winter-bassOver the past few years I’ve written plenty about the Lake Bullen Merri bass fishery and each year I learn a little bit more about the fish and how to target them.

I find myself regularly using different techniques and it is by no means easy to catch fish consistenly out of this water which is why perhaps why the bass fishing has never really become popular amoungst anglers.

Often when bass are caught by anglers they are usually bycatch for those fishing for chinook salmon or trout and while they create a great surprise, anglers do not often get a full feel for the quality of the bass fishing in this water.

As the Gipplsand impoundment bass fisheries develop rapidly the focus on the already established bass fishery in Lake Bullen Merri (which was heavily invested in between 1996-2005 with approximately 165,000 bass fingerlings stocked) has slipped away and the further development of the bass fishery has been essentially shelved by fisheries managers since the last stocking in 2005.

For now there appears to be plenty of fish to target, but the age at which they can reach in this water is unknown. In NSW impoundment bass have been found to reach 15 years of age. but I personally have had half a dozen of fish aged from this water over the past 4 years and none have been found to exceed 14 years of age, which could mean this fishery may not last much longer without stocking.

I’m the first to admit the fishing here can be extremely frustrating, but like any fishing the rewards are certainly worth the effort and while the fishery may not provide the fishing seen on many of the east coast impoundments this water still remains Victoria’s flagship impoundment bass fishery with quality fish to over 1.8kg available to those putting in the time to target the fish.

I’ve probably spent more time this year on Lake Bullen Merri targeting salmonids and bass than I have for several years and this has taught me a few more things about different methods that can consisently produce fish.
In years gone by I found the fish were primarily a hot option in the warmer months and I targeted them in 2-6m of water, often flatline trolling deep diving lures around the rocky points and then I moved on to dropping lipless crankbaits and soft plastics down over known holding areas.

While I thought these fish were mainly a warmer water option, last year in the winter months we managed to pull some nice fish on bibbed minnows using leadcore lines fishing deeper at around 8-10 metres which was a real treat as some of them measured 45cm and weighed up to 1.7kg.

This year the best method was different again and despite marking good aggregations of fish in the late autumn on the sounder off a number of the rocky points I found them hard to hook. Of particular interest this season was the depth at which I found the fish holding during the day. Even early in the morning and late in the evening the fish would hold at depth and there seemed to be no vertical migration closer to the surface during low light periods.

The fish just sat there on the drop offs in around 10-20m of water lazily hanging around bait schools just above the thermocline. They were never really schooled up tighly either and often they were spread out. The presence of thick bait schools on the sounder were easily validated by dropping lipless lures down over the marked bait balls and I managed to foul hook plenty of galaxias in a range of sizes.

With the chinook salmon back in the lake and downrigging being an effective option in the warmer months I cut a few of my salmon trolling trips short and moved in and fished tight on the drop offs with bibbed monnows in the hope of targeting the bass. I guess I figured eventually if I covered the likely water then I would catch fish. As it turned out this technique worked consistently to the point where i was scoring 4 fish in a morning or afternoon session which were usually also accompanied by a bag of chinook salmon in the 1-1.5kg range.

Your sounder is an essential piece of hardware for this style of fishing and you need to watch it like a hawk, not only to look for fish, but to ensure that your downrigger is transporting your lure as close to the structure as possible without getting your bomb snagged on the reef. For getting your lures down to depths of over 10 metres while trolling there is really no other better way than using a downrigger, just ensure that you check the trolling speed and action of the lure before you put it down to ensure the lures if swimming correctly. When using bibbed lures I usually need run them at 3-4km/h to get the desired action and this doesn’t see to worry the ability of the fiosh to eat the lure.

The strikes are violent and the fish hit the lures hard and you know straight away you have a bass on the second the lure popped out of the clip. I’d have to say that for their size, they are truly one of the best sportfish going around and they fight all they way to the surface.

You don’t need anything heavier than your standard threadline 2-4kg spinning gear for this style of fishing so its easy to do, the only thing I’d would suggest is upsizing your leader with a length ofat least 2m of 10-15 pound fluorocarbon or you will lose gear to the reef and I don’t think the heavier leader makes any difference on the number of bites at depth as long as your lure swims effectively. I must say however I do enjoy using my light baitcaster outfit for this kind of fishing spooled with 10-15 pound braid.

Most minnow lures will work well on bass and I prefer minnow style lures in the 7-10cm size, but bibbed shad style lures are also very effective in the same size. The shads are often designed to dive deeper than shallow running minnows so remeber to factor their diving depth in to the depth you are running your downrigger so that you don’t snag them up on the bottom.

I usually fish the lures reasonably close to the downrigger bomb with a drop back of 3-5m as I feel it gives me more control over exactly where my lures are so that I can hug the terrain and drop offs effectively. One reason i think there isn’t more bycatch of bass by salmonid anglers is becasue bass don’t tend to favour winged style lures like cobras and tassie devils so try persisting with bibbed minnows to give yourself a chance of catching multiple species.

There’s no doubt the quality of Lake Bullen Merri’s bass is second to none in Victoria and the fishery just needs the effort to show anglers and fisheries managers just how good it can be. If you don’t usually fish for bass in Lake Bullen Merri and you’ve had fun catching a few salmon try moving in close on the edges and steep drop-offs and try downrigging for bass and I’m sure you will be rewarded!

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