Spring at last and haven’t a lot of NSW fishos been waiting for a bit of warmer weather and some fish to show up!
I must admit that after a long, cold Winter I do appreciate the warmer weather but Spring also means some big changes down our way if you are an angler. Each Spring the water begins to warm, kicking a few species into gear and making them hungry.
Two of those Spring species are flathead in the local rivers and estuaries and salmon along the beaches and headlands. They’re both around now so let’s look at some lure-fishing techniques to separate them from the water.
It is a well-known fact Spring is when flathead come out of what is almost a Winter hibernation and start to think about breeding. Having a jump isn’t the only thing on their minds at this time of the year because they also need to feed.
Most estuaries close down to a certain degree over Winter and while there may be some blackfish, bream and the odd jewie to be caught there is a usually a distinct lack of baitfish.
Now the nippers and worms don’t go AWOL or anything like that but baitfish such as poddy mullet, small tailor and whitebait all but disappear over Winter when the water gets as cold as 15°.
As Spring rolls around the water starts to warm and baitfish activity increases. I can remember years ago when we used to do a lot of live-baiting for flathead using poddy mullet. We always had trouble trying to trap poddies in late Winter or early Spring but it took only a few weeks of warm weather and they were about in numbers.
Funnily enough, until the poddies turned up it was usually a waste of time chasing flathead anyway, so there is obviously a connection there. Some years we’d get a warm spell in October which got things moving while other years it was November before the lizards started to breed and feed.
When we used to do a lot of live-baiting for big flathead we had a bit of success with fish to 6kg on small poddy mullet baits and light baitcasters. Before that we used to fish with diving minnows and old Mister Twisters before soft plastics became fashionable.
After the live-baiting phase, we spent a few seasons fishing with Rio Prawns and then got back into the soft plastics.
Of all those techniques, I honestly believe that soft plastics are the most effective for a number of reasons. You can cover a big area by casting and twitching soft plastics and by using different head weights you can fish any depth of water effectively.
With a soft plastic you can cast up and along the edge of where flats drop away into a channel and cover that complete area at any depth with a couple of well-placed casts.
With soft plastics you can swap and change heads and tails to achieve any colour, weight and length combination you like, as well as being able to add scent and even spike the tail with a fluoro colour.
They really are very versatile and can be customised to suit just about situation.
It’s not much use having such a versatile lure on the end of your line unless you have some idea of how to fish it and what it can do. I’m still amazed when I see anglers fishing soft plastics by simply casting and retrieving them with little or no rod movement to make them work.
Most soft plastic tails have some action but in most cases this is designed to supplement the lure being ‘worked’ by the angler’s rod. Rod tip movement is critical when you are fishing plastics to most fish, especially flathead.
You don’t have to do a lot but vertical lifts of the rod tip will bounce the lure up and down at whatever depth you fish it. Those short, sharp lifts make the lure more obvious to a flathead lying on the bottom looking up for baitfish to venture too close.
Colour is also a crucial factor with plastics and flathead. Most experienced anglers have their favourite colour combinations and I’m no different.
I don’t think the head is large and obvious enough to be a critical colour factor. I’ve caught a lot of flathead on lead heads with no paint at all.
The tail is the largest part of most soft plastic lures and therefore the colour is important. I used to fish a lot of chartreuse and pink for flathead a few years ago but the in past few seasons I have used 80mm and 100mm Squidgy Fish with Spike It-dipped tails.
I use the Golden Eye and Silver Fox colours but I dip the tails in orange or hot pink, which seems to work very well. I use Squidgy heads in lead or resin to suit the water depth, which can range from two to 10 metres in the Shoalhaven River.
I fish with 4lb and 6lb Fireline with a two-metre leader of 6kg Siglon fluorocarbon. I use a uni knot to join the gel spun to the leader. It’s a fairly basic and simple set up but it works well as long as you use those vertical rod tip lifts to make the lure work.
While chasing flathead in Spring is exciting, I still love to get out and toss some metal at pelagics at this time of year. When I had my old 4.35 Top Ender I used to spend a lot of time tossing lures and flies at pelagics in Spring and Autumn. I don't do as much of it these days but I still make a concerted effort to get a few sessions in when I can.
I’ve already mentioned that the warmer waters of Spring mean an increase in baitfish activity and this also means an increase in pelagic predators along the coast.
You don’t have to travel far offshore to find salmon, bonito, tailor and even striped tuna but the trick is to find baitfish or bird activity.
Along the backs of beaches are great places to start looking but rocky headlands and large bays will also hold baitfish and pelagics.
Down our way we normally get amongst salmon along the back of Currarong and Seven Mile beaches but also in Jervis Bay and further south around Steamers Beach. Salmon and tailor seem to stick fairly close to the coast and beaches but bonito or striped tuna are likely to show up a little further out and wherever there are baitfish.
Sadly, down our way, it’s been a few years since we’ve seen numbers of striped tuna in closer than the continental shelf and the bonito have been very patchy for several years. I’m hoping this is just a seasonal thing and likely to change rather than become the norm but there’s no denying that both species cop a hiding from the commercial sector.
There are a couple of methods for chasing inshore salmon.
You can troll along the backs of beaches and look for schools of fish and birds as you go or you can work the headland washes by casting lures to the rocks and working them back through the whitewater.
The main factor is to keep moving and working while looking for baitfish or bird activity. If trolling, I like to run a couple of small minnows like Rapala CD9s or CD11s but I always keep a 4kg threadline outfit rigged up with a 30g or 40g metal lure.
If you spot fish you can fire a cast out straight away without having to wind the minnows in and change lures.
When fishing the washes you can use large soft plastics, poppers or metal lures. If conditions are calm I like to fish poppers because those surface strikes and salmon shouldering each other out of the way is very spectacular.
While trolling and wash-tossing are good fun the best bit about Spring salmon is finding a school of fish up on top and blasting into whitebait or pilchards.
Salmon don’t travel as quickly as tuna as they feed so it’s usually possible to cut the motor and stick with the school as you cast lures and fight fish.
This is where a light threadline outfit with 6lb or 10lb Fireline works at its best and some of the best lure fishing action I’ve had has involved tossing small metal lures at salmon and bonito in Jervis Bay.
A threadline stick around 2.1 metres is just perfect, teamed with a 2500 or 4000 threadline and 8kg or 10kg leaders of hard mono.
Lures from 25g to 40g work fine – go for something that can take a bit of speed without spinning or getting out of control. My favourites are Raiders, Kokoda Vectors and Snipers. Any of these cast well and pelagics just love them.
When fishing to schooling fish, the trick is cast at the edges and not right into the middle because this can spook them. Position the boat about 40 or 50 metres upwind of the school and just cast back towards the edges or at any small patches of fish busting up on top.
If the fish are up on top and hungry you should be on after half a dozen winds of the reel handle. If they are a bit fussy, try letting the lure sink a bit deeper or going down in lure size.
You don’t normally require a high-speed retrieve so just work the lure at a medium pace and make sure the treble is well set by striking a couple of times when it gets hit.
Salmon are renown for jumping and throwing hooks so expect to land one in every few fish you hook, but that’s half the fun.
You should be releasing most of the fish anyway so it doesn’t matter if they throw the hooks. Salmon don’t make bad fish cakes but they are too valuable as sportfish to be simply wasted.Reads: 1863