IN SOUTH East Queensland’s small coastal creeks there’s usually a saltwater section that runs to brackish and then to complete fresh. Mud crabs abound around the lower reaches where mangroves still flourish, but in the upper sections, still influenced by tidal flow, the muddies give way to bream, tarpon, the occasional jack and plenty of mullet.
We all drive over these small creeks at times without ever seriously considering fishing them. However, after discovering a real mother lode of sportfishing in a couple of creeks within easy driving distance of the city, I've changed my view considerably!
On our first trips we didn’t have much hope of catching anything other than a few bream on our fly gear, so it came as a big shock to realise that there were some quality light-tackle sportfish on tap. On the first outing, while chasing bream, we scored giant herring and trevally in the brackish upper section of a creek that was almost too narrow to cast in. On the second outing we added tarpon to the list.
In assessing a creek's potential as a fly fishing venue, have an open mind and keep the old eyes open as well.
First of all, the creek must be quite unpolluted. If it's not, don't spend too much time fishing it.
Secondly, there needs to be free access to the sea for the fish population at some stage or other. Maybe only during flood times (remember them?) will the waterway open enough for fish to leave or enter, but it will still be a good possibility for the fly fisher – so long as the pollution factor is low.
In assessing any small coastal creek I like to see plenty of mullet about. Mullet are the key. If mullet are living an easy life in the creek, so too are bream, tarpon, giant herring, trevally and maybe some serious sports fish such as milkfish and mangrove jack.
The sort of healthy coastal creek I'm referring to might only be accessible by canoe or a very small boat. This is ideal because it limits the fishing pressure on the local inhabitants.
Six-weight fly tackle is ideal. I like floating or sink tip lines for fishing small waters such as these because light gear is easy to control. A floating or sink tip line also delivers the fly gently, which is essential where fish can be spooky due to the presence of a boat or other watercraft.
Plan the first trip for low tide. At this time most or all features should be visible. While it might be necessary to skirt round any sand bars or rocky areas, it’s handy to know where they are for later visits. Quiet progress with an electric motor or paddle is preferable. Watch carefully for fish scooting away from snags or likely hidey-holes. Fly presentation should be careful, targeting those snags with some obvious water depth about them.
Berleying with stale bread is a good idea. It never ceases to amaze me just how well fish, particularly bream, respond to bread berley. Once the fish are working on the bread it's not hard to sneak in a bread fly or take the other tack entirely and try for them with a small minnow fly or even a popper. I've seen bream go ape over small fly rod poppers at times.
The best times are dawn and dusk when the predators are active. Tarpon and trevally in particular really fire up during low light. It’s satisfying to note the presence of a few fish darting away from a snag and then, as a small Deceiver or Clouser Minnow lobs right by the feature, the line comes up tight and a leaping length of alfoil-coloured tarpon takes to the air.
A creek that has served me admirably during the last couple of years gave us great hope during the first two trips, and has yielded everything (except mangrove jack) since then. When fishing this creek we seldom see a tarpon roll or swirl, but we regularly catch them by keeping the flies close to cover. Giant herring also frequent cover and can be hooked near the boat by working the fly gently away from cover. Bream usually show up around the berley but bite best around the snags.
Another of my favourite creeks fishes best at high tide. With inconsistent results at low water, we now fish it when the tide has been running up for at least three hours. One of our best trips this Summer came about during a late afternoon/dusk session (the sandflies were bad and I had forgotten the Bushman) with a king tide spilling into the side channels and little backwaters. The session was red hot! Some snags had so many tarpon around them that each successive cast was hit without warning. And the tarpon were savage. They hit the flies so hard that we lost fish after fish on 3kg tippet.
There are probably many more milkfish (Moreton Bay salmon) about than anglers realise. These fish seem to be tied in with mullet, and if an unpolluted creek or lagoon holds a lot of mullet, milkfish are a possibility. Take the time to regularly berley with bread and watch for big swirls as the fish feed.
I can't promise that you’ll always enjoy the sort of action I've encountered. Even so, if you have a likely creek in your area it’s definitely worth giving it a go.
1) Best results when fishing small coastal creeks usually come from keeping the flies near cover as these two anglers are doing.
2) Milkfish are about. This fish came from a small coastal creek that also holds a very healthy population of mullet.
3) Action stations! A feisty tarpon thrashes at the feel of the hook.Reads: 600