Fishing estuaries more effectively: structure

Part one of our estuary series, which focusses on tides is here.

Graz fishing the sandflats at the entrance of Tamboon
Graz fishing the sandflats at the entrance of Tamboon

Rubble flats, weedbeds, sandflats, reef, bommies, dropoffs, pylons and other artificial structures, mored boats, ledges, edges, rockwalls, undercut banks and snags. All estuary structures that will hold and attract fish. As we covered in the last post that touched on tides and tidal movement, water movement will have an effect on how these different structures fish. In this post we are going to focus on the structures themselves, not the specifics of how tidal movement effects them.

Firstly, each structure type will attract fish for different reasons. Weedbeds provide safety for baitfish and crustaceans, which will attract fish. Sandflats are home to many crustaceans and worms, which will attract baitfish, which will attract bigger fish. Rubble flats provide an opportunity for fish to feed on molluscs and crustaceans attatched to rocks or hiding in the nooks and crannies as well as access to baitfish. Dropoffs, reefs, pylons, boats and bommies provide cover for fish to ambush baitfish and food sources that may be washed into the deeper water or hiding around the structures as well as molluscs and the like attached to pylons, rocks or boat hulls. Undercut banks, ledges and snags provide cover and safety as well as ambush hideouts and access to food sources such as molluscs, crustaceans as well as anything that may swim by. Each of these structures will hold fish, exactly how an when will depend on other factors, e.g the tide, season or what the fish happened to be keyed in on at any point in time. In any case, without further ado, a few tips for fishing each of these structure types.

A little flathead pulled from one of my favourite flats way back in the day
A little flathead pulled from one of my favourite flats way back in the day

Weedbeds: Fishing in and around weedbeds is a staple of estuary fishing. Weedbeds provide perfect cover for small baitfish, crabs and prawns to seek safety as well as providing ample food for them to feast on. They will also be home to molluscs, worms and countless other little morsels. This in turn will attract predatory fish, meaning they can be incredibly productive. Particularly productive can be weedbeds in the deeper water surrounding sand flats, or along channel edges. The best way to fish weedbeds depends somewhat on what you are targetting, working hardbodied lures over the weedbeds and along the edges can produce some great fishing for bream, flathead and trevally. Working surface lures can also work a treat for bream and whiting. My best sand whiting (51cms) came working a popper over a set of relatively deep weedbeds. Learning to fish weedbeds effectively is a key to getting the most out of your estuary fishing.

Fly fishing for mullet over some weedbeds
Fly fishing for mullet over some weedbeds

Sandflats: Fishing sandflats has to be close to my favourite sort of estuary fishing. There isn’t much that beats catching big whiting, bream and flathead from less than a foot of water. Tides can have a pretty big influence on how a sandflat fishes, I generally focus my attention on the two hours either side of low or high tide, when water is either draining off or flooding the flat. Working surface lures is the most fun, a variety of stickbaits and poppers and you are well on your way to some awesome mixed bags of whiting, bream, tailor and flathead. Fishing lightly weighted plastics and shallow and medium diving lures (lures that bump into the sand occasionally work a treat) are also highly effective. Long casts can be the key to fooling fish, especially on calm days.

Graz with a little whiting caught on one of Wallaga lakes sandflats
Graz with a little whiting caught on one of Wallaga lakes sandflats

Rubble flats: Much like sandflats, rubble flats can produce some great fishing. Once again, diving hardbodies and at the right times surface lures are the go to. Rubble flats can produce some absolutely awesome bream fishing at times and shouldn’t be ignored.

Lee with a stonker of a bream caught over rubble in Wallaga lake
Lee with a stonker of a bream caught over rubble in Wallaga lake

Dropoffs: Dropoffs are generally places where fish wait for food to come to them, hapless baitfish, prawns and crustaceans that have been washed from safer hiding spots by the tide. A great way of approaching this sort of structure is hopping plastics or vibes down the dropoff. Medium and deep diving hardbodies can also be very effective. Dropoffs are wonderful places to target almost all estuary species and a staple of the estuary angler.

Double hookup on bream working hardbodies over a drop-off
Double hookup on bream working hardbodies over a drop-off

Reefs and bommies: Reefs and bommies provide all sorts of food as well as cover for fish. They produce some wonderful fishing. Look out for reefs and bommies associated with drop offs and the like as these can be some of the most productive. Best fished using hardbodied lures, but vibes and plastics can be equally effective on their day. As can surface lures.

Rock walls: Rock walls can be a wonderful place to target bream and estuary perch, feeding on the assorted molluscs and crustaceans that live amongst the nooks and crannies. They also provide a place fish can heard schools of small baitfish to make them easy pickings. Depending on how the fish are feeding and the depth they are holding at, hardbodies, vibes and plastics all have their roll to play fishing this sort of structure.

Undercut banks: Whats not to like, cover and food. Undercut banks are a favourite haunt of EPs and bream and shouldn’t be ignored. Best fished with hardbodies, vibes or plastics.

Snags: Once again, cover and protection as well as an available food sources. Wherever they are found, be it on the Murray river or Wallaga lake snags will hold fish. Snags are a great place for fish such as estuary perch and bream to hang out, providing both cover and an available food source. The decaying wood attracts all manner of micro-organisms, which in turn attract prawns and the like, making them a safe food buffet, providing fish with both cover and food. Fishing snags, the idea of “right stage of decay” is worth thinking about. Some of the most productive snags are a medium age, when they have started to break down enough to attract all the food that makes them such great places for fish to hang out and before the food source (wood) has becomes less productive. That said, new snags and old snags will hold fish. Best fished with hardbodies, lightly weighted plastics rigged weedlessly and surface lures. Fishing the snags has saved many a bream session and will continue to do so for many years to come. Also a favourite haunt for the mythical EP.

Little bream from the snags
Little bream from the snags

Mored boats: Bream, tailor and other fish will often use mored boats for cover. When I lived in Sydney, some of my best harbour bream session were spent casting little hard bodies at mored boats and yachts. On the right day it could produce some truly incredible fishing. Again, hardbodies are probably my lure of choice, but plastics and vibes will also work a treat.

Pylons and Jetties: Pylons, especially in heavy current provide a wonderful ambush place for predatory fish and can produce some great bream fishing. They also provide a structure that will attract a host of molluscs, crustaceans and the liek. Bridges and jetties are often a staple of land based anglers simply because of their fish holding ability and it would be foolish to ignore them when you are out and about fishing an estuary.

Bridges provide great fish holding structure
Bridges provide great fish holding structure

No real structure: Lastly, sometimes you can find schools of fish hanging out in the seemingly featureless deep flats that are in most of our Southern estuaries. These vast expanses with very little obvious fish holding structure, often ignored by fishermen, can on their day produce great fishing. To find the fish you need the help of modern electronics, fishing these big expanses of relatively featureless terrain without them is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. With a sounder though, you can find schools of bream, trevally and tailor feeding up. Some days, these oft ignored “featureless” areas can go off, so its often worth sounding up the big basins, especially if the days fishing has slow. Best fished with plastics and vibes.

Now thats just short overview of the some of the sorts of structure in an estuary and how you might approach fishing them. In later posts we will go into the specifics of fishing some of these structures in more detail. Until then, good luck on the water.

Cheers

Flick and fly

 

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

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