Exploring New Waters

As a youngster growing up in the Northern suburbs of Sydney, heading off into the bush near our house with a bunch of the neighbourhood kids was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon. Exploring, finding new trails, following creek lines or trying to find a better lookout among the sandstone cliffs was mostly what we did. Following the local creek; bush bashing and wading our way through was a favourite adventure. As I got older and more interested in fishing, the exploring switched to finding out which creeks in the Northern Suburbs held bass. Turns out nearly all of them do, or did, if you knew where to look. I think at the time, we thought that we were just about the only people to have discovered Sydney suburban bass, fishing explorers who dared to go where no one else would. We never really saw anyone fishing in these tiny waterways back then. Perhaps we were just the only anglers mad enough to hike for kilometres then bash our way through the dense bankside undergrowth to get to the little pockets of fishable water. I’ve since met quite a few anglers who fished many of these same waterways at the same time. It doesn’t take away the enjoyment finding these “new” places gave and the memories created.

Back in those days, a map was an invaluable aid, especially a topographic map. By the time I had managed to buy my first car, I had a collection of these precious sheets of paper that I guarded more closely than just about any other worldly possession. Skip forward 20 odd years and we have an array of tools at our disposal to help find new grounds. How did we live without Google Maps? Whether it is finding an address in the next suburb or trying to figure out whether a creek 6 hours drive away is interesting enough to justify the trip, Google Maps is, let’s face it, amazing. There are still plenty of things it can’t tell you about a location, but you can save days, if not weeks of time in finding new locations to fish. I think back to the days of driving and hiking I did in my earlier years, only to be disappointed by a river that looked great on paper, but just didn’t stack up in real life. In fact I’ve booked a trip to the Solomon Islands later this year, my interest largely piqued by what I saw on Google Maps.

A few weeks ago it struck me that I hadn’t done much exploring in recent times. Work, family and moving house last year had all crept up, as they do, and other activities had fallen away. I had fished quite a bit, but what I craved was to get out somewhere new. Once again some Google Maps gazing occurred and prospective areas were identified. The criterion I was working with was to find a place which I could drive to, then paddle and/or hike in a wild bush setting and it had to be a day trip from home on the Gold Coast. A tributary of the Richmond River looked like it had all that going for it. Even better was that I had never heard of the Creek name. I identified a few access points along the creek that looked like potential kayak launch sites and set about organising gear for the trip.

Ideally a really early start was needed so that I would reach the creek at daybreak. I was a bit slow in getting organised in the small hours of the morning, so that plan didn’t quite come off. Still it was pretty early when I left the highway. My car radio died a little while ago when I dropped a kayak off the roof and tore the aerial off, so I had to keep myself entertained with some tapes I found. A dig in the glovebox turned up a Frenzal Romb mixtape, recorded by my brother sometime in the 90s. Time hadn’t done the tape any favours and it sounded pretty average through my equally average car speakers (so average in fact, it sounded a lot like a Frenzal live gig). Still, it suited my mood perfectly and had me pumped for the morning ahead.

The first spot looked pretty good, lots of nice snags, but steep and awkward for launching the yak. The second was much better, good looking water with lots of fallen timber and a couple of midstream snags visible. I hurriedly set off and began to fish my way up stream. After half an hour of zero activity I realised a couple of things. First, there was very little bait around and nothing but lizards splashing on the edges. Secondly, the creek was flowing backwards! The creek was fully fresh, but still under tidal influence. In late summer, the majority of bass would be a fair bit further upstream, so I wasted no time in paddling back to the car. Third spot looked way better. Bait moving and the water was a little cleaner than before, by far the best looking water of the day. Large old fallen trees lined on bank while the other side had a bunch of shady trees hanging far over the water’s edge. The sun was well up, but it was quite cloudy so I started on the surface with a Soft Shell Cicada. Three fantastic looking snags later with no hits and I was just about to change lures when Boof! I only caught the hit out of the corner of my eye, as I was scanning further upstream. There was a good splash and a flash of blue on the Soft Shell as a bass…no, wait… a kingfisher pounced on my lure. Luckily the Kingfisher realised its mistake and no hooks were set. A few lure changes were made before I started to get some results. Larger bass lures, especially with a rattle, cast right into the bank would get hit on the first or second turn of the handle. A noisy Tsunekeichi Hama Crank in chartreuse and white was the standout lure, at one stage bagging three fish in around five casts. They weren’t big fish by any stretch, but fun nonetheless.

Finally I reached a point in the pool where I ran out of water. Lack of recent rain meant that the creek appeared to be about 20cm down on its normal level, rendering a tight, timber laden corner impassable, without a lengthy portage. Still, I’d had a good day and with a fair drive ahead I turned and paddled back to the car.

Just before pulling the yak out, I decided to quickly push on downstream past the car. You know, just to see what was round the corner. It was narrow, tree canopies meeting overhead and the water moving fast over a shallow sandy bottom. My progress ended with a bump up against another log jam in only 50cm of water. Just as I stood up out of the boat, three fat bass, all well over 40cm cruised lazily out of the timber right in front of me. Their dark bodies stood out easily against the white sand, swimming away but looking quite un-panicked. No amount of casts however, could tempt those fish into coming back.

Peering between the trees just ahead, I spied the perfect bass hole, deep and timbered. It wasn’t far away but it would require a bit more time and work to get the kayak through. It would have to wait however, for another day.

“Looks like I have some more exploring to do” I thought to myself, happy with the results of the day as well as the potential for many more visits.

Tight Lines.