SA Bass



- >> Johan Van Coppenhage­n

“Bivane Dam - When the fishing gets tough, you need to dig deep” Being born and raised in Johannesbu­rg I’ve been fortunate enough to have fished most of the venues available to Gauteng and Mpumalanga anglers. – Johan Van Coppenhage­n

With very limited informatio­n on the KZN waters and a not too bad season in 2016/2017, taking Rookie of the Year and qualifying for the Natal Coastal team that fished Clanwillia­m in August last year, I knew I had to somehow try and get as much informatio­n as possible before each tournament if I was going to be competitiv­e in the 2017/2018 season.

So my work began… With two poor results at the first four events held at Midmar and Albert Falls Dams, I knew I would have to pull a rabbit out of a hat if there was going to be any chance of me making the Natal Team heading to the Vaal River later this year for the national championsh­ip.

With event five and six scheduled for Bivane Dam, situated between Vryheid and Pongola and with a surface area of around 700 hectares, I knew I had to put in the time to somehow figure out what these fish were doing. However, with work and equipment failure, this made prefishing very difficult.

My history at Bivane wasn’t too great having one blank at event five and a not too bad finish at event six last year. I began my research with trusty Google and started monitoring water levels and air temperatur­es, also spending countless hours on Google Earth. With mixed reports coming back of guys blanking or catching one or two fish, I knew the homework I had done would not be enough. As far as I could establish at the time, there were no contour charts available for Bivane Dam strangely enough, not even a sediment chart and the idea of spending a week on the water logging sonar to create my own chart was just not an option.

I then contacted John Easton from FishTec, he had mapped Bivane Dam early last year, and made my purchase of the full Bivane charts. As soon as I got home I connected my trusty Lowrance Elite 9Ti to a battery and started looking at the charts in the comfort of my lounge. Being able to work on my charts at home helped to eliminate wasted time on the water looking for areas, which therefore also increased my fishing time. Why work harder if you can work smarter?

My pre-fish was scheduled for two weeks before our tournament because anyone that knows me, knows I don’t like to fish the weekend before due to

the number of anglers on the water. So, with two weeks to go to pre-fishing I started by studying my old waypoints on the newly purchased charts and could now see why those fish were there. All my fish had come off points in an old river channel that used to run through that area. The fish were using these old channels as highways to feeding areas, which explains why some of my fish had been spitting out bait fish into my live-well last year. I looked for similar areas on the chart and marked these as potential spots. I also studied areas I’ve seen other people target and now understood why those spots were holding fish. From there I divided the dam into two sections, the river section and the main dam. The main dam section consisted of the main and mid dam. During pre-fishing, I would run each section on a day.

As more rumours made the rounds of anglers only catching two or three fish over a couple of days I knew something was up compared to last year. I noticed that Bivane only filled up two or so weeks before our tournament last year, whereas this year it was filled up over a month before. The early rising water had given the fish more than enough time to adapt to the change and move up into certain areas. Since I had marked areas, my plan was to just run water on Friday to try and see if I could get a bite and formulate a plan for Saturday and Sundays practice from that.

We arrived at Bivane Dam around lunch time on the Friday knowing we’d have good weather on Saturday and bad weather on Sunday. The plan on Friday afternoon was to first run areas where I got fish last year. We covered water quickly looking for that first bite, to no avail and got off the water at 18:00 feeling very disappoint­ed. Early Saturday morning we headed off to a spot in the river where I had found good quality fish the year before. We spent around an hour going over the area comparing different charts and targeting rock in 25ft of water, also with no results. We then switched to running areas where fish had been caught in previous tournament­s, trying to cover as much water as possible looking for just one bite, again with no success.

By this stage we had run some areas in the main dam near the launch as well as sections down by the river, all with not a single bite. With lunch time approachin­g, we started focusing on the mid-section of the dam, working a deep cliff area with cranks and Texas rigged plastics. The cliff started levelling out with a very slight point sticking out which, to the naked eye, seemed like nothing. However, my Aerial HD chart revealed something else - a shallow rocky bank running

out around 20m with nice drop offs on the sides and around 30m wide.

I noticed a small patch of Chicamba weed sticking out and placed a weightless StrikeKing Caffeine Shad perfectly against the weed. Not knowing the depth, I left my bait to sink to the bottom but before that could happen, I saw a slight jump in the line and knew I had a bite. I switched over the reel, took up the slack and felt something at the end of my line as I set my hook and was into a fish. I landed a nice healthy 3.1kg.

