Getting down and dirty – fishing after the floods
  |  First Published: September 2007

Dirty water means hard fishing, right? Well, no, not always. In fact sometimes under the cover of dirty water, fish can feed more aggressively than ever and some hot sessions can result. Brett Geddes explains how to make the most of the widespread rainfall in Victoria’s south.

“There’s money in mud!” That’s how the saying goes when farmers get rain, especially after a tough drought. A lot of anglers have shown there’s plenty of fish in mud, too. Well, flooded dirty water, at least!

There has been significant rain right across the entire coast of Victoria over the last few months and, as we all know, Central and East Gippsland experienced major floods. It has forced many of us to re-think our fishing tactics because we have had clean water conditions to fish for so long. I quizzed a few gun anglers from around the State, and came up with the following strategies for successfully fishing discoloured water.

Under cover

A common belief amongst anglers is that fish are far less spooky in dirty conditions and there’s certainly enough proof to back this theory up. Fish use the cover of cloudy water to swim boldly into areas that would otherwise leave them prone to attack by predators. They will even venture into very shallow water. Many anglers believe that fish become less cautious when it comes to taking lures or bait, and some even prefer to fish in flooded water than in very clean conditions.

Smelly baits?

Another tip for fishing murky water is to use smelly baits like prawn and mussel, so that the fish can sniff out your offering. These baits could also be used for freshwater species. Some of the ‘good old boys’, with many years of experience tell me they even leave these baits out of the fridge to ‘mature’ for a day or so, to make them really give off some scent. Fresh might not always be best?

In dirty water it could also be worth trying some spray-on scent attractants if the fishing is slow. Garlic scents seem to be very popular and even tuna oil might be worth a go. Some anglers tell me chicken gut was once dynamite bait for bream after floods, and I’m sure it would still work today. Logic again prevails here, and it’s highly likely fish rely on their sense of smell to get a feed when visibility is so low.

Lures work too

I am continually amazed at how fish find my lures in dirty water. Could it be, that they can ‘hear’ lures while being worked? I recently fished a small and secluded system in far East Gippsland that was slowly recovering after a significant flood event. There was less than 15cm of visibility into the water, but I decided to fish it in much the same way as usual. The only difference was that I used very bright and flashy lures, and retrieved much more slowly than normal, thus giving my quarry plenty of time to pick up the noisy rattlers.

Over the next two days I returned 80 estuary perch and two magnificent and rarely caught bass. I measured four of the ‘EP’ at between 50–52cm, and weighing between 2–2.3kg. One bass was a new PB for me, and went a thumping 49cm and it was oh-so-fat at just on 2.5kg! These were mind-blowing sessions and just maybe the murky water was the reason behind my success?

A matter of opinion

While writing this article, I decided to consult other anglers around Victoria who are also hooking plenty of fish in their district after all the rain. It’s interesting to get different opinions on how they tackle dirty water in other areas.

Scott Gray. I first consulted one of the real gurus when it comes to trout fishing in winter and that’s Scott Gray from Port Fairy. He is having the best brown trout lure fishing he’s ever experienced, with nearly all his fish around a stunning 2kg. Here’s what Scotty had to say.

“There are different forms of dirty water. When it comes to southwest brown trout, if you can see down to the tip of your rod when its 10–15cm underwater then you are in for a good time. You can't see the fish, but they can't see you either!

After prolonged periods of dirty water, fish will take up strategic positions and feed in the current. Then it’s just a matter of being economical with your lure casting, and fish moving water at the heads and tails of pools to catch the opportunistic fish. My aim is to cover a lot of water quickly with no more than 5-10 casts per location. If you're in heavily fished water, you'll find out pretty quickly where most people have been fishing and where they haven't!”

Mark Gercovich. Another keen angler from the west, also well known to VFM readers, Gerka has also found ways to combat coloured waters.

“While we didn’t get the floods experienced in the east of the state, the Western District has had some significant rainfall events. Our rivers are not only enjoying their best flush out for a few years, but the fish have also responded to the increased flows. The downstream sections of both the Glenelg and the Hopkins have been producing good bags of quality bream with many fish over 1kg being taken. These kilo plus fish have been a little scarce in the past, but it seems the increased flow of water has reactivated the fish.

While bait anglers are having good success with shell and shrimp baits, we’ve been fishing lipless crankbaits slow and deep to great effect on fish schooled up in the deeper dirty water.

Over in Lake Purrumbete, some excellent brown trout have been turning up for shore-based anglers. Casting soft plastics has been producing stud trout and the windier and wetter the day the better. This creates turbulent water, which means the fish don’t spook as easily even when close. Gulp Minnows in smelt colour, and pearl olive Powerbaits have worked the best – perhaps the scent in these lures has helped in the dirty conditions.

