The best estuary fishing spots in south-east New South Wales

As keen anglers we are frequently asked for advice on where to go to find a decent coastal fishing spot within 2-3 hours drive from Canberra. As many of you will know, it’s both an easy and a difficult question to answer, because pretty much any beach, rock formation, estuary or coastal river will produce good (or terrible) fishing at times. But there are a few ‘hot-spots’ where I’m usually confident someone can go to and connect with a few fish.

The main determinant of fishing location choices are access, platform (i.e. boat or shore based) and whether you want to target a particular species or just put a bend in your rod. Access is variable in many of our south coast estuaries: there are a few around which you can walk with ease and find good fishing, whereas others are fairly limited for shore-based anglers.

A great spot, but pretty tough to get to without a boat or kayak

The easiest way to approach the question is to list off a few spots from north to south, which may also make the decision a little easier depending on which side of Canberra you live on. Whichever way you look at it, we are truly blessed with a veritable shitload of options. Before we start, I need to admit that a post like this is never finished. If anyone tells you they ‘know’ every system on the south coast, they’re either lying or getting paid lots for selling little soft plastic things that work really, really well on the south coast. There have been a few great books written on the subject, too, which will probably be a much better guide than this. But regardless of one’s experience in these areas, there are always a set of rules and techniques that will be successful across a broad range of species and areas, and hopefully some of those come across in this post.

Jervis Bay

Jervis Bay is a large system, or collection of systems, that is difficult to summarise in a few paragraphs. The bay itself is synonymous with great squid grounds, tailor off the rocks, luderick, bream and kingfish. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here because I don’t know it very well, and far south coast anglers will find this area to be quite different in character to estuaries further south. The sand is whiter, there is more ribbon weed, even the seaweed looks different, and there seems to be an Aussie flag on every second ute and front lawn. All of these factors conspire to make Canberra and far south coast anglers a bit uneasy at times, but essentially the techniques and species are the same as further south. The ribbon weed beds hold good numbers of squid, which is one thing that is a bit different to many areas further south (with the arguable exception being Twofold Bay in Eden).

St Georges Basin is big and can be intimidating, but the tried and tested bream and flathead techniques will pay dividends here. For the flathead, try different depths until you find where the fish are holding. Then repeat. 3-4 inch soft plastics will catch plenty of table sized fish – upsize if you want to target the bigger ones. As with all flathead fishing, make sure you’re fishing on the bottom. We’ve written more about that here. For the bream, the trick (when lure fishing, anyway), is to make your presentations as natural looking as possible. This means light leaders, small natural coloured lures, or super fresh baits. I have enjoyed a lot of success lately using 4lb fluorocarbon leader and don’t feel the need to go much lighter. Small hardbodies, surface lures (try stickbaits if poppers aren’t working) or lightly weighted soft plastics will be the undoing of some fine fish, but the trick is always finesse. I can’t stress this enough…it’s easy to convince yourself that surely, there isn’t much difference between 6lb and 4lb leader, but trust me, there is.

Sussex Inlet is connected to St Georges Basin but has a completely different character. Fishing the canals for bream and flathead is fun and can be productive, but at times it feels a bit like you’re fishing in someone’s backyard!

Conjola

Conjola is a smallish system but turns on some surprisingly good fishing, and a surprisingly good calibre of fish. Bream and flathead are again the key targets (I guess you could say this about much of the estuary fishing on  the south coast). Like any other system, the key here is finding the food.

Conjola seems to produce some good flathead

Lake Tabourie

This is a lovely little lake to the south of Nowra that holds good numbers of bream and flathead. It seems to be a bit of a nursery, in that a lot of the bream are small. But the good thing about smaller bream is that they’re generally easier to catch than bigger bream, so it’s a great spot to go if you want to whack a bit of peeled prawn on a small size hook and get the kids onto a few fish.

Drive time from central Canberra: 2 hours 25 minutes

Durras

Durras north and south are both lovely little spots and both provide access to Durras Lake. South Durras has a decent little boat ramp, but arguably the best way to explore Durras Lake is in a kayak. There are large expanses of shallow flats, which, in the warmer months, provide excellent surface fishing for whiting and bream. Flathead – some incommens urately large for the size of the lake they inhabit – can be found in the deeper holes and channels adjacent to the flats. Sometimes they will venture up onto the flats and it’s pretty exciting when a good fish rockets up to inhale a little popper intended for a whiting. Durras Lake also holds good numbers of chopper tailor at times – a little metal slug is a dream to cast, and a quick retrieve will soon indicate whether or not they are about. Tailor are also evidenced by sporadic bust ups, so if you see some commotion on the surface and the odd tern or seagull looking interested, it’s worth casting the slug.

