Estuary, Stuff we've learnt

Following the sushi train – finding flathead in NSW estuaries

One of the things I love about fishing with lures is the hunt. Trying to work out where the fish are going to be and why. Coastal lakes and rivers are big places and to cover them effectively with lures could take hours or even days. Throw in the variables of tides, cloud cover, recent rain, time of day and the possibilities of where the fish might be hiding are endless. That’s why it is so great to have an understanding of your target species and of the nature of water flow.

Take flathead as an example. Flathead are not torpedo shaped bullets of speed and stamina. They are a bizarre flat fish with eyes on the top of their head, that bury themselves in the sand lying in wait, with a huge mouth and an amazing burst of speed over 20 metres to swallow prey. To phrase that another way, they are lazy, but will get up off the couch to run to the curb if the ice cream truck slows down enough out front.

Hungry flathead

Once I started to think about predators as being lazy a few things started to click into place. Where are those parts of the estuary where the sushi train of bait flows through on the tide but then hits a pocket of slack water, or is forced up into a bank or ledge, or travels over some rough bottom such as weeds or rocks which breaks up the constant and relentless flow of water? These are the places that flathead will lie in wait, waiting for that moment to burst from the sand and grab a meal. In trying to think of an analogy, the best I can think of is a sushi train, where the little plates of delicious raw fish and wasabi whiz around on the train tracks, only to occasionally fall off the edge, pile up against the far wall, or get caught when there is a constriction on the train tracks. It’s much easier to grab a plate when it has stopped moving than chase the train around the room right? Confused? So am I. Let me know if you think of a better analogy.

So how do you find these collections of little green and blue plates (and the occasional sneaky $10 grey plate) of sushi? Google Earth, bathymetry and tide charts. It’s exciting (at least to me) to pour over aerial imagery and depth charts coming up with a plan of where to fish on the next trip or the next session. And that will likely differ if the tide is flowing in or out. Willy weather is a great tool for looking at tides.

Genesis Social Maps screenshot; the skinny channel bottom right is the main channel to the ocean. On an incoming tide where will the sushi train flow?

The immensely satisfying thing about making a plan of course, is when it pays off. While fishing Merimbula and Pambula lakes a few weeks ago, before all of this rain hit the south coast, the time spent on the couch scheming and plotting paid off. Not all our plans worked out, but even if 30% of your hair-brained ideas about where the fish will be are correct, you’re in for some good fishing. Often when you find one fish, there will be more. On this occasion Dad and I caught about 15 flatties over 3 sessions, with 5 over 60cm, including an amazing 89cm fish that had the heart racing.

The author feeling smug with an 89cm flathead caught in an area that looked good on the maps, where the bait is carried in on the tide over a steep drop off

So I hope this helps you in some way to find more fish. Having a semi fancy sounder with GPS and a subscription to a service like social maps helps (social maps is free btw), but even with your phone, looking at the lay of the land and some time of the water, you should be able to identify those likely ambush areas.

Fish on!

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