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The bank around a dam or the shore of a river is the platform from which just about all of us launched our fishing careers, our fishing lifestyle, if you will, writes Eugene Kruger. It is where a parent or grandparent or maybe just a friend put a rod in your hands and helped you cast and reel in.
Bank fishing is perhaps the purest form of recreational fishing, in that you have to rely solely on your own physical capabilities to first of all locate fish and then to actually catch one. For mobility you can rely only on your own two legs and feet, which allows you to make your bank fishing as physically demanding or as relaxing as you wish.
There are those who will never go to their favourite waters without waders, or at least good gumboots, because they know that standing high and dry on the bank will not deliver the goods as successfully as actually entering the water to target the fish in their own domain. Good bank anglers also know that a bank consisting of well-manicured lawns, while providing a perfect casting ground, will not hold or deliver fish that a bank full of reeds, water grass or lilies will.
Successful bank anglers think nothing of cutting a path through a forest of reeds to get to the water, or wading into patches of water grass, weeds or lily patches to increase their chances of latching onto a bass. They will stand for hours, chest-high, in the water, and are quite prepared to hike all around a dam in search of likely looking spots to cast their baits to.
They don’t carry lots of gear, having learnt through experience that not more than two rigs are needed to meet the demands of any situation. Expert bank anglers make a point of learning the vagaries of the dams they visit regularly, and take note of what works where and at what time. Everything they need to change baits must be readily to hand, which is perhaps the most telling reason to wear a fishing vest. Some prefer to carry their spare kit in a chest pouch or in a wader pocket - whichever equipment is used it is the embodiment of the ultimate in the “minimalist approach” or “less is more” concepts.
But let’s face it - not everyone is so physically inclined; for sure the more laid back among us also want to catch a bass, but reckon that a comfortable perch on a grassy bank in the shade of a tree is also a fine way to spend a lazy morning or afternoon, because surely a bass will sometime come swimming by and grab their floating frog..!
Patrolling the banks and wading the shallows in search of bass is “in your face” fishing - it puts anglers in the closest proximity to the bass and its natural environment as possible, which itself is an adventure all on its own.
The two most important body parts to consider are firstly your head, and secondly your feet.
In winter your head needs to be protected as a huge amount of body heat is lost via your head. A beany is advisable, but remember that the winter sun can also cause severe sunburn so a hat is also necessary. In summer the entire head area needs to be protected from the sun – the eyes, nose, cheeks, lips and don’t forget the back of the neck. A baseball cap is useless, and unless your hat has a really wide brim it is also not of much use – the best is a fisherman’s cap that has a longish visor as well as flaps that cover the neck and sides of the face.
No matter what the season is, arguably the best way to protect your feet is the good old gumboot. Open sandals and slops (and Crocs!) are not designed to protect a bank angler’s feet! Bootees such as those worn by surfers also have their place, but are only good on smooth, sandy banks.
The bits in between these two poles - your torso, arms and legs – are not as susceptible, and there are various modern materials used to make shirts and trousers that are drip dry, breathable, cool, warm, long or short-sleeved to cope with any weather condition.
For entering the water a proper wader is the only option to consider – takkies are not designed to go fishing in! Full length chest waders or thigh boot waders are available. Choose from models that are complete with gumboots, or stocking waders that require separate water resistant wading boots. A modern innovation is the breathable wader that provides more comfort than those manufactured from thick nylon.
A fishing vest such as those worn by flyfishers or a portable tackle tray that is
carried on a shoulder strap to carry spare terminal tackle and baits as you move along the bank, is a handy piece of equipment and should be standard equipment .
A portable, folding landing net is advisable for capturing and also restraining fish when removing the bait for release. It is carried on a quick-release clip on the back of the fishing vest.
A wading staff is advisable to ensue you don’t go falling into a hole or stumbling on invisible boulders or rocks. - a wrist loop ensures a secure hold.
Contrary to popular belief when fishing from the bank you do not need to make ultra-long casts to target bass off shore, simply because most of the time the bass you will be targeting will be no more than 10m from the bank. When fishing off the bank a 7ft medium heavy action casting or spinning rod will offer the perfect balance between casting distance and the range of applications you can employ.
For bassing from the bank there is no reel better than a spinning reel, especially when fishing around the thick stuff. Spinning reels are easy to learn to cast and allow you to throw a wide variety of weights of baits.
Above: The periods during sunrise and sunset are the most comfortable and productive for bank anglers.
with a good pair of waders and wading boots will allow you to
target bass you normally wouldn’t be able to access from the bank.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO MOVE
One of the most common mistakes a bank angler can make is to stay in one place too long making repetitive casts to the same cover. If you’ve caught a few bass in a spot and it shuts down, don’t keeping working the area, rather move to another bassy looking spot to allow the area to rest. On small farm dams spots that produce numerous fish generally indicate prime cover or structure and bass will reload if you rest the area.
FISH THE MARGINS / CASTING 45’S
When working down the bank use the natural contours of the dam to your advantage by making casts at 45degree angles down the bank. This will present the bait to cover multiple strike zones in one cast, running from deep to shallow. Casting parallel to the bank in this manner will also allow you to catch fish which are feeding in the shallows and would otherwise spook if targeted from a right angle to the bank.