We fished that side of the rocks and drop off with nothing further. I then positioned the boat on the open water while working the section where I got my first fish while my friend Werner sent a deep diving crank out to the other side into more Chicamba weeds. On the second turn of his reel, Werner was into a healthy fish.

The first thing I noticed was the quality and size of the fish, with the second being the fact that both fish were caught very close to Chicamba weed. I looked around and discovered that both sections had small patches of reeds within 5m of the Chicamba weed. Things fell into place like a puzzle and we began searching for those areas, picking fish off here and there. Something wasn’t making sense however, as we are running all these areas but not always getting fish off all of them. I turned to my trusty FishTec charts to figure out the similariti­es between the spots that were producing fish and those that weren’t. The Aerial HD and Mosaic charts showed me the same rock info but something had to be different, so I switched to my elevation charts.

I feel I need to explain these elevation charts in more detail because of how important it is to understand what it is exactly. FishTec uses a high definition flying camera to capture certain key areas of a dam when the dam level is low, and using photogramm­etry software, creates the AerialHD chart. This is very much like satellite imagery, just 20 times the resolution. As great as this is, it is still two dimensiona­l, making it hard to determine the height of a rock, or a ledge on an inlet for example. This is where the elevation chart comes in, from the HD imagery, FishTec somehow converts the AerialHD data into a 3D like contour chart, but with fifty times more detail. To top it off, the FishTec charts have hundreds of photos from around the dam that can be viewed right there from the charts using the Panoramic Photo Viewer. This is a true game changer for me, and apparently we are the first in the world to have this, proudly South African, thanks to FishTec and Lowrance. Back to my story.

After looking at the areas on my elevation chart where we were catching quality fish, I noticed the amount and size of rocks around the Chicamba weed was very similar and the amount of Chicamba weed was the same. Bigger fish were relating to a smaller patch of Chicamba weed. So, my plan

changed and we started idling down the bank, fish finder set to elevation chart, as we searched for small patches of Chicamba weed. When we found similar areas, we compared that section on the elevation chart. If there was a match, we would stop and make a cast. Low and behold, we started picking off good quality fish. Very satisfied we got off the water on Saturday evening with some sort of a plan and I spent the rest of the evening looking for similar areas on my elevation chart. My new idea was to run our tournament times for the final day of fishing starting at 07:00 and to only focus on similar areas where we had found fish.

Launching early Sunday morning we waited for “the start” and ran to a key spot I marked where we had caught our first two fish the day before. The area was a shallow flat, 10ft deep with deep water all around it. It was around 30m wide and had a small patch of reeds on the left and right of it with a very small clump of Chicamba around three to five metres in-front of the reeds on both sides of the flat. My special rocks, as I call them, were just to the left of the weed on the left-hand side of the flat, with more to the right of the weed on the right hand-side. Werner opted for a crank and I opted for a soft plastic. Werner was into a good fish just short of 2kg on his first cast to the left and I was into a fish from the right of just over 2kg.

We fished that area for a bit longer with no further action after which we ran to our second spot. On my second cast, I was into another fish of over two kilos. With no more bites there, we moved to our third spot.

On the fifth cast, I was into another decent fish at only 09:00 in the morning! We decided to head home with the data we had gathered so I could begin putting my plan together leading up to our event.

The week before cut-off, rumours circulated about plenty of blanks, one or two fish being caught and also a healthy 4.1kg coming out as well. Knowing fishing was going to be tough with very few five fish bags coming out, I decided not to target five fish but instead aim for three big bites a day. While I had enough spots to get five fish, with other anglers on the water and some potentiall­y knowing what I knew, I wanted to make up points with weight rather than with points per fish. If I managed to get five fish, that would be an added bonus. I also monitored the weather leading up to our event, noticing some changes. I continued spending hours going through my valuable charts looking for the specific areas the bigger fish were relating to, to the point that I almost had the elevation chart imprinted on my brain.

I left Durban early Friday morning before our provincial trail and drove to Bivane Dam with my game plan playing in my head all the way there. Walking down to the dam on arrival, I quickly noticed the water colour was slightly changed but still felt confident my plan would stick. I would later discover that the water temperatur­e was also three degrees colder.

For those that don’t know, provincial trails are held on one venue with two tournament­s in the same weekend – Day-1 and Day-2 – with each day’s tournament getting its own score. This means that by the end of a season, we would have fished four venues and eight tournament­s. The worst two scores are dropped.

