Lures or bait? The choice is as clear as mud

Anglers can be a funny lot. They can be very stubborn about what style of fishing they prefer and rarely give the others a go. I should know, I’m one of the stubborn ones. It has been years since I’ve used bait in salt water, and except for carp fishing with my niece and nephew (they were fishing, not the bait), in freshwater too for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against using bait, well apart from the smell, I just enjoy the challenge and the constant activity associated with casting lures. Often, when comparing notes at the boat ramp, I find that a day on the water with lures seems to be more productive than bait fishing. Or maybe I’m just biased. That said, I’m not too proud to admit there are times when fresh bait can be more productive and last weekend on the NSW south coast might have been one of those occasions.

"My very first soft plastic!"
“My very first soft plastic!”

Depending on which part of the NSW coast you were on, your local lake or river resembled a strong cup of tea last weekend, brewed with fresh water and brown with tannins and mud. The culprit was 100mm of rain that fell during the week roughly between Tuross and Merimbula and up into the mountain catchments.

What did this mean for the fishing? In short, the water was murky and the fishing was difficult. I suspect a lot of fish moved down towards the mouth and even out to sea. Working on the theory that saltwater is heavier than fresh, we plumbed the depths of the Tuross lake casting soft plastics into 5 to 10 metres of water. A quick squirt with a scent attractant, Stimulate, helped one or two nice sized flathead to find the lures, but it was slow fishing.  In fact it was so slow, that we started leaving the fishing rods in the house from time to time and resorting to scenic tours of the lake.

Excitement quickly turned to sleeping as the fish refused to bite
Excitement quickly turned to sleeping as the fish refused to bite

It was during one of these outings that we saw two gentlemen in their tinny. One of them looked like he might have been hooked up – to something big. We slowed and watched as the scene unfolded. After exchanging pleasantries, we found out the gentleman holding the rod was Ashley – the other, holding the net and camera phone, Guy. Was it a mulloway? A big flathead? Surely not a stingray!?

87cm of bait caught dusky flathead - Image kindly supplied by Guy
87cm of bait caught dusky flathead – Image kindly supplied by Guy

After a few minutes, it was a big flathead that surfaced next to their boat. But there was a problem, their net wasn’t nearly big enough. Purely by chance, or in case my two year old niece decided to take an unexpected swim, I had a big net in the boat. I offered it up and the gents gladly accepted. Fortunately, their boat was anchored, so the logistics of the net swap were fairly straight forward. Guy scooped up the fish and a couple of nearby boats applauded. It measured 87cms and an estimated 5kg. After a few happy snaps it was released to continue haunting the deep holes in the lake. Great effort lads! What lure was it caught on? It wasn’t – it took a live poddy mullet. Bait 1 : lures 0, although the gents did admit that the fishing had been very slow up until that moment.

IMG_1688-001 tuross mouth low tide dirty water
The mouth of Tuross lake at low tide 12th April – brown
IMG_1692 Tuross mouth high tide clean water
The mouth at high tide a few hours later – crystal clear!

So while both lure and bait fishing in the murky water after rain can be hard work, baits have the advantage of extra smell and allowing the fish find the food, rather than chase down a moving lure which is hard to see. I can recommend having a look at the mouth of the lake during low and high tides after big rain. The difference in water colour is amazing. Try fishing the incoming tide as the clean ocean water pushes the dirty water back into the lake for an hour or two. Or even better, try to find the point where the two meet, there are bound to be some predators hunting along the edges. Another option is to find one of the lakes with a smaller water catchment feeding into it – like Coila for example. From all reports it fished fine over the weekend. Or perhaps, it’s time to try using bait again … we’ll see, I’m still not convinced!

Graham Fifield


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