Those little creeks behind the dunes can be a bonanza, as GREG CLARKE explains
It had been a great couple of days, the water was warm, baitfish were everywhere and the marlin had been co-operative, with each of us tagging a couple. But now the weather had turned: It was blowing a gale from the south and the rain looked like it had set in for a week.
So what do you do, sit in the tent and drink beer all day (a fair option!) or put on the raincoat and go exploring? The second alternative sounded pretty good because the beer was running low and when a fellow camper happened to mention he had spotted a couple of bream in a shallow little brackish creek nestled behind the sand dunes about 2km up the beach, it was just too good a chance to let go.
It was early afternoon, dull and with intermittent showers after heavy overnight rain. A stiff south-easterly was blowing – hardly perfect fishing conditions. Chronic fishos can often see the potential in such conditions. Beer sometimes helps but, without any bait, we had to devise a clever and cunning plan.
We figured if there were bream in this creek there would probably be a population of flathead as well. So we thought we might try for a few flatties as well as some bream if we could get some live baits.
The guy in the next tent had a poddy trap that wasn’t being used so we borrowed that. The closest gear I had to bream tackle was a 6kg spinning outfit used for catching small tuna for marlin baits.
Chang had an old banger rod and reel he took everywhere with him. He called it the poaching rod. Mostly the kids used it to catch poddies when they were on holidays.
So, as yet another heavy shower of rain came down, with a bucket, four slices of bread a beer and our aforementioned custom bream outfits, we headed off down to the beach and started walking in the direction the bloke in the camping area had pointed.
After about 3km we thought this fellow may have been pulling our legs but there was a dip in the dunes and the marks on the beach showed there had been a creek running out in the vicinity some time back, so we ventured boldly forth.
A creek it was, and it had not flowed to the sea for months and looked like no one had been here for at least that long. Its waters were deeply stained ti-tree brown, even in the shallow areas, and the overnight rain had raised the water level so it would probably break out to the ocean over the next 12 hours or so.
Even better, milling in the shallows near the entrance were hundreds of little mullet and they were hungry, eagerly attacking the couple of small pieces of bread we threw to them. They packed into the bait trap just as enthusiastically.
Our bait supply now secure, we headed along the bank further along the creek. We could now see it was only about 5m at its widest point and was only about 2m deep in the holes but, for the most part, it was around 1m deep with fallen trees, branches and a few large rocks strewn over its visible length, which was about 100m before it disappeared into a jungle of tangled vines and tea trees.
We could see that we could access the bank for only about 50m before the bankside vegetation became impenetrable and there were lots of big spiders in webs all through the trees and branches ahead of us.
This didn’t matter because Chang had already spotted a sizeable bream lying up next to a fallen tree in only half a metre of water.
We threw in a small piece of one of the mullet and it splashed down next to the tree. The bream cautiously watched as the morsel slowly sank to the bottom. What happened next caught us by surprise as another bigger bream bolted out from another log and grabbed the bait and disappeared back into the cover.
This clearly agitated the visible bream so another morsal was thrown in its direction. This time two bream flashed out and belted the bait as the original bream, now aggravated, quickly swam back and forth. We repeated the process and now had six bream right in front of us, aggressively competing for every morsal thrown their way.
Now was the time to give them a piece with a hook. Even though it was on 6kg line, a fish hit without hesitation and headed for the snags.
It put up a pretty good scrap on the heavy line but was soon subdued, with its mates following all the way to our feet.
A quick pic before release and the next bait was smashed as soon as it hit the water and another feisty little bream was released. We caught five of the six bream before moving onto the next hole and there again were two bream hanging next to a sunken tree.
We repeated the process as for the earlier fish and because this was a much larger and deeper piece of the creek, we had bream coming out of every piece of cover competing for every scrap of food thrown their way.
The next half-hour was sensational with double hook-ups and fish going in all directions. Even a few big mullet got in on the action but proved very difficult to hook, due to the aggressive nature of the bream hammering every bait.
Each bunch of snags proved to be the same, with bream coming out of the cover to grab a free feed, particularly when they had to compete for the first few minutes before any loaded baits hit the water.
Finally we reached the end of the accessible portion of shore and the last piece of tree-ridden deep water.
Word travels quickly in a small creek and other species started to get in on the action. Flathead and bream were our target but unfortunately we hadn’t seen a single scale of a flathead. Maybe the water was just too fresh to support them but it was not too fresh for the bream and mullet – or the now present filthy big eels.
These long fellows seemed to come from nowhere and some of them well over a metre long and thicker than a footy player’s bicep.
This added another dimension to the fishing, with several very large eels competing aggressively for the baits, and they were fast. Often a bream would charge the bait, only to stop at the last second as a bloody great eel slithered in.
This is when you had to extract the bait as fast as possible before Old Slippery managed to get hold. We only had a couple of hooks between us as we didn’t expect to find such hectic fishing.
Nevertheless, all it took was a glance in the wrong direction and the inevitable happened: An eel that had to be close to 10kg grabbed my bait and, perched on a very narrow slippery bank, I almost ended up in the drink.
These things can pull and they are very fast, but a quick hand clamp on the spool broke the line and saved me from an embarrassing swim. The eel caused chaos in the shallow creek, stirring up the mud on the bottom before we watched it tear up the creek and disappear.
The stir-up didn’t seem to bother the rest of the tribe, as they were still hot to trot so we avoided a heap of eels and landed a few more bream before they started to get educated.
By now we were starting to get thirsty and it was raining harder so we headed back down the creek, repeating the process as we went. Remarkably, more bream came out of the snags, although not as many as when we first hit each spot.
Finally we ran out of bait and walked back through the scrub and onto the open beach, but it didn’t finish there. This little session was just the start of what has now become an ongoing fascination with looking for these little backwater creeks. Many of these reach the sea only in times of heavy rain.
They are everywhere. Some are just a trickle of water only a metre deep and a few metres wide and support minimal fish, while others can be 10m wide and several metres deep and several hundred metres long and have a massive array of species.
We even found one ripper little creek behind a sand dune near Mapoon, where the Wenlock River flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria way up on Cape York Peninsula. We didn’t fish this one, we only checked it out from a distance because we would probably have been on the menu ourselves. Too many crocodiles in that neck of the woods!
But there are hundreds of others all down the east coast of Australia, from Queensland down through NSW to Victoria. Many of them passed by or passed off as what they are, snag-riddled little hard-to-get-at backwaters which, by their nature, makes them often pristine areas.
Some of the larger waters available on the NSW South Coast, those around 5m wide, will give up 20 to 30 large bream per session on soft plastics. Many of these fish are around a kilo.
A small, inflatable child’s boat can come in handy for these creeks. Many cannot be fished from the shore due to bankside vegetation and, more often than not, they are located some walking distance from the nearest point of entry. You can carry a light fold up boat and paddle and then inflate it for instant access. Canoes get heavy on a 3km walk.
These small creeks are best targeted with fresh local bait, while the larger versions can give spectacular results on the usual soft plastics, particularly the prawn or shrimp patterns.
We never take fish from any of these backwater creeks because many of these small waters have delicate environmental balances. On a few occasions we have found very small creeks with only a couple of fish, which we fed, watched and left. It would not be in the best interest of the area to disturb such places.
When you do find one of these places, keep it as your own because there are many people out there who might not be as caring for such special places.
So when the weather gets nasty or you are away camping or fishing this vast coastline of ours, spend a bit of time exploring behind the dunes or check the local maps. You never know what you might find.