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Dave Brace

Big Bass, crisp, cool nights with clear skies, camp oven cook ups around the campfire and sharing laughs with mates is all part of the winter bass fishing and camping experience.

It's well documented that schooling Australian bass within impoundments of Queensland's south-eastern reaches, as well as in other dams around the country, can make for an easy option and fun day on the water during the winter months. Even though the bass cannot spawn in these environments, female bass school up as if they were downstream below the dam wall in the brackish water, where breeding is possible. These female bass can grow to trophy sized proportions in excess of 50cm and increase dramatically in bulk, due to feeding on the large amounts of baitfish that are in abundance within these lakes. During these cooler months, female Australian bass put on lots of weight as they fatten up and produce roe during their seasonal breeding rituals. Bass of this size are sometimes as round as they are long, and their large caudal fin can displace a lot of water, making for some exhilarating fishing once the fish is hooked.

Techniques used include jigging blades in the schools, once these fish have been located. Schooling bass will take a variety of lure presentations, from blade lures and soft plastics, to spinnerbaits and ChatterBaits. ZMan and TT Lures have a wide range of these types of lures for all situations when targeting Australian bass in these land locked environments.

During these cooler months schooling bass can be located off points, in deeper water averaging 7 to 10 metres. Using your fish finder, search for old creek beds that once wound their way through the catchment area. Once these fish have been located it's a matter of changing lure presentations and varying techniques to see what they are inclined to be attracted to. Unfortunately Australian bass do shut down easily and go off the bite once a few fish have been caught from the particular school of fish you have been targeting, especially when releasing caught fish back into the school. To prolong the bite period, some anglers place their catch in a live well, remembering regulations limit the number of Australian bass per person that can be in the angler's possession at any one time. Once a school has shut down it's best to leave the area you have been targeting and find another school where the fish are more likely to be in a feeding mode. Returning to the original school throughout the course of the day may find switched on and feeding fish once again.

In the past couple of years, due to Queensland's flood events, the eco-systems and structure of these impoundments have somewhat changed and where anglers were catching 40 to 50 bass in a session, fish can be harder to find. We as anglers also need to learn to adapt to these changes within these environments and sometimes thinking outside the box can be very effective and beneficial to having a successful day.

Just recently, whilst camping at Lake Somerset with many friends on the water's edge, this was the case. I was advised that almost nothing could tempt these schooling bass to take any lure presentation. Prior to visiting the lake the catchment area had received copious amounts of rain, turning the water to a real muddy colour and cooling the water temperature quite considerably, to a point where the lake was on the verge of turning over. A very different game plan was set in place, even before launching the boat. After setting up camp late in the afternoon there was a very small window of opportunity to target these bass before the sun set on yet another day. A decision was made to target bass in deep water against a steep rocky cliff face in about five metres of water, where the water temperatures were elevated slightly due to the sun baking the rocky formation throughout the duration of the day. Coincidently and to my advantage as the sun became lower in the sky, shadows from this outcrop of rocks were cast over the water, which bass also take a liking to. Upon searching for bass on the fish finder within this area, it became apparent that many old trees had fallen to the watery depths producing some sensational structure to target. Instead of viewing schooled bass on the fish finder's screen, single fish were obvious and actively swimming up and down in the lower reaches of the water column within this area.

Tying on a California Craw coloured ZMan Original ChatterBait 3/8oz gave me the confidence needed to come up tight to one of these Australian bass in the short time I had left before sunset. The darker coloured lure was chosen to produce a deeper silhouette within this murky coloured water. It didn't take long and within three casts, slow rolling this extremely active lure through the deeper water columns of this area, a notoriously hard-hitting Somerset bass had taken a liking to the lure. That awesome sound of the drag screaming and line being pulled off the reel was a tremendous relief and I soon found that adrenaline had caused some trembling as I got first sight of this big bass. A quick measure of the fish on the brag mat, before a quick photo and release, revealed the fish was a solid 53cm specimen. I persisted, casting lures a little while longer, but to no avail. I headed back to camp to join the communal camp cooking around the campfire. On the menu was roast lamb with vegie's or beef casserole, washed down with your beverage of choice.

A brand new day on the water saw the boat take a bee line to the exact spot where I had caught that nice bass the previous day, along the rocky cliff face. Noticing that the fish had moved on, as there was very little activity on the fish finder, it was over to Plan B. Plan B was targeting schooled bass in the deeper water off a number of points. A couple more fish were caught around the 40cm mark. Varying techniques were used but jigging a 1/4oz TT Lures Switchblade through the schooling bass was most productive.

The session was shortened to say goodbye to mates who were heading home early and to pack up camp after what had been a fantastic couple of days of camping and fishing at Lake Somerset. It is encouraging knowing that there are still some larger Australian bass that reside in the waters of the lake and we are very enthusiastic to return to lure a few more of these quality fish.

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