BIG BASS

The definitive South African trophy Bass fishing site

 

FISHING RISING WATER

With the onset of the rains, many factors come into play on fish populations, often making them harder to catch. Most of Africa's dams experience considerable draw down through the dry months, leaving them low and vulnerable to large inflows once the rains begin. If, as has happened this year, exceptional rains are received, the impact on the fishing can be quite significant. Often, a sea-saw effect will be noticed as conditions fluctuate, with fishing sometimes being very good, while at other times, dismal.

While there is no easy answer for these varied catch returns, and to answer all the questions would probably take an encyclopedia, it does help to understand a little of what happens to bass when their environment changes dramatically, and also how to tackle that phenomenon we only experience for a brief while annually - dirty water.

During the winter months, the water level in most dams drop considerably. Sometimes this concentrates the fish and makes them easier to find, more often it gives them a severe case of lock-jaw. Then come the rains, the dam level starts to rise, flooding new shorelines and scattering the fish over a wide area, as well as triggering spawning cycles and other natural phenomena.

At the end of winter, the grass cover on the land surrounding a dam may be thin or non-existent and the first good thunder storm removes the loose top-soil and washes it downhill, a scenario aggravated by poor agricultural practices now common-place along many streams and rivers. The first water to flow into dams is often muddy and this has a twin effect on the dam. Most notable, the water is stained chocolate brown and visibility is down to zero. Secondly, the new water brings with it nutrients that stimulate the lower end of the food chain.

This initial influx of dirty water, combined with the increase in day-time temperatures should trigger the bream and other indigenous fish to start spawning. They move into the shallow areas and concentrate their numbers around the nesting sites. As predators, bass will not be far behind ready to exploit the explosion and make real gluttons of themselves.

With the rains, the shoreline will spring to life with grasses and other plants. As the water level rises further, this grass will be flooded and provide both food and refuge for young fish. Bass know this and patrol the outer edges of the grass-line in search of a quick meal, and will be seen busting baitfish in the shallows.

A big Willowleaf spinnerbait swum past these edges can result in arm-wrenching strikes. As the water visibility is poor, try a noisy, splashing retrieve with this lure. Experiment with a noisy buzzbait or a Tornado lure. Also try shallow diving Fat Raps in chartreuse, Perch or Fire-Tiger. Surface lures with propellers, ripped across the surface in front of the weed-line might be the answer. If the rising water is very dirty, and the fish are in a passive (non-aggressive) mood, you may be forced to resort to large plastic worms and jigs, cast into holes in the grass.

Normally, the rising water will increase the amount of fishable shoreline. Look for islands, anthills and points with steep sides. Here, the land area will be reduced and the amount of "land to water edge" decreased. The resident fish will now be concentrated into a smaller area of shoreline.

Dirty water is almost always a factor at this time of year, and in some parts of the country, it never really clears. Dams like Sebakwe, Manyuchi and others are renowned for their dirty water, and anglers who frequent these venues must learn to cope with muddy water. Knowing a bit about how to tackle dirty water will stand you in good stead while the dams fill and settle during the rains.

It is thought that fish generally hold closer to structure - trees, rocks, drop-offs etc. - in dirty water. Casting accuracy is all-important, and learning the finer arts of pitching and flipping will often make the difference between catching fish... and not. Manyuchi Dam in the Lowveld is one of those bodies which seldom clears, and here bass seem to feed largely on crabs which are picked off of standing timber. Dropping a jig to sink down the tree trunk will often draw a strike.

While noise generating lures like surface lures, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are an obvious choice for dirty water, jigs and other soft plastics are often used to great effect but need to be fished close to structure. Choose dark colours (research shows that blue is a good dirty water colour with high visibility), and a good bulky size. Dress the jig with a crawfish or other bulky plastic worm or lizard, creating a sizeable target which shows a good silhouette in dirty water. Using a Rattleback jig, or adding rattles to the lure is often a good thing. When using traditional plastic worms, anglers often rig small glass beads between the bullet sinker and hook. As this is cast and retrieved, the bead knocks against the sinker or hook, emitting subtle clicking noises.

When fishing jigs, use a strong (up to 10kg), high visibility line. Due to the dirty water and the manner in which these lures are fished, the visible line will have little effect on the fish, but aid the angler greatly. Apart from improved casting - because you can see what you are doing - the line will often act as a bite detector, visibly flicking or twitching as the bass subtly inhales the lure - often on the drop. These takes are seldom felt, and would be missed without the aid of a high visibility line.

When casting or pitching the lure in dirty water, a noisy entry is not a bad thing. The splash as a bulky lure plops into the water will often attract a bass' attention, and help him to home in on the offering. Deflecting the lure off the target tree is another way of announcing its arrival to the waiting bass. Because fishing dirty water often requires getting really close to structure, find a tree with small (strong enough to support the line, but weak enough to snap should the fish pounce on the lure), twig like branch just above the water, onto which the line can be hooked, allowing the lure to drop vertically down the trunk. To accomplish this, accuracy is again an important factor. But, if you are to keep the lure on target, and in the strike zone longer, casting over a twig in this fashion will prevent the lure from penduluming back toward the rod tip before the fish has had a chance to see it.

Finally, when fishing plastics in heavy brush or structure, some anglers apply one of the various bait scents available. While the attracting ability of these products are questionable, and often times depends on the angler's confidence, a little lubrication on the bait goes a long way to keeping it from snagging in exposed branches. Plastics have a nasty tendency of wrapping themselves around twigs and sticks at the slightest contact. With a bit of lubrication, the bait simply slides through, dropping into the water. If the attracting qualities of the scent actually works too, then it is a bonus.

While fishing dirty water may be difficult, fishing when the water is still rising is probably the hardest angling you will encounter in the whole angling calendar. Start fishing with a plan, but if you are not getting results, do not be afraid to change your approach. It pays to spend a bit of time just observing what is going on around you. Watch and listen for fish moving around or feeding. Hearing the unmistakable crash of a big bass feeding in the grass will give you a place to start. Look for the bream - the bass will not be far behind.

A bass is not a sociable fish, nor is he a "good neighbour" to the other fish in a dam or river. His aggressive behaviour, coupled with his gluttonous feeding habits can be his greatest weakness. Think of him as a schoolyard bully and plan your strategy accordingly.

 

A typical selection of lures which work in Manyuchi. Crabs are prolific in the dirty waters of Manyuchi, and most fish caught and gutted showed a preferred diet of crabs. Centre top is a real crab from the dam, while below a plastic imitation, which when rigged Texas style and fished among the trees, produces fish:

Below, a jig rigged with craw creates a bulky target for bass:

And a soft plastic with high visibility blue claws rigged with a glass bead for added sound:

A secret to keeping the lure in the strike zone longer- as close to a tree as possible - is to pitch it over a small (not too sturdy) twig just above the water. Note also the high visibility line which makes this technique easier, and also acts as a bite detector when strikes are not felt:

“Ant” Williams


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