Playing in the mud
  |  First Published: February 2004

MOST bay anglers are already aware of the potential of Mud Island, especially for snapper. The ledges well out from the island produce good numbers of squire, especially during the cooler months, as well as many larger snapper and sweetlip. However, although these species are mainly found in deeper water, they also regularly feed in the shallows. The shallow areas close to the island are often overlooked by anglers, even though they can be very productive at times. The ledges and rubble walls are home to many baitfish, squid and small crustaceans, which attract a host of fish species. One way to target them is with jighead-rigged soft plastics, which allow you to probe the shallows with surprising results. A good variety of species can be hooked in these shallower margins and the quality is often surprising.


Mud Island was dredged for coral many years ago to supply lime for cement powder, and this dredging has resulted in walls of rubble around the island instead of live coral. Peel Island is now the only island in the lower bay that still has live shallow reef, so it is now out of bounds for fishing. It is because of the government’s previous stupidity and greed that anglers are being banned from this area, even though we weren’t the ones who destroyed the St. Helena and Mud Island reefs.

At Mud Island, a wall of broken coral discards, rock and other debris from the dredging run right along the eastern and southern sides. Inside this wall a shallow lagoon has formed which has several entrances (breaks in the wall), the most prominent of which is on the north-eastern corner. There are various other smaller ledges and other structure around Mud and all hold fish at various times.


Mud Island is the northernmost island in the southern bay area and is a short run from boat ramps at Wynnum, Manly and the Brisbane River. On days when the wind is below 10 knots, boats as small as 4m can safely fish it. Light winds are desirable when fishing the shallows, as you can fish more productively if you’re able to slowly work along the walls and ledges. I regularly use my MinnKota bow-mount autopilot because the foot control allows me to set the motor to follow a particular course along the wall at any speed, which means my hands are free to cast and I can cover a lot of ground in silence with little effort. A lead anchor with light rope attached can be helpful if it’s a bit windy and you want to pepper one of the more prominent areas with a few casts. A good sounder is essential for consistent results, especially as the rising tide makes it harder to see the walls and submerged ledges.


Light yet powerful spinning rods are desirable for several reasons. The rod needs to be light enough to cast for extended periods yet powerful enough to fish 8lb to 14lb braid to the limit. The fish around these shallow reefs are often powerful, fighting doggedly in the shallow water, so you need a rod that you can fish hard in an attempt to stop them busting you up in the rough terrain. The rod also needs a medium to light tip that can propel a 1/4oz jighead a good distance. The two rods I use are an 8-17lb 6’6 Daiwa Heartland S and a Reddington 8-17lb 7’0 RFX, but there are plenty of other good rods on the market.

Spinning reels need to be decent quality and hold around 125 yards of 8lb to 14lb braid, such as Fireline, Platypus Superbraid or Bionic Braid. Braid allows you to detect the lightest tap and also reduces the likelihood of a good fish busting you off. Leaders are essential for braided lines and 15lb to 20lb fluorocarbon works well. It would be nice to have heavier leaders at times but this would deter many fish from striking. You have to hook a fish before you can have a chance at landing it, so stick to the lighter fluorocarbon leaders.


Paddle-tails, shads, single-tails and many others have all produced for me when fished correctly. If you have confidence that the plastic you have on will work, it probably will. Just stick to it when things are quiet and fish it with confidence and you’ll get more hookups.

My favourite plastic for this area is the 3” gold glitter Slider, and others that have produced well for me include the 3” Sliders and Atomic paddle-tails in pearl or cotton candy, AusSpin single-tails in gold glitter, Ecogear M Minnows in clear pink and many others with a metallic flake in them.

A huge range of jigheads will match these plastics but they need to have heavier gauge hooks. I find that 1/4oz is the best weight most of the time but it pays to have a few different ones available. As the current picks up you’ll need to increase the weight slightly but on a slack tide you’ll get the most strikes using a jighead that sinks slowly and just keeps the plastic close to the bottom. I usually use the Nitro Barra Bullets or the Tackle Tactics Tournament jigheads as they both have good quality hooks. Lighter hooks will just be straightened or crushed, especially by squire and sweetlip.


