Many anglers have long been aware of the fish-holding characteristics of various forms of aquatic structure. Navigation markers, bridge pylons, moored boats, rock walls, fallen timber…you name it, our southern bays and estuaries are brimming with structure. However, with a seemingly endless list of options, knowing where to start can be difficult.
Whether it’s man-made artificial features or naturally formed habitats, structure activates a food chain by promoting the growth of weed, kelp and barnacles, which in turn attract all manner of crustaceans, fish fry, forage species and eventually larger predators. Regardless of the style of fishing, most of our time on the water inevitably revolves around some form of structure. An understanding of how to identify and target likely looking features is arguably an angler’s most valuable asset.
Having spent the past few years targeting bream on lures and soft plastics, I have learnt the importance of locating structure that provides shelter, shade, tidal flow, food supply and access to deep water. Fortunately, a range of estuary dwelling species including pinkie snapper, flathead, trevally, estuary perch and mulloway also frequent similar locations, which can lead to an interesting mixed bag.
The key to prospecting vertical structure, including navigation markers and bridge or jetty pylons, is to determine the depth at which the fish are holding. Bream, snapper or mulloway could be resting in the eddy at the base of a pylon, actively feeding within a few feet of the surface or lurking anywhere in between. Hardbodied lures are effective for fish holding higher in the water column, particularly when worked into the current and twitched and paused in the eddy. Lipless crankbaits and lightly-weighted soft plastics are better options for fish suspended mid water, while metal blades and heavier soft plastics should stir up the fish down deep.
By their nature, navigation markers and bridge pylons are usually exposed to strong tidal flow, which must be taken into consideration when casting, retrieving and selecting lures and jigheads. Working out which poles and pylons produce the goods is often a case of trial and error, but it pays to take notice of other nearby fish attracting features. Areas of reef, weed beds, pinnacles and ledges obviously offer more potential than barren sand or mud.
The most prevalent source of bankside structure in our rivers and estuaries is fallen timber and rocky shorelines. In the man-made environments that we increasingly find ourselves fishing, it’s easy to forget how important natural features are as prime fish holding habitat.
Partially submerged timber and rocks provide suitable ambush points for predatory and opportunistic feeders to launch an attack, and again the merger of multiple fish attracting features increases the likelihood of an aggressive strike. Areas with a combination of shade, current, undercut banks, and timber or rocks are ideal locations.
During the summer months, greater numbers of bream and estuary perch reside along the edges, actively pursuing baitfish and typically intercepting well-presented artificials within a few feet of the surface.
When it comes to choosing a lure there are a host of options at your disposal. The ever-reliable shallow running crankbait is at home bouncing off broken rock and timber laden shorelines, while soft plastics, suspending flickbaits and surface lures provide some exciting sight fishing opportunities.
The key to fishing the banks is to get your lure in close. Cast accurately and slightly upstream of the structure, and try to get the lure to swim, flick and pause underneath logs or in between rocks.
Moored boats and floating pontoons, such as those found in marinas, also provide an abundance of sportfishing opportunities for those chasing bream, trevally and pinkie snapper. During periods of low light, fish will move around and feed freely throughout the harbour, but as the sun rises they seek out areas of shade and shelter.
Fish congregate in the darker water under catamaran hulls, alongside boats with large keels or outboard motors, in between boats and jetties, and right underneath floating pontoons. Generally they have a preference for the older boats with a significant amount of marine growth. Conversely, moored yachts with raised keels tend to swing from side to side in the breeze and are usually devoid of fish.
Bream often hold high in the water column directly under floating features and can be targeted successfully with hardbodied lures, however lightly weighted soft plastics are better options for fish foraging around the base of moorings. Marina fishing requires the subtle combination of a stealthy approach, accurate casting and finesse presentation.
Due to the amount of underwater structure and limited space, once a fish is hooked all the subtleties are discarded and the extraction process is usually short lived. Barnacle encrusted pylons, moorings, anchor ropes and chains lead to many memorable bust-ups, but super tight drags, slightly heavier leaders and an element of luck usually ensure that more fish are landed than lost.
It can be heart in your mouth stuff at times and your tackle needs to be mighty strong to withstand the incredible drag settings. Weak links are quickly exposed, but when you do inevitably find yourself battling a charged up specimen on the wrong side of a mooring or pylon, don’t be afraid to put the reel into free spool to avoid being shredded. Occasionally you get done and dusted before you have time to react but, more often than not, releasing the pressure and carefully unravelling the line does work.
Targeting bream, snapper and flathead in deep open water is perhaps not as appealing as getting in close to the snags, but this technique shouldn’t be ignored. Use the sounder to locate changes of depth, pinnacles, and areas of reef or weed growth. Shallow sand or mud flats and weed beds often descend directly into deep water and these ledges or drop-offs are prime locations, particularly during the ebb tide.
Cast soft plastics or metal blades ahead of the boat’s drift, allowing the lure to sink on a semi-slack line. Once it reaches the bottom, give rod tip a shake and let the lure sit for anywhere between 10-60 seconds. Lengthy pauses can make this technique feel more like bait fishing than lure casting. Snapper and bream will often pick up a lure lying motionless on the bottom, while flathead respond more aggressively to erratic movement.
Bream that roam the shallows are generally there for one reason: to feed. Bass yabbies, sand worms, crabs, muscles and oysters form a major part of their diet, but being opportunistic by nature, bream will readily hunt down and consume errant baitfish and shrimps that get too close.
Flathead and trevally are also regular customers on the flats and all three species respond to shallow running crankbaits, unweighted soft plastics and surface lures. Due to the innate wary disposition of fish that inhabit shallow water, a stealthy approach is required and the best form of attack is to use a tailing breeze for the longest cast possible. When it comes to choosing a skinny water location, the most productive areas have a mixture of yabby or worm holes, weed, barnacles and a nearby gutter or channel.
Don’t be afraid to ping your lures in as close as possible to structure. In dirty water you can generally position the boat closer to your target and make short casts without spooking fish. However, clearer conditions will force you to back off and rely on longer accurate casts. Try to use the breeze to your advantage by fishing the windward side and allowing the wind to keep the line and lure closer to the structure during the retrieve.
Becoming proficient with a variety of casting techniques will also open up further opportunities. Skimming lures across the surface will help you avoid overhanging branches and get the lure deeper into the shade or a snag, while bow and arrow style casts are useful in tight situations. Forehand and overhead casts provide more power for greater distance, while backhand and underarm flicks are effective under bridges or where shorter casts are required. Keep casts close to the water when fishing in windy conditions and control your distance by feathering the line with your forefinger as it spills off the spool.
Spring is an exciting time to be on the water flicking lures around likely looking structure, so the next time you’re out and about, ask yourself a few questions. Does this form of structure offer shelter, shade, tidal flow, food supply and access to deep water? Are there multiple fish holding features in the immediate area? Am I casting accurately and retrieving close enough to the structure? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, you’re giving yourself the good chance. It should only be a matter of time before you get one on.Reads: 7004