Sunrise and sunset are the holy grail times of bank angling, especially during the summer months. With cooler water temperatures during lowlight hours bass are more likely to chase prey in the shallows, so making them easier to target. This is the best time to be stalking the bank and makes catching bass more predictable for the bank angler.
WATCH YOUR STEP
On the bank: This is Africa, and Africa is home to a huge array of wild creatures, including snakes. Snakes and bankside vegetation are great bedfellows, so keep a sharp lookout. Don’t go upturning rocks and use a wading stick to probe long grass before stepping forward. Also regard all stones as potential ankle traps, particularly those in very shallow water which you reckon you can use as stepping stones to the opposite bank.
In the water: Even polarized sunglasses will not always allow you to see the bottom you are wading on. Using a wading staff when you change position is a non-negotiable addition to your equipment. Stepping into an unseen hole is not only a frightening experience, but can also mean a serious injury and loss of equipment.
During summer it is common to find bass cruising the banks in less than a foot of water, but in ultra-clear water these fish spook easily at any sign of movement or noise. To cash in on these bass stand some 5 to 10m away from the bank and make long casts, working the bait right onto the edge of the bank where it meets the water. Most strikes will come as you are about to move the bait out of the water, so be on the lookout for the tell-tale wake as a bass attacks your lure.
WEAR NEUTRAL COLOURS
You are not out hunting so there is no chance that you could be mistaken for a buck and shot – wear neutral colours so that you blend in with the surrounds as much as possible. Always remember that by the time you see a bass, it has in all probability already seen you.
WATCH YOUR SHADOW
When approaching your target area, take care that your shadow does not fall onto it. A shadow suddenly falling on the surface will certainly spook the fish. This is in direct contrast to taking a well-lit photo where the advice is to have the sun at your back – for fishing the sun should always be either in front of you or coming from the side.
WATCH YOUR CAST
Some of the best areas to target when stalking the bank inevitably are also the densest when it comes to shoreline vegetation, not offering the easiest casting options. When targeting areas where an overhand cast is not an option, use a side arm or pitching presentation - this will alleviate snagging on any objects behind you and save you from picking out line-ruining overwinds.
Dragging a bass up the bank before lipping it might seem the easiest way to land a bass during the fight, but it isn’t always the best option to ensure your catch’s safe release or a fish actually landed. When the bass is close to shore kneel down and guide it in as shallow as possible, lipping the bass with one hand while controlling it with the rod in the other.
THE 1 -2 APPROACH
Bass fishing from the bank affords you one luxury you don’t always have on a boat, namely being able to work an area from a static position that allows you to work an area thoroughly with multiple baits. When fishing dams which have plenty of visible targets such as tules, reeds, lilys or timber close to shore, use the “1-2 rod approach”. On one rod tie on a reaction bait such as a spinnerbait, shallow running crankbait, topwater or even a frog, and fan cast the area to pick off the most active fish first. Once you have worked the area thoroughly pick up the other rod rigged with a weightless plastic, mojo or Texas rig and make multiple casts to individual targets to coax bites from stubborn bass.
FLOAT TUBE FISHING – AN ADDITION TO BANK ANGLING.
by Malcolm Palmer
As a bank angler you would've at one stage or another experienced the problem of not being able to fish a stretch of bank, or not being able to reach some promising looking cover and structure. There could be too many reeds or bushes in your way, or you couldn't cast far enough to reach your target, or maybe the bank was just too steep for you to stand on.
This is when a float tube comes in handy. For many years I was faced with those sorts of issues, but ever since I bought my float tube they are just a distant memory. It doesn't matter if you're going to fish for a few hours or the whole day - it doesn't take long to set up your float tube and get out on the water, so you won’t miss too much valuable fishing time. I can pump up and pack my fishing stuff in about 10 minutes, and when you're out-fishing your friends stranded on the bank, it makes it all worthwhile.
Once you've bought the float tube you've decided on, all you need is a pair of flippers to make getting around the dam a lot easier, and a pair of booties to stop the flippers rubbing sores on your feet - and a pump of course.
I was first introduced to float tubing by my good friend Andrew. I visited him while he was living in Johannesburg, and he'd organised for me to use one of his friend’s float tubes while I was there. We only got to float tube for two days at Bass Lake, but it was a real eye opener to what I'd been missing out on!
Needless to say it wasn't long after that that I bought my own float tube and I haven't looked back - I still bank bash a lot, but these days the tube comes out more often than not when we go fishing.
On a float tube you have a surprising amount of control and manoeuvrability in tight spaces. After a few outings you'll find that you automatically keep yourself in the same position if there is some wind around. And provided you are fit enough and have enough energy, you can kick against a fairly strong wind and make up ground.
There are a number of different kinds of water craft that fall under the 'float tube' genre. The more common ones that are used these days are the V-boat style, and the slightly larger pontoon kickboat. In the V-boat type you sit low down, almost level with the water, whereas the pontoon kickboats sit higher out of the water, with only your mid-shin region getting wet. The V-boat types are cheaper than the pontoon kickboats, and recently a few local manufacturers have appeared on the market making float tube even more affordable. When considering buying a float tube, also shop around for a second hand one.
For float tubers and pontoon kickboaters there are a number of competition series around Cape Town, and in Gauteng and KZN. In short - if you are thinking of getting a float tube, get one! You will not regret it.
Words: Eugene Kruger & Duncan Murfin Images: Ruaan Lubbe
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