The often tranquil and semi-protected waters of our estuaries are home to a high profile spread of lure eating targets, and when combined with often easy access to these areas, it really does make them a sportfishing playground from every angle!
Getting started with lures in estuaries for our favourite fish shouldn't be an intimidating exercise. While it's easy for first timers to get lost in the almost overwhelming amount of tackle aimed at this fishing, truth be told, the core gear needed for success isn't that extensive. Also pleasing is the fact that locating quality fish in an estuary, and working your lures effectively for them, needn't be a hair-pulling exercise either.
So let's look at how best to get a foot in the door with this estuary luring game, and importantly how to start decking some meaty slabs on your fake offerings in these Aussie-favourite locations!
Bream are probably the most popular estuary fish in the country, at least in terms of the sheer volume of anglers that chase them, with lures now a well recognised way to have consistent results on these prolific and opportunistic feeders.
Black, yellowfin, and to a lesser degree, pikey bream, are all hot lure propositions that readily inhabit a range of areas in your typical estuary. Rockbars, lay-down timber snags, mangroves, shaded areas under overhanging trees, holes, edges, undercut banks and weedbeds constitute a bulk of the features in a more natural estuary settings. However in ‘developed’ waterways you can add in floating pontoons, bridges, jetties, rock walls, sunken structures, boat moorings, sandy flats and much more.
Boat, kayak or land-based, you're in the game when throwing lures for bream. Being prodigious edge and near-shore feeders, bank efforts put you right in the thick of the action, while a craft of some description will also have you in a prime position to attack structure with the key being to fish lures as tight to the structure as possible for best results.
With bream lures there's so much artificial ammo aimed at these fish you could be forgiven for taken the kitchen sink with you each session! When you cut through the jungle of options however there are standout traits to be looking for. Smaller is often the way to go with hard-bodies, and suspending 4-6cm options are heavily used, while you can go slightly larger when picking a surface lure for the flats if required, although the general thinking is smaller is better.
With ‘hards’ make sure your hooks are in good shape and sticky sharp if you want to pin a blue-lipped monster, and try to bring a mix of natural and brighter colour options to cover bases. Fished with a slow stop-start retrieve, vary the length of pauses until you crack the bite code for the day. The beauty of hard-bodies is the bream essentially hook themselves with their crunching, no-nonsense attacks
Soft plastics are probably the ultimate go-to option for first time bream anglers. Options such as Squidgy Wrigglers or Bio Tough Grub patterns are dependable workhorses and are far less agonising to lose dollar wise compared to a hard-body, making them ideal for fearless casting at nasty structures. But they work anywhere and just seem to get eaten! Begin with a 65-100mm soft plastic, fished with say a size #2-6 jighead in the 1-2 gram range as a basic starting point for shallower waters. From here the sky is the limit, as you fine-tune your fishing and may want to experiment with weedless rigging etc, but for the most part a well fished grub or curl tail pattern will catch you a bunch of fish!
The ghost of the estuary, the mighty mulloway or jewie, is one of the most prized lure captures in the southern half of the country. Part of the joy of jewies on lures is that it's mostly carried out during daylight hours, or at least when there's some daylight present.
This said, fakes can still be fished well into darkness, with both soft and hard options getting crunched at anytime of the day or night.
Jewies are a fish that don't like to work overly hard for their next meal and will position themselves in areas where there's an easy food supply on offer, and usually some break in the current that also helps to conserve energy. This could be a hole, near drop-offs, around rock walls, bridges, submerged rock and other significant structure. Also being a predatory fish, any areas where there's concentrations of baitfish could well see these fish lurking around, even in quite shallow water in low light conditions. Peak feeding times in many estuaries are considered to be during low light, or around tide changes when the water flow backs off, but modern boat electronics are making it more than possible to locate and catch fish at any time of the day.
Blades, plastics and hard-bodied divers can all be used for these. Generally vibes work better in deeper areas, bibbed minnows are preferred in shallower parts, and soft plastics are a great all-rounder for most water depths.
A range Squidgie soft plastics will get you hooked-up on a silver slab. Generally when targeting smaller sized jewies, say up to a metre or so, lures around the 80-120mm size are preferred. If you're genuine trophy fishing then sticking with 120-170mm plastics will see you presenting a larger profile for the better fish, albeit the smaller jewies will still smash them! Jighead selection is a crucial piece to the jew puzzle, and the Weapon jighead you select should be based on depth, current conditions and the size of the lure used. Ideally you don't want an overly quick sink rate on your softie, but you do want to be able to keep in touch with the bottom. Slow retrieves that 'hop' your soft plastic over the bottom work well.
With diving minnows, generally 10cm plus suspending lures are standouts for these fish which aren't afraid to tackle a larger lure. Try and emulate the local bait with size and colour for a safe option you can back to get eaten, with again a twitch and stop retrieve best to tempt them.
Sand and yellowfin whiting are high profile lure eaters in the estuary. These fish have now become mainstream lure targets and are simply a hoot to catch on small topwater lures, tiny plastics and even little vibes and various other finesse presentations.
Whiting can often be found in schools snooping around tidal fringes and flats of estuaries. Often pushing to the margins on the high tide and retreating to holes and channels when the water recedes, it becomes important to tune into where they like to feed/hold at various stages of the tide. Fishing in drains, channels, or around subtle structures in shallower water such as weed beds, depressions and low rocks, will often see you encounter these fish.
Small poppers (like the Brenious Risepop) and stickbaits fitted with stinger hooks are deadly on shallow water whiting. Small soft plastics such as Squidgy Bio Tough Crawlers and Grubs worked slowly along the bottom will also be inhaled by these aggressive fish. Keep your hook size appropriate for their tiny mouths, around #4-6, and jighead weight as light as you can. With all whiting lures use a decent length of 2-3kg Ocea Fluorocarbon to provide a stealthy presentation.
Flathead are a perennial estuary lure favourite, often tackling a range of hard and soft presentations with fearless aggression.
Estuary hot spots for these fish can range from drains, flats, rock walls, through to river mouths, channel edges and much more. Key characteristics of a likely lure area for flathead are plenty of food and good ambush points for this camouflaged assassin. Much like whiting and other notorious shallow water feeders, knowing where to be flicking at different stages of the tide is critical for these fish.
Soft plastics in the 70-120mm range are a safe starting point. Squidgie Bio Tough have you covered, with Fish and Wriggler two particularly deadly options in the range. The Squidgy Pro Prawn and Pro Fish are two other potent plastics that mimic likely flattie food in the estuary. Flathead have big mouths and relentlessly headshake when hooked, so select a quality jighead that wont bend and has enough hook gape to get a secure initial hook-up. Keep jighead weights down, as you can be fishing is super shallow water, and you want to maximise time in the strike zone where possible. Slower sink rates can also mean less snags. 1/8 and 1/6 weight heads are great for shallower areas, and you can step this up in more tidal or deeper parts as required, with a 1/0 to 3/0 hook size suitable.
Estuaries are home to a range of lure eaters, many of which haven't been covered here. From barra, jacks and queenies, through to tailor, salmon, trevally and much more they are truly a species rich environment that you can easily spend a lifetime flicking lures in. Good luck!