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Targeting bass with surface lures is an exciting form of sportfishing. In this article Steve Flockton gives away plenty of hard-won secrets for success on wild, North Coast bass.


Good bass water on the New South Wales North Coast is basically
any freshwater creek, or river that has access to saltwater for the bass
to breed.
These waterways have reasonably long stretches of brackish (slightly salty) water that shift with the season. During drought, salt works its way upstream and during good times of rain it pushes it back.
Since most boat ramps on the coast are in saltwater you generally are heading upstream to find freshwater and bass.
We consider we’ve reached freshwater when there are lilies growing in it. Quite often the most productive part of a creek is the first kilometre or two after you reach the lilies.
Some of the rivers and virtually all of the creeks are quite short, which gives bass a very limited eco-system to survive in. Even with the strict bag limits, if everyone kept their limit then bass numbers would drop dramatically.
Thankfully, the vast majority of bass anglers take pride and care in releasing every bass caught, and many have been doing it for decades. Like most bass anglers I flatten the barbs on all the hooks. This takes the drama and trauma out of getting the hooks out. Also if you keep a tight line while fighting the fish you will not drop any more than normal.
Because of their strict catch-and-release mentality, bass anglers talk in lengths rather than weight. Any fish longer than a measuring stick is a good one and if it’s over 45cm, it’s a real thumper. All big bass are female, which is another good reason for their release.
Every time mates and I target bass we keep a tally of how many swirls, slaps, ‘boofs’ and hookups we get.
In good bass sessions the count quickly becomes blurred and only the real exciting stuff is burnt into your brain.
Of course, on quiet days the tally is easy to remember. However, we still put in the time because we never know what the next cast will produce. By the time we get back to the ramp we usually having a grumble about the lack of action, yet will be right back there the following week revved up and ready to go.

Early Start: For us a typical morning outing consists of getting to the ramp before light then motoring upstream to where we think bass are located.
The outboard is stopped and we work the next kilometre, or two under electric or paddle power. Two people are perfect for this style and we both cast and retrieve lures the whole time.
I’m the only one in our fishing group that owns an electric outboard and for reasons I’m not really sure of, this means I’m the driver even if it’s on another bloke's boat.
It’s not too hard to operate the electric and fish at the same time but it has its moments, especially when the wind is blowing. My electric has hand steering and is mounted on the stern and when it is windy I’ve found it far easier to position the boat by running in reverse.
For an afternoon fish we time our arrival on bass water so we have two or three hours of daylight. If time is against us and there is no moon we often motor upstream, then slowly work our way back to the ramp. I prefer to fish water that hasn’t been disturbed by a noisy outboard, yet on a number of occasions we have roared upstream and scored a strike on our first cast, moments after stopping the motor. So maybe I have more of a problem with noise than the bass do.
Bass are an ambush feeder with a strong preference for fallen trees, underwater logs, undercut banks and rock bars. They also hang around bridge pylons, under lilypads and right in tight to the bank when the water is a metre plus in depth.
In low light conditions bass tend to be less structure orientated and at times can be found in relatively clean water.

Using Surface Lures: As their name suggests, surface lures run along the top of the water. My favorites are the ones with solid splash plates on the front because they have a crawling action that bass find irresistible.
Using surface lures is a very visual form of fishing and it pays to watch your lure as you wind in. Calm conditions and glassy smooth water are ideal for spotting swirls from fish that are checking out your lure. By watching it you can tell if the lure's action is impeded by weed and you can often steer it around leaves, or sticks that may foul the lure. If it’s not running with your preferred action, wind a bit slower and if that doesn’t work, try it a bit faster.
The best part about watching surface lures is the strike. A good bass strike is an eruption. The water is glassy smooth one moment then it explodes with a boof, sending white water into the air. Getting wet from a bass strike is not as uncommon as you may think. Sometimes they wait for the last moment and smack it just as you are lifting the lure from the water. Close quarter strikes are guaranteed to get the heart pumping and your knees shaking. I love them!
When a bass belts your lure but doesn’t hookup, try to resist the temptation to instantly wind in. It is fine to pickup loose line to stay in contact with the lure, but it’s more productive to leave the lure stationary for a few moments as the bass often comes in for a second hit.

