My addiction to surface luring actually started with flyfishing for trout in Victoria. I know it’s scary to admit it, but luckily I’ve gotten over that (almost) and moved onto bigger and tougher opponents in recent years. The surface addiction has grown so much that these days I take a rod rigged with a surface lure on every fishing trip.
Over the last few years I’ve done a bit of a tester to see if I could catch a fish on a surface lure in every month in Queensland and much to my satisfaction I could. Some of the fish were highlights, some were expected and some were just plain crazy. What follows is a month by month account of what I reckon is a good option for a surface lure junkie in Queensland who is not too concerned about the species just the action.
The first serious impoundment barra fishing I did was at Teemburra just out from Mackay and it has stayed in my heart for that very reason. Well, maybe it was because the fish there chew on surface lures all night and into the day!
I can’t say why we started chucking surface lures around in Teemburra. I think it was because we could so we did. Teemburra was the place that cemented my love for the C’ultiva Tango Dancer; it worked sensationally. But there were others that we had success on, including the now unavailable Rapala Skitter Walk 11cm model – great lure gone. The Tango Dancer comes with Owner hardware already but the hooks will straighten if you go too hard on the fish with heavy tackle. But in Teemburra, unless you’ve found the only stick still in the water most of the lake is angler friendly.
With Teemburra barra we found that fishing over shallow points and into shallow bays was the best tactic. If you could work out a game plan while it was light, you could even fish until your arms fell off that night.
The classic non-retrieve was developed at Teemburra. This retrieve involves just bobbing the lure on the surface without really retrieving it. Some of the guys found that leaving the lure motionless for up to 30 seconds led to more strikes and I’d agree. But just try to count out 30 seconds on a still night at Teemburra – almost impossible not to move the lure!
Fish from 50cm to 1m beasties love a bobbed surface lure in Teemburra and there is absolutely no way to tell whether the fish will hit your lure at a full cast’s length or at the side of the boat, so keep working it painfully slowly the whole way back to the boat.
There are only a few reasons that will get me on the water chasing bream on lures and surface luring for them is definitely one of them.
Steve Morgan and I were fishing up the Tweed for bass when he showed me one of his 150,000 weird plastic techniques, pink grubbing. We were both new to it, but that warm summer day saw us experiencing double hook-ups, triple hook-ups and even quadruple hook-ups as the fish were nailing prawns flicking on the surface up at Murwullimbah.
The secret is to use an Ecogear 2 1/2” Grass Minnow in a translucent pink colour. It is rigged on an unweighted worm hook and cast out toward snags and weed beds. It is retrieved reasonably quickly to keep the lure in the surface film with the paddle-tail sending out a great little wake behind the lure.
You actually get to see almost every fish before it eats the lure and the anticipation is breathtaking.
Big and small fish eat pink grubs and you can practise it anywhere bream live in southern Queensland in summer. Look for quiet bays or canals and don’t be afraid to cast onto shallow sandflats as the next 800g bream to nail a pink grub in a foot of water won’t be the last.
You will need light threadline tackle to make this work properly and don’t use fluorocarbon leaders as they sink. The technique is pretty simple, chuck it out and wind it in and make sure you strike hard when the fish’s weight is felt on the rod.
Ever since moving from Victoria five years ago I’ve been keen to chase cod in Queensland and my search led me to Carl Jocumsen from Mullet Gut Marine at Toowoomba.
Carl is best know for his work in the BASS Pro circuit and on AFC on Channel 10, but around Toowoomba he has a formidable reputation as a cod specialist so I made sure he filled me in on the surface cod fishing in his backyard.
Fishing the rivers around Texas in the border rivers country is the best bet for those chasing cod on surface lures and waiting until the peak heat of summer has gone in March will mean you’ll get more hits and fish. The cod tend to be a bit slow in the heat of summer and really start to get active when water temperatures drop. This means surface lurers can get good action on the shoulder months of March, April, May and June.
Targeting shallower water where clay banks with drop-offs are is the best place to look as opposed to the common targeting of snags and deeper rocky ledges. Fish just on and just after dark for the best results in these areas and use big lures like the Mudeye Depth Charger, Jackall Brothers Flap Clicker (which retails at a staggering $50) or the big 6” Jitterbug. All your hooks should be upgraded to chemically sharpened hooks at the least, but the preferred hooks to use are the Owner ST-41s. These are thinner, black hooks that can bend straight if you put too much pressure on so go easy on the cod and you’ll land plenty.
