Soft stickbaits have revolutionised the way we can catch estuary school jewfish
In my back yard, the mighty Clarence River, we have had the opportunity to experience some magic daytime jewfish action over the past two years, mainly due to those experimenting with soft plastic lures. The average size of the fish taken in the river during the day is generally between 3kg and 8kg and these fish previously were caught only by those using live bait.
Fishos chasing bream on soft plastic lures took these jew as a by-catch at the time but now they target them with great success.
There are three main types of areas in the river system that can hold jew. The first is one that most fishos recognise – any bridge that holds bait and has reasonably deep water. The second type of jewie-holding area is along any of the rock walls that run into deep water. These walls usually hold large bait fish like mullet and therefore regularly produce larger fish through the Winter.
The third type of zone, the one we are most interested in, are the deep holes. When I say deep, I mean 10 to 25 metres.
These holes can be found on most rivers that have large tidal flows. When the river makes a sharp turn the water flow is compressed against the bank, stopping any build-up of silt. When the river makes a sharp turn and becomes narrow at the same time, you usually get really deep water and jewie heaven.
Once you have located an area with the potential to produce a few jew you need to learn what that area has to offer. The easiest way to do this is to fish for something that you are already comfortable with, like bream.
While you are fishing, watch your sounder for areas that might hold a jew, and also look for any dangerous snags. Make mental notes of where you are in relation to the bank. This will allow you to confidently and quietly sneak in and fish with your sounder off.
While fishing for bream you will notice when the tide slows down in the deep water that the bream usually become less aggressive. In each area this will vary between the incoming and outgoing tides but the trigger for the jew is usually the same.
In our area we find that when the bream become to hard to catch and the bait fish are on the surface the jewies are on the chew and we change over to larger plastics. Once you learn what part of the slack tide fishes best in your area, you can confidently target jewfish while still enjoying your normal everyday fishing.
Now let’s look at the gear we use and how we use it.
First, we need to remember that the majority of the jew that are caught through the daylight hours range from 3kg to 8kg. The best daytime jew caught in the river with soft plastics that I have seen was 18kg. So you need to be prepared, especially if you are fishing early morning or late afternoon.
Then you have to decide how light you want to fish, as this will determine your jig head size. Too light a line and jig head can lose a big fish and go too heavy and it can deter the fish from biting or you just won’t feel the bite.
If losing a few fish does not bother you, start light as you will increase your bite ratio and hook more fish. I use my bream gear – 6lb Sufix Hydro Fine braid and two metres of 14lb leader for the light tackle threadline fun on jew to 5 kg.
Then we step up to 8lb braid with 14lb to 20lb leaders on our 6kg to 8kg snapper rods with 3000 to 4000 size threadline reels. Those hunting big jew usually use overhead or baitcast gear on 14lb to 30lb braid with 20lb to 40lb leaders.
In the deep water you will be surprised how light you can fish and still successfully land jewfish. The secret is to be patient and play the fish out with the boat positioned directly above the fish. This will avoid the hook throwing when they shake their heads and small jew are better at throwing lures than large ones.
The jig head size will be determined by your line class, size of the plastic lure and depth of the water being fished. The trick is to use the lightest possible weight to achieve a natural presentation of the lure and maintain your feel and control of the lure.
I use jig heads from 1/8oz to 1oz, with the TT lures 1/4oz Rev Head with a gold blade producing the best results for smaller jew and the 3/8oz Rev Head with gold blade for the larger fish. Hook size will be determined by the size of the plastic lure but a hook with a wider gap will produce a high percentage of solid hook-ups.
Then comes the all-important action of the lure; how much work you put into making the lure come alive.
For most lures, a jigging action or a slow retrieve is generally the most widely used. I prefer to use my stickbait lures by lifting and holding the lure off the bottom, then slowly lowering the rod tip and keeping in contact with the lure at all times.
I also add small jigs and twitches at times but I always remain in contact with the lure. I also add a lot of pauses when the lure is off the bottom and find this is when the jew usually strike.
Suspending the stickbait a couple of feet of the bottom and shaking and twitching, or just dead-sticking it, are also deadly in the deep water for jew.
These techniques have shown us a whole new way to fish lures down deep and we now fish them more like bait than lures.
Remember, the secret to successful lure fishing is to let your imagination take over and enjoy each fishing experience.
WHAT LURE, WHAT COLOUR?
Which plastic and colour to chose? I’m afraid this is where you need to have a good imagination and be willing to experiment.
For most of my fishing life I was told to match the lure to the bait. That was great until the introduction of the soft plastic stickbait. Now we use lures that look nothing like the bait where we fish and that is half the secret. Now we make our lure stand out among all those bait fish, but not so much as to spook the jew – just enough to make that inquisitive fish move in for a closer look.
This is where quality 4”, 5” and 6” stickbaits, with their finesse capabilities, can give you the opportunities down deep that other lure styles can’t. Being able to work these lures fast and aggressively or slowly and softly gives huge advantages when working deep water.
As for colour, it will depend on the water quality and time of day you are fishing. Greens and blues are my best colours in the middle part of the day with golds and browns best in the late afternoon.
Early mornings are the hardest time to pick a consistently good colour but I usually start with a clear gold or blue until the sun has been up for an hour.
Whatever colour you pick you have to feel confident with it or be prepared to experiment and find what works for you.
Scott Lane with his first jew on plastic lures.
The author with a 5kg jew caught downstream of Maclean.
A selection of jig heads suitable for jew. The top three are TT Rev Heads, with conventional jig hooks at bottom from Kokoda, Squidgy, AusSpin, TT and Gamakatsu, among others.
Soft plastic stickbaits for jew include the 5” Juro Firebait, top, and 4” Assassin, both of which are durable on the hook and retain suppleness.
Deejay Borg with a 6kg jew taken on a white stickbait at night.
Bob with an early-morning schoolie.