Shore-based access isn’t too bad at Durras north and south, but keen lure anglers mightn’t be able to cover a really satisfying amount of water on foot.

Graz with a nice Durras whiting
A kayak is a lovely way to explore this system

Drive time from Canberra: 2 hours 15 minutes

Clyde River and Nelligen

Perhaps the most accessible to Canberra anglers in terms of drive-time, this is a definite ‘hot-spot’. A sturdy jetty at Nelligen provides a great spot for families to try some bait or lure fishing, and can be a real lucky-dip at times. There are the ubiquitous bream and flathead, but the deeper water, structure and current provide an appealing home for small pelagics like slimy mackerel and yakkas, right through to apex predators like mulloway. There are also surprisingly frequent reports of kingfish caught up around the bridge, and occasional reports of really weird things like cobia that turn up from time to time! So, you never know you luck!

Clyde river middle reaches

Nelligen aside, the Clyde River is an epic system that holds any number of exciting fishing options. Undoubtedly the best way to explore it is by boat (kayaks are good, but the current can make it challenging from both a fishing and a fitness perspective!). The Clyde is renowned for its mulloway and estuary perch fishing, with those in the know consistently tangling with the former and notching up cricket scores of the latter. The EPs school up at certain times of the year, and if you’re paying keen attention to your sounder, can be found stacked up on rock bars, eager to hit a little soft plastic or vibe.

EPs on the sounder in the Clyde River

The Clyde is a designated recreational fishing haven, which appears to be paying dividends for the fishery, and probably the local economy. However, it’s also a waterskiing haven, so be prepared for a lot of traffic and noise from around Nelligen to the Bay at the busier times of the year. The best way to avoid this is to head upstream for as long as it takes to get away from the noise, wake and ever-present risk of being cleaned up by a wayward jetski.

There are also bass on offer upstream from Shallow Crossing.

Drive time from central Canberra: 1 hour 50 minutes

A little EP from a rockbar in the middle reaches

Broulee/Mossy Point

This is a lovely little spot about 30 minutes south of Bateman’s Bay that has a few nice fishing options. The beaches are lovely and for lure spinners will produce nice salmon in winter and tailor in the warmer months, and bream, mullet and whiting at times on bait.

The inlet at Mossy Point has a healthy population of flathead, bream, with mullet and garfish providing good sport at times. I have fished this system using bait only (a long time ago now!) and had great success drifting the deeper channels with whitebait on a paternoster rig for flathead, and some awesome sessions on mullet and garfish using peeled prawn on small hooks under lightly weighted floats. A berley trail is the go for this kind of fishing and it’s not uncommon to have fish milling around a few metres behind the boat. A lot of fun in the crystal clear waters that typify our smaller south coast inlets.

Drive time from central Canberra: 2 hours 15 minutes

Moruya River

The Moruya River reminds me of some of the northern NSW rivers; it drains a big floodplain and is charaterised by strong tidal flows and currents. Nonetheless, it’s a decent little fishery that can produce all of the main species, but the best way to explore it is by boat. The Moruya breakwall is also worth a look. The channel side can be difficult to fish due to the strong tidal flows, but anglers are often rewarded with bream around the rocks. The seaward side is a great spot for salmon and tailor fishing, as it’s possible to try different depths until the fish are found. Keep your eye on the swell here – it can be a dangerous spot at times. My ‘litmus test’ for any kind of rock or breakwall fishing is that if you’re not completely relaxed, then go somewhere else!

The breakwall just past the waves on the beach side can be a good spot to dangle some bait and catch slimy mackerel, bream and tarwhine. This is a good option for those with young children who don’t want to walk too far from the car park. Nearly 25 years ago, a young Grazza caught 10 ‘slimies’ of this wall with his old man and as they say, the rest is history.

Drive time from central Canberra: 2 hours 20 minutes

Tuross Lake

Tuross Lake is another designated recreational fishing haven, and is widely recognised as the poster-child of the south coast’s fishing scene. And for good reason – it’s a unique and beautiful place and can provide excellent fishing at all times of the year. It’s renowned for it’s big flathead, bream, whiting and mulloway, but trevally, salmon, tailor, luderick and mullet are almost always present.

A nice EP from the Tuross racks

The best way to experience Tuross is by boat or kayak, although the yakkers may be somewhat restricted in terms of how far they can go. It’s a big system, with a multitude of channels, basins and flats making for the most diverse environment of all the south coast estuaries.

Land-based access is limited when considering the scale of Tuross, but there are some good spots around the boat ramp and caravan park that produce good fishing at times. The flats near the main boat ramp can provide some excellent whiting fishing, and there’s always the chance at a monster flathead in some of the adjacent channels.

