Doin’ it in the dirt
  |  First Published: December 2010

If you live on or visit the NSW Northern Rivers and don't like fishing in dirty, discoloured water then perhaps golf is the game for you!

It would be fair to say that over the past six or seven years, the Clarence and its northern neighbour, the Richmond, have been running coloured more months of the year than they are clear.

So you can stand around the counter of my shop and bemoan the fact or you can get out there and learn how to fight dirty.

Let me first clear up a couple of common misconceptions.

Unlike we humans who hunt down groceries off the shelves using our eyes, fish do not rely on eyesight solely to hunt prey. A fishes ‘ears’ and its lateral line are its most effective weapons for hunting down prey.

And fish do not hang around waiting for clear water before they will feed again!

In fact, fish see a fresh or small flood as a time of plenty. Mulloway, bream and others will often run upstream towards the fresh to take advantage of the food source being driven down-river – why wait at the bottom of the river for what has already been picked over?

A bunch of my local mates have been practising fighting dirty over the past few months and the results have been nothing short of astounding.


When a fresh comes down the Clarence it carries with it plenty of prawns and finding the prawns means locating the fish.

Fortunately this is usually not too tough because the gulls and terns wheeling and diving into the river are a dead-set giveaway.

Rocky Mouth at Maclean is where the South Arm rejoins the main river and a large coffee rock reef lies at its entrance. Because it’s on the outside of a bend, all the flow of the river is pushed over the reef.

On a run-out tide, water is pushed up from around 7m over the front edge of the reef into just over 1m of water.

The hapless prawns are forced up to the surface, where the hovering terns and gulls are waiting.

The prawns that manage to stay below the surface are preyed upon by bream, jacks, mulloway and flathead, and in times of a prolonged fresh (as we have at the moment) bass will even get in on the act.

Forget bait and soft plastics, though, unless you are partial to a feed of fork-tailed catties! The main weapons of choice here are hardbody lures and vibration blades.

Visibility is practically zero and these fish are relying solely on their lateral lines to hunt.

The poor old prawn was born with major flaws. Firstly, it just tastes so damn good and secondly, its sudden flicking motion underwater creates sound waves that are music to a fish’s lateral line!

The run-out tide accompanied by the fresh has the water belting out at a fair clip, so to cast your lures upstream and retrieve them with the tide is pointless; you will be winding like a madman and still your lure won't be imparting any vibration. To borrow a fly-fishing term, down and across is the way to approach them.

We cast our lures straight across the current and wind them down. As they swing in behind the boat, the action will tighten and often the fish will strike then, when the vibrations are at their strongest.

This not by any means an isolated thing. I guarantee that if you search your local waterway, similar opportunities exist.


I used to be a firm believer that the water needed a certain amount of clarity to make it a worthwhile proposition for luring bass.

Only problem is over the past handful of summers, clean water in the Clarence catchment has been scarcer than a politician's commonsense.

I must admit I was a sceptic of the whole Jackall TN60 phenomenon. I put it down to the fact that if that many people were using them, then of course they’d catch plenty of fish.

I didn’t really look hard at why they were so effective. The TN60's killer punch is the speed of its vibration. Water cannot be compressed, so much the same as vibration blades, a Jackall’s shock waves are sent farther afield than traditional hard bodies send them. Silent TN60s are just as effective because their bodies push shock waves just the same.

These days I could not care less about the water colour in my local creeks. Dirty water is when bass let their fins down and will leave their snags and actively hunt for prey.


There would be no dispute that over the past few years the biggest craze in estuary fishing would popping for whiting and since Starlo and the boys from down south brought this fun method up here we have seen plenty of refinement taking place.

Now it is more common to sell more small to medium walk-the-dog lures than poppers and anglers will now carry an arsenal of different little surface lures that they swap around, depending on conditions and the areas they fish.

After many aborted attempts, the Clarence Valley Sportfishing Club recently held a catch-and-release whiting on lures comp based loosely on the ABT format.

As with every other attempt we have made, the dirty water did its best to cancel yet another comp but this time the committee realised we’d all be fishing the same water and pushed on.

I won't bore you too much over the results (which means I faired poorly!) but I am so glad they did. Richie Duncan and his son Will towelled up all of us big-time.

Along with most of the others, I went straight the surface with a bunch of different little high-class Japanese offerings but with all the discoloured water covering my favourite haunts, it was pretty tough fishing.

Ritchie and Will targeted their fish in much deeper water using our Shake and Bake finesse poly blades. Ritchie told me his method was to fish the blades very slowly in small little hops across the bottom.

He said the whiting often would eat the blade as it lay on the bottom.

Now I and plenty of others have caught whiting on blades, but more as by-catch while targeting bream and mulloway and never in the numbers the boys landed during the comp.

It was another dirty water scenario where thinking outside the box delivered the results.

Paul Gillespie stuck with the surface presentations and ran a very creditable third but to be honest, I don't know anyone on the Clarence who could stay with Paul on a whiting surface bite.

So you can lean on the counter of your local tackle shop crystal-balling on when the rain will stop, or grab a raincoat, some enthusiasm and hit your local waterway and put some dirty tactics into practice. Just remember, as my dear old Dad told me, no kicking or hair-pulling, that's for girls!

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