by Bob Thornton •
Whether you’re a tournament buff, a travelling fishaholic, or just a holiday angler, at some point you will find yourself fishing in unknown territory without any help.
Chances are, if you’re new to tournament angling, you’ll probably find yourself fishing a lot of bodies of water completely foreign to you as you follow the tournament trail up and down the coast. It’s a daunting feeling standing on the boat ramp and looking out onto a waterway that is someone else’s stomping ground or, in the case of this article, no one’s stomping ground yet…
GOING IN BLIND
I decided to simulate this and I asked Michael Rowswell if he wanted to help me out. Michael is new on the BASS Electric scene, but already has a few podium finishes to his name, and is definitely one to watch in the next few years. My plan was to get out on a body of water completely foreign to both of us, and observe the decisions Michael made both prior to and during the day’s fishing. Michael didn’t take much convincing and was as keen as I was.
The arena for the day was going to be Wyaralong Dam in South East Queensland, near Beaudesert. A relatively new dam, it was completed in 2011, and stocking began shortly after with the Logan & Albert Fish Management Association providing a steady supply of bass and Mary River cod.
As yet, very little, if anything, is written about the lure fishing opportunities in this dam, and anyone who does catch fish keeps the info close to their chest. I gave Michael a week to do some research and prepare a plan for our day on Wyaralong. The aim was for Michael to treat the day like a tournament and put a limit of bass together – it was going to be interesting.
As we rolled into the car park with Michael’s boat in tow on Saturday 11 November 2017, it was unseasonably cool, and drizzly rain looked like a possibility. We noticed another rig being set up in the car park, and neither of us were surprised to see the figure of Bass Electric veteran Adrian Wilson step out of the car. Adrian has been putting some time into this lake, and assured us there were some chunky bass in residence, we just had to find them!
We finally pushed off Wyaralong’s steep one-lane boat ramp at 5:58am, and the plan was made to fish some grassy edges with topwater offerings immediately opposite the ramp. I’d originally planned to not fish, and just take photographs and notes while Michael fished, but he insisted I fish with him. Again, it didn’t take much convincing.
We’d done some research, and found that there were no bony bream in the lake, which often points to a good edge fishery. We decided to fish this area thoroughly, but with this area and technique bearing no fruit by 7:00am, we thought it was time to move further up the dam.
At 7:32am, we ran into Adrian along a steep bank, with a mixture of drowned timber and rock dotting the waterline. Michael and I were throwing a spinnerbait and football jig respectively. Adrian said he already had a full livewell between him and his partner for the day, and tipped us off that the fish were sitting off the edge a little bit and relating to the thermocline that was clearly visible on Michael’s Lowrance HDS Carbon 12” unit. It was then that the fish started to trickle in…
While hopping and rolling an Ecogear ZX40 blade in colour 442 just below the thermocline in around 25ft of water, Michael hooked up. His drag was screaming in noisy protest, but when a beige mud marlin broke the surface, we were both a little disappointed. As Wyaralong is dammed on a tributary of the lower Logan River, the European carp that abound in its waters were able to build a self-sustaining population in the lake. We were aware of this coming into the day, but clearly they were more numerous and aggressive than either of us had predicted.
While it wasn’t a bass, it somehow relaxed us both. It didn’t get the monkey off our back, but it did convince him to loosen his grip a little. Catching fish is always a good way to ease the tension. The carp of around 50cm was humanely dispatched and disposed of.
After this we came across a little patch of fish on the sounder as we continued to cruise along the bank. We were still in about 25ft of water when Michael hooked up again. The smaller headshakes indicted that he’d hooked a native species – it was now a question of what kind.
It wasn’t a bass! It was the biggest spangled perch either of us had ever seen. With this thing giving 30cm a tickle, it’s no wonder we mistook it for a bass on hook-up. We agreed that spanglies of that size would hang out with bass, as they’d most likely be after the same tucker. We continued mooching along the bank. Surely we were getting closer…
At 8:14am, we came to a timbered point, which protruded out into the riverbed. Bass are well-known to hang around points with deep water nearby. It was 16ft where we were, and the riverbed, which dropped away to around 80ft, was only about 50m away. We decided to give it a peppering, with Michael throwing a ZX40 in colour 442, and myself throwing an Ecogear Grass Minnow with a 1/4oz jighead.
I suddenly found myself turning around when I heard the sound of drag coming off Michael’s reel, but Michael had merely snagged the blade on a piece of sunken timber close to the bottom. With a few flicks of the wrist, Michael managed to rip it away from its snaggy doom, but as the blade came free of the timber, the rod buckled right back over – fish on! After a few runs for cover and some fancy rod work from Michael, we had our first bass for the day in the net. Finally, the monkey had let go!
At exactly 40cm to the tip of the tail, this was considered a good one in here according to Adrian, who was still within earshot. This fish was incredibly deep-bodied, and had clearly been eating well. We were stoked, and after a few photos, put our first customer into the livewell! Hooking this fish so close to timber was an important piece of information to note.
As we got ourselves reorganised, we noticed a few fish moving in under the boat on the sounder. We were now sitting in very close to the timber line. We both switched to blades and began harassing these fish by vertically jigging them in the sounder beam.
At 8:30am, Michael decided to give his blade a bath in some Ecogear Egi Max scent. We’d been getting half-hearted bumps and taps without any hook-ups. He assured me that this product had turned many of his slower days around. As he sent his blade back to the bottom, the hits started up again as the bait was dropping, and after 2-3 hops off the bottom he was hooked-up once more.
The surging runs had us calling this fish for another carp, but when I caught a glimpse of the animal under the boat, I saw it had a rounded tail. “No way!” I heard myself saying, as I slid the net under a fat little Mary River cod. The high-five that I then I shared with Michael hurt my hand for minutes after the capture!
