The Australian Bass
Our Premier Freshwater Sportsfish
Steve Prott

As one of the principle species our club enjoys catching, Australian bass might be a new species to some members of the club.

Over the next six issues I hope to share some basic information with those new to bass fishing, in the hope that you will come to love and enjoy these wonderful sportsfish.

Profile of Bass

The Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata) is probably the premier freshwater sportfish in south eastern Australia. It is also known to some anglers as the freshwater perch, eastern freshwater perch, or simply perch. The Australian bass is found in the south eastern parts of Australia, and ranges from the Mary River system in the southern central Queensland to the Gippsland Lakes of eastern Victoria.

They are also stocked into many man-made dams and impoundments of Victoria, New South and Queensland, where they often grow to trophy size proportions very quickly due to the abundance of food in these dams.

Bass have very variable growth rates depending upon available food and water temperature, and grow very large in large dams like Glenbawn and the dams of south east Queensland. Dams can be difficult to fish, and you might be better to learn about fishing rivers and streams first before tackling dams. If you really want to get amongst them in the dams, going out with a guide for half day or a full day would be well worth the money.

The Australian bass has moderately large scales, large dark eyes, a scooped forehead profile and a relatively large mouth.
The colour of bass depends on their environment, and can vary from almost black on the back, with dark bronze or gold flanks and a creamy coloured belly tinged with yellow, while others are bright coppery-gold on the back and silvery belly. Others can be silvery all over with a greenish-silver upper back. The tail is forked and offers the fish tremendous power, and is usually relatively dark, regardless of the body colour. Bass have a very fine white leading edge on each pelvic fin, and this feature allows the species to be distinguished from the nearly identical estuary perch.

Bass can grow up to four kilo but this depends on where you are fishing and the time of the year. Most fish caught are well within this size, with local fish being around the average 0.2 to 0.8 kg in weight. A fish weighing more than 1.5 kg can be regarded as an big fish, although many of the bass caught in the dams and impoundments where they have been stocked often produce bass in the 3 to 4 kg.

Some of the best bass fishing to be experienced is in rugged bushland where access is only possible by walking in or some form of portable boat, such as a canoe, kayak or inflatable. While some of these trips can be extremely hazardous and strenuous, the effort is often well worth it. Wonderful clear unspoilt streams and pools surrounded by the most spectacular scenery not to mention the most ferocious monster bass makes it hard not to pass up an opportunity to fish such places!

Australian bass have a varied diet including insects from the water's surface, and other organisms from the entire water column, including aquatic insects, shrimps and other freshwater crustacea, tadpoles, crabs, lizards and small fish.

The Australian Nomads

Australian bass, like many fish, have migratory habits, and this revolves around their breeding cycle. The time frame that this involves is not a strict timeline, and depends on various environmental factors, such as cold or dry weather. It will also vary depending on the geographical location of bass, remembering that their distribution range goes from the Mary River system in the southern central Queensland to the Gippsland Lakes of eastern Victoria.

In our region, November to February is when the breeders are back in the high water areas, and this is when small creeks and remote areas yield some big bass. Terrestrial and aquatic insects is what bass are feeding on at this time of the year, and shrimp, small baitfish, frogs, lizards and just about anything else that will fit into their mouths is fair game.

As the summer months draw to a close March to around May is when the breeders start to get the urge and move into the brackish water ready for spawning. Not all bass spawn each year, and some of the breeders will remain in the higher waters.

The months of June to August is when the bass are breeding in the brackish waters of our river systems. This may vary depending on the season, and can extend to October. Once in the spawning areas, the males congregate in large schools of several hundred fish. Females are not found in such large groups. Females may produce several hundred thousand eggs which are small (about 1 mm when water hardened), non-adhesive and free floating.

Around September and October, the bass that have been spawning begin to put on condition on their way back upstream, and this time of the year produces some exceptional fishing. These fish are eager to feed and will consume prawns, small fish and crabs and anything else that will help them make the big swim into our headwaters.

Valuable Reading

There are only two books that have been written about on bass that you may find helpful. Sadly, both are out of print but copies can still be sourced in tackle shops, second hand books shops or from www.amazon.com.

The first book is Fabulous Bass and How to Catch Them by Dick Lewers, which if you can find new costs somewhere in the order of $32 or so, and is worth every cent.

The second book is Bethune on Bass by the club's very own "Mr Bass", John Bethune. It's no longer in print, but again tackle shops and second hand books shops. A reliable source recently has been on the internet. Go to www.amazon.com and you should be able get a copy through there.

There's so much helpful information in these books and they are a vital part to any bass anglers library.

Steve Prott