How to catch native fish from the bank
THE very first article I had published was in the June 1996 edition of Fishing World and was titled Successful Banking Techniques. It was knocked out during lunch breaks on a long redundant computer in my foreman’s office at the power station I worked at on the NSW Central Coast. In the ensuing years I’ve continued to enjoy the challenging, yet rewarding fishing action that can be had walking the banks of our creek’s, river and freshwater impoundments.
A recent bank walking trip to the granite belt streams of the New England region of NSW had me reflecting on that first published article and the tremendous improvements in tackle, techniques and equipment that have been developed over the ensuing years. Interestingly, while many anglers bemoan the loss of the fishing they enjoyed in the good old days, this is one style of fishing that for the large part has actually improved in the 20 odd years since the original article was written. Fish stocking programs were largely in their infancy 20 years ago and today’s widely supported ethics of catch and release to ensure sustainable fisheries were really only found in a minority of anglers back then who were mostly involved in the ANSA based sportfishing movement.
The following is a rundown on the latest tackle, techniques and equipment available to anglers wanting to get into the great fishing action available walking the banks of our creeks, rivers and impoundments. Just like 20 years ago though, the anglers that are prepared to put the extra effort in and walk the extra kilometre will usually reap the rewards.
Short, punchy threadline outfits around 1.7 m in length still work really well on small streams that feature plenty of streamside vegetation. Casting skills really count when trying to deliver lures into the honey holes created by tight overhanging cover along these small serpentine streams. A casting repertoire that includes the ability to deliver accurate underhanded, backhand and bow & arrow casts is highly desirable. Threadline tackle also allows you to skip casts under overhanging cover into places that baitcaster users can only dream about.
The major changes in small stream luring over the past 20 years revolve largely around the amazing array of soft plastic lures that are now available to suit any fishing scenario you could possibly encounter. Weedless rigged soft plastics now allow you to consistently put lures into places that were considered miracle casts with treble armed lures years ago. Single tail grubs, paddle tails, spider prawns, shrimp and craw imitations are ideally suited to use in many small water situations.
Surface lures such as the Megabass Sigletts, Bassday Sugapens and Saku Snoop Dogs work well in these tight pockets of water and the array of weedless frog style lures on the market these days can be thrown into the most impenetrable cover you can find.
Another great tactic that many switched on small stream anglers are using is the addition of a Beetle Spin blade to their soft plastics. This provides additional fish attracting flash, vibration and action to your soft plastic, while maintaining the inherently snag proof nature of these most versatile of lures.
Don’t discount the smallest pools or narrowest of streams either, native sportfish such as Australian bass, barra and Murray cod will hold up in the skinniest of puddles, many that you can easily jump across, particularly if the location features some depth and cover. The key to lure fishing the small streams is the selection of lures that have the ability to draw strikes with minimal movement. In some of those really tight, overgrown honey holes a couple of subtle twitches of a lure is all it often takes to detonate a savage surface strike. It really is an addictive style of fishing that rewards the skilled caster.
Rivers and impoundments
Longer rods rule on these larger bodies of water so I change up to a 2-m double handed bait casting outfit for the longer casts that are often required. To be honest, carrying a short threadline outfit for the tight spots and a longer outfit for covering the big water is the best way to cover all the options. A lot of anglers don’t like the extra hassle of lugging two outfits around, but it does allow you have to different lure options rigged and ready to go at all times, which can allow a quick lure change up on a half interested, following fish that turns the trick and draws a strike.
When lure casting rivers the crucial point to remember is that the dominant or largest fish will always occupy the prime real estate in any pool or hole. Finding that key snag, rock bar or overhanging cover and presenting the right lure to it will provide you with the best chance of hooking up with a trophy fish. Predatory fish in running rivers use structure for shelter from flow and as an ambush point, keep that in mind and always try and make that first cast a winner. The element of surprise is always a tremendous advantage and it’s lost if the first cast is a misplaced dud.
