Do Something Different!
  |  First Published: March 2003

HAVE you come across the motivational one-liner that goes something like, ‘If you do just what everyone else does, you’ll end up just like everyone else’? Well, the same applies to fishing. My version of the phrase is: ‘If you fish like everyone else in the same spots as everyone else, you’ll catch the same as everyone else – very little!

Weekend after weekend, hopefuls fish shoulder to shoulder at places like the mouth of Ross Creek, and along the gutter on the outside of the Causeway Lake. Sit and watch for an hour and you’ll notice something interesting. Nobody catches any legal sized fish, but next weekend they’re back trying again – with the same result!

However, I do know individuals who catch decent flathead pretty regularly at the mouth of Ross Creek, and I can manage a feed of whiting and the odd bream from the outside channel at the Causeway if I really try. So what’s the key?


Well, the Ross Creek flathead catchers don’t fish there on weekends with everyone else. As for me, I fish the Causeway after dark on a moonless night with a high tide that just doesn’t quite run through, using a float.

So there’s the secret – not to do what everyone else does!

The trick is to figure out exactly what it is that you need to do differently. You can make a few simple changes that might be enough to get you the odd decent fish, but if you want to be really successful on a regular basis, you need to be prepared to do some serious planning.

Basic Changes

The simple changes involve things like changing the rig you always use. Try a smaller sinker or hook pattern. Toss away that ready-made nylon-coated wire trace (unless you’re targeting sharks) and slip a few centimetres of red plastic tubing above your hook. These sorts of changes will help, but your catch rate probably won’t improve dramatically if that’s all you do.

The law of averages says that if enough people fish for long enough, even if they don’t know what they’re doing, someone will eventually catch a fish. That’s may be true, but the odds aren’t good; it’s like waiting for your lotto numbers to come up. But imagine if you already knew what the first three numbers were going to be. You’d take out a lot more prizes!

Fish IQ

Fish didn’t score well on the National IQ Test on TV last year; they got trounced by dogs, pigs and even chooks. But although fish have no capacity for logical thought or reasoning, they can ‘learn’ in a fashion. It’s called ‘conditioned behaviour’, and scientists use this term when an animal modifies its behaviour or habits in response to a negative or positive stimulus.

Take my pet cichlids, for example. I’ve conditioned them to respond to me tapping on the rim of the bowl. They materialise from all over the tank in seconds because they know they’re about to be fed. They even start feeding on the surface before I put the food in (that’s when you realise that they really are pretty dumb after all). My fish even visually distinguish me from other humans. When someone else approaches the tank they tend to hide, but when I walk by, out they come like the fish in the MacDonald’s TV advertisement.

Catching More Fish

So what’s my point? Well, the fish you’re trying to catch figure a few things out about humans too. They soon come to understand that all that splashing and plonking of sinkers means humans are around. Then there are all those old smelly bits of frozen squid from South East Asia lying around everywhere on the bottom, and thick nylon lines that the fish can see every couple of metres. This happens at around the same time of day and around the same stage of the tide, depending on the spot. If you’re a fish, it’s a good time to be somewhere else – and they often are.


Put some thought into alternatives for fishing your favourite spots. Try fishing at various times of day and night, and experiment with different stages of the tide. Then think about the bait or lure you’re going to use. Generally, the fresher the bait, the more likely it is to tempt a fish. Dig live yabbies, pull a few sand worms or throw a cast net for mullet and herring. Give the frozen bait a miss if you can.

Seriously consider dropping your preferred line size substantially. For example, if you usually use 10kg line, re-spool with 4kg line (you’ll probably need to match your rod and reel to the light line though). If there’s a current, don’t use a sinker so big that it anchors your bait firmly to the bottom. That’s not natural and fish will steer away from it. Allow the bait to move across the bottom with the tide. It means you’re going to have to retrieve and cast out more often, but you’ll probably benefit from the practice anyway.

If you’re a boat angler, either in the estuaries or offshore, apply the same rule. Drop your line class down and use as light a sinker as conditions allow. More people are choosing to use braided line because it offers the same breaking strain with greatly reduced line diameter. The big drawback with braid, of course, is that it costs about three or four times as much as monofilament line.

The Location

If a particular location has the attributes to be a reasonable fishing spot, you can bet that fish will check it out at some stage of the day or night. The time will most likely be when the fish don’t expect humans to be there and trying to catch them. If you work out when that is and be there, with a well-presented bait and the right rig, chances are you’ll hit the jackpot.

Remember Ross Creek? It’s a perfect flathead haunt. The tide runs out of the creek system through a fairly narrow mouth into the open sea, and Stevenson’s Rocks are just around the corner for the fish to take refuge near during the busy hours, away from the annoying humans. What more could a flathead want?

The recipe for fishing this location is simple. You need a high tide just before daylight, some small live mullet or herring (or even large live yabbies) and line no heavier than 4kg. Flick the bait out no more than a couple of metres from the edge, beginning upstream of the mouth and fishing the water on your downstream side. Allow the lightly-weighted bait to move out with the tide, working your way after it towards the beach. The fish will be lying in ambush facing upstream. Your bait must reