How to catch skinny water bass
LIVING where I do, the only “quick fix” for my fishing addiction is a strip of water known as South Creek. Situated in the west of Sydney, this waterway meanders for miles through farmland, industrial areas and residential estates. Until I teamed up with two great fisherman – Codie Stewart and Aaron Hooke – I had no idea the creek held quality bass. But it certainly does…
I always give credit where credit is due and without my intrepid guide Aaron, it would be hard to find some of the places I’ve fished along this system. The good thing is, Aaron is very generous with his knowledge, and even has a Facebook page dedicated to fishing South Creek where everyone can share their experiences.
South Creek is the bigger brother to Eastern Creek, which is well known due to the nearby race track of the same name. South Creek stretches from Gregory Hills all the way to the Hawkesbury in South Windsor and provides better fishing opportunities than its more famous sibling. After spawning in late winter and spring, the bass move upstream and take their positions amongst the many ambush positions offered by the creek’s snaggy waters.
It’s this abundance of habitat that makes South Creek such a such fascinating water to fish. In colloquial terms, it’s “skinny water” bass fishing at its best. For those who don’t care for getting on their hands and knees and crawling through undergrowth, this might not be the place for your Sunday morning fish. If, however, you enjoy extracting big bass from tight slivers of creek with the bush all around you, well, it doesn’t get any better.
The creek is susceptible to flooding from the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers so the local fish move around a lot. To my mind, this makes it more interesting as you’re always prospecting for the fish and never quite know where they’ll be holding. Having said that, most of the fishing I’ve done has been around the Riverstone and Richmond area. Because the creek is so long, you can take your pick of which stretch you want to target depending on where you live.
As already mentioned, the topography is varied and quite extreme at times. The creek follows a natural course through many different landscapes but most of it is either thick scrub or open farmland. Because the creek is so dense and overgrown in places, your fishing style will have to reflect this terrain, otherwise it is going to be a struggle to get a hookup, let alone land a fish.
Parts of the creek are wide and open but as sod’s law will have it, the big bass will be skulking under a log or hiding in an undercut bank, so your tackle will have to match the challenges posed.
Depending on whether you use a baitcaster or spin outfit, your rod should be rated up to about four kilos with a nice fast action to get those casts into the holes and snags where the bass live. I use a Samurai Reaction 201 two-piece spin stick teamed with a Quantum 2500 EXO reel loaded with 10lb braid. My baitcaster set-up is a Samurai B382 rod, which is 5’6”, married with a Megabass Cover Hacking reel spooled with 18lb Unitika braid.
No matter what gear you use, the key to extracting South Creek’s bass is to use fairly hefty leaders. We use 15-20lb leader. This may seem to be overkill but believe me when I say you’ll need it. I’ve just come back from a session where I was blown away twice by big fish that just could not be stopped on 10lb leader. If you’re a dedicated finesse angler, maybe start around 15lb leader. If you find – as I did – that some of the fish are so deep in heavily snagged areas, and they strike so damned hard, then swallow your pride and step up to 20lb.
Aaron and Codie are South Creek veterans and you won’t see them fishing under 18lb leaders. If and when you get to fish this system you’ll understand straight away the need to fish so heavy. When it comes to the end of the leader, I recommend avoiding the use of snap clips. I’ve experienced the heartache of losing big fish by the clips being straightened by a savage hit from a 40cm plus bass. Go direct to the lure with a loop knot. Some say the clips improve the action of the lure, but the risk of losing a good fish is too great, in my experience.
Fishing the open stretches of the creek are relatively easy as your back cast will not be obstructed, however, you find that (sod’s law again) most of the good fish are holed up in amongst the timber and under tree roots. The terrain changes from cast to cast and you will be required to get on your hands and knees and crawl through bush to navigate the creek. You’ll even be forced to get into the water and wade or gingerly tightrope walk trees that have fallen and form a natural bridge over the creek. Once you’re into the thick vegetation, you’ll start to find the big resident fish that regularly push into the 40cm mark.
Given these challenges, you need to ensure your casting is up to scratch, regardless of if you’re using a spin outfit or a baitcaster. If your casting is questionable, get out in the backyard and master the art of casting underarm, overarm, sidearm, slingshot and any other way you can think of. You need to be able to deal with close quarters casting if you’re to experience the best of what South Creek – or any other small bass creek for that matter – has to offer.
When it comes to lure selection, there are certainly some standout models to consider. In places, South Creek is sometimes only the width of a kitchen table. You can’t help wonder if there are fish in there and, if there are, how you can get them to eat a lure. There are many ways to catch bass. In this case, it’s all about choosing lures that cast well and are relatively snag free. Weedless softies and plastic tails rigged in Beetle Spin heads are favoured by Aaron and Codie. Cast these lures into the tight gaps and holes, twitch them over the snags and wait for the big boof. The exciting thing about skinny water bass fishing is that it’s all at your feet, or not very far from.
At times the surface action is just so hot that every cast will have a bass follow out of its hiding place. Choices for surface lures are far and wide but it pays to have a selection of weedless” hollow body” style plastics. You can certainly use traditional surface lures but the attrition rate can be high – which causes significant pain if you lose a few expensive Japanese models. There are a number of “hollow body” patterns around – Aaron and Codie like mouse shaped models. As you negotiate the creek you will invariably come across big trees that have had their roots etched out to form deep underwater holes. These are prime hiding holes for bass but how do you tempt a fish out of what is essentially a cave receding a considerable distance under the bank?
Aaron and Codie use the “tea bagging” technique combined with a figure of eight move with the rod tip. The first time I saw this technique I was more than skeptical but I can assure you it works. Select a suitable lure (I like the 50mm Atomic Semi-Hard), find a good overhang and use the rod tip to stir the water in a figure of eight motion. Don’t be afraid to splash and cause a bit of a commotion – this is what brings the bass out of their holes. Next take your lure and just dangle it up and down as close to the root system as you dare. Try a few more rod tip swirls and repeat the tea bagging process. It might take a few minutes but eventually you will entice a big bass out so make sure you’re ready for a thumping hard take!
So there you have it. Anyone wanting a quick fishing session can turn up with a box of lures and a spin outfit and catch some great bass 30 minutes out of Sydney. There are places in which the creek crosses under the M7 and M4 which can feel a bit strange but when you’re catching fish in the 40cm mark, who cares about a bit of traffic noise?
If you want to start fishing the creek, check with local farmers about walking on their land. Most of them are OK as long as you respect their property. Please don’t spoil it for the rest of us by doing stupid things like leaving gates open. There are areas of the creek that are accessed by public land but you’ll find yourself on private land sooner or later. Depending on the season, dress light and watch out for the snakes that populate the banks of the creek. Aaron has a rather disturbing story about a black snake that attacked him and bit him on the knee ….
You’ll need to wade the creek at times so wear clothes and shoes that dry quickly. From the outset the creek doesn’t look much but if you explore and are prepared to get down and dirty, this little ribbon of water that runs through Sydney’s west will have you hooked and wanting to go back time and time again to target its trophy bass.
Editor's note: Earlier in the year South Creek suffered a major fish kill from pollution caused by firewater runoff. Click here for more details on this unfortunate event.