If I’m fishing a really snaggy stretch of water, particularly in low light conditions I’ll often just use surface paddlers as like so many other keen anglers I can’t get enough of those violent surface strikes. My old favourite jointed Jitterbugs of years gone by have been replaced by Jackall Pompadours and the new Kingfisher SR126 surface paddler. Deeper holes can be probed effectively with spinner baits or Bassman Mumblers, whilst my old favourite Samaki Vibelicious Thumpertail fitted with a Beetlespin blade is a great option in these circumstances too. Lipless crankbaits such as the tremendously popular Mazzy Vibes or Jackall TN range are also highly effective, particularly when the sun is on the water and you have to fish deep to get bites.
Like so many keen lure fishers I’ve gotten into the impoundment swim baiting craze that’s all the rage at the moment. The extra length of the new generation of purpose built swim bait rods ensures they’re ideally suited to use when walking the banks of larger rivers and impoundments and I’m sure that plenty of gorge country cod will be falling victim to well-presented swim baits just like their impoundment brethren have been for the last couple years.
Bibbed deep divers were our primary lure choice many years ago and will still catch plenty of fish. Many of the best bibbed diving lures are Australian made and specifically designed for targeting Murray cod, barra and Australian bass. I prefer to use buoyant models in snaggy terrain as you can float them over submerged snags and logs. However, these days they’re just part of an ever expanding lure arsenal. When walking the banks you can only really carry a limited amount of lures so the best way to go is to carry a couple of proven winners from each of the lure types described so you’ll be able to effectively fish any situation you happen to encounter.
Bank walking equipment has improved incredibly over the last 20 years. I can recall that many of the keenest guys walking the gorge country for cod and bass years ago would be wearing ex-army surplus webbing pouches to carry lures, water bottles and gear as you just couldn’t buy decent purpose built fishing packs or utility belts.
The more remote your intended fishing destination the better your preparations have to be in case of injury or accident. Venomous snakes are often active during the peak periods that anglers chase our most popular sportfish walking the banks of our rivers and streams. The best advice I can give you is to wear appropriate footwear & clothing and always try to watch where you’re putting your feet, particularly in overgrown, scrubby country. If fishing remote wilderness streams I wear a pair of Macpac gators that I’ve owned for over 20 years now and carry a first aid kit and personal locator beacon (PLB). My PLB is a GME Accusat Pocket Series model and only cost around two hundred dollars at the time. There are more advanced units available now that allow you to send text messages via satellite which would be handy to inform family if you intended staying an extra night on a river due to good fishing or if for example rising water levels had temporarily delayed your departure. Camera gear has also improved significantly over recent years. Water proof mobile phones and GoPro type units provide durable, lightweight options that are capable of taking good pics and video footage. Battery life always seems to be an issue with this new technology, but there is gear available such as power banks or lightweight fold up solar panels for the purposes of recharging while camping on a river bank if required.
My current fave bit of new age bank fishing kit is my Samaki Neon Fish Grip. These polymer fish grips only weigh a measly 68 g and clip onto my pants pocket or backpack loop till they’re required. The flatted polymer jaws don’t damage the fish’s mouths like the pressed metal types do and the weight saving over the old 60 lb Bogagrip that I use to lug around the bush is incredible.
The quick dry outdoor clothing that is available now really is superb. Sun protection and hydration are of primary concern, particularly during the extreme heat of summer that can be encountered in locations such as the granite gorge country of the New England region in NSW. Hydration packs such the Camelbak Lobo I own are a godsend for keeping your fluid intake up without having to take off your gear while walking the banks fishing in hot conditions.
Some of the best fishing days I’ve ever had have been enjoyed walking the banks of rivers and streams in NSW, the Northern Territory and Kimberley chasing wonderful sportfish such as Australian bass, Murray cod, yellowbelly, barra, saratoga, jungle perch and sooty grunter. Not to mention the beautiful country and amazing wildlife witnessed along the way while enjoying this unique style of fishing. Safety is of paramount concern when fishing remote areas and always remember that no snagged lure is worth risking your life for, particularly up in croc country.