By Bertrand Ngim, Ph.D. | October 2018
If you think wading for bass sounds unexciting or uncool? Think again, because that is how anglers in South Korea catch big bass in skinny water ayu fisheries in South Gyeongsang Province. Many anglers mistakenly believe that wading is a messy affair. In South Gyeongsang Province, however, big bass are often found in baitfish-rich skinny waters that are inaccessible to boaters. Sometimes, ankle-deep is all you need to go! It sounds fun and that is the back to basics fishing that still gets me excited.
What has ayu (Plecoglossus altivelis) got to do with bass fishing? Somewhat unknown to the rest of the world, South Gyeongsang Province is considered one of the top ayu angling destinations in South Korea. It is a place that is blessed with healthy conditions where ayu, as big as 10” in length, is the primary forage for transplanted largemouth bass.
How did I get to bass fish in Korea? I got an invitation from a South Korean friend to do a feature for a magazine back in late summer 2017. We missed the pre-spawn fishing window that we had originally aimed for but my local fixer assured me that the post-spawn bite can be equally as good, maybe not in terms of numbers but from a quality front.
The primary area where we fished is basically a confluence of two creeks with contrasting conditions, a moving water side and a slack water side. To get there, we had to track about a mile across various interesting structures, both manmade and natural, starting with a short runway, a helipad, a rocky riverbed and shallow flat in ankle deep water.
Conditions-wise, it is a location that could easily pass as a trout and salmon fishery, but transplanted largemouth bass have successfully colonized the river confluence that is actually a shallow delta with an average depth of about 2’ to 3’ deep. All in all, the water is extremely clear and the riverbed is predominantly sand and rocks of various sizes.
Ayu fisheries in the southern provinces are home to some the biggest largemouth bass found in South Korea. A couple of years ago, my local fixer caught his personal best largemouth on a Huddleston Deluxe 8” trout. The fish he caught measured 24.5” in length, possibly be a 10lb’er! According to the locals, the average size largemouth is about 4 to 5lbs.
In the summer months, it is a place where anglers throw big baits, from glidebaits to walking baits. I started off the day fishing a DUO Realis Pencil Popper 148 and Gan Craft Jointed Claw 148. I was bombing long casts along the rocky shoreline and worked my bait along the bottom but I struggled for bites for most of the morning.
River delta environments present plenty of opportunities and challenges, couple that with angling pressure and clear water conditions, however, it is a totally different game when you are wading. Unlike the locals who grew up fishing in similar river environments, I was on a wading crash course in a river with conditions that looked fishy everywhere I looked.
It took me a couple of hours just to realize that I was fishing at the wrong areas in the confluence because I had been too fixated on spots where the bass are skittish and pressured. So, I took the decision and switched to the slack water side instead, and that turned out to be the best decision I made that day!
Fishing slack water may not seem like a good approach when you consider the fact that the prevalent bait fish such as ayu are usually drawn to the fast flowing side of the river. I saw large schools of ayu right next to where I was fishing, especially in the fast flowing side where big largemouths usually move in and out to feed.
I have caught big fish in areas that get overlooked, notably scenarios where anglers are drawn to more tempting features or conditions that they end up ignoring areas that receive less pressure just because they do not look like they hold fish. It is a mistake to ignore the stuffs that majority of anglers ignore.
The river confluence where we fished was literally loaded with opportunities. It could have been bad timing or due to summer angling pressure because all in all, the fish were not responding to our baits like they normally would. I covered a ton of water and had just one bite that entire day. The day’s results did not reflect the true qualities of this awesome fishery. We caught a total of six bass where the smallest fish of the day was 20” in length, and 22” the largest.
I caught the biggest bass of the day on a lure I had least expected to work in pressured situations. The Imakatsu Trairao topwater walking bait turned out to be my answer for the conditions in the slack water side. I have fished a Super Spook Jr. and other smaller pencil baits before, but the Imakatsu Trairao excels in terms of sound emission and casting distance.
I was not a fan of heavy topwater lures, especially when dealing with pressured waters where you need to be extra stealthy in your approach and presentation but the Trairao which is an aggressive lure totally changed my perception on that.
The key baits of the day were topwater and shallow running glidebaits. I am not going to lie, the fishing was tough but the takeaway was extremely rewarding. It was THE day where I caught my South Korea personal best largemouth bass of 22” in length, wading in skinny water!
Fishing with the right rod, reel and line for topwater lures will make your experience more fun and productive. My rod and reel of choice for walking baits such as DUO Realis Pencil Popper, Imakatsu Trairao or something as light as a Yo-Zuri 3DS popper starts with a Majorcraft Days DC-662MH paired with a Daiwa Steez 7.1:1 baitcasting reel.
I use 30lb-test Sunline Momentum 4×4 braided line with an Alberto Knot connection to a 12lb-test YGK Soft DMV Nylon 100% or 15lb-test Seaguar Senshi clear monofilament if I am fishing near slightly thicker cover. I use this setup for butterfly peacock bass fishing and it is basically my all-purpose go-to setup for baits in the 1/4oz to 1oz weight bracket.
I want to thank my local fixer, Kang and his friends for showing me around some of the most unique shallow water bass fisheries in the southern provinces. Check out thebbz.com for more exciting stories on bass fishing overseas. -Bertrand Ngim