Big fish in skinny water – NSW south coast fishing report

You’ve probably said it ten times today: it’s hot. South east Australia has recorded some of its hottest temperatures since records began and there is still plenty of sunshine left before winter arrives.  One plan to beat the heat is to pack up the family, the dog and the esky, and head down to any of the south coast estuaries.  Pop the kids on an inflatable pool toy, throw a tennis ball into the water for the dog and then ease yourself in to cool off for a few hours. But don’t forget your fishing rod the shallow water has been producing some fantastic fish over the holiday period.

Keen Canberra angler Stuart Smith and his girlfriend Claire Foster discovered this on a recent trip to Tuross Lake.  They got up early to avoid the holiday boat traffic and headed off in their kayak. Stu was trolling shallow-diving bibbed lures and having a ball, scoring a mixed bag of flathead, bream, tailor and whiting.  Cruising over water only a metre deep, he felt a tap through the rod.  It felt like another small flathead.  When he went to reel it in however, there was a considerable weight on the end of the line.  They assumed it was a snag until, with two or three beats of its tail, the ‘snag’ powered off into the deeper water.  With heart racing and on light gear, Stu managed to guide the fish to the side of the kayak.  Claire netted the fish, but it was so big that only half of it would fit.  Two people and a big fish tucked into a one person Hobie Outback would have been quite a sight.  They steered the boat, with the fish still only half in the net, to the safety of a nearby bank.  With everything now under control they measured a beautiful 84cm dusky flathead (certainly a big female).  Supporting her weight with a wet rag in one hand and lip grips in the other, they got a couple of great photos.  Stu eased her back into the water and is happy to report that she swam away strongly. A great team effort!

An 84cm flathead from a kayak will bring a smile to anyone's face!
An 84cm flathead from a kayak will bring a smile to anyone’s face!

Not to be outdone, Claire caught a 43cm whiting, also on a shallow-diving lure.  Pound for pound, a whiting of that size might be a better catch than the flathead – they don’t come much bigger. These catches are great examples of a recent pattern, where whiting, bream, flathead and the occasional estuary perch have been caught by anglers in water you could happily stand up in, especially given the heat.  Top-water lures, such as small poppers and stick baits, have been working well in as little as 20cm of water and up to about 1.5 metres.  Soft plastics paddled across the surface or hopped across the bottom will tempt a few fish but new anglers may find shallow diving lures easier to use.   Many models can simply be retrieved slowly or trolled behind a kayak. 

IMG_2724 Claire Foster 43cm whiting Atomic crank 38 in muddy prawn colour-2
Claire with her 43cm lure-caught whiting – that’s a great fish!

If you don’t have access to a boat or kayak, the good news is that there are vast areas of shallow water available for you to wade, all up and down the coast.  The best spots are often those sandy flats covered in small nipper holes, with scattered patches of weed, or where the depth drops from shallow to deeper water.  Keep an eye out for baitfish flitting across the surface or whiting ‘tailing’ with their heads in the sand digging for food.  Listen for slurps, boofs and splashes, this often means fish are feeding on prawns on the surface.  Finally, don’t discount those areas that are high and dry at low tide six hours later they can be teaming with fish.

Holes left by salt water yabbies (nippers) are a good sign of bait and predatory fish
The holes of salt water yabbies (nippers) are a good sign of bait and are likely to attract predatory fish

So when you’re next packing the car for a coast holiday include some sandals or old sneakers, a handful of lures, a light spin rod and a willingness to wade through waist-deep water.  With a bit of practice, the fishing action can be hotter than the air temperature.

See you on the flats!

Graham (Flick and Fly Journal)

A version of this report first appeared in the Narooma times and on Rob Paxevanos’ blog site in the week of 15-22 January.  Many thanks to Stu and Claire for the images and story.

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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