Retrieves are pretty straightforward for cod, chuck the lure out and slowly wind it in – what could be easier? There is no real need to make your retrieves all fancy by stopping and starting and stabbing rod tips and the like, but it can pay to let the lure settle for a few seconds after casting, just in case you landed the lure right on a cod’s head.
Use your standard barra fishing gear of 4-6kg baitcasters loaded with 20-30lb braid with a heavier leader and you won’t go wrong. Remember that cod have some great rasping teeth that will tear your fingers apart so a glove or small towel to grip the jaw of the fish while you get the hooks out or release the fish is advisable.
Lenthalls Dam is one of those places that is just nice to be at. The lake is clean, it always seems to be full or nearly full, there are secret arms and corners and plenty of timber and lily pads. It’s postcard perfect. What’s more, it has surface lure munching bass and a growing number of barra of similar disposition.
Because of the shallow and skinny arms that are fringed by weed and lilies, Lenthalls is an ideal surface luring venue. The problem these days has been deciding to take the 4-6kg baitcaster to stop the barra that are getting bigger all the time, or risking the odd bust-off and having some fun on bass that reach 50cm.
I’d recommend the 4kg baitcaster as it gives you a bit of muscle on the barra and will still let the bigger bass give you a few scary moments in amongst the weed and timber.
The best tip is to cast to the lily edges and slowly walk-the-dog with stickbaits. Plenty of pauses help and smaller than average lures like the Ecogear PL70F and the Lucky Craft Sammy 85 are ideal. I’d upgrade the hooks and rings, but be careful about effecting the lure action with hooks and rings that are too heavy.
Lenthalls is such a pretty place to go fishing and having that serenity spoiled by a 65cm barra or a 45cm bass smacking a surface lure can be a rude awakening. Make sure you fight the fish from the start though as Lenthalls is well known for its treacherous timber and many fish and lures have been lost because of soft rod work.
It sounds a bit ridiculous that Weipa is a must go to destination - everyone is either going or wants to go.
I found that the biggest queenfish of the year were always found at the start of winter. By big I mean fish upwards and over 1m.
Fizzers and poppers are the go to lures and the Bill’s Bugs range and the Halco Roosta Popper are about as good as any on the market. They are made tough, are Australian and most importantly the queenfish really love them.
There is nothing special about the technique, you cast the lure out and crank it back in quickly and the queenies literally fight each other for the honours to eat it. And the faster you wind the better!
I love fighting these fish on my beloved Millerods Beast Buster and Stella 4000 spooled with 10lb braid as it lets the fish fight hard with plenty of line in reserve if you need it.
Look for queenies at the mouths of rivers and close in along the beaches. They are an exciting fish that make a trip up north to Weipa worthwhile.
Moreton Bay longtail tuna can be a very flighty fish at the best of times, but come the middle of winter and their nature changes. Sure there aren’t the masses of tuna you get from February to May, but the fish that hang around the Bay until June are big and love nothing better than smashing garfish off the surface.
Steve Morgan put me onto this technique and for a few years was really keen on cold water longtails on poppers. And like all pelagic surface feeding situations, if you’re in the right spot with the right lure, you can almost guarantee a hit.
The right location is anywhere in the Paddocks of Moreton Bay. If you can locate fish, which are usually individuals seen chasing garfish or small pods chasing garfish, you are in the right area. Cut the motor and drift around as chasing individual fish that are chopping and changing direction while they try to nail a fleeing gar is bloody hard work. They’re up, then down and 50m away swimming in another direction and chasing another gar before you get he rod ready to cast.
Grab hold of some garfish imitation poppers. The Lively Lures Kingfisher FatRs and the Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper are great lures to use and imitate the Moreton Bay gars well.
While drifting cast these lures out and wind them back in so the tail sits in the water and the nose sits out of the water. This retrieve imitates a garfish very well. Usually the tuna find you if they’re about and the hits are spectacular. Tuna to 20kg aren’t uncommon so 8kg threadline tackle is about as light as you should go and be prepared for long, drawn out fights.
With the explosion in soft plastic fishing for snapper in and around the Brisbane River, I’ve spent too many hours there trying to catch pink things. At dawn and dusk though we always noticed bait showering along the rock walls and sometimes out further and always told ourselves we’d better up the plastics and chuck some poppers at the bust ups.
