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Winter estuary options
  |  First Published: June 2007



Last month we looked at the exciting world of offshore fishing on the Mid North Coast during Winter. This month we’ll shed some light on the terrific estuary fishing.

There’s usually plenty to be caught in the tidal estuary and lake systems on the Holiday Coast in the cooler months. Most systems fish well then with bream, luderick and jewfish the most reliable species.

BREAM

No doubt the most popular Winter estuary species is bream. Anglers come out of the woodwork if they hear the bream are running. Most of the action takes place in the lower reachers of the river systems as good numbers of silver bream move in from the local headlands and beaches and school up in the river mouths.

Each tide the fish move around the lower sections of river. Those on the ball will follow the moving fish and score good bags most days. These fish are usually of good size, bright silver and very good on the plate.

While there are plenty of anglers who chase bream on soft plastics, the vast majority of anglers on the Holiday Coast use bait.

You can easily spot a bream angler. He’s usually the bloke walking the wall with a long rod and a smelly pair of overalls. Other accessories are an old belt sporting a cordial bottle full of cut baits and a putrid rag hanging from one side. It’s real old-school stuff but these guys pull some terrific bream each season.

The basic idea to breakwall breaming is pretty simple. Turn up around a tidal change and walk the wall at the same speed as the current. This keeps the bait level with the angler and, if it’s weighted correctly, you can cover plenty of water with a single drift.

Other shore-based anglers fish prominent points or, more specifically, the circling backwater on the down current side. These guys fish much the same, using equally well-weighted rigs (usually just a small ball sinker running straight onto a 1/0 French or baitholder-style hook) and flick the baits into swirling water. Bream school up in these zones and around dawn or dusk with fresh pieces of mullet, mullet gut, squid or pilchards, you should score some good fish.

Bream fishing from a boat with bait is a tad different. Although wearing equally smelly overalls, these guys double anchor – one thrown on the shore, the other on sand holding the boat at right angles to the current. They tend to fish marginally shorter rods and float equally well-weighted baits.

Because most of the good bream fishing takes place along the rugged walls, these are the places to anchor up. Arrive an hour or two before slack water, flick out a little berley and feed out the baits. If the bream are running, you should score some good fish.

Lure fishing is another world. While you may be fishing the same deep tidal water and back eddies close to the mouth, this form of fishing is all about flicking lightly weighted 3” to 4” soft stickbaits on light leaders and equally light braid line.

Subtle taps denote deep-water bites and well-timed strikes are essential to consistently pull fish. It’s a bit tricky compared with shallow tidal-water spinning but it’s those deep, fast-flowing sections of river that seem to hold the best numbers of big fish.

Lure fishing is great fun and produces top quality fish, though it can be very challenging.

BLACKFISH

If you ever wanted to count the number of pensioners in each small North Coast town, just wait til the blackfish are running. No species draws anglers from the comfort of their recliners better than luderick.

Every known possie that’s ever produced a fish will be strewn with senior anglers sporting long, floppy rods, centrepin reels and heavily modified floats. It doesn’t matter how cold, windy or miserable the weather, this band of loyal anglers will be out in force pulling bagloads of fish.

I must admit that chasing blackfish can be very addictive and I can fully understand the appeal. I’ve spent years targeting them and, despite a little tongue-in-cheek humour, have plenty of respect for those who can consistently pull fish when the masses are struggling.

Here on the North Coast successful luderick fishing stems from many things, though the fundamental ingredients are fishing the tidal changes (preferably low), correctly weighted floats, nice thin leader material and good weed. It all sounds fairly simple and in a way it is, but it can take years work out a good set-up for the local conditions.

Fishing the Holiday Coast for blackfish is like anywhere; you have to know where the fish school up on each tidal phase and present the correct weed baits at the right depth. Like I said, it all sounds simple but consistently pulling quality blackfish is a fine art- one that will take many years to become proficient at.

It can take years to work out just one system and with dozens on the Holiday Coast, you can keep yourself busy for a lifetime.

JEWFISH

As the water gets colder, jewfish numbers begin to rise. Many of the smaller school-sized fish prevalent during the warmer months fade away, making room for numbers of bigger fish.

I have to admit chasing jewfish is a real passion of mine. I look forward to each Winter, keen to target the bigger fish that run at this time. I’m not alone, either.

If there have been a few fish caught, the local jew specialists come out of nowhere. At night the walls are dotted with anchored boats and the breakwalls are alive with shore-based anglers sporting heavy rods.

Again, most of the action takes place in the lower reaches off our rivers and tidal lakes.

The dramatic influx of bream and luderick is no doubt part of the reason mulloway become more prevalent. Big baits equal big fish so the mulloway chasing the schools of bream and luderick tend be larger fish. Whether you use bait or lures, Winter is prime time to chase estuary jewfish.

Perhaps the most popular method is live-baiting. This is usually done from shore-based possies, with sizable baits like pike being firm favourites. Not surprisingly, bream and luderick also make top baits but pike still seem the favourite among many North Coast anglers.

Big, heavy rods and sizable overhead reels filled with equally heavy line make up standard jewfish tackle. Live baits are kept fit and well in large fish tubs close by and solid gaffs are usually at the ready.

Bait fishing from an anchored boat is also popular. Most anglers still use fairly heavy tackle, with stout 6’ rods sporting mid-sized lever drag reels filled with 15kg mono being popular. Any quality baitcasting or threadline gear is fine, so long as the drag is smooth and it has decent line capacity. Make sure your hooks are sharp and use a fairly heavy leader –20kg to 25kg is fine.

This style of fishing evolves around tidal changes, preferably those just on or after dark. Most guys use a single anchor and position the boat around 6m or so off the wall. The idea is to be positioned so your baits bounce back down the wall, ideally where the base of the rock meets sand. A lot of fish travel in this zone and jewfish are no exception.

Lure fishing is rapidly gaining in popularity, with many anglers solely targeting jewfish on lures, particularly soft plastics.

While effectively fishing the same places at the same time as bait anglers, lure fishing has the advantage of speed. The ability to cover plenty of water quickly can be very advantageous.

While bait fishing the wall at anchor is perhaps a more thorough way to work an area, those fishing lures and cover far more water per session.

To be successful with lures you have to have a pretty good background in fishing for jew. You really need to know where the jewfish like to school up and their travel routes. Then you have to be able to present lures right in those strike zones.

Good lure fishing usually stems from sound prior knowledge of jewfish behaviour, and, equally importantly, good feel and timing with lures.

Jewfish strikes can be very subtle so you need to have good contact with the lure and strike the second you feel something out of the ordinary. You may feel only the slightest increase in weight, or perhaps a subtle tap, but you have to strike just in case it’s a fish. Many times it’s simply the bottom but occasionally you’ll come up tight to a solid jewfish.

Virtually all soft-plastic jew fishing is done from well set-up barra-style or tournament boats.

Fast boats sporting bow-mount electric motors allow you to cover plenty of water. If one spot isn’t producing, simply pull up the electric and work another deep bend or bridge pylon. Successful jew spinning is all about fishing as much water as possible during an ideal tidal phase and being on the water in a well-set up boat helps immensely.

Most successful jew spinners use light baitcasting reels with punchy 6’6” barra-type rods. You need tackle that’s light with plenty of feel, so running braid around 6kg to 10kg is nearly essential. A heavier mono leader (say 1.5m of 18kg) is a good idea to help deal with abrasion from those peg-like teeth.

It doesn’t matter how you choose to target estuary jewfish, the scenario of a tidal changes around dawn and dusk is usually the most productive. Live baits and lures all work well, it’s purely a matter of personal choice.

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