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Posted 18th January 2023

How to Catch Australian Bass in Rivers

How to Catch Australian Bass in Rivers
How to Catch Australian Bass in Rivers

By Simon Goldsmith 

Australian bass have grown in abundance and popularity over the last twenty plus years in most part due to the evolution of their stocking in impoundments, the development, and the expansion of catch and release tournaments and the growth of lure fishing. 

While bass are a fantastic species to catch in stocked lakes and impoundments, in the wild in rivers and streams they’re a different quarry again, both in terms of the locations you’ll catch them and, in many ways, how you catch them. Wild bass are a unique species to catch, and a species that ticks many boxes.

In this feature when going to step away from the lakes and dams and head to our rivers and streams and look at how to catch Australia bass. We'll give you the tools and knowledge that will hopefully help you catch your first, and hopefully many, river bass. 

The River Species

A native of the east flowing rivers of the Australian east coast Australian bass has a range from Queensland’s Mary River, south through NSW, and through the east coast of Victoria to the Gippsland Lakes region. There are exceptions to this range of course with some populations of fish living out of this such as western Victoria’s Glenelg River, and Queensland’s Burnett and Kolan Rivers.

A catadromous (a zoological Latin word that means downward running) species, Australian bass migrate to the saltwater/brackish water to spawn during winter and subsequently are found in seaward flowing rivers. Weirs, dam walls and barrages provide spawning and migration obstacles or complete barriers to fish and as a result the rivers and streams with no, or minimal, barriers to migration provide the best breeding opportunities, more abundant fish populations, and of course the better fishing. Minimal riverine development, more natural river structure and a general less presence of man is a good thing when it comes to catch wild bass. The more remote it is and the less influence of humans there is the better the fishing usually is.

As a migratory species bass aren’t always in the same place every month of the year. As a guide they hang out in the freshwater reaches during the warmer months, move down river to the brackish and saltwater during the cooler months to spawn, then head back up to freshwater as the weather starts to warm again.

Like many fish species, Australian bass in the rivers have rules and regulations when it comes to targeting them. Minimal size limits prohibit the taking of undersize fish, while a closed season limits the targeting and taking of Australian bass in the rivers and streams during the spawning season. There are closed seasons in QLD (Starts 1st June) and NSW (Starts 1st May) that extent to the 31st August, with the first day (1stSeptember) of spring marking the opening of bass season.

River Versus Lake

As you may expect river and lake bass have many similarities, but they also have many points of differences.

Bass, regardless of where they live are influenced by things such as time of year, season, food, water, weather and temperature.

Taking these elements into consideration will help you locate where the fish are located in a river system, what lures they’re going to eat, and when they’re going to bite. In fishing terms it’s all about ‘cracking the pattern’ and the working out of the puzzle applies regardless of what species you’re chasing (marlin or bass), or where you’re fishing (mountain stream or continental shelf).

If you consider these elements when you chase bass regardless of whether you’re at Lake Somerset targeting fat impoundment or fishing the upper reaches of southern NSW’s Clyde River for small tannin-water river bass then your likelihood of catching fish is maximised. 

Where are You?

For Queensland, and in particular NSW anglers, the seaward flowing streams of the east coast hold plenty of bass and provide a variety of river sizes and types to fish. Let’s take a hypothetical and typical bass river in one of these states and break it down on where we a likely to find fish, and at what time of the year. 

Spring is the start of bass season. Closed seasons have open, the weather starts to warm and the fish are post spawn and are becoming more receptive to shallow water techniques. During spring it’s the upper brackish and into the mid freshwater sections of the rivers that bass are inclined to be found. Keen to feed post spawn bass will gravitate towards ambush points and areas where they can get an easy and regular feed. Rock bars, current eddies, and of course the bass staple of any season, a snag with current, are all prime things to throw a lure at during spring. 

As we get deeper into the season and the air and water temperatures start to rise it’s the middle and upper freshwater reaches of the rivers and streams that really start to come online. Cicadas and other similar terrestrial bass prey start to become more prevalent at this time of the year and the bass in turn gravitate towards overhanging trees, laydowns and lily pads. Find the food and you’ll find the fish is a trusted and reliable approach, so it pays to be aware of what bass food is about, and that applies to food above (cicadas) and below (shrimp and minnows) the water line.

Cooling Off

As day length shortens, temperatures start to cool, and often river flows increase, bass will begin the move down stream during autumn. All the habitat types you fished on the way the river during spring and summer are the same places you want to hit on the way back down. Finding where the bulk of the fish are during autumn is a year-by-year thing, with elements such as temperature, moon phases and river flows varying every year. My tip is to cover as much water as possible when trying to key-in on where the fish are during autumn.

