There comes a point where our native freshwater fish shut down. This can be at the onset of winter, at the beginning of autumn, and in some cases at the start of a particularly hot summer. We all have to accept (begrudgingly) that fish need some down time.
The most incredibly frustrating situation faced by any angler though, is when the ideal season and weather conditions align at what looks to be an excellent spot, but the fish don’t strike. Or when everything runs according to script (surface activity, water clarity and so on) at a favourite fishing hole, but as that lure ducks through structure nothing happens. When faced with these types of situations, I employ the European concept of a ‘revisit’ that involves changing it up and going light in a variety of ways that ensure success even when finicky fish, despite the perfect conditions, aren’t taking the hint. The following techniques will give you not only an improved hookup rate, but will also maximise the sport of chasing our freshwater natives.
This method is designed around the concept of a ‘revisit’. The basic premise is that a spot that has fished well before can do so again, even after long periods without much action if the angler is willing to ‘lighten the load’. These spots just need a change of strategy for the ‘revisit’. This is a common term in course fishing circles in the United Kingdom.
I usually fish my regular haunts with lures and so upon finding the area once again shut down, I begin with bait to work the fish up. However, I’m very conscious of the type and size of the bait I use. Scrub or garden worms are a good starting off point because they work hard in the water in 2 distinctly different ways. The worms move rapidly about the hook and so appeal to a fish on a visual level, but they also have a pungent aroma that trickles into the water, appealing to the fish’s superb sense of smell.
Make sure your leader length is 50-60cm before casting the worm out, and make sure it is light, no more than 6lb mono. Use a running sinker rig and ensure it is a long way from the bait (hence the trace) and as small as you can manage. The hook should be equally small, with size 4 about as large as I go. This ensures that the majority of the hook stays embedded in the worm, and is therefore almost unnoticeable. A smaller hook also means that the worm is going to stay alive for a longer period of time. I let the bait sit for a few moments and then twitch the rod tip up, moving the bait off the bottom. It is important to keep the bait moving, as our native fish respond really well to visual stimulus.
If you find that the fish still aren’t biting, cut the worm in half and cast the halved bait back in. This will release a stronger scent trail, but will also get some of the smaller fish interested. This is imperative and I have often written about this. You can’t wipe the smile off my face when I get a small redfin or yellowbelly when a spot is ‘shut down’. This is because, in my experience, if there are small fish buzzing around a bait and I can get them to bite, the likelihood is that there are bigger fish stalking these tiddlers.
If you are able to work up the smaller fish, the big fish will come in for a look. This is why smaller baits work so effectively. They stir up the smaller fish, the tiddlers are then hooked and released, sending distress signals into the water, which in turn gets the bigger specimens fired up.
If scrubworms aren’t working, try a small yabby with the same setup. Make sure you remove the claws, and again, embed the hook in the yabby’s tail so that only the point is showing. Keep it moving as much as possible, as it does not have the same strong scent as a worm and needs to be worked to get a bite, especially once they run out of steam.
The same method applies to lure fishing. If I find that my usual selection of native lures aren’t working, I return to this same spot with my bass lures. Smaller lures do not always result in big fish (although they sometimes can!), but that is not the aim of the opening few casts of this type of session. The intention is to target smaller fish so as to initiate the prey drive of the larger fish. I find that lures like the AC Invaders in size 40 (Forbes Special and Bumblebee pattern) and the Whittys Dee Bob to be very effective, but only when coupled with very long pauses.
Don’t be afraid to give it a good 10 second pause between winds as you are working the lure in. Remember: these are shut down fish and so the lure needs to sit in their faces for as long as possible. Don’t skimp on the lure knot either. This is no time to try a snap swivel. Use a Harrison knot and tie the lure on directly.
Once you get a few smaller fish, switch over to a larger lure or bait and see what happens. Usually a bigger fish will be happy to hit a bigger bait and will often chase off the smaller fish in search of the larger offering. Whatever you do though, don’t switch over before casting the larger bait. Fish can be quite cunning and a thicker leader floating through the water column can be enough to scare them off again, which can make all the hard work to get them biting completely pointless.
These techniques are designed to give you the best possible chance of hooking a native fish when they are off the bite. When fishing with light tackle and small baits, hooking a native and landing a native are 2 very different things. If you have a good open water spot, these techniques will work perfectly. For me though, the best place to employ such tactics is around rock walls and steep rocky dropoffs leading to deep water. These areas contain a lot of food, with small fish, yabbies and other crustaceans living under the stones. These stones do not provide enough snaggy country for a larger fish to duck into should you hook one. The fight will be long and difficult in these areas, but you have a much better chance here using these methods than in a log-infested bay.
Large weed beds are another area to try using these techniques, as again, you are less likely to run into copious amounts of unbeatable snags.
I use a Daiwa Tournament Master Z Zero rod for this method. This is a ‘pin’ rod designed for finesse bass fishing, but I find that finesse is important when targeting fussy fish. I match this with a Daiwa SOL 2000 spin reel. I like to carry 2 spools with me. I have spooled good quality 8lb mono for bait fishing on 1, and 6lb braid on the other coupled with 2m of 6lb fluorocarbon leader. My bass gear is exceptionally light, as I fish small rivers for very shy fish and so when employing the ‘revisit’ methods in impoundments, I stick with the same setup. Shy bass respond to the lightest gear possible and the same applies to cod and yellowbelly. Now this makes it very challenging if a large fish does decide to switch on, but is also incredibly exciting.
I never give up on any of my regular spots, even when things seem to be going from bad to worse. I think it is important that we remember that the fish aren’t always completely shut down and can be enticed into biting. This can be achieved by going as light as possible and downsizing everything, from the bait to the line, right down to the rod and reel.Reads: 911