We knew that Mary River cod had been stocked into this lake, and the stocking group had made an effort to stock more cod than usual into Wyaralong in the hope of creating a viable fishery for them. That said, having personally only ever seen two caught from dams in about 20 years of fishing, I was pretty excited to see such a beautiful and endangered species up close once again.
With a few photos, the fish was lowered back into the water, where it powered back to the deep, giving Michael a late shower in the process. These fish never go quietly.
We speculated that with good stocking of these cod, in a few years this may be an area where anglers can set out to target these majestic mottled gluttons… but then it was back to the task at hand.
At 8:42am, while fishing the same school of fish with a ZX40 blade, I managed to connect to another one of the 30cm spangaloid monsters – the dam was proving to be full of surprises.
After that, we decided to leave those fish and return later, opting to head toward some isolated timber in the distance that we saw Adrian pull a fish off around half an hour earlier. Upon getting there, we realised that this tree stood alone in around 70ft of water, and we could see fish suspending about 15ft down, both tight to the tree and out to the side.
Michael made a cast with a black Ecogear Grass Minnow on a 1/4oz jighead away from the tree, let it fall for only 2-3 seconds to keep it up where the fish were, and almost immediately after commencing his retrieve the soft plastic was crunched. Knowing that carp generally feed in the bottom third of the water column, we were very confident that this fish was a bass. At 32cm to the fork of the tail, this bass was Michael’s second for the day, and was put into the livewell to join his first victim. Our objective had been reached; Michael had put together a tournament limit!
Upon moving over to where Michael had hooked this fish, we found there was a second, sunken tree, with plenty of fish relating to it. With suspended fish notoriously difficult to target, Michael suggested that I tie on an ice jig and lower it down to where we could see fish sitting at around 15-17ft, just below the thermocline. I chose a 12g Smak Wild Ice Jig Darter in brown dog colour, because it reminded me of peanut butter and I was hungry.
At 9:19am I pulled tight to a fish that barely breathed on the jig, after several minutes of tiny bumps that had me questioning whether they were bass. Again, my lure was very close to timber when the fish struck. With a very stout 35cm fork-length bass in the well to join Michael’s two fish, we decided to have a bite to eat, before exploring further up the dam. Pulled pork rolls and Gatorade did a good job to pick us up after a slow morning.
As we worked our way up the dam, we were seeking out timbered points and isolated timber similar to the area that produced those two bass, but while we found bass on the sounder, we struggled to get them to eat. At least we know where they are for next time.
At 11:34am, after approximately two hours of not turning over anymore bass, we pulled into a small bay in about 14-16ft of water, where we could see some large arches holding tight to the bottom. Deep down, we knew they were probably carp, but it didn’t stop us from trying.
With Michael fishing his ever-faithful ZX blade, and me continuing to rock the ice jig, we dropped our offerings to the bottom expectantly. Within seconds, Michael was hooked up, and low and behold, the second carp for the day came to the surface. Once we agreed that all the other large arches were probably carp, we made a move and headed for the next little bay.
We arrived at the next bay at 11:45am, and found an even bigger patch of fish on the sounder. It was only about 12ft deep where we were.
“I’m 100% sure they’re carp, but I’m gonna try to catch one anyway,” Michael laughed.
Within seconds he had his rod bent to the felt, as a hefty mud marlin sucked his ZX blade off the bottom. I shot a few photos of him hooked-up while I held my rod between my legs, making my ice jig dance in an unusual fashion near the bottom and, of course, another carp decided it was time to eat. I promptly put the camera down – it was time to have some fun!
For the next half hour we caught around 15 carp, with a few double hook-ups! It didn’t seem to matter what we dropped down, they would eat it in seconds, and each fight usually broke the three-minute mark, as 2kg of angry mud marlin doesn’t come in easy on ultra light bass gear.
We were having too much fun. We were like a pair of giggling school kids every time one of our rods buckled over. It was time to move on. The livewell was filling up with carp, which were to be dispatched. We left them biting at 12:15pm. I told myself I’d return at some point with a fly rod for some real fun. I honestly can’t wait!
We didn’t view the last half hour of our fishing as a waste of time. What we did learn from our session in ‘carp bay’ was that any really large fish schooling in shallow water well away from any structure were most likely carp. In a tournament situation, this would be a very logical way to fast-track your search for bass. The bass we found were all near timber, and suspended off the bottom. This is all useful information for next time.
Our day was cut slightly short when the sounder that we were relying on died at 12:30pm, and the decision was made to jet back to the ramp, release the fish in the livewell, get packed up and head toward the golden arches for a feed.
Although we didn’t light up the bass, our day at Wyaralong Dam was most definitely a success, and it was very interesting for me to see how Michael took on the challenge of fishing a dam he’d never been on before and that doesn’t have much published information about it. Watching how he broke down the water and put together a bag of bass was informative for me, and I also believe our day’s fishing proved the point that even the top tier of tournament anglers like Michael don’t spend the whole day smacking fish.
Sometimes they’ll even doughnut, but this is also useful information in the process of nutting out a new waterway. The lesson here is to learn from your experiences, good and bad. Another key lesson is to let the fish tell you what they want. Every fish you catch tells a story, and it’s important to note when, where, how, and why you think you caught each fish. This is how they tell you what they want.
As for Wyaralong Dam, I really hope to see it added to the calendar sometime in the next few years. Those chunky bass will only get chunkier and more numerous as the stocking continues. Oh, and the by-catch isn’t too bad either!
I hope this gives you the confidence to tackle more unfamiliar territory as we march into the tournament season. Or, if you don’t fish tournaments, I hope you make plans to try fishing those places you’ve been meaning to for years, but have ‘never got around to.’ You’ve gotta be in it to win it.