Common fishing mistakes anglers make
  |  First Published: March 2017

Fishing can be a wonderfully relaxing experience and a great escape from the pressures of everyday life. But it can also be frustrating at times – leaving you wondering why the fish aren’t biting or how that big one got away!

Like most things in life, the greatest lessons as an angler can come from your mistakes. Sometimes you might realise your mistake at the time; as you study your frayed line, broken hook or the tell-tale piggy tail at the end of your line where the hook use to be. At other times, it might not be until you look back through your fishing diary to understand how the wind, water colour, time of day or tidal conditions were different to the last time that you fished at that spot and had much greater success. Sometimes however, the biggest fishing mistakes can be those that you just aren’t aware that you are making.

This three-part series discusses a range of the biggest fishing mistakes that anglers, both novice and experienced, can make every day. These mistakes can be anything from fishing the wrong place, time or tide to poorly presenting your bait or lure or simply having the wrong tackle. It then outlines what you can do to help avoid these mistakes in future. I trust that after reading this you will be better informed and better prepared to avoid these fishing mistakes in the future. This month we’ll be looking at the when and the where.


These buzz words from real estate agents are equally as relevant to anglers when choosing the right type of fishing area or structure in which to target fish. In simple terms, this means you can’t catch fish where there aren’t any! So let’s look at some of the mistakes I see holidaymakers or unsuspecting anglers make when choosing a place to fish.

Beach formations

Probably the biggest and most common mistake I see on the beach is concentrations of anglers fishing close to the nearest walkway, car park or swimming flags. That is, people are choosing spots based on convenience rather than anything else. Such spots can be barren, featureless water with few or any fish attracting features. These locations are usually also filled with swimmers due to the same reasons of convenience, and so any fish that might happen to be swimming past are spooked by swimmers in the water.

Consequentially and unfortunately, many of these casual anglers will therefore associate the beach with having no fish. Worse still, they may blame the tackle shop for supplying them with the wrong gear, bait or lures, when in reality they were simply fishing the wrong water.

Understanding beach formations is not rocket science, and once you learn the basics, your results off the beach can change quickly and dramatically, provided you have all the other basics (such as tackle choice) right as well.

Learn to ‘read the beach’ by getting up on a high vantage point, such as a headland or sand dune and study the water. Look for changes in water colour (the darker the water, the deeper it is), waves forming but not breaking in a gutter and sand banks where waves will break on a sandbar and spill whitewater over the deeper water of a gutter, hole or channel. Look too for entrances to gutters, which are like a channel from the deeper inshore water or gutter to the open sea. These are known by swimmers as a rip as it is running water from the beach back out to sea.

Jetties and wharfs

Jetties and wharfs are popular locations for both young and elderly anglers and can be quite productive at the right time with the right tackle and techniques. Fish like bream, luderick, trevally and drummer will feed directly below these structures on the oysters and weed growth on the supporting pillars. These areas also attract baitfish, which in turn attract bigger fish. Unfortunately though, I see a lot of anglers making the mistake of casting heavily weighted baits as far as they can into the distance into deep, yet often featureless water.

A better option is to tighten your drag and position your baits under the structure and/or around the supporting pillars. As the fish are often sitting mid-water here, you should use very lightly-weighted or even unweighted baits around the change of tide periods when the tidal run slows. A berley pot is also a good option. You can also cast lightly-weighted soft plastics or vibes into these areas.

If you want to chase bigger fish like tailor, salmon, bonito and kingfish from these platforms, once again, don’t throw a big heavily-weighted bait into the distance. You might get the odd fish, but a more natural presentation is to use a live bait or a pilchard, which is either lightly-weighted or under a float. The best time to do so is during the faster, middle of the tide period, particularly when there is an offshore breeze, that is when the wind is blowing against your back or off the shore.


A common complaint I hear from anglers fishing rockwalls is they always get snagged. This is caused from fishing the mid-tide phase and having their line pushed sideways and into the rocks.