The first few attempts were wildly successful with chopper tailor climbing all over the small 7cm cup faced poppers we were using. Two poppers stood out, the Rapala Skitter Pop 7cm and the Berkley Frenzy Popper. Both lures could be worked fast, slow or in-between and the tailor just loved them. The most productive retrieve was a hard bloop followed by a two second pause, then another hard bloop and another pause. Most fish hit on the pause when they could zone right in on the lure and smash it.
Cast on mid-weight threadline tackle (4kg outfit), you could hang out from the rock wall about 15m, cast right next to the rocks and start your retrieve, Usually the tailor would hit in the first few metres, but sometimes bigger fish would follow you to the boat and smack the lure only metres in front of you.
The biggest tailor were always caught at dawn with fish to 3kg coming in, but commonly the tailor were 40cm long - a perfect size for the smoker.
There is something special about the way a barra explodes on a surface lure and every angler should be holding onto a rod when it happens at least once in their life.
Most anglers say barra slow down in the cooler months and they’re probably right, but there is one type of waterway where the water temperature remains pretty warm – the lagoons at Lakefield National Park. Found above Cooktown, Lakefield is a massive park that has hundreds of billabongs and lagoons and accessing them is pretty easy with the right permits and a good 4WD. You don’t need a boat as you do it all from the shore, but always be aware that crocodiles live there and are always dangerous.
I chose to fish surface lures at Lakefield because the days were very warm and the lagoons were well protected by trees so the surface wasn’t disturbed by the constant 30 knot winds blowing along the coast. The water in the lagoons was also very clear so I thought the barra would be able to see the lures from a long way down.
The two lures that performed best were the C’ultiva Tango Dancer 115 and the Jackall Brothers Bonnie 128. Both are walk-the-dog lures but because it was winter we retrieved them very slowly using a bobbing retrieve rather than a walk-the-dog retrieve. We targeted snags and bankside weed and lilies, and on a long cast a retrieve could take up to five minutes as the lure is barely moving toward you. There were plenty of swirls under the lure and when this happened it was even more important not to move the lure too far or too vigorously. Just remember that the same fish will not leave the lure, it’ll still be watching it, waiting for the right time to smash it.
It’s easiest doing this fishing with a 4kg baitcaster but some anglers would prefer the security of a 6kg outfit because there is no swimming to retrieve lures or fish – not ever!
This is a fringe month for fishing surface lures for me. The summer species really haven’t hit their straps and the winter species are just starting to taper off. But this year I heard a few rumours about flathead being taken on surface lures from Bundaberg to the Tweed. I have to say this got me very interested. I love plastic fishing for flathead but catching one on a surface lure seemed a stretch. But too many of my mates chasing bream were landing the odd stray flathead for me not to take more than a passing interest and a few were even targeting them on purpose!
The key was the location. Ultra shallow water over a weedy edged sandbank on a rising tide was the right time and the Jumpinpin area provided a wealth of this habitat. I chose a small surface lure – a Berkley Frenzy Popper – and fired casts over the weed-covered drop off of a big sand bar. Just as I was losing interest a fish nailed the popper right on the shallow edge of the drop off and it was on for everyone.
The fish ran hard over the shallows and was big and brown. Ten minutes later a 74cm flathead surfaced next to the boat and was duly landed. Not a bad start and this showed the technique had merit.
Later that day we had another massive hit on a Rapala Skitter Walk from a bigger flathead and we were convinced the technique would work elsewhere. And while the action is never fast and furious, you can actually target flathead on surface lures in September – now that is a silly way to fish lures!
October is a great month for fishing. Everything is warming up, the summer species are starting to get cranky and surface lures, if placed in just the right spot, are readily smashed.
October is when I start to get excited about trips to Bundaberg fishing the Baffle. Jacks are my favourite fish to chase on lures simply because you don’t know if you’re going to land them or not. In October the fish will be hunting packs of baitfish, and fishing along the mangrove fringes on a still day at dawn or dusk is about as good as it gets for me.
There are two lures I use in October chasing the Baffle’s jacks: the cheap Berkley Frenzy Popper and an Ecogear PL 70F, which is a walk-the-dog-style lure. Although jacks can be found anywhere in the shallows, I look for areas where there is plenty of current, a drop-off nearby and where bait is congregating. You can sometimes even see the jacks smashing baitfish as you arrive so approach quietly and carefully.
