SA Bass - - Contents - >> 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.

One part of the dam

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