You’ll notice I haven’t made mention of where you’ll find and catch bass during winter, and there’s a very good reason for that, it’s because it’s closed season. Give wild bass a rest during winter and let them do their thing without interference and harassment by anglers. Take a break for a few months, refresh and recharge your batteries and be super keen to get back at it when the season kicks off again in spring.

This seasonal breakdown is purely a guide and isn’t a hard and fast rule on where you’ll fish. Not all fish migrate to spawn and not all fish are found in just one spot. Being willing to be open minded and willing to try different things and locations is essential for success as an angler, regardless of what species you’re chasing. So always keep this in mind. 

Tieing One On

While we now know where to find our fish, what they’re going to eat is the next piece to the puzzle. Once again season plays a part. Lure selection is very much about matching the hatch and different seasons sees different prey active, present, and in abundance. 

Where in the river the bass are residing of course plays a big part in what they’ll eat. A bass lower in system may be keen for a baitfish profile deep running crankbait, while a fish hiding under lilies in the upper reaches will only have eyes for a cicada imitation topwater.

Spring is a super fun time to throw lures at bass and they’ll often eat a huge variety of different lure types. Crankbaits, both shallow and deep, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, jighead rigged soft plastics, and the ever-popular spring skirted jig bite are all gun spring lures to tie on. Rotate through your different lures to try and key-in on what the bass want the most and keep in mind about matching the lure to the type of location that you’re fishing. 

What does that mean? It means slow rolling a weed guarded jighead rigged soft plastic or a spinnerbait through a snag is a better option than trying to hop a metal vibe through it. In essence pick the lure that will be best fished through the spot and is most likely to draw a strike. In sporting terminology, play the percentages, and use the lure and technique that’s most likely to succeed.

My box of spring bass lures includes mostly sub surface lure and features the following from the Daiwa range; Bait Junkie Risky Critter, Kikker Curly, 2.5/3.2” Minnow, Steez Spinnerbait, Steez Cover Chatter, Steez Jig Spinner.

Summer Lovin’

As we head into summer the temperature starts to crank and the really surface bites kicks into gear. A highly addictive way to catch bass there’s perhaps no more iconic way to catch a wild river bass than on a topwater. Low light periods such as at dawn and dusk, and shaded pockets and overhangs are prime topwater bite periods.

During the day when cicadas and insect activity is high and they’re holding in the trees on the water’s edge, you’ll often find bass sitting in the shade under the trees waiting for prey to fall into the water. When this occurs skipping lures such as lightly weighed soft plastics and topwaters into the shaded areas can be an effect and super entertaining way to catch them.

Shade is the key during summer, especially when the sun is high, and the light intensity is at it brightest. Getting your lures into the shade or tight to the transition between shade and light is essential. Casting accuracy is a must when river bass fishing, especially on those hot, blue sky, summer days. Jighead rigged soft plastics, small cranks, and topwaters are my staples during the summer months.

My summer box of bass lures includes the following Daiwa baits; Infeet Slippery Dog 65F/80F, Steez Popper 50F, Infeet Kodachi, Bait Junkie Kikker Curly, 2.5/3.2” Minnow

The Best of Both Worlds

When it comes to autumn bass baits my collection is in many ways a hybrid of my spring and summer baits. Early autumn will see me lean towards my summer box, while as we get closer to winter, and often fishing lower in the system the autumn choices of deeper running cranks, spinnerbaits, and jig spinners come into play. It can be hard to predict where you’ll find fish in autumn, what they’ll be feeding on and how much in-flow there will be in the river/s, so you want to cover your bases. Trial and experimentation is the key to success.

My autumn bass box includes the follow lure; Infeet Spike 44MR/EXDR, Infeet Spike 53SP, Double Clutch 75SP, Steez Metal Vibe, Steez Shad 60SP

River Tackle

The range of tackle suited to chasing bass can be long and extensive but we’ll trying and streamline the options to a defined selection that hopefully will make choosing an outfit clear and understandable for new anglers.

Outfit choice comes down to two types, spin or baitcaster. Baitcasters, I recommend for mid to heavy lures (heavier than 3/8oz) and where pin-point casting accuracy is required. Imagine punching a 1/2 oz spinnerbait deep into a snag or skipping a jig in under an overhang. This is where and when you want a baitcaster. Baitcasters obviously can be used outside of this suggested use range, but unless they’re being used by a skilled baitcaster user a spin outfit is more often than not the better way to go. 

When it comes to choosing rod weight (e.g. light, medium, heavy) and length (e.g. 6’6”) you want to make your selection based on the three elements. Lure weight, technique, and line strength. Let’s look at a selection of five rods and reels that I’d use for day on the water and what I’d use them for.

Light Short Spin Rod 1

Rod- 6’3” to 6’8” ultra-light to light fast taper spin rod.

Lure Types- unweight to 1/8oz jighead rigged soft plastics, topwaters, small spinnerbaits/chatterbaits, jerkbaits.