The local rivers also offer some excellent dirty water trout angling when the streams rise. The most favoured methods of targeting these fish have been with minnow style hard-bodied lures, medium to large dark wet flies, or paddle tail soft plastics. Look for shallow runs and foamy backwaters, anywhere where the fish can lie in ambush out of the main river flow.”

Phil Smallman. Phil Smallman from Melbourne is building a reputation as a gun competition fisherman, and is well respected for his insightful observations on all things angling.

“If you fish often enough it’s inevitable that you will be forced to pull fish from dirty water. I suppose the question that begs is what constitutes ‘dirty water’? From my perspective dirty water could be classified as discolouration of a system that is not that way for the majority of the time. Yet dirty water can be the norm for so many systems, and is usually a consequence of freshwater inflows with suspended sediments.

I reckon it’s the percentage of suspended solids per given volume of water that could be classified as dirty. This idea of dirty water is clearly different to the staining (with tannins and so on) that some systems are known for, particularly many East Gippsland systems.

On a recent trip to the Glenelg and the Hopkins rivers we were confronted with dirty water in both systems as a result of relatively high freshwater inflows. I believe that in such situations fish will, if possible, move where the freshwater meets the cleaner tidal saltwater inflows.

Fish can also move through the water column to find saltwater. In the situation above, the sounder showed a thermocline at 4.5 in 6m of water. With so much freshwater entering the system it’s likely there could have been 4.5m of freshwater over 1.5m of salty water – and the sounder arches were suspended in the deeper brackish sections.

The bottom line is that when fishing dirty water it’s important to find places where there are fish that are willing to feed. Then it’s often ‘reactionary techniques’ that work best. These methods entice a hit on a lure because the fish is either hungry, or it just does not want the lure in its vicinity.

The reactionary techniques employed can be different with each day. On one day lots of vibration and flash of lures will entice a reactionary bite, while on other days more subtle lure colours and a very slow and steady technique will be effective. I don’t think there is any set technique for fishing dirty water, it’s more a matter of experimenting until a bite is detected and then building on what’s working at the time.”

Chris Burbidge. There is hardly a fisherman in this state more experienced than Chris Burbidge from Melbourne. A reclusive but innovative and resourceful lure specialist, I was able to pry this from him about dirty water bream fishing.

“With our creeks and rivers prone to changing from crystal clear one moment to almost mud the next, our fish have learned to adapt. We have to learn to do the same when trying to catch them. When you’re fishing dirty water you can't expect big numbers, and even landing one fish in these conditions is a good trip in my book. The very first thing you need to do is to be confident. Don’t be daunted by the fact you can’t see your lure more than 10cm under the water.

Another thing I find that helps is to fish slower and deeper than usual. All your standard lures can still work, and it’s a matter of paying attention to detail on the day. Be mindful of what you did just prior to getting that first hit. Lure selection can vary, of course, depending on where you are – so you must experiment a little.

Confidence can be everything. By way of example, one time stands out for me with dirty water. When I arrived at the chosen river I found the water high and very dirty, almost like Milo. I had worked my way along for about half an hour before I got the first touch, which sort of shocked me as I had almost convinced myself nothing good would come from fishing that sort of water. That one inquiry gave me the confidence I needed and I went on to get five bream and eight estuary perch that trip.

A recent trip to the Hopkins found the water quite discoloured with about 25cm of visibility. We had tried the margins for no result, so we started to fish the deeper water and worked the lures very slowly. Within a few minutes we had our first fish landed, and while it wasn’t a big fish it got the ball rolling for us. Working dirty conditions is not rocket science. It is just concentration and paying attention to the little things that get the job done.”

GET Down and dirty!

Hopefully you are now armed with a few new tips for fishing after all the floods and heavy rain across the state. It can be done! Good fish can be caught on both bait and lures in dirty water. The underlying theme is to experiment, be confident and persevere.




1. You can catch fish in dirty water – so persist.

2. Fish will be less cautious under the cover of dirty water. If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.

3. Try fishing near where dirty water meets clean water (which could also be down near the bottom, even if the top is dirty)

3. Look for fish in places where the floodwater will deliver them food.

4. Try using bright flashy lures or big dark lures for higher visibility.

5. Work your deeper and more slowly than usual.

6. Don’t spend too long in one spot – cover the water.

7. If baitfishing use ‘smelly’ baits like shellfish or prawns.


Mark Gercovich showing off a fat bream caught on a lure in murky water.


Estuary perch can find lures in the dirtiest of waters, but try giving them a helping hand by using larger lures than normal, or flashy lures with rattles.


Big trout are often out looking for a feed in dirty water. Remember, if you can’t see them, they can’t see you – so when it’s murky they may well be in very shallow water.


Rick Morrison with a PB estuary perch caught after the floods. Good fish can be caught in dirty water – ofetn it’s just a matter of persistence.


Phil Smallman knows good bream can be pulled from dirty water.


Chris Burbidge lifted this perch from water the colour of Milo!

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