Shallow thinking scores fish
  |  First Published: November 2008

Now that we’ve reached the warmer months, it’s time to grab a light flick stick, a few lures and head down to your local river, lake or bay to enjoy some shallow-water fun.

Bream, whiting and flathead are the target species but that doesn’t mean that others like flounder, trevally and long toms won’t also get in on the act.

Last summer was a ripper for fishing the shallows here on the Central Coast, with Brisbane Water, Tuggerah Lakes and Lake Macquarie all producing the goods. In fact, from all reports it was a top season right along the NSW coastline.

So with a bit of luck there’s a fair chance this season will be just as good or better.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to extract a few fish from the shallows, let’s first explain exactly what sort of water depth and areas to look for.

From what I’ve seen, there’s almost no such thing as water too shallow. So a mere 15cm is actually enough for flathead and whiting to poke around in.

Bream will also venture into the extreme shallows at times, especially if food items like pink nippers, prawns or small baitfish are on offer. Generally, though, bream need at least 30cm to swim around in without their backs getting sunburnt.

Overall, anything from 2m or less would be considered shallow water but to get the best results it’s important to realise that water you may consider to be too shallow probably isn’t.

A sandy bottom tends to attract more fish than thick weed or solid rock, but large expanses of clear sand aren’t much good, either. What we’re looking for is a mix of sand with motley patches of weed.

Other features to keep an out for are broken oyster shells, holes inhabited by pink nippers, crabs or worms and perhaps some scattered rocks or dead timber. It can also be good to have some deeper water nearby so larger fish can swim back and forth with the tides or to escape the midday sunshine.

In a lot of the places I fish around the local lakes tides have very little, if any, effect. Here, fish are easier to catch early in the morning or later in the afternoon but in Brisbane Water and other tidal systems it’s important to keep an eye on the tide charts and fish the shallows as the tide is rising.

The higher the tide, the further over the shallow flats fish will penetrate. While it’s still possible to catch fish on a falling tide, it’s generally not as good.

At this time fish are thinking more about getting back into safe water rather than about eating.


A light threadline outfit is a good choice for casting lures over the shallows. A rod of about 2m with a small reel loaded with 3kg braid is right on the money.

Mono line will do the job but thin braid casts farther and is more sensitive so that you’ll feel the slightest bump from a fish – or when the lure picks up a strand of weed.

Long casts are important when fishing the shallows because fish in this environment are easily spooked. The ability to make a long cast means you don’t have to get too close to the fish.

It’s a good idea to carry a few different types of leader line. If the water is clear and you’re casting sinking or diving lures for bream and whiting, go for a light 2kg or 3kg fluorocarbon.

If flathead are more likely or the water is murky, try 4kg or 5kg fluorocarbon or mono.

When fishing surface lures like poppers, 3kg or 4kg mono is a good choice. I mainly use 4kg Sunline Technician for surface lures and 2kg or 3kg Sunline fluorocarbon for other small bream lures. If flathead are more likely, I swap to 4kg FC Rock fluorocarbon, which is very tough stuff.

There are tonnes of lures that will interest fish in the shallows but, realistically, there’s no need to bring along more than a dozen for a few hours of flicking.

I mainly cast poppers and stickbaits over shallow water, because they are highly effective, practical and entertaining to use. Of course, soft plastics, diving minnows and small metal blades will take fish in the shallows but these sinking types may cause some grief when fishing in areas with plenty of weed.


Bream are probably the most commonly encountered fish in the shallows through the warmer months and they are always fun to catch.

I much prefer an early start because bream are generally quite active just after sunrise and the wind normally doesn’t pick up until later in the morning.

Calm, glassy water is much more enjoyable to fish and it’s common to hear and see bream smashing into prawns early in the morning. A lure cast into such action nearly always scores a fish.

Afternoons are also productive but those north-east breezes usually put a bit of chop on the water. The fish are often easier to catch with a bit of movement in the water but, for me, the calm early morning period is more enjoyable to fish.

Poppers and stickbaits can be briskly skittled across the top, pausing the lure here and there along the way.

I’ve often been asked about what type of retrieve to use with surface lures for bream. Really, just about any sort of retrieve will work but two main points are to have confidence in what you’re doing and, when a bream hits, don’t try to strike until you feel the weight of the fish. Trying to time your strike will often just rip the lure away from the fish. If the hooks are sharp, bream tend to hook themselves.

There has been a lot of interest in metal blades for bream over the past six months. The good news is that blades will catch plenty of bream in the shallows. The bad news is that they’ll quickly foul up on weed.

So when using blades, simply cast over clear sandy areas, but not too far away from weed or other structure.


If you can catch bream on lures, you’ll also be able to catch whiting.

The main thing is to fish in areas where whiting are more common. That generally means silty or muddy sand and plenty of worm or pink nipper beds or areas where prawns are highly concentrated.

Such spots are often found closer to the mouth of an estuary, rather than the upper reaches, but that depends on exactly which waterway you’re fishing.

Whiting hit a wide variety of lure types, but some that I’ve had more success with are the Lucky Craft Sammy 65, Ecogear PX 45, Jazz 30mm Bokun and Berkley Gulp Worms. I’ve also noticed that a more constant retrieve seems to work better on whiting than a stop-start retrieve.


Although it’s been well publicised that flathead will hit surface lures, there’s no doubt that soft plastics are much more reliable if you really want to catch fish.

Metal blades and diving minnows are other options that will also take more flathead than surface lures.

If, however, you’re yet to catch a flattie on a surface lure and simply want to get one just for the fun of it, I would concentrate on seriously shallow, sub-30 cm water.

Although flathead can be caught just about anywhere, one key point is to look for areas with plenty of small mullet. Flathead will eat just about anything at all but they really love munching on a poddy or two. So if you see a patch of small mullet, fire out a few casts towards them.

Bream really love small metal blades. To enjoy catching fish on these lures, avoid areas of thick weed growth.

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