Nostalgia is a wonderful thing isn’t it? It was while looking back through the images and articles of 2014 for this weeks newspaper column that I realised just how much fun we’ve had this year fishing the estuaries. They never cease to amaze for the quality and diversity of fish on offer. As a young fella starting to learn about fishing I always assumed estuaries were just a breeding ground for small fish which then grew up and ‘moved out of home’ into the big blue ocean. And while this is true for some species, how wrong I was overall. The following year in review highlights that there are plenty of big resident fish that call the estuaries home.
So here is snapshot of the best fish from the estuaries from the last 12 months. I hope there are a couple of little gems of advice or inspiration in the following to see you on the water in 2015. Of course the great thing about the estuaries is that they are easy to access on foot, by boat or kayak, are really safe for kids and can be fished in any weather.
Where would we be without the humble flathead? Incredibly good to eat, as smart as a loaf of bread, willing to attack anything that moves and growing to more than a metre long. The two biggest fish of the year both fell to friends of the blog, Liam and Stu. Liam’s 92cm fish on a popper from Lake Conjola was caught during a huge flood that ended with the local council opening the sand bar mechanically to let the water out. What ensued was arguably the best estuary session of the year and is a reminder of the value of being in the right place at the right time. The full story is here.
In one of the more amusing captures of a big fish, Stu and his girlfriend Claire were kayaking in Tuross lake trolling a bibbed minnow behind the boat. An 84cm flathead took a fancy to the lure and then towed them around for a couple of minutes. They managed to net the fish, well the front half of it at least, and guide it into the shallows. Two people and a tenuously-netted monster flathead in a single-person kayak would have been quite a sight. Still, it is a good reminder of the number of good fish that can be caught on the troll – a great way of covering some water, especially in a stealthy kayak. Full story is here.
For me personally it hasn’t been a good year with the big girls. I lost one in the 80-100cm bracket after being chewed off on 10lb leader (here). It was disappointing to say the least after everything else was seemingly going according to plan. The tide was dropping out into a big hole and the sun was getting low – conditions were perfect. I lost a second big fish which was ‘by-catch’ whilst flicking tiny plastics at oyster leases for bream. After two full circuits around the boat the hook came out. My guess is that it didn’t go in past the barb – a big hard mouth and 4lb line are a difficult combination to set the hook. Still I guess the important thing is to learn something from these experiences. I’ll use 15lb leader when chasing big fish and continue my new philosophy of only fishing barbless hooks in 2015. On the bucket list for this year is to make amends and hopefully catch (and release) a fish over 80cm.
Still it wasn’t all bad news for F&F bloggers, Lee’s never-sit-still attitude was rewarded with this handsome 68cm fish from the Clyde river on a soft plastic.
For a long time whiting weren’t really considered a sports fish. They were something you caught on fresh baits and long whippy rods with light line. How things have changed. Whiting are now readily catchable on lures. One of the most exciting and visual ways is using poppers, such as the transparent Gomoku models. Work them quickly over sandy flats or where there are nipper holes or broken weed beds. The fleeing prawn action can generate some acrobatic surface strikes at times. There have been a couple of sessions of up to a dozen fish, but more common is 2 to 5 fish. If 2015 is the year that you plan to give surface luring go, it comes with a caveat. Once you start fishing surface lures it can be difficult to stop. This affliction was never more obvious than the last trip to Wonboyn Lake.
Whiting will take other lures as well, including bibbed minnows and small soft plastics. This cracking 43cm whiting was taken by Claire on the troll with a small bibbed lure. Full story is here. Whiting have a firm white flesh which isn’t quite as sweet as flathead in my opinion, but still very nice eating.
From weekend warrior to tournament pro, bream remained the most challenging and fun fish to catch along the coast. At the Tuross flathead and bream competition for example, only one in five anglers managed to record a legal-sized bream. There is a nice little write-up of last year’s comp here. Sometimes the perfect cast, with a perfectly weighted lure, tied to a light line, into snaggy and unforgiving environments is what it takes to catch one of these great sport fish. After an hour of coming up tight on the timber, or getting half-hearted bites, to finally land a 30cm+ fish can make a grown man yell with joy.
Kayak fisherman might enjoy exploring Lake Meroo as I did, despite the flooding rains. There were some beautiful bream in this forgotten corner of the coast and best of all – no wake boats!
My personal estuary highlight from 2014 was without doubt catching and releasing a mulloway after many, many attempts. Ironically it was caught on the ‘last cast’ of the day while trying for a flathead to take home to my partner for dinner. Good fishing karma I suppose? The handsome and striking 70cm fish was caught on a small soft plastic (70mm) in only three metres of water, not the typical spot for mulloway. Through the power of social media however, it is quite possible that the fish was a resident of that spot, holding up behind a fallen log – other people have seen it there before. It swam off in great condition, so it might be back behind that same log right now… The full story appears in the Narooma times here. This fish was also the catalyst for me to go to barbless hooks – I’m sold! Here’s why.
Estuary perch can be a welcome by-catch while fishing for bream and flathead. My highlight for the year was catching a beautiful 40cm EP on a popper around an oyster lease. Unfortunately I was in the kayak and in an attempt to juggle the fish, the net and the camera, I dropped the fish into the water – not my finest moment!
But to target EP specifically means racing up into upper reaches of the rivers and estuaries. Once you’re there rock walls and fallen trees are a good place to start. A sounder can be a huge help when the fish are piled up on top of each other, as they were on this memorable session towards the end of last year. I’m convinced that with each fish caught and released back into the school they get harder and harder to catch, so once you’ve caught a few, it’s generally time to move on.
If I had to sum up those other things you see on the water into a couple of highlights, there would be two. The first, and possibly coolest thing I’ve seen with fins, was this porcupine fish that Lee and I caught at Wallaga lake. Watching it inflate and fill up the whole net over the course of 20 seconds was quite amazing. Evolution has taken some weird and wonderful turns. We popped it back in the water, where it floated upside down for the next couple of minutes, before it deflated, righted itself and promptly swam away. If I were an eagle, there is no way I would be eating that!
Speaking of eagles, the Attenborough award goes to Wagonga inlet. After a cormorant fished out a pan-sized flathead from the shallows it was promptly stolen by a nearby eagle who was being shadowed by a whistling kite. When the hunter becomes the hunted story is here.
These are just a few snapshots of 2014. With a little luck there will be bigger and better things to come in 2015. As a lure junkie I’m pretty excited by a couple of innovative new lures on the market such as the Storm Stilleto. Their ‘heads down-bums up’ action should result in a lot of hook ups, particularly timid fish. Watch this space for the first test fish. Until then, happy new year and happy fishing!
Graham ‘Graz’ Fifield
An abridged version of this article appeared in the Canberra Times on the 11th of January, syndicated in the Narooma times.
Disclaimer: Rapala VMC generously provides a handful of free gear in exchange for exposure of their products. I receive no financial gain and won’t mention any products that I feel aren’t well suited to our local fisheries or don’t catch fish.