Skinny Water Popping

Skinny Water Popping


Skinny Water Popping

By Brett Mensforth

I have an obsession with lure fishing and it often gets the better of me, both financially and in terms of success. Financially it cripples my bank account, and it can definitely mean less fish than if I was using bait. However, the average size of Yellowfin whiting on lures as opposed to bait is what I thrive on. What I’ll explain to you over the next few paragraphs might help you understand why I don’t mind having this form of ‘addiction’.

I’ve always been a lover of summer, as most people are, and as the inshore waters begin to warm, the Yellowfin whiting start to accumulate in numbers here in South Australia. The fish caught throughout summer are often full of eggs, or roe, which obviously suggests that they’re spawning or preparing to. The larger fish in SA are often female and grow to around 45cm in length, while the males often only measure up to 35cm or so. They are generally known to be bottom feeders, but as I’ve learnt over the years, they certainly won’t shy away from having a crack at a surface lure that’s fleeting by like a nervous shrimp or prawn.

Surface lures have been around for quite a few years now. My obsession started through watching and reading lots of articles and fishing DVD’s put together by Steve Starling and Kaj ‘Bushy’ Busch. These two were lure fanatics and they were damn good at it! Soft plastics, hard bodies, surface lures ­– you name it and they were onto it. There’s no doubt that the Eastern states have a lot more going for them than South Oz when it comes to surface lures in shallow and inshore waterways, and I envy this at times. However, we definitely have our moments and the code is becoming a little easier to work out with each whiting mission.

A couple of hours’ drive out of Adelaide sees a vast amount of coastline on Yorke Peninsula suitable for Yellowfin whiting. I normally grab a rod, a backpack full of lures, leader and sunscreen and head off straight after work on most Friday summer afternoons. Fortunately, we have a family shack on Yorke Peninsula, which is really convenient and close to a lot of the whiting grounds I fish.

Incoming tides, light winds and sunshine are certainly the key ingredients for a successful day out walking the flats. I’ve had a lot less success in overcast conditions and strong winds just don’t work with light tackle and surface lures.

Stiffy poppers have become the ‘go-to’ lure for me. I’ve caught hundreds of fish on them and I find it hard to stray from something that works so well. Bushy used to stress to me to keep the leader relatively short when targeting whiting. 10-12lb is much more suitable than 6lb or lighter. I guess the leader doesn’t spend a lot of time in the water when surface fishing, so this makes sense. 5–10lb braid is best suited for casting light lures and a simple back-to-back uni knot for leader to main line is fine. The knot rarely comes through the guides anyway, so keeping things slim is hardly an issue. Connecting the lure to your leader should be via a clinch or blood knot hard up to the lure’s face, as you want the lure to track straight without deviating from its intended course.

The run in tide has been much more successful for me than a run out. This isn’t simply because I spend most of my time fishing the run in. I like to fish the entire day if I can. It’s amazing what you can come across when you follow the tide in and out. This allows you to get a really good idea on the type of bottom that you’re fishing over once the water comes back up. Researching your intended destination is pretty simple; you just have to put in the hours and hunt what you think would be a likely area for Yellowfin. Wormholes, yabby holes, patchy sand, weed and rocky areas are always worth a look.

The method for popping lures is relatively simple. A constant stab of the rod tip with a continual slow to medium paced retrieve will get the attention of any hungry whiting, and when they home in on the lure, it’s a pretty awesome thing to watch. They change colour when they’re in the mood to hunt the surface and will often have several attempts at eating the lure if the first crunch is unsuccessful.

When you see the fish charging after your lure, don’t stop the retrieve method you are using. Pausing the lure or slowing down often leads to disinterest from the fish and you scratching your head, wondering why you didn’t get a bite. If every cast has a fish chasing your lure, but you don’t get a hit, then perhaps slow the retrieve down a touch. The lure best resembles a fleeting prawn or a shrimp so try and think like one, as weird as that sounds, and you’ll become much more confident in your retrieve.

I had a recent session where almost every cast produced a hook up, and all of the fish were thumpers. I lost quite a few whiting when I began using surface lures, but I soon learnt that larger trebles and stiffer rods were the main reason behind this. Now I use a 2-4kg Shimano T-Curve TK3G rod with a 1000FG Sustain on it, which is perfectly suited for casting light lures and hooking finicky whiting. It doesn’t hurt to downsize the rear treble on the stiffy poppers as well; in fact, I’d say it helps with staying connected to the fish, as Yellowfin do have pretty small mouths. The 2-4kg T-Curve is whippy enough to cast the poppers a mile and it’s sensitive enough to allow the hooks to stay in the fish once they hit the lure. Make sure that you set your drag relatively light – not too light that you can’t stick the hook, but light enough for the fish to run when it wants to.

In three years of solid surface lure fishing for Yellowfin I can honestly say, by documenting lengths, that the average size of the fish I catch has improved massively. On bait the average size was between 30-32cm and on lures that average size has increased to a whopping 38-39cm. This is the main reason that I am obsessed with lure fishing for Yellowfin whiting. At 38cm and up they provide a fantastic meal and great light tackle sport. Fish of over 40cm often go for a couple of decent runs before being able to be led to the net.

To date my PB Yellowfin whiting stands at 44cm, and while I’m super happy with that, I have no doubt that it will be broken in the near future. Next time you head out to buy a packet of prawns or dig some worms for Yellowfin, stop by your local tackle store and grab some surface lures as well. I promise that you won’t look back.

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The T-Curve and Sustain combo is perfectly suited to throwing poppers around the shallows

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At a tick under 44cm this yellowfin provided some superb fillets

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44cm of chunky yellowfin whiting, they go like a cut snake at this size

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The Stiffy Popper is dynamite on yellowfin but also goes well on other species like flathead and salmon