fat-bassThis year marks 20 years since Australian Bass were first stocked into Lake Bullen Merri. Between 1996-2005 approximately 165,000 fingerlings were stocked into the lake.

Despite the fact the lake hasn’t been stocked with bass for over a decade there is still a healthy population of fish in the lake and all the fish your are likely to encounter are over 1.3kg.

It has been interesting to watch the development of this fishery over time. In the first decade as the fish grew it was common to find good numbers of fish in 2-6 metres of water in the summer months when water temperatures increased. They responded well to a range of techniques including trolling and casting lures, flyfishing and bait fishing, but as they aged and matured the fish seem to have developed a habit of preferring deeper water on a year round basis.

Lake Bullen Merri is a deep natural crater lake reaching up to 50 metres in depth and while bass are unlikely to occupy the deepest water, they are commonly found at depths between 8 and 20 metres. The deepest I have caught bass in the lake is 18 metres and it’s likely that they inhabit water deeper than this, particularly during the winter months when the lake is not stratified and the water column is well mixed. Generally during the warmer months the lake stratifies and most of the fish congregate just above the thermocline in 10-15 metres of water (depending on the season) so at this time of year there is usually no need to fish any deeper than 15 metres in depth.

Trolling is a great way for searching for both aggregations of fish or when the fish are spread out sparsely and it’s also a technique that can be used in a range of weather conditions effectively. Vertically fishing with lures for bass is also effective, but this technique is best reserved for when aggregations of fish have been located and calm conditions allow you to hold over the schools of fish.

Downrigging
If you are going to troll lures for bass down deep then downrigging is the most effective and precise way to get your lure into the strike zone. To fish your lures down to depths of over 10 metres while trolling there is really no other better way than using a downrigger.

Use your sounder
Your sounder is an essential piece of hardware for this style of fishing and you need to watch it carefully, not only to look for fish, but to ensure that your downrigger is transporting your lure as close to the structure as possible without snagging your bomb or lure on the reef. Fishing the structure is very important in Lake Bullen Merri. The lake itself is relatively featureless around the edges with minimal weedbeds and the best bass habitat is usually along the edges of rocky drop offs. Focus on these areas when searching for fish.

Lure Selection
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 remember 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. For example if your lure naturally divers to 1.5 metres and you attach it to the downrigger clip and set it down to 15 metres then it will effectively be running at 16.5 metres.

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 because 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. This is one of the great things about fishing deep during the warmer months in Lake Bullen Merri as you are also likely to pick up brown and rainbow trout or Chinook salmon as bycatch.

When you put the lure out it is important to check the trolling speed and action of the lure before you put it down to depth to ensure the lure is 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 bass to eat the lure.

Locations
There are a few locations that bass tend to prefer in this waterbody and these locations are always a good starting point for anglers when downrigging. Over the years I have done angler and netting surveys with Fisheries Victoria and also caught plenty while trolling lures. Potters Point on the western side is by far the most consistent location to try in 8-15 metres in depth and although less consistent Wurrung Point on the eastern side and the area around ‘The Caves’ on the north shore have also produced some good catches for me seasonally. Most of the southern shore is sandy and featureless and I have never seen bass caught there before.

Tackle
You don’t need anything heavier than your standard threadline 2-4kg spinning gear for this style of fishing so it’s easy to do, the only thing I’d would suggest is upsizing your leader with a length of at 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.

Barotrauma
Over the years I have seen plenty of bass suffer from barotrauma after being caught from depths of 10m or more and depending on the depth that you hook the fish this can be a common occurrence when downrigging for bass. If you notice signs of barotrauma and find it difficult to successfully release the fish then try keeping a fish or two for eating. They have a firm white flesh which is very similar to an estuary perch in its appearance and texture and as a result bass have good table qualities.

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