A better option from a rockwall is to fish the end of the wall (if it is safe to do so), casting your line straight off the end into water which is clear of snags. Otherwise, if there is room to do so (i.e. between other anglers) a good option is to cast your line in the up-current direction of the tide and walk along with it until it starts to swing around and into the wall or you run out of room. This is a popular technique with luderick anglers using floats in winter. Another option is to cast baits like unweighted or very lightly-weighted pilchards upcurrent and slowly retrieve it back to you, speeding up the retrieve as it approaches the rockwall.

Freshwater lakes

Camping and fishing at freshwater lakes has become increasingly popular in recent times, particularly with restocking efforts of native species. The problem is too many people assume catching a fish should be as easy as throwing your line in at any convenient spot. This might be at the end of the track in or where the grassiest bank is for a camping spot or picnic. The problem is such locations are usually flat or very gently sloping banks, areas which are not conductive to fishing due to their lack of serious structure.

Shore-based anglers at freshwater lakes are far better off seeking out areas around submerged trees, boulders or rocks; steep inclines near dam walls; or entrances to the lake from rivers and creeks. Further, during periods of low water levels in the dams, anglers should take photos of good structure like riverbeds or the type of features described above while they are high and dry, so that when they are covered with water again, you have a very good idea of the areas you are fishing. For boat anglers, this is the advantage of side scan imaging on your sounder as you can look for and take screenshots of such locations for further reference.


After fishing location, anglers choice of time and tide to go fishing can be among the biggest fishing mistakes they can make. Unfortunately, I see a number of anglers fishing at midday on a glassy day for species that mostly feed actively around dawn and dusk. Likewise, casual anglers will often head for cover at any sign of rain rather than take advantage of the low light conditions, which will often bring the fish on the bite, even during the day.

Another common mistake is fishing locations at the wrong tide. Anglers may well be armed with information from the local tackle shop or local fishing reports that everything from whiting to barramundi are on the bite with photos to prove it. They might also go to the trouble of finding out the best baits, lures and rigs that the fish are taking and stock up accordingly. They might even be lucky enough to extract information on where the fish are biting. Unfortunately though, this can be of little benefit if they don’t understand or ask at what stage of the tide the fish are biting at these particular locations.

For example, as the high tide pushes well up mangrove-lined creeks and covers food-rich estuary flats, predators from flathead to barramundi, as well as foragers such as whiting and bream will feed in these areas. Conversely, on a falling tide, foragers and baitfish will move off the flats into deeper water with the predators waiting in ambush for them at the entrance to drains, creek mouths and drop-offs. Therefore, anglers who fish the shallow flats at low tide and deep water at high tide might wonder about the advice they were given, rather than realising they were fishing those locations at the wrong stages of the tide.

Even experienced anglers can fall into the trap of fishing at the wrong time. As I wrote in my article on the best fishing times and tides in the July 2016 edition of QFM, some anglers believe the answer to this question is just a case of buying an Angler’s Almanac or checking the Maori tide charts and going fishing at the best predicted times. But what if it has rained for two weeks solid, or it’s blowing a gale, or there are 40 boats sitting on your secret spot? Can you seriously expect to catch fish then just because a chart tells you that you can?

Anglers should not expect cut-and-dried results when they go fishing. That’s not to say fishing results are just arbitrary, and tides, times and moons don’t matter – they do. It is just that other factors are at play. To maximise your chance of fishing success, you need to weigh up a whole range of information, and then be able to adapt your plans if all doesn’t go to plan. This includes understanding the best time of year for your target species; choosing the right tides for your species; being aware of the effects of wind, weather and water colour and temperature; and generally taking notice of other factors like boat traffic, commercial fishing pressure and the availability of bait fish in the location.

is power

By taking note of the factors mentioned and applying this information to you fishing, you should see you results start to improve. Next month we will look into some of the other common mistakes that anglers can make unknowingly. Stay tuned!

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