A lovely spot

Latte lovers will love the cafe right on the water where you can park your boat and enjoy an early morning caffeine fix. Don’t have a boat? Tinnies can be hired at the boatshed at reasonable rates – highly recommended.

Racktastic

Drive time from central Canberra: 2 hours 35 minutes

Graz with a lovely Tuross mulloway

Narooma/Wagonga

Wagonga is one of the deeper lakes on the south coast with the depth regularly reaching 10 metres. Fisherman chasing flathead on soft plastics should definitely bring some heavier jig heads (eg, 1/4oz, 3/8oz, 1/2oz) to chase these fish on a falling tide. Mulloway are a common capture around new and full moons on the turn of the tides. Plate-sized snapper are a welcome addition to the list of species available in this lake.

Sea eagles at Wagonga. The bird on the left has just plucked a flathead from the shallows

Coila

Coila doesn’t get a lot of coverage in fishing circles, and probably for good reason. It’s a secret. I might get a few frowns for giving it away, but it’s a brilliant bream fishery.

Glassed out on Coila
Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch others fish

Brogo dam

Ok, ok. Brogo dam is neither coastal or an estuary. It is however the South Coast’s premier bass fishery and also happens to be stunningly beautiful. There is a boat ramp and facilities making it a great place for a family day out. Like most dam fisheries, the best lure on the day will vary widely and will depend on the time of year and mood of the fish. Blades, spinnerbaits, deep and shallow divers, soft plastics and surface lures all have their place. So if the wind is howling on the coast, its well worth the trip.

Graz and the bass in mutual admiration
Magic spot

Drive time from Canberra- 3 hours on the dot.

Corunna

Corunna is another ‘secret’, in that it holds awesome numbers of table sized flathead at times. It’s prone to closing off to the ocean, so is prone to peaks and troughs, but is well worth a look if you want to get a bit off the beaten track. It’s not uncommon to be the only boat on the water – even in the height of summer when most of the other estuaries are covered in vermin (read: wakeboats and jetskis). It might be something to do with the submerged rockbars, sandbars and the healthy population of great whites…

Wallaga Lake

Wallaga Lake is, somewhat contentiously, still commercially fished. It seems that this commercial fishing has influenced the recreational fishing to a degree, but it still produces remarkably good fishing at times. The most noticeable influence of the commercial fishing is the lack of big fish. But what it lacks in big fish it makes up for in numbers and variety. Being a large system, it’s not uncommon to find decent snapper and even fish like gurnard perch in the deeper holes. It’s probably Wallaga’s flathead that are the mainstay, and in the warmer months, it’s generally fairly easy to find a feed. We have written a fair bit about it here, here, here, here and here. And here and here. Take your pick!

There are some lovely bream in Wallaga

Shore based angling is a bit limited, but the banks around Beauty Point and Akolele can be very productive, especially if throwing 3-4 inch plastics on fairly heavy (4-5 gram) jigheads. The trick is to cast far enough to avoid the ever-present weedbanks, and fish the 5-10 metres of ‘good’ water before you get fouled up. The weed can be annoying at times, but the ‘structure’ is where the fish are. The other landbased option is the flats near the mouth of the lake, the access point being ‘Wallaga Lake Heights’, evidently one of those fancy names given to a location to help increase the cost of real estate. You can spend hours on the flats here, but the best fishing will be when the water is warm and there is an outgoing tide. The flats (and the lake in general) also turn on some good tailor fishing at times, so if you see commotion in the form of bait and/or birds, it’s worth throwing on a small metal slug for a few exploratory casts.

On a hot summer’s day, you might need to find deeper water to find the fish

Boat fishing locations are numerous and diverse. Depending on what you want to target, the most consistent spots are the telephone poles, north of Merriman’s Island, Fisherman’s Bay, the mouths of Narira and Dignam’s creeks, the deep hole out the front of the Island and a whole host of other areas. Like any system, moving around frequently will help to build the picture of what is biting and why.

A nice tailor caught in a main channel. Often tailor will form big schools associated with tidal movement.

Bermagui River

We’ve written a bit about the Bermagui River here. It’s a lovely little system with clean water, diverse fishing options and a variety of species. It can be difficult to fish at times as the water is usually super clear. It can also be challenging when the water is cold, but don’t let this put you off. You will just need to modify your fishing a little to target species that don’t mind the cold, or time your outings to maximise the chances of finding some warmer water (e.g. outgoing tide in the afternoon).