Lure Tactics: An important thing to remember with surface lures is not to strike when you get a hit. This probably sounds like strange advice but if the fish misses the hooks and you rip back on the rod, two things will happen. Firstly you are pulling the lure away from the fish and secondly, the lure will lift off the top of the water and rocket back at you, or your mate at an amazing speed.
Not striking is easy to say, however, a bit more difficult to put into practice. Striking is a reflex action and a lot of times bass will catch you off guard.
Being aware of the strike problem is half the battle won and it’s the same deal when you cast a lure into bank side greenery. It’s OK to try and pull a lure out of a tree, but remember the lure can and will come out at a fair pace. Work the rod with a sideways pull so the lure won’t hit you, or your partner.
A lot of lures mistakenly cast over branches can be retrieved without going over and untangling them by hand. The main trick is don’t panic. Gently wind in any slack line, and then see if the lure can be softly flicked over the branch.
The worst thing you can do in this situation is hit hard and bury the hooks into timber. When this happens you'll have to go and get it, because you it won’t come out.
There is an old adage that says, “if you are not putting lures into the bank greenery, you’re not putting them close enough!” While there’s a lot of truth in that saying, there are exceptions. Sure it’s great to smack lures right in tight, but not worth it if you have spend most of your fishing time untangling line and lures from branches. That’s not much fun, so use a bit of commonsense when casting.
Of course, it’s a lot harder to judge casting distance at night. So when it gets dark I purposely shorten up my casts. If I’m using an overhead reel I tighten the side plate adjusters a bit to lessen the chance of an over-run. These short casts still catch enough bass to keep me happy and they ensure I stay out of trouble with the shore.

Location Counts: When the sun is up we tend to concentrate on the side of the river, or creek that is in shade because over the years that is where we have had the most success.
Good sunglasses are a must for this style of fishing as quite often you are casting towards the sun. However, there are very few definite rules in fishing and if we are working a shady bank with no action and the other bank has good structure, it doesn’t take much pushing to get me across to the better looking water. Quite often structure is more important than shade.
Some days all the action is in tight to the bank whilst other times the bass will congregate around some old gum trees fallen in the water.
In the latter cast I’ll try and get my first cast right in tight to the butt of the tree where the root system joins the bank. Often there is good water depth and an undercut bank, which helped drop the tree in the first place. All of this makes a good recipe for bass.
If the cast is successful and I’m not instantly ‘boofed’ I’ll leave the lure where it is for as long as practical, occasionally giving it life with a very light rod movement.
If this technique doesn’t work I will retrieve it along the tree trunk and out around the branches. Big trees are like icebergs, a lot of their bulk is underwater. Don’t forget to work the head or top of the tree as well. Last season was the best I can remember for pulling big bass from the heads of fallen trees. It’s a great spot to hook them because once you get them out there is generally plenty of clean water for a stress-free fight. Even if they do get back to the timber, most times you can still get them out because they are tangled in sticks and not logs.
When chasing bass, the lightest line I’ll use is four-kilo over a light rod. Some people may think this line class is overkill for the size of the fish targeted, but I have never left a lure in a bass.
Our aim is always to release all our fish in a healthy condition. We don’t see any sense in wearing them down with a tiny drag setting. Four-kilo line is also far superior to the real light stuff when pulling lures out of the scrub.
For many years I had a solid mindset that surface lures were only effective at night and consequently I only used them after dark. Yet for the last few seasons I’ve been running them in day light with excellent results. So good in fact that it has become a rare day I tie on a diving lure.
Having your lure slapped, smacked and boofed right on top of the water is extremely addictive fishing and well worth a try.

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