At the start of day-1, I drew boat number 24 but wasn’t worried as I knew most guys would run for the river. Arriving at my key spot, the first thing I noticed was that the Chicamba weed on the right was missing so focused on the left side instead. I made a perfect cast with my weightless Caffeine Shad with no takers. After at least another ten empty casts, I decided to switch to a finesse presentati­on and picked up my spinning rod spooled with 6lb line and rigged with a Z-Man Streak on drop-shot. My first cast produced a 2.2kg fish.

After about ten minutes I moved to the right where the Chicamba weed was missing, with no luck. While I knew my areas wouldn’t hold a lot of fish, I knew I could get quality fish. I worked down the bank to my marked areas but found boats sitting right on the hot spot focused on fishing the reeds instead of the small patch of weed. It was very frustratin­g knowing there was a two-kilo sitting right under somebody’s boat and there was nothing I could do.

I decided to hang back and wait away from the boats. When they didn’t move in thirty minutes or so, I moved along. This went on for a while. Eventually, I got to a spot and hung back from another two boats and waited. As I was about to move, the boat sitting within ten metres of the Chicamba weed moved off to work the bank. I immediatel­y cast, landing within half a metre of the weed – bang, on with another 2kg fish – landed and in the live-well.

By now I could see that my only down fall was going to be time wasted while waiting for boats to move off the sweet spots so I could target my areas. A couple of times during the day, I would run back to my key spot, hoping that the fish had moved up, to

no avail. At 15:00 I decided to make one last run to my key spot. Low and behold, now the left side of the Chicamba weed was missing as well. I made a couple of casts anyway but got nothing.

I resorted to idling down the bank looking for spots where boats had moved off and finally found one empty. I quickly moved in and was into another fish on my first cast. It wasn’t as big as my other two but it was my third fish! Time for weigh in. My three fish gave me a total bag of 4.905kg which secured fourth place for the first tournament and earned me some good points.

My prediction for the tough fishing was proven correct with only one five fish bag being weighed.

I launched early for the second tournament and while waiting, studied my charts for more areas that could possibly be the same as my other areas. I knew I needed more spots due to the amount of boats fishing the same areas as me but not picking up that the fish were in fact sitting right under their boats.

I marked a couple of spots with the same type of rocks even without knowing if the other two key factors would be there too. Knowing the fishing would be even harder on day two after the previous day’s pressure, all I wanted was two big bites and knew if I could get another top ten finish, that would move me up substantia­lly in the points race. Although, I was boat number 4 which meant I could run anywhere, I wanted to stick to my game plan.

With my key spot being weedless, I couldn’t run back to that and opted to run to a spot just before that area where I had battled to get into the day before due to boats sitting right on top of my sweet spot. I made my first cast within centimetre­s of the Chicamba weed and bam, fish on. I landed a healthy 2.2kg.

Once more I idled down the bank passing boats sitting on top of sweet spots and chose to run my new areas. However, I could only find two of the three key features I was looking for. My eyes stayed glued to my elevation chart. While working down another bank, a boat moved off a spot that I knew had the three key features I was looking for. I quickly started my motor and ran to that area, stopping a fair distance away to get everything ready. When I got closer, I cast to the Chicamba weed. My lure dangled for about five seconds before I felt a tap. I made my hookset and the fight was on with a very strong and healthy 2.44kg. When I landed her, it was clear I would need to run this fish, so I tied down all my rods and sped to the weigh station. I opted to weigh both my fish which gave me a bag just over 4.6kg.

Having calculated that this bag would put me in seventh place on day one, I opted to pack up and head home to avoid traffic. As it turned out, my 4.6kg bag was enough to secure another fourth place and earned me valuable points in the point race overall. My two top five finishes put me in line to possibly go to the national championsh­ip later this year. With two events remaining at Inanda Dam, the pressure is still on!

I have based this article on my own experience­s and knowledge of bass fishing and also how my FishTec charts have helped me to find bigger fish. As you have read, I ran similar areas for pre-fishing and tournament fishing but with different results. Each chart I used from my FishTec Bivane chart card had its place and I feel it’s important for anglers to practice using their own charts to the fullest potential. Many anglers don’t realise that their chart cards have so much informatio­n on them, so it’s important to play around with the charts.

Success comes with spending time on the water, making use of your charts and most importantl­y – paying attention when catching a fish. Think, if something over there looked promising for that bass, there must be more than the naked eye can see. If it wasn’t for my elevation chart, I would never have seen those subtle difference­s that the bigger fish were relating to and I wouldn’t have done so well.

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