The Big Bass problem (part 1)

Because Trout and bass are being labeled as “alien invasive” by authorities in South Africa, they are together on the same side of the battle lines. That is perhaps the reason that little is being said by Trout fishermen about the bass problem. But a more likely reason is apathy, or some other failure on the part of us fly-fishermen to galvanise into action. I say that, because the unwanted, unchecked spread of bass in the uplands of KZN has been going on for thirty years. Those, by the way,  are 30 years in which Trout have not “invaded” anywhere at all.
So why, might you ask, is so much being said about Trout being alien invasive, and NOTHING being said about bass?
I don’t know the answer.   I can guess that Trout somehow have a colonial connotation about them, but that’s as solid a reason as I can dream up.
Now before any bass fishermen get over excited, know that I have nothing against bass fishermen, and bass in our warmer water areas. In these areas, bass fishing has an economic value. But in the higher altitude “Trout” areas, Trout fishing has a value that is being eroded by the invasion of bass, and the economic value of Trout fishing is not being replaced by a similar economic value of bass fishing. (No bass fishermen that I know of book into lodges in these areas specifically to go bass fishing. Examples of Trout fishermen booking into a venue for the purpose of flyfishing for Trout are too numerous to mention)
There is simply no logic to the silence surrounding the problematic spread of bass in our area.
So what does the problem look like?
When I was a schoolboy, our family visited the Underberg area on holiday. We used to queue each morning at the Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing Club office (UHTFC) to speak to Bill Hughes, and before him Bob Crass, and book water for the day.  Some of the waters had bass in them. North End and Palframans spring to mind. There may have been one or two others, but not many more.  Now, 30 years later, you struggle to find waters that DON’T have bass in them.  Not entirely co-incidentally (and sadly!) , you no longer have to queue outside the offices of UHTFC to book water, and a whole social flyfishing fabric has wasted away.
As a varsity student, I remember one dam in the Kamberg that had bass in it:  “Morrass vlei”.
Today you can add:
Windmill; Goose ; Eremia ; Prosperity; the Little Mooi; Sourveldt lower dam; Bracken Waters; Rey estates 2 dams; Airstrip; Meshlyn main dam;  and more.
bass (1 of 1)
A  bass lurks in the shallows of a previously hallowed Trout water.
And remember that in this example I am addressing just  the Kamberg valley.
Mooi R (1 of 1)
The beautiful Kamberg Valley
When you start tallying dams throughout KZN the list is enormous, and includes some previously famous and treasured Trout waters.
I don’t know about you, but I am horrified!
Remember that the Trout don’t breed in these stillwaters and need to be stocked. The bass, on the other hand, breed like crazy, and once they are in there is very little chance you will ever get rid of them. You can empty the dam and poison it, but farmers understandably don’t want to empty their irrigation dams. Poisoning water is also a touchy subject.
So why are bass a problem. Why can’t we have bass and Trout in the same water?
We can, but most flyfishermen I know, go after Trout, and don’t want to be catching bass. Bass almost seem to have a self defense mechanism wherein they breed like crazy in the face of competition. It seems that way,  because when they invade a Trout dam, fishermen report catching literally hundreds of bothersome bass, the vast majority of which are tiny. Now Trout eat small bass (and get very fat on them!), but bass eat small Trout too. So to uphold a Trout venue, when it has bass in it, one needs to buy and stock larger Trout (9 to 12 inch stock fish). These larger fish are mighty expensive.  Unless it is a small impoundment, most fishing clubs or lodge owners would drop the stocking of Trout because of the cost, and voila…another Trout water just became a bass water.
So how do bass spread, and what, if anything, can be done about the problem?  I will make an attempt at this subject in part 2, but for now I wanted the enormity of the problem to sink in.
* Yes, Trout are spelled using a capital “T” and bass with a lowercase “b”.  This is because I am prejudiced, biased, and unscientific.
bass fishermen (1 of 1)
Bass fisherman compared to Trout fishermen, as depicted by Jack Ohman in his book “Fear of Fly fishing”:

7 Responses

  1. Even the Swartberg waters like Hopewell had Bass in them before I started fishing there in the 1980;s. We kilied whatever Bass we caught and when they were spawning in the shallows we targeted them and also netted out the fry with aquarium nets after they had spawned but I get the impression that most anglers are not prepared to put in the time to reduce Bass populations in Trout waters. The same goes for the Carp invasion of Bass waters. Everyone wants to fish but few are prepared to put something back into the fisheries so the problem just gets worse as every season goes by.

  2. Hi Andrew, I totally agree with everything you have said here. Bass in kamberg have become a real problem and would like to state as a member of the kamberg trout festival committee that we will only allow the competitors on dams this year that have only trout. Any dams that now have bass have been removed from the competition. Just putting that out there. We love hosting the festival and our team goes to a lot of effort to keep the dams trout only but we are at the mercy of many factors year to year. Especially drought years where water is pumped between dams spreading the bass problem.I’d also like to state that I work at meshlynn farm and can state full well that only big dam has a bass infestation which is a tragedy as it is the most perfect stillwater for trout with amazing features. But I can assure everybody reading this that East meshlynn dam and kloof dam are bass free and the trout are doing well there. I grew up bass fishing and I love targeting them on fly. I hope to see lots of happy faces after this year’s kamberg TROUT festival.

    1. Thank you Matt. Great to hear that there are like minded fishermen out there, and thanks for clarifying on the status of Meshlyn.

  3. Picture of the trout fisherman is dated? Or he buys his gear from the places I do.
    I detest bass. I detest ESPN weigh-ins, flashy shirts, V-max motors, yank-em-out and race to the shore tactics, plastic lizards, sponsors logos festooned everywhere, interviews , live wells, throwing fish out on a table, commentators who yell – I can go on, but I’m starting to yell.
    Bass suck.

  4. Great read. I love both fish but prefer catching bass on fly. The top water action from a bass is explosive… trout not so much hey. Anyway i appreciate the damage they are doing to your beloved trout waters, we have a similar situation in the Western Cape at Lakenvlei.
    That picture of the bass fishermen is way out of date. Although the look of the guy is authentic where is the R250k Ranger? The 20 rods each valuing about 5k. The buckets of lures costing literally thousands…..
    Do you have stats on who spends the most bass or trout fishermen. Would be interesting to see?

    1. 🙂 Ja…I am told the bass guys spend big bucks on a national scale, and particularly in the States. I am not sure of the stats here in SA.

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