I re-jig the lures a bit too to help with hook-up rates. On the Berkley I remove all the split rings and hooks and just put a tail hook on it. I use Owner ST-66 barbless hooks and Owner Hyperwire split rings. You don’t need to go too heavy though as you can pull the tow point away from the tail if you really strongarm fish and snags. With the Ecogear lure I am happy to use it as is but you will need to straighten hooks, so upgrading them isn’t a bad idea. Be careful though because when you change hooks on high-end Japanese lures it puts them out of kilter a bit and it’s a bit harder to work them. Again, go light on the fight if you can.
The easiest method is to cast as close to the mangrove roots and overhanging branches as possible and subtly work the lure. Big bloops and splashes with the popper do not work well and walking the Ecogear lure out of the strike zone quickly also doesn’t work well. Be patient and slow.
This is heart in the mouth stuff and you need to have your wits about you when a fish strikes. Jacks are not super accurate when hitting surface lures so don’t set the hook unless you feel weight or else the lure will come flying out of the water and away from the fish. On the positive side though, most jacks will have a few cracks at a lure on the same cast so keep it in the zone.
Who doesn’t like the way trevally smash lures off the surface? I love it and will even tackle a bout of seasickness to do it.
Steve Morgan introduced me to Hinchinbrook a few years ago and his experience fishing there led us to Eva Rock and Goold Island at the northern end of Hinchinbrook. The relatively calm water appealed to me, the slight wash and current running around the bommies appealed to the trevally and the Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper certainly had the trevally up and firing looking for all the world like a fleeing garfish.
Our tactic was to cast as close to the rock and bommies as possible and start a fast paced retrieve back into deeper water. The retrieve is hard to explain, but essentially it needs to be fast enough to excite the trevally but slow enough to keep the tail of the Pencil Popper in the water. As soon as you retrieve too fast the popper blows out, tumbles over itself and tangles up.
The hardware on the popper is already good so you don’t need to upgrade unless you’re using really heavy tackle. I’ll usually chuck the lure around on a 4kg spin rod with 14lb braid line unless big fish are around in which case anything you have is sometimes not enough.
Every time it happens I get a kick just because of where it happened. Chasing jacks on surface lures on the Gold Coast is just one of those things that has me shaking my head. It shouldn’t but it just messes with my mind catching 40-55cm jacks on surface lures around million dollar houses and boats. It’s great!
We like to fish around rock walls and pontoons for our jacks and like jacks everywhere, finding the bait is the key. The beauty of the Gold Coast is there are many places you can find schooled up bait and jacks know there’s an easy feed on from dusk until dawn.
I primarily use two lures, a Lucky Craft Sammy 85, which is a walk-the-dog lure, and the Rebel Pop-R, which is a cup faced popper. The Pop-R is fantastic when the jacks are really switched on and smashing bait because it makes a heap of noise with very little movement of the lure. Stab the rod tip down hard and listen to the big bloop this lure makes – jacks love it. In contrast the Sammy is very subtle and I’ve found it works best when you are walking the dog with it, but it is still the pauses in the retrieve when the most hits are taken.
I can honestly say it was Mark Ward, one of our Gold Coast contributors, who fired me up to chase jacks on the surface at the Gold Coast. You can only receive so many phone calls and emails before you have to try it yourself and when he said the magic words, surface bite, I met him the next day. That day, on my first cast at one of his secret spots that is fished by hundreds of anglers I hooked and landed a 45cm jack. Since then I haven’t landed a jack on a surface lure that was smaller than 43cm on the Gold Coast. Now that is exciting fishing!
So there are my best picks for surface action throughout the year. It takes a fair bit of dedication to stick with surface lures at times, but the strike and visual nature of it all means the reward is massive for your persistence. Give the species a crack next time your on the water, or pick one and really work them out. Either way you’re sure to have fun.
|Lure||Length (mm)||Weight (g)|
|C’ultiva Tango Dancer 115||115||24.5|
|Jackall Brothers Bonnie 128||128||25|
|Smith Zipsea Pen||107||17|
|Ecogear 2 1/2” Grass Minnow||6.25||Light|
|Berkley Frenzy popper||70||8.75|
|Halco Roosta Popper||105||35|
|Rebel Pop R P65||76||8|
|Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper||152||31|
|Lively Lures Kingfisher FatRs||115||51|
|Rapala Skitter Pop 7cm||70||7|
|Lucky Craft Sammy 85||85||12.6|