BASS: Australian Sci: Macquaria novemaculeata

BASS: Australian
Sci: Macquaria novemaculeata

Common Names:

The Australian bass is known throughout much of its range, especially by more senior anglers, simply as "perch". However, this tends to cause some confusion between it and two other native species sometimes taken in the same waters; the Macquarie perch (M. australasica), and the estuary perch (M. colonorum), which is a very close relative of the bass.

Description:

This small native fish is usually found in fresh and brackish water. It has moderately large scales, large dark eyes, a scooped forehead profile and a relatively large mouth. Bass colouration varies with the environment. Some individuals may be almost black on the back, with dark bronze or gold flanks and a creamy belly tinged with yellow, while others are bright coppery-gold on the back and silvery belly. Still others are silvery all over with a greenish-silver upper back. The tail is usually relatively dark, despite the body colour. Bass have a very fine, but well-defined, white leading edge or margin on each pelvic fin. In some cases, this is the only feature allowing the species to be readily distinguished from the nearly identical estuary perch, which has no such colouration on its pelvic fins.

Size:

Averaging 0.2 to 0.8 kg in weight, any bass weighing more than 1.5 kg can be regarded as an exceptionally big fish, although specimens in excess of 2 kg are taken each year, especially in some of the dams and impoundments where they have been stocked. In fact, these waters are producing small numbers of bass in the 3 to 4 kg range. The maximum growth potential of this species is probably in excess of 5 kg, but bass of this size are almost completely unknown. The closely related estuary perch may grow slightly larger than the bass, and commercial prawn netters still snare the odd 3.5 to 4.5 kg perch in their nets.

Distribution:

The Australian bass is endemic to the south eastern corner of Australia; from the Mary River system in the southern central Queensland to the Gippsland Lakes of eastern Victoria. However, its natural range is gradually being extended through stocking into man-made dams and impoundments. The estuary perch ranges from about the Richmond River, in northern New South Wales, to the Murray Mouth in South Australia, but is rare at the extremities of this range. It was also once found in rivers on the north coast of Tasmania, but it is not clear if this Tasmanian population still survives.

Fishing Techniques:

Traditionally, bass or "perch" were taken on baits of live black crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas or shrimps, which were often dangled or "dapped" onto the surface of the water close to the bank. Practitioners of this style of fishing often used a long cane pole with the line fixed to the end, rather than a rod and reel. This set-up was known as a Ned Kelly rig. Bass still respond enthusiastically to a live cricket or shrimp, but today most sport anglers prefer to cast and retrieve lures off a light, single-handed spin or baitcaster (plug) outfit, or throw flies on No. 5 to No. 9 weight outfits. Lure and fly casting is generally held to be more exciting and challenging than bait fishing, and as a bonus, most lure- and fly-caught fish are hooked in the mouth, allowing them to be released without undue injury should the angler desire to do so. Best lures for bass include the various diving plugs and minnows, surface lures, poppers, crawlers and fizzers, as well as spinners, spoons and spinnerbaits. Surface or topwater fishing with poppers, fizzers or floating flies is often productive, especially around dawn or dusk and into the night, and provides unmatched excitement.

Eating Qualities:

Bass from clean, flowing water make very good to excellent table fish, rating amongst the best of our freshwater species. Specimens from turbid or still waters may be slightly less palatable. Despite their highly-rated eating quality, sport fishermen mainly choose to release bass these days, in recognition of their much reduced numbers and degraded habitat. Strict bag and size limits for bass are now in force in most areas.

By Steve Starling