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Hitting the estuary target
  |  First Published: December 2008



Of all the popular fishing environments it’s our coastal rivers and lakes that attract the most anglers. This is largely due to our coastal way of life, with the vast majority of Aussie anglers living within an easy drive of a productive saltwater lake or river system.

The consistency of quality fish available over the Summer months is also a large drawcard, with switched-on anglers consistently producing during the warmer months.

In this article we’re going to look at the commonly targeted Summer species and where you should be looking for them.

FLATTIES

Of all the classic sun-loving fish, few are more fun to catch and tastier than the dusky flathead.

As the weather heats up, plenty of coastal anglers break out the light spin rods and target these feisty fish. Today there’s an equal spilt between chasing them with lures and using bait. Both methods work, it’s all a matter of preferred fishing style.

Whether you’re a bait or lure angler, prime places to start looking for plate-sized flathead are the shallow, weed-lined lake and river edges.

Healthy weed beds are havens for marine life, attracting various baitfish and prawns, and the cagey flathead will often wait in ambush for an easy meal.

In non-tidal rivers and lakes, usually the most productive weed beds are those on any prominent points with deeper water fairly close by. The deeper water is often good travelling country for predatory fish and offers the flathead a good escape rout if need be.

Many weed beds are best fished from a drifting boat, because shore-based access can be limited and it’s very easy to spook the fish.

Most keen flathead anglers fish from well set-up boats, with many sporting electric motors to help position the boat to cast or drift. Silently cruising around the points flicking baits and lures tight to the weed edges can be very productive, particularly around the prime feeding times of dawn and dusk.

In unfamiliar tidal systems you’ll have do a little exploring, looking for prominent weed beds with a nice push of water at low tide. Drift very quietly over the tidal flats on high tide.

The basic idea is to land the lure or bait around the beds of ribbon weed, ideally on the sand patches in between. It’s on these patches of clean ground where the flathead will often be lying, partly buried in the sand or silt just waiting for food, and a bait or lure sweeping by will seldom be refused.

In those estuaries not blessed with an abundance of weed, concentrate your efforts around the edges of sandy tidal flats, especially those choke points where channels narrow and drop off into deeper water. Flatties use these as ambush points to waylay baitfish passing on the tide.

If there’s a high tide at first light, flathead often can be found right on the tops of the sandflats where they’ve spent the night sneaking up on baitfish foraging in the shallows.

WHITING

Another popular warm-water species is whiting. These silver strips of muscle spend most of their time hoovering the bottom with their down-turned mouths in pursuit of worms, small crabs and other bottom life.

Worms are at the top of the heap when it comes to baits for whiting. Bloodworms, tube worms, squirt worms and even beach worms, you won’t find a better bait for whiting. Bait them on long-shank hooks in sizes form 2 to 4 to fit in the fish’s small mouth.

If worms are hard to source, you could try nippers or fresh prawns but don’t expect to catch as many.

Anglers often fish similar country as they would for flathead, but downsize the lures and baits to match the quarry.

Again, silently drifting the weed edges flicking to the sandy patches works quite well. As to does drifting the slightly deep country near by. As you can imagine it’s not uncommon to hook flathead whilst chasing whiting. And it’s not too uncommon to have flathead eat your whiting as you bring them in!

Many keen lure anglers are now targeting whiting on surface poppers, casting them over submerged weed and yabby beds and retrieving in a series of quite aggressive bloops and pops. It’s great fun and will really open your eyes to the aggressiveness of these little sport fish.

Again, dawn and dusk are usually the best times to try popper fishing.

BREAM

Bream are a year-round species but it’s during the warmer months that many anglers target these quality fish. Bait and lure anglers can do very well in Summer as long as they fish the right parts of the river and lake systems.

During summer in many tidal systems, bream slowly edge their way up-river towards feeder creeks and bays that are likely to produce good numbers of prawns.

Like most species, there’s a direct link between prawn numbers and bream. Bream will hold station in any part of a system, no matter how deep or shallow, if there are good supplies of prawns nearby. The warm upper reaches are often ideal prawn breeding grounds, so this is where many bream end up over Summer.

Again, lure and bait anglers can enjoy the summer action, either in boats on the feeder rivers or by finding a nice comfy bank from which to cast.

While the fish are often structure-orientated and holding station around any fallen bankside timber, there are often decent numbers of fish cruising mid-stream, making casting a bait on the open mud or sand still well worth the effort.

Among the best bream baits over Summer are live versions of the prawns they regularly feed on, nippers or strips of pilchard or mullet. Hook sizes should be from 2/0 to No 1 with short-shanked suicide styles for the prawns and flesh baits and long-shanked models if you want an each-way bet for whiting and bream.

Nowadays, however, most keen Summer bream anglers are working the bankside cover with a range of soft plastic and hard-bodied lures from kayaks, tinnies or sporty bass-style boats.

Bream spinning is great fun and it’s not surprising so many keen anglers are out on the water flicking lures for these great little fish. With a little practice, anyone can consistently catch bream on lures and Summer is probably the easiest time of year to trick them.

During the warmer months they often become quite aggressive, belting prawns off the surface and chasing smaller baitfish.

For lure anglers this means fun to be had with small surface lures. Armed with your favourite spin rod and a box containing a few 50mm to 60 mm poppers, fizzers and stick baits, you can start to explore the upper reaches and expect to find some surface action.

JEWFISH

Jewfish, specifically school jewfish, abound in Summer, enjoying the sudden influx in baitfish and prawns.

Most of the jewfish encountered over the warmer months are from 2kg to 9kg and while they can be spread out in an estuary system, they’re usually not too far from good bait supplies.

Where to look will depend on water conditions and bait numbers. Don’t expect to find too many where the water is gin clear with little baitfish activity. Look for nice, green water with plenty of baitfish.

A good indication you’re in good school jewfish country is pelicans. If there’s water around 2m to 5m deep and plenty of pelicans cruising the bank scooping up bait, the odds are there will be a school jewfish or two around. Again, dawn and dusk are prime times.

Bait or lures is up to you, both work well.

Lure fishing is perhaps a little more area-specific, meaning that you need to land the lures very close to jewfish to get results, whereas bait has the ability to draw fish from considerable distances.

I guess it depends whether you want to actively chase the fish or patiently wait for them to come to you.

Most of the keen lure guys chasing jewfish use soft plastic shads and stickbaits from 100mm to 150mm rigged on suitably sized and weighted jig heads. Cast towards structure such as a rock wall, bridge or rock bar where the baitfish take refuge.

Most boat anglers with electric motors slowly edge their way along, working the rubber lures down any drop-offs and close to pylons or rocks looking for fish.

Hits are often surprisingly soft, with only a subtle bump denoting a take. Experienced soft plastic anglers know to strike on suspicion, with even the most innocuous touch potentially a quality fish.

There are usually no such problems when fishing with fresh dead or live baits. Bait fishos feeding out a live herring or mullet will definitely know when a jewfish has taken the bait! Fished at anchor and feeding the baits out towards the bridge pylons or over a deep drop-off can be very effective and loads of fun during the warmer months, especially after dark and into the night.

As always with jewfish, concentrate your efforts around a tide change.

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