade on the water provides great cover for the bass and is always worth a cast in the deeper pools during the day. Sometimes you will find you can get an all-day surface bite on the bass by targeting these shady areas throughout the day. So, whether or casting from the bank or from a kayak, focus on casting your lures into these areas and structures and you will soon find a hungry bass.
The Victorian bass start in the Gippsland rivers such as the Tyers, La Trobe and Traralgon Creek, then move further east in rivers and creeks such as the Thomson, Rainbow, Macalister, Avon, Valencia, Freestone, Wonnangatta, Mitchell, Nicholson, Tambo, Timbarra and Hospital. Then you finally have the far eastern Gippsland rivers such as the Snowy, Brodribb and Cann that also have great numbers off bass. There’s no shortage of Aussie bass rivers to fish in eastern Victoria, that’s for sure. You could spend a lifetime exploring all these rivers for bass and still wouldn’t fish every pool. Over the past decade the VFA has stocked close to three million bass into Gippsland so there are plenty of fish spread widely over this area. Couple this with bass already being in many of these systems and it makes for some exciting fishing. The great numbers of bass in Victorian rivers now means it is not uncommon to have double-digit sessions on bass with fish coming in regularly when they are on the bite. Most of the fish are in the 20 to 40cm range but if you start to rack up the numbers the 40cm-plus specimens will come.
Bass are a great freshwater sport fish and I always enjoy my time on the water when chasing them. Their aggressive surface strikes and ability to run for cover always keep you excited when fishing for them. Couple this with the beautiful rivers they live in and it’s a great option for all anglers. If bass fishing is something new to you, target the deeper pools that have some structure for the bass to hide in. All that’s left to do is pick a river or creek from those listed above, grab a few bass lures and head out. You won’t be disappointed!