For those who venture upstream, the Clarence River in New South Wales hides an adventure paradise.
Winding its way from rocky highlands to the sparkling beaches of the Pacific Ocean, through ancient forests, farmlands, ravines and plains, the 400km river is a popular tourist attraction of the Clarence Valley. The ‘Big River’, as it’s known to locals, includes activities such as canoeing, horse riding, four-wheel driving, bushwalking and popular Australian bass fishing.
This area of the Clarence, just above the Gorge and downstream from its junction with the Mann, is a bass fisherman’s delight. But further downstream, the Clarence River Gorge holds its own secrets. The waters of the Big River rush down through a tangle of basalt boulders and cliffs, leading to a sudden drop toward the ocean.
Rugged rock formations are blanketed by a series of spectacular waterfalls, which lead way to passionate rapids and eventually easing to deep pools and open waters. These beautiful waterfalls span the width of the Gorge, and it’s here where huge bass can be seen.
Clarence River accommodation
On Wave Hill Station, owners Steve and Sue Ibbott have been opening the gates of the property for a number of years, and while many visitors come for the fishing, there are others who simply come to sample the remote beauty of the Clarence. Access here is by 4WD and from the homestead it will take about an hour and a half to get to your desired Gorge campsite.
The biggest site is below the Gorge and can support a good number of camps; ideal if you want to bring a club trip. The river at this point is easily accessed for those who want to swim or launch a canoe and explore upstream.
The tracks to all campsites on the river are 4WD only. The drive isn’t a challenging one – they form part of the management tracks on the property and Steve and Sue don’t want people damaging vehicles. However, during or following periods of heavy rain, tracks do become unpredictable.
This area is mainly hilly country and views from some of the higher spots are spectacular. Low range is an ideal option on most of the steeper descents, and loose stones can make things quite interesting at times, so be well prepared when you venture into remote country. There is no communication back to the homestead, so if help is needed, you’re in for a good walk.
Australian bass are a highly predatory native fish that hit a lure hard and give an extremely good account of themselves when they do. For those who have never experienced the joys of bass fishing, you are in for a treat and a steep learning curve.
These fish fight well above their weight and are contemptuous of inferior tackle and blasé anglers. Fish in excess 50cm are not uncommon.
In the river, above and below the Gorge, the bass will hang around any structure that allows them concealment where they can dash out and grab a passing baitfish, or anything else that takes their fancy. They have a widely varied diet and will respond eagerly to a wide variety of artificial baits.
Try to target them with hard body diving lures, but you can also have a lot of success with spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits and soft plastics. A 10lb braid with a rod length of 12-15lb fluorocarbon offers better insurance against being rubbed off on water worn rocks, and the Flouro is almost invisible under water.
The other predator here is the eastern cod. These fish are fully protected but are making a strong comeback from near extinction. The cod are considerably larger than the bass with an attitude to match.
Eastern cod are almost identical to Murray cod and were once wide spread throughout the north coast. Today, the main population is limited to the Nymboida, Mann and Clarence rivers. If you catch one you must release it immediately.
While some people take a couple of bass for a feed, keen bass fisho’s prefer to let them go, and the Ibbotts prefer that option as well. Most value the fish more as a sport fishing asset than a culinary one. For this reason, many use lures that have had the barbs crimped down allowing easier hook removal and a faster release. Lures also seldom get completely ingested by fish and therefore the survival rate is far higher.
Fishing the Gorge is a tough walk. The boulders have been ground and polished by uncounted years of floods and debris. Scattered among them are random growths of acacia, slanted forever by repeated floods.
Pick your way over this terrain with care, because a fall could mean broken bones, or worse. But when the fishing is as good as it is, it’s worth the trek.