by David Seaman •
When I think of bass fishing I recall the fatigue of camping, burned and smoky meals and nights on the river that lead to total exhaustion by the end of a trip, so when there’s an opportunity to experience the same wild river fishing with luxury nights in a comfortable bed, the one place I think of is the Bass Lodge, nestled on the banks of the upper Macleay River in NSW.
Almost halfway between Kempsey and Armidale, along the Kempsey Road (or Armidale Road – depending on your direction of travel) the lodge is set on a cut foundation looking over the junction of Georges Creek and the mighty Macleay River. The lodge was conceived by Ron Sattler and Robin Ireland from Armidale; Ron, a real estate agent, had a dream to create the lodge. After years of planning, the spectacular cypress pine cabin was built in 1986.
From the lower footings and framework of bedded river rocks to the faultlessly milled cypress pine logs, the Bass Lodge is a rustic retreat where you can relax, cast aside your problems and settle on the front deck. Overlooking the green paddock with roaming cattle and horses, the lodge offers a perfect location to relax.
From the moment you walk into the lodge you are presented by the craftsmanship of the structure. The upstairs area hosts the air-conditioned main bedroom with a double bed, closet and two-way lighting, while the rest of the area has three more bedrooms and a shower, en suite and toilet. In total, there are 12 beds that are made up of double and single bunks and all of them are far more comfortable than a riverside camp.
The lounge area has a small dining room table, though much of the dining is alfresco, on the deck. A comfy lounge chair arrangement semi circles the slow combustion fire and TV where tired bones and heavy eyes can rest, and often sleep after a long day of activities.
There is a well-appointed holiday library with a collection of fishing magazines, novels and an assortment of DVDs, so there’s something of interest for everyone. By arrangement and pre-booking, the heated spa is also available.
The kitchen is small and basic, and adequate to prepare a well-cooked meal. Ample fridge space is available to keep the important beverages cool and on hand for the return to the lodge after a day trip, and there’s a BBQ on the front deck, so you can have some banter while dinner is cooking, which promotes a great social atmosphere.
A closed carport area at the rear of the lodge and parking in the front will ensure the wandering bovines won’t rub against the duco.
The lodge has limited WiFi for those wanting to email, Facebook and stay in touch with the world of technology, and of course the TV is available for local and national programming.
If you are the slightest bit concerned about water quality from the tanks, I would suggest you bring bottled water to the lodge. It’s very safe to drink but being country there isn’t the same level of treatment (chlorine/fluoride) as town water systems and the taste can be a little different.
From Armidale you head along Waterfall Way, turn onto the Kempsey Road at Chandler and cross the Oaky and Stix rivers. Coming from Kempsey you head west along the Armidale Road, which becomes the Kempsey Road around Blackbird Flat. Much of the road is narrow, unsealed and subject to rockslides, so getting there is part of the adventure and creates the sense of isolation.
Caravans are discouraged from using the road as there are limited areas to pass and the road often narrows to a single car width. The utmost caution is needed while travelling, especially during wet conditions, as the sharp turns and mud can become particularly hazardous.
There is no doubt the upper Macleay can produce some fantastic bass fishing, great river scenes and quality fish. Those familiar with Wild River Bass 2 will recognise much of the water and the lodge itself; it was the perfect starting point for the film and produced some of the best fishing we had experienced to that point in our trip. The river can be a wild beast when the water levels are up above normal, so take care when fishing the rise.
Even though much of the river has easy gravel runs that you can glide over in a kayak or canoe, there are some rocky rapids that require caution when approaching. The river is easily travelled and when the river height is below 0.6m you may need a few more stops to drag your boat into the next pool. Even in low flow periods the string of deeper, shaded pools will produce the hard-fighting bass the Macleay is known for.
From the lodge there are a few areas that can be fished with long trips down to Five Day Creek or Blackbird Flat that will test your strength and endurance, and give you a greater scope of the river. Whether it’s a day trip or an overnighter, the lodge is the ideal central location to base your fishing activities as it has a host of choices.
If your group has six or more anglers, you could split up and drop half the group up to West Kunderang to paddle and fish back to the lodge. Then on their return the second group can fish from the lodge down to Blackbird Flat and be picked up at a predetermined day and time. That way each group gets to spend time on the river and have a few relaxing nights at the lodge.
Even day trips or short sessions above and below the junction of Georges Creek provide enough bass fishing to satisfy most anglers. If the fishing is tough through the day, a night fish around the rocky pools can reveal the quality of the fishing and fish that are available on the doorstep of your accommodation.
The river is blessed with travelling stock roots that allow public access. Although many have been closed off due to unruly visitors and localised damage, there are a few spots that are available. Like any river access, consideration needs to be given to signs and fences. Blackbird Flat is one such public reserve that provides an ideal pull out or starting point.
A range of surface lures including a 3/8oz black jointed jitterbug are a must for a night session. In fact, it’s a lure that every bass angler should have in their kit, wherever you fish. I’m a huge fan of surface walkers that make noise, because if you can hear them, you know they are working.
If the pool is relatively free of floating weed, I’ll use an LC Sammy or Berkley Scumdog as a drift bait with short movements between pauses. Soft plastics like the Gulp Shrimp and Jigging shrimp, as well as grub-tail and minnow styles, are ideal for prospecting the shade and depth of a pool during the daylight hours, especially around midday. The bass can be as fickle as anywhere and it’s a matter of cycling through an assortment of lures until you crack a pattern.
Essential spinnerbaits include black and purple dual Colorado blades, as well as the small chatter style Jackall Derabreak in golden shad and sexy wakasagi colours. Spinnerbaits are great for prospecting areas when you travel through a pool and don’t have time to fish plastics methodically along the bottom.
Pony head spinners of 1/8oz are a good backup with a motor oil or pumpkin seed colour grub-tail plastic. Betts Blades and your favourite plastics are also worth throwing in the tackle bag when you want the flash of a spinnerbait and the subtlety of a plastic.
Remember too that crushing barbs on your trebles will not affect the hook set and allows the lures to be removed from the bass and your skin with minimal damage. Provided you maintain tension on the fish, it won’t adversely affect your catch rate either and if you get towelled up, the fish is more likely to throw the lure and not suffer with hardware hanging from its mouth.
The lodge isn’t just for anglers. Hikers, bird watchers, adventurers and family groups have all experienced the value of being surrounded by national parklands and available day trips to some incredibly beautiful gorges and rivers. There is a visitor’s book to record your time spent at the lodge and reading through the pages gives you some idea of the adventures groups have had.
If you need to explore areas that are a bit more out of the way or with the benefit of a guide, arrangements can be made through the Bass Lodge website to accommodate your needs. You can explore the state forest and do walking trails at the Styx River where you turn off the Kempsey/Armidale Road onto the Styx River Forest Way and follow the signage to the camping area and trails.
The lodge address is Bass Lodge 9829 Kempsey Road, Lower Creek NSW 2440.
Visit their website at www.basslodge.com.au