Freshwater Essentials in the Off Season – Words and Images by Dale Ward

734016_10200713968907215_2002509246_nBeing the Holy Grail in freshwater fishing, it’s undoubtable to say the most prized and bankable species in Eastern and Southern Australia would be the imminent and impressive Murray Cod. Australia’s largest exclusively freshwater fish in Australia, the apex predator of the Murray-Darling River. Trying to catch and land one of these can lead to being one of the most brawling and defiant genus at times and will most definitely test your patience and skills as an angler. I primarily consider myself as a freshwater angler as well as a spot of double in the Saltwater fishing scene, but most summer’s you should find me rod in hand and the ambition of a beaver somewhere along a river or lake chasing Bass, Cod and Perch, but when the surge of summer comes to a mere and centred close, so does the fishing for the likes of our rivers, and eventually the season comes to an end for species in the system.


How lucky are we to have so many lakes stocked with awesome sport fishing species in NSW that are not too far of a drive from Sydney itself? Now some of these stocked lakes have some impressively weighty fish that many disregard, as a lack of either knowledge or acquisition in finding, hooking and landing a fish of a lifetime, or due to the fact that many people are not educated in the fact that there are an abundance of pre-stocked fish in willing waterways such as our amazing impoundments on offer in this state alone.  Narrowing down the picking order, Windamere  Dam which is located around 260Km North West of Sydney and is a very well stocked impoundment for great sport fish and is highly regarded as a prized, and healthy native fishery, with fish like Murray Cod, Silver Perch and Golden Perch. For many anglers in Sydney they may think that fishing for such species would involve a necessary and inevitable travel distance down south to chase such species in the Murray River, but no need to start packing for such a considerable trip, even in the Winter months these species still make an appearance for successful trips in impoundments such as Windamere Dam. As many know there is no closed season on native fish in impoundments. Murray cod are usually predominant nocturnal feeders, daylight hours you will most likely find them hidden away in their usual sheltered element under logs and snags, in deep holes, but after sundown you will find the Cod move around the impoundment much like a Pelagic. Murray Cod would have to be one of the most frustrating species I have ever had to opportunity of chasing in freshwater, I’ve found myself in frustration at times to a manner that I can only describe as disheartening, there is no need for an informed notification when large Murray Cod Strike your lure, especially from the surface, its first run is usually taken with its whole body of weight. They surely test out any angler’s knots and ability to handle big fish; they can spit a lure as quick as they strike it, leaving you baffled in your attempt to landing one. I always say that failures are more finely etched in our minds than triumphs, and success is elusive but a desire for personal achievement and I find myself time after time casting in the same snag as I lost the previous fish as I’m not one to give up. You will also find yourself catching smaller Cod in the daytime than larger ones, as when the larger Cod feed during the night they become very aggressive toward their smaller kin during the night-time feeding, which leaves only a small feeding time in the daytime for the smaller Cod.

67559_10200640719356022_573977886_nI have also had very successful trips catching Silver Perch in impoundments in the cooler months, many would regard freshwater fishing for Silver Perch in winter as “Tough Fishing” but Silver Perch are still on the bite for surface fishing during this time. Now even though most people find a Silver Perch a welcoming by-catch, they really are an exquisite species and are definitely not a feeble fighter. Silver Perch are far from a graceful feeder.

Now surface targeting Perch is my favourite form of catching this favour some species and I suggest you don’t fight the bigger ones with haste, they can become quite a strong fish on the first run and will definitely put some damage down when needed to the nearest snag. Primetime for Silver perch in my opinion is after dusk like the Murray Cod, with a moonlit sky and not to mention the barometer of around 1020 will also assist any Silver Perch angler landing a nice sized Perch. An angler that tends to ignore these key factors in freshwater fishing and tend to think that fish need to eat no matter the time of day or pressure rise, will almost certainly find failure with most attempts.


IMG_2744The same principle rules apply with impoundment and wild Australian Bass, I’ve been out when the water temperature is around 18-20 degrees, a mid summers afternoon, Cicadas singing from the trees, plenty of bait around and brilliant structure in and around the banks edge, but no surface feeding happening! Most of the key factors are there for a successful afternoon surface session on the Bass but no action! Australian Bass along with many fish species have an air bladder, an organ very commonly needed to equalize or counterbalance the fish in all columns of the water. This organ can be affected by the very changes of the air pressure, thus will almost definitely “shut down” Bass feeding structures and habits. Our instincts is no comparison to a fish’s habits, Bass can sense a change coming and so they then tend to feed a lot in the short time of the high barometer, so an angle of approach when fishing for Bass is definitely in my opinion affected by the change in air pressure, and most definitely does also play a big part of chasing these fish in the cooler months of an off-season in impoundments. Bass still vigorously feed at this time of year as they do not migrate and therefore do not spawn in impoundments, Bass need an outlet to salinity to breed. A barometer of around 1020 is ideal for a successful Bass session on the water in an impoundment in the cooler months of the off-season. It’s not to say that Bass will not feed or chase a lure when the barometer is low, it’s just a general key factor to consider why they are not heavy on the bite when chasing these species for a successful session.

Let’s also not forget that when fishing becomes slow, your whole approach needs to slow down with it. Using a finesse approach and utilising patient techniques and fishing lighter leader but also having your lure as a direct offering right on the Bass’s nose. With multiple presentations in the same spot or snag, Bass are a very territorial species that will strike a lure even when they are not feeding as a defensive or protective instinct. The whole general insight to most Bass anglers is to get out there enjoy the bushland surroundings and being on the water flicking a lure around. Fishing is a package deal, serenity coupled with adventure as well as catching fish, but knowledge can become quite an extension of your fishing rod and lure, and in my eyes becomes essential not to be indisposed in action. So therefore beyond any doubt us freshwater anglers have many other options than the river in chasing fish in the off-season of the cold winter months, but taking on board more knowledge needed to become more of a chase then just a catch in easily accessible impoundments.

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