The bridge at Bermagui. Below the bridge are some good flats, breakwalls and other structure. Above the bridge is where the ‘river’ starts, before opening into a series of larger basins in the upper reaches

Wapengo

Wapengo is a quaint little system that is somewhat off the beaten track as far as south coast estuaries go. Access is very limited, but wading the flats around the only boat ramp near the oyster racks can be a lot of fun and quite productive at times. A boat or kayak will open up a lot more options. Wapengo seems to shut down a lot when the water is cold, so bear this in mind when fishing the cooler months or if a cold current is licking the coast. It produces lovely bream and flathead fishing at times, and everything here just seems ‘clean’ and pristine. It’s a magic little system, perhaps partly due to the fact that much of the catchment is forested. The Wapengo oyster farmers claim to grow some of the best oysters on the south coast, and for good reason. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wapengo without crystal clear water; while a blessing for the delicious oysters, this can make fishing difficult at times.

Tathra/Mogareeka (Bega River)

The Bega River at Tathra opens up into an inlet known as Mogareeka. It’s another recreational fishing haven and seems to be going from strength to strength. In fact, it’s probably one of the south coast’s ‘best kept secrets’ as far as fishing is concerned. It produces excellent bream and flathead fishing, but the locals know that it’s a great mulloway and estuary perch fishery. Some aren’t afraid to show it too, with mulloway skulls being placed along the banks near the bridge as a mark of pride and to annoy the local greenies.

The wonders of the east Australian current – this mud crab was plucked confidently out of Mogareeka by Hamish, affectionately named ‘Carmel’, and then eaten.

Tathra Wharf

Tathra wharf is where I spent much of my childhood learning how to catch fish. I was lucky to have a close friend named Billy, who’s mum was a Singaporean Australian. Kay Chi was her name, and along with Hamish’s dad Julian (and a little tuition from my own parents), instilled in me my love of fishing. Kay Chi was a phenomenally good fisherwoman, who clearly understood the principles of matching the hatch and using gear suited to the fish she was trying to catch. We spent hours on that wharf catching slimy mackerel, yellowtail (yakkas), trevally and salmon, and they were always transformed into something completely delicious.

Merimbula

Despite the madness that is Merimbula in summer, the local lake, beaches and wharf turn on some great fishing at times. The top lake is where much of the dedicated rec fishing takes place, and like most systems, will turn on good flathead, bream, tailor and trevally fishing reasonably consistently. The bridge is frequented by locals, particularly at night, and for good reason. It funnels a large amount of water through a small spot – a classic place for predators to ambush prey.

The lower basin is fun but can be challenging at times due to access, time of year, other water users, etc. Whiting and flathead are the main targets. Fishpen is a lovely little spot near the mouth where bait fishing with kids is a great option.

The Merimbula wharf is also challenging at times but provides good fishing for squid, salmon and tailor. Occasionally, kingfish turn up and hang around, and are usually targeted on live baits under balloons or floats or large surface lures early or late in the day.

Graz with a nice Merimbula flattie

Pambula

Despite being born here, I know very little about the fishing on offer. The Pambula mouth and estuary are the main ‘bread and butter’ fishing options. The mouth is a tough little fishery – it can turn on some great fishing in the deep holes and flats, but often has a raging current that can make fishing difficult at times. The lake is best accessed by a boat.

Eden

Eden is a magic place with plenty of fishing options. The estuary here is small but can turn on some good fishing at times, particularly for mullet and whiting in the warmer months. Urban myth suggests there are also some good bream in this little system, but I don’t want to give too much away! Most of the fishing in and around Eden happens in Twofold Bay. There is access at North Head (rock fishing, and can be a challenging and at times, dangerous spot), the local beaches, and the Navy Wharf. There are also some estuary/rivers running into Twofold Bay that are worth a go, with Kiah probably the pick.

Kiah Inlet

Wonboyn

God’s country. This small estuary near the Victorian border is arguably the most isolated town on the whole NSW coast. 7 hours drive from both Sydney and Melbourne it is a throwback to a time gone by where sleepy little towns dotted the whole coast line. In recent years the road has been paved and mobile phone coverage has improved (from zero!).

Graz with a nice Wonboyn flattie

Mallacoota

Cheating again, technically Malacoota is in Victoria, but its close enough. It is included because it is gods country, just bigger. The truth is, Mallacoota is a massive system that you could write a book about. All the bread and butter estuary species are on offer and all of the go to techniques will work somewhere in the system. It is best known as one of the countries best bream fisheries, but it also holds plenty of average flatties, some big flatties, the odd jewfish and a healthy population of EPs in the upper reaches. It truly is a far south coast gem.

Conclusion

We hope that has given a few ideas for spots to try. Like we said at the start, a post like this is never comprehensive, and never finished. There are so many little lakes, rivers, bays, rockbars, flats, channels etc. etc. and so on, that it would never be possible to write the ‘bible’ on south coast fishing spots. The last word is that we hope you enjoy it as much as we do. We are so, so lucky to live in such an amazing place. Enjoy it, respect it, and look after it.

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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