One of the most surprising things I have noticed during a number of recent speaking seminars when I have asked people in the crowd “what are you fishing for” – the answer is most often “whatever gets on the end “!
In my mind that is nearly as bad as saying “fish are a bonus” – which I suggest should only ever be used upon returning home after catching nothing …
If you really want to improve your results I will suggest that you need to start targeting whatever you want to catch. Sure you’ll get some “by-catch” at times and that will be your bonus!
I’ll start with a handful of our most accessible and popular “bread & butter” species when fishing for beginners.
Flathead provide both great sport and a tasty feed. Firstly you need to work out where to fish for one as they can be found from the top reaches of large estuaries to our ocean beaches & even offshore depending on the species. I’ll focus on the dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus) and we’ll work on fishing estuaries because a lot of us live & holiday on the shores of large estuaries and tidal lakes. Flathead are predominantly an ambush feeder so we need to look for areas that will concentrate fish numbers using the tide.
I focus my flathead fishing in areas where you have large sand or mud flats that drain on a falling tide into gutters. You can use great tools like “Google Earth” to identify these areas on your computer and even your phone out on the water where ever you have coverage. Companies like Navionics have detailed mapping charts & apps for smart phones that can also be used. Fish like bream, whiting & flathead will go right back into the mangroves on the top of the tide where they use the cover to ambush their prey. Fishing the edges of the mangroves can be productive during the first stage of the run out as those fish are forced out of the mangroves with the falling tide.
Your next fall back position should be the drains leading off the flats back to the main channel towards the bottom of the tide with the last few hours of the run out being the pick. Everything that has been feeding up into the mangroves and across the flats during the top of the tide is now forced off those flats with the falling water. Perfect spots are those where you have running water channelling off a flat into a deep channel.
Always be on the lookout for signs like nervous baitfish and mullet showering. Feeding pelicans are another indicator to keep an eye out for and mean that there’s baitfish being concentrated in that area. I used to think that the pelicans would scare any other fish from the area but I have now caught flathead and jewfish directly under and around feeding pelicans.
I use balanced 3 -6 kg spin combo with a medium to fast tapered 7ft rod and 2500/3500 size reel. Use a braided main line around 15-20lbs with a 10kg fluorocarbon leader when targeting flathead as they do have a raspy mouth.
A standard running sinker rig is fine if you’re using fresh bait like live prawns or mullet. Although I actually believe lures can be even more effective with my go-to flathead lures being the Squidgy Fish in the 70mm & 100mm sizes in black & gold & silver fox colours. You match these with a suitable jig head depending on the water depth and current between 5gm & 9gms as a guide. The pre-rigged Mongrels & Ridge Backs also take the guess work out of getting started with these fantastic lures.
These same areas will also provide some great fishing for other species like whiting and bream both black & yellowfin (Acanthopagrus australis & Acanthopagrus butcheri.). Favourite baits for these include nippers/yabby’s or blood/squirt worms fished on suitable hooks with a running sinker.
My favourite lures for these two species are Squidgy Wrigglers in the 80mm & 100mm sizes and the New Pro-Prawn range in a colour to match the most common food items in the area. Fish these on a light jig heads from.05gms to 3grams depending on water depth & current again – always fish as light as possible. You will again come across plenty of flathead using these lures in the same areas – just go light on them and you will be surprised at the size of the althea that can be landed on these smaller lures and light leaders.
You can also have some great visual fishing using small poppers and stick or pencil style lures. The key being to keep them moving all of the time and don’t strike when you see or feel a strike – keep working the lure until your rod loads up.
Bream and whiting will generally fish best on the first few hours of the run in tide as the water pushes up onto the flats allowing them to get up and forage for worms, nippers, crabs etc. until they disperse across the flat and into the mangroves. The first hour or so of the run out can also be good along the face of the mangroves or rocky areas.
A light 7ft spin combo is ideal for the bream & whiting again matched with 1000 - 2500 size reel and 2kg-4kgs braid with a 6 – 8 lb fluorocarbon leader as you do not have to worry about teeth. Fishing straight through 1kg or 2lb fluorocarbon can also be deadly and you will be surprised at how hard you can actually pull on it! Long wind assisted casts work best when fishing this skinny water on a rising tide over the flats so work on getting any breeze available to your back.
So the next time you’re thinking about wetting a line give some thought as to what you would like to catch, do a little research on your area and the tides. Work out what time of the year is best for the particular species and what does it like to eat in general. Then target the best areas at the optimum time with the right tackle. You never know – fish may just become a regular bonus!