Application- My number one rod, especially in small water streams due to its shorter length. The perfect length for close quarter casting, and downward rod tip techniques such as jerkbaiting.

Reel- 2000-3000 (shallow spool ideally) size spin reel, 6-8lb PE mainline with 8-12lb fluorocarbon leader

Light Short Spin Rod 2

Rod- 6’3” to 6’9” light to medium light regular taper spin rod.

Lure Types- small cranks.

Application- My go-to slower taper crankbait spin rod, particularly in small water streams due to its shorter length. The perfect length for close quarter casting, especially when casting lures unhand and under overhangs.

Reel- 2000-3000 (shallow spool ideally) size spin reel, 6-8lb PE mainline with 8-12lb fluorocarbon leader

Light Short Spin Rod 3

Rod- 6’9” to 7’2” light to medium light fast taper spin rod.

Lure Types- unweight to 1/8oz jighead rigged soft plastics, topwaters, jerkbaits.

Application- Essentially a longer version of my ‘Light Short Spin Rod 1’. The rod I reach for when more casting distance is needed or a larger retrieve arc is needed for a technique, such as hoping vibes or soft plastics. 

Reel- 2000-4000 size spin reel, 6-10lb PE mainline with 8-14lb fluorocarbon leader

Light Short Baitcaster Rod 1

Rod- 6’3” to 6’9” light to medium-light regular taper baitcaster rod.

Lure Types- small to mid-size crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and topwaters.

Application- My go-to baitcaster for throwing cranks, especially on small water bass streams.

Reel- 70-100 size baitcaster reel, 8-15lb PE mainline with 8-14lb fluorocarbon leader

Medium Long Baitcaster Rod 2

Rod- 6’9” to 7’3” medium to medium-heavy fast taper baitcaster rod.

Lure Types- mid to large crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, jigs, and chatterbaits.

Application- The longest and heaviest rod in the selection is my go-to for heavier cranks, jigs, chatterbaits and spinnerbaits.

Reel- 100-200 size baitcaster reel, 10-20lb PE mainline with 10-25lb fluorocarbon leader

Time to Go

River and stream bass are one of the greatest angling species that we have available. A pioneer species when it comes to lure fishing in Australia, bass are a fish that are readily available to many anglers and provide a huge variety of angling opportunities and rewards. 

For those new to chasing wild bass the road to success can seem daunting and difficult. Time on the water, research, both online and through social angling networks, and arming yourself with knowledge are all steps that will help elevate your wild bass game. Knowledge is power and hopefully this article has provided you with some information that will help you on your river bass journey.


NSW South Coast Australian Bass fishing


By Georgia Poyner

Australian Bass have to be my all time favourite species to target. Their aggressive feeding nature combined with stocky build make them without a doubt one of the best fighting fish, punching well above their size. Added with the fact they live in some of the most spectacular country, is why these fish have my heart.

Australian Bass are unique in that they inhabit both fresh and salt water environments. During the cooling winter months, fish migrate down stream towards estuaries to spawn. As the weather begins warming back up, the fish push back upstream into the fresh.

Each system is different in the timing of when the fish migrate, with influences such as rainfall and temperatures varying this. A good understanding of how these factors effect the fish in your specific system play a huge key into catching consistent. 

Like a lot of freshwater species, bass can be very sensitive to barometric changes. A low pressure system can have the fish shut down and not wanting to feed. I get excited by a big pressure change – usually hot muggy weather before the lead up of a big thunderstorm. These conditions often trigger ant hatches which can put bass into a feeding frenzy. 

Surface fishing is by far my favourite form of targeting bass. Their explosive surface boofs are epic and is what keeps us south coast anglers content from not having barramundi to play with. Generally speaking, surface fishing for bass is most successful in the early morning & late evening into the night.

For bass fishing, i predominantly use my 20 TD Black Pinster which is paired with a TD Black 2500 S-C and 6lb J-Braid 8 PE. I find 10lb J-Thread FC to be sufficient for most of my bass fishing situations although I’ll usually have packed with me 8lb and 12lb leader incase.

Frog Time

This year I’ve been having a huge amount of fun using the new Daiwa Bait Junkie Kikker Curly. The frog imitating soft plastic is a weedless and weightless lure. Despite being light I have found casting with it to be easy & accurate.

Being weedless it’s also very forgiving when punching over and under snags, or into reeds where the bass dwell. Whilst I do majority of my bass fishing for wild, river fish, earlier this year I fished some private dams for them.

This particular dam was very shallow and full of long reeds, making the Kikker Curly ideal for the situation. Burned across the surface, the wriggling legs of the frog plastic certainly did the damage on some huge stocked fish that put up a hell of a fight on the Pinster. Just goes to show that regardless of where you catch these fish,  their stubborn, angry  nature never changes and they’ll definitely always have my respect.

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