There are many opinions going around about whether scents really do work, and I used to be one of the sceptics until recently. After using a scent while others in my boat didn’t, I found that it definitely produced more strikes. The downside is that scents do entice small fish to attack the plastics more ravenously, resulting in more destroyed plastics without tails. I mainly use the Spike-It clear garlic scent but all flavours seem to work. It's more a case of overpowering the smell that can be put on plastics by your hands, which come into contact with sunscreen, fuel, oil and other contaminants.


The best time to fish the shallows at Mud Island seems to be the making tide from the dead low to almost high tide. During this time predatory fish such as snapper, estuary cod, sweetlip, flathead, bream, pike, moses perch and tailor feed along rubble walls and adjacent ledges on the baitfish that have been forced out of the lagoon. The making tide also brings bait past the island and predators use the rubble walls and other structure as ambush sites.

The start of the run-out tide is a good time to cast soft plastics around the breaks in the wall where the water from the lagoon drains out. A number of species can be caught here, with the catch mostly made up of bream, flathead and pike. The northernmost lagoon outlet once produced six bream between 30cm and 42cm for me on the first half hour of the run-out tide, just on dark.

The entrances are very shallow and 1/32oz and 1/16oz jigheads are best to avoid snagging up on the rubble bottom. You can even tie your boat up and walk in to fish the shallow lagoon, which can often produce great sight fishing for flathead, bream, longtom and pike. Overcast days definitely fish better than the sunny days and early in the morning is also a good time to be out there.


Working plastics along the rubble walls and adjacent drop-offs can be annoying if you’re constantly snagging up. Hopping plastics seems to reduce this and also produces plenty of strikes. The basic technique is to raise the rod tip and then lower it slowly as you wind the handle a few turns to take up the slack line. Many of the hits come when the jig is freefalling and the takes can vary from light taps to vicious strikes. Often the better quality fish will hit the plastic lightly several times before finally engulfing it. Continue with your retrieve if this happens and resist the urge to strike prematurely or you’ll spook the fish.

Another successful retrieve is to wind the handle a couple of times slowly and then stop to allow the plastic to freefall until it rests. Repeat the process over and over until the plastic is close to the boat.

In some areas you can cast the plastic out and just drift until you get a hit. Some of my best squire have fallen for this technique. If you work over an area and receive some good hits but few hookups, try fishing the area again with a lighter jighead, a different plastic and a much slower retrieve. I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty of other combinations that will work, too.


Close to the walls you can expect to encounter estuary cod, moses perch and pike. Where the wall meets the true bottom you’re likely to catch flathead, bream and grass sweetlip, especially if there’s a muddy bottom with a bit of weed growth. Deeper ledges further out in more than 4m of water usually hold squire and a few sweetlip. These ledges are best explored by casting into the deeper water and slowly working the plastic back up the ledge into the shallower water. In many areas you can cast to the walls on one side of the boat and out into the deeper water on the other side.


Mud Island is a great spot for a short trip when you have only a few hours to fish, and fishing plastics is a very productive and enjoyable way to catch a variety of species. I have landed some quality fish along the rubble walls and nearby drop-offs, including estuary cod to 2.5kg, squire to 3kg, bream to 42cm, flathead to 78cm, sweetlip to 1.5kg and a host of others. I have also been busted up many times, even on 14lb braid and 20lb leaders, and I reckon it’s only a matter of time before I land a really good knobby or sweetlip. Not all the fish I’ve caught have been whoppers but every trip has produced at least a few fish, so give the shallows around Mud Island a go with soft plastics next time you’re out there.

1) The rubble walls on Mud Island make the perfect habitat for estuary cod.

2) Brandon Wessels with a squire from a shallow Mud Island ledge.

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