Early last week I made a quick decision to head down to Merimbula on the Sapphire Coast of NSW. With some nasty weather looming mid week, I was itching to wet a line before the opportunity disappeared. Merimbula lake was a spontaneous decision, inspired by its reputation for better than average flathead, big Luderick and hard-fighting Trevally. There is no longer any commercial fishing to worry about either. I’ve only fished this system twice before, and only once from a kayak, so I was pretty excited what I might find when I got there. I also love the challenge of fishing a new system and trying to unlock its unique secrets.
Exploring a new system
I launched the kayak loaded up with an array of soft plastic and hard-bodied lures and two rods. A general purpose light estuary rod (Bream stick) and a slightly heavier rod, pre-rigged with a big plastic (100mm+) just in case some big arcs appeared on the sounder 🙂
The tide was coming in, so rather than fight it, I let it carry me down the main channel. As I drifted along, the shallow water was crystal clear and full of life with schools of various different fish passing underneath the boat. I made a mental note to try and fish here … once the tide slowed a bit.
Merimbula lake is relatively small by NSW south coast standards. It has vast shallow flats which are used for oyster farming, a channel which runs through the middle of the flats and a big basin out the back. As I drifted along I could see Mullet, whiting and other small fish taking refuge in amongst the oyster racks and weed beds. The water kept pushing in with the tide and I was quickly making my way to the main basin. Before long I reached the edge of flats where the channel spills out into the ‘top lake’. Here the water depth drops from 1 metre, down to 3 or 4 metres. This drop-off seemed like a good place to cast a few soft plastics.
On only the second or third cast I felt that tell-tale <thud> as a flathead grabs a plastic on the drop. I struck and quickly realised this fish had some weight to it
Vzzzzzz vzzzzzzz vzzzzzz two or three solid runs pulled line off the reel. This has to be the best sound in fishing! With the rod doubled over, the noise also succeeded in getting the attention of one of the nearby boats.
“You got one mate?”
Vzzzzzzzz – another run
“What did ya hook it on? Worms?”
“Soft plastics? really? do you those things work?”
I was actually a bit lost for words. It didn’t seem that long ago, maybe 4 or 5 years, that I thought soft plastics were just toys for the pros. It was shortly after that Lee and Hamish introduced me to them. Since then, I’d confidently say its been 4 or 5 years since I’ve bought a packet of frozen bait.
“sure they work pretty good”
After a couple of minutes this beaut flathead was in the net, well two thirds of her, it’s only a small net. The lure? A 70mm squidgy fish on a 1/6 Oz jig head. I was stoked! First fish of the day and it was definitely a better than average flattie. But I had a taste for more. Between the fight and the time taken to unhook the lure, I had drifted away from the edge of the flats. I raced back to where I had been and started casting again.
Within a couple of minutes I had another nice flathead, albeit a little smaller than the first. The technique seemed to be working well. I was casting a plastic to the edge of the weeds in a metre of water and then hopping the lure down into the deeper water below. Sounds simple enough? But the wind was picking up from the north-east and blowing straight into my face. The incoming tide was also pushing me away from where I wanted to be. Some serious kayak maneuvering was required with constant adjustments to the steering and just enough propulsion with the pedals to hold position. This was vital IMO so I could keep in contact with the lure, and more importantly, ensure the lure was hitting the bottom. Without the pedal system, or an electric motor, it would have been really hard to fish this edge effectively. As I started to catch a few more, the nearby boats seemed to be steadily parking closer and closer. It was becoming clear that baits weren’t as effective as targeted lures on this day.
Over two sessions, about a dozen flathead made it to the boat with most success coming on an in-coming tide. With the exception of a beauty (60cm+) that followed a blade in the channel, they were all caught on the edge of the flats. Inspired by our time on the Daly River in the NT, I’ve coined this term “run-off flathead” . If you’ve spent some time fishing the run-off, you’ll know what I mean. You concentrate nearly all of your fishing time and effort where vast volumes of water drain off weed beds or floodplains, often along the exit of a creek. As the water pours off, small fish and prawns are carried along before being dumped into slower-moving deeper water where big predatory fish (Barra in this example) sit and collect their prize.
While the environment, tides and flow aren’t as dramatic on the south coast of NSW, the theory I’m finding, is the same. My best guess for Merimbula; as the tide comes in, the flats which are nearly dry at low tide fill up with water. Small fish and prawns take refuge in the weeds. A percentage accidentally swim out and others must succumb to the endless surge of water and get pushed out into the deeper water. The flathead are onto this and sit facing the weeds with a keen eye on anything that moves.
When the tide slackened and the flathead bite slowed I returned to the channel. At low tide early one morning I hooked what I assumed was a trevally, or possibly a bream, under the bridge on a blade. Whatever it was, it pulled hard and wrapped me up in some weed just long enough to get off. It may have been a ambitious Luderick – there were some good blackfish holding around the pylons and under the boat. As a vegetarian fish, this would have been a surprise catch as they are usually the domain of bait fisherman or the odd fly fisherman (Lee? Mish?).
In the shallower sections of the channel I experimented with poppers and surface lures. After some trial and error I finally managed to hook a vividly-coloured Trevally on a Squidgy bug on a suspending resin jig head. This combination of small plastic and light head worked well as it could be twitched and rolled above the weeds in only a metre of water.
The surface lures would have to wait however. The weather arrived shortly after with plenty of wind and rain. The paddle, well peddle, back to the ramp against the wind and the tide had my thighs burning! Nevertheless I’m looking forward to giving Merimbula some more attention soon (particularly the tide chart to save my legs!). It lived up to its reputation for better than average flathead – the first half a dozen were all in the 45-65cms bracket – some big Luderick swimming around and of course Trevally. In case I needed an excuse for a return trip, the promise of catching “Trevors” more consistently on lures would do just nicely, they are great fun. Until then, it might be back to the odd magazine or DVD, some more “research” is required.