There are many ways to attack a day’s fishing in an estuary, especially if your chosen location is tidal. There are some tried and true theories that stipulate when the fishing is at its best, and these theories are typically governed around a tide change. For example, fishing the main channel of a particular system on the last hour of the run-out tide should see you score results.
This is an age-old theory; nevertheless, one that works! There’s a multitude of theories based around the top of the tide as well, but the majority of anglers often luck out during this tide phase due to one major factor: failing to get their lure or bait to a feeding fish.
While fish may feed in one location on the run-out tide, this differs quite dramatically on the flood tide. So where do fish travel to feed on a full tide?
That’s an easy one to answer: all the places they can’t ordinarily reach when the tide is low. The sanctuary of deeper channels almost become void of activity, as the fish push up with the flooding tide to feed in areas such as shallow sand flats, flooded grass lands, oyster-encrusted rock bars, mangrove tree sanctuaries and even shear earth banks which are rarely licked by water. I’ve witnessed bream gorging on earthworms while grubbing through grass and soil on king-tides countless times. It’s this fact that steers me to fish tight to the edges and unthinkable shallow sectors during high and flooding tides.
The best way to find a high tide hot-spot is too look for signs of feeding activity at low tide. Kick your shoes off and walk the flats and edges of your chosen system, and look for the subtleties that indicate fish frequent the area. Signs such as crunched cockle shell remnants and small diggings indicate that fish mooch up within these regions during a flooding tide.
Donning a snorkel and mask at high tide will give you a fish-eye view of the aquatic life in these same areas. Not only will you discover feeding bream, you will get an idea of the particular bait sources that aggregate in these skinny margins, which will aid lure selection.
Some people might think you are crazy, but there is a lot to learn from under the surface (some of my best rock fishing locations were discovered from under the water, not by looking from above). Once you have located a possible feeding zone at low tide, venture into this same spot at high tide and start your angling assault!
Some of these areas are hard to access by boat due to the shallow nature of these feeding zones. Purpose-built vessels will help, but the best way to gain access is with a canoe or kayak. I often jump ship and continue my pursuit on foot. Slow and steady movements are paramount whilst on foot, but I believe this method reigns supreme if you keep a low profile.
If you are shore based, it may pay to wade into the water where possible and present your offering back toward the shore where the fish are prospecting, or keep well back from the water’s edge if the water is too deep to enter. Stealth is the key when fishing tight to the edges or upon the flats, as the fish are out of their comfort zone and will spook easily.
It goes without saying that the larger tides will open up more opportunities, so try to think like a fish and establish where a fish may want to feed. You’re likely to encounter all your typical estuary species in these feeding zones, so don’t be deterred from targeting these regions for other species if bream are not your thing.
Fishing with ultra-light tackle in conjunction with small artificial lures or delicately presented natural and prevalent baits will pay dividends. If you choose to fish with an artificial offering, it will need to be heavy enough to achieve long casts without being so heavy that it will spook your prey upon touchdown.
I prefer floating crankbaits such as the Atomic Crank 38 Mid as this lure casts like a bullet, and its wide wobble action really attracts attention when retrieved. I like to slow roll lures with plenty of pauses in my retrieve. The benefit of a floating lure is that if you bump into a snag, rock or even weed, it’s not hard to avoid getting snagged. All you have to do is pause your retrieve, allow your lure to ascend above the debris and then commence your retrieve, avoiding a snag or becoming hung-up in the weed.
If it is impossible to present a sub-surface lure, you may want to consider using a small cup faced popper or a walk-the-dog style surface stickbait. Remember that you’re fishing areas that rarely see water and will generally be quite shallow. Even if you are fishing a steep bank, your primary focus should be on the regions that do not usually see the water. You need to concentrate your efforts within the top of the water column.
Soft plastic presentations are a fantastic option. Grub style plastics are a favourite of mine, as they imitate a shrimp or prawn well, not to mention a worm! Rigging your soft plastics weedless or even unweighted will help in some scenarios too. You need to be constantly thinking.
If you are presenting bait, patience is your best friend. Make a cast, place the rod in a rod holder and wait. The fish will find your bait. However, if you make numerous casts into one area you may spook the fish from entering that particular zone.
This small window of opportunity to catch fish within the extreme limits of the flood tide zone will end quickly, so be organised and have a plan to maximise the bite period. Remember, if there is water there along with a possible food source, there is a good chance that there will be a fish there too.
That said, the moment that the tide begins to abate is precisely the moment when the fish will convert from feeding to fleeing. Don’t be surprised if the bite shuts down rapidly when the tide turns. You too should return to deeper water quickly if you are angling from a boat, unless you want to get marooned. Trust me, waiting for the next high tide is not fun!
• The spring tides around the full and new moon open up new real estate
• Use light spinning fluorocarbon line in open water, and braid in nasty country
• Favourite hardbody: Atomic Crank 38 mid
• Favourite plastic: Atomic 2” Fatgrub
• Rods: Daiwa Generation Black, Itchy Twitchy and TDX 6101 LFS 1.5-3kg
• Reels: Daiwa Caldia 2000 and Daiwa Sol 2000
• Favoured time of year: Summer (the water is warmer for snorkelling)
Flicking lures to the edges on flooding tides will produce prospecting bream like this cracker!