What was your New Year’s resolution? Lose weight? Get married? Adopt a new cat? I’d love to say I care, but I don’t. Mine was to see how miserable I could make myself hunting for a 50+cm bass. C’mon, really, a cat? Anyway, the idea came to me one October night sitting on my back porch, listening to the cicadas and knee-deep into a bottle of scotch. I decided in true Dan (read: drunk idiot) style I was going to pack my life into a barrel and head deep into one of the most picturesque but unforgiving water systems in NSW... in a canoe. Seriously, who even likes cats? As the late Justin ‘Bass Hunter’ Bieber once remarked, “‘True adventure is most often found at the end of an frayed plan”’. In my opinion, she was spot on the money. Over the years, I’ve developed a sick passion for the uncomfortable, the unpredictable and the unplanned. It’s an affliction that’s invaded every element of my outdoor life. If I’m not earning – really earning – my experience, I’m not interested. It’s as simple as that. Hmm.. Simple or stupid?
MAKING IT HAPPEN I’d love to pretend that trips like this just 'happen’ on a whim, but the reality is there’s a fair bit of prior planning that has to take place in order to prevent a total cock-up. Water levels, pick-up points and emergency exists all need to be studied. If you break a leg alone in the middle of the Clarence without an emergency plan, you’re wild dog food in a few days. I’m not joking. Not keen on my life’s achievements being relegated to a pile of dingo shit, I decided to call my good mate and long-time fishing buddy, Dave Copperthwaite. Dave runs Wild River Tours in Casino and knows the river systems like the back of his hand. Having fished the remote upper Clarence together before, we decided to hit the middle Clarence in a couple of big canoes. The water levels were low, but manageable and the weather was set to be spot on. What could go wrong? Plans. Mice. Men... You know how it goes, right?
"Where it did get interesting was when our ‘fine’ weather reports turned into a 40-degree day and we were trying to mush 150kg of loaded canoe and paddler through a 10km long hole in the river. I’d love to say we summoned our inner ironman and pushed on, but we didn’t."
ALL SYSTEMS GO
After a 3:30am wake up, getting onto the water was a pretty straightforward affair: load everything into the canoe, kiss dry land goodbye and head off. Where it did get interesting was when our ‘fine’ weather reports turned into a 40-degree day and we were trying to mush 150kg of loaded canoe and paddler through a 10km long hole in the river. I’d love to say we summoned our inner ironman and pushed on, but we didn’t. We strapped a 2hp 4-stroke to the back of Dave’s canoe, ran a rope back to mine and buzzed on through the giant hole. Work smart, not hard, kids. The high water temps had really put the quiet on the bass but this was an adventure trip as much as a fishing trip, so there were no complaints. Despite the heat, paddling over the glassed-out water, weaving between the stunning river boulders and two-metre high tussocks was absolute bliss. A loud crack quickly shattered that...
STORMS, WASPS AND A FEW MORE BRUISES
As I looked ahead, the sky began to darken fast, and over the hills two of the biggest storm cells I've ever seen formed in what seemed like seconds, colliding directly over our heads. As lightening touched down scarily close, we both knew it was time to get off the water, and fast. I speared the canoe into the bank just as the hail grew to the size of healthybig grapes size. Grabbing I grabbed my first aid kit and emergency satellite tracker,, I jumped out of the canoe and ran for cover. Using our PFDs as protection, Dave and I huddled under a fallen tree while hail smashed into the ground beside us. It may have only lasted 15 minutes, but man did it feel like hours. We lived, the storm cleared and the trip went on.
What do wasps and bass have in common? Running into a big bunch of them on a river is an experience you’re never going to forget.
Guiding our canoes through a densely overgrown set of rapids, I made the unfortunate mistake of upsetting a nest of very angry wasps. In most instances you’d run like mad, but when you’re chest-deep in fast-moving water, there’s only one place to go – down. With heads almost completely submerged to avoid the angry bastards we moved through the pulsating, swirling rapid as quickly as we could as possible. At the worst possible time, by boot slid off a slippery rock and in the next heartbeat my head was under water – fast, dangerous water. I bumped, slipped and crashed my way through another few metres of rocks and suffocating weed before being flushed into the bubbling pool at the bottom. I won’t lie, I was rattled, tired, sore and over it.
CAMPING ON THE CLARENCE If someone who’d never camped needed some outdoor motivation, you’d staple a picture of the Clarence to their forehead and send them on their way. It’s just perfection. Waterside, million-star views and night fishing straight off the banks keeps me coming back time and time again. Don’t think you’re just going to turn up with a kayak and get yourself there though; you don’t get given campsites like this – you earn them. Speaking of hard-earned, a few beers and a quick meal were all I needed to knock out for the night. A simply fly over my head as shelter, and the cool night breeze got me through my eight hours each night without so much as a stir. Heaven, I was in bloody heaven.
Dave’s top 5 bass lures 1. Black Jitterbug 2. Heddon Zarra Puppy 3. Mazzy Popper 55 4. Alive 90 Chatter Bait 5. Shallow Double Jointed Minnow GETTIN’ EM!
Deep into the second day’s fishing, I copped a massive hit on my spinner bait, that I immediately assumed to be my magic 50cm bass. Drag locked and thumbing the reel on a Barra rod, my line headed for the snag... this was no bass. After a solid battle with both hands steering the rod, I landed my best cod to date. Touching 70cm on the mat, it wasn’t the 50cm bass I wanted, but it was a fight that planted a solid grin on my face. About an hour later, Dave yelped out from ahead. Through the wind all I could make out was “I’m on, I need help”. Need help? I paddled like a lunatic to Dave’s position where I saw his rod bent clean in half under his canoe. What the hell was he on to? Then I saw it, the football-sized head of a monster cod erupted out of the water. After a few minutes of nail-biting suspense, Dave had the fish in the lip grips but there was no chance of getting it into the canoe. I dragged Dave, his canoe and the monster cod over to the bank where we snapped a quick photo, swam and released the beast and revelled in the amazing experience we’d just shared. This was the fish you dream of – this is what made it all worthwhile. Watching Dave so humbled, emotional and thankful reminded me of why I’ll subject myself to hell, to catch that one fish of a lifetime. It didn’t matter who hooked the monster that day, we’ll both live that forever. WHY DO IT? Ever cooked a brilliant meal for yourself and felt a sense of pride? Me neither. But the little I know about steering a stove tells me that the harder you work for a feed, the better it tastes, whether that’s a meat pie after a ruthless morning on the job site, or a tin of tuna after paddling 40km up a river. You, yes YOU: go out and work your arse off for the next fish you catch or campsite you find. I beg you, don’t be afraid of fear, failure or a little pain, the world is clearer looks better when you take the blinkers off and lose the cotton wool. Reckon you’re up for a trip like this? Hit up my good mate Dave at Wild River Tours and test your mettel. Just look out for wasps and dad jokes, eh? Wild River Tours W: wildrivertours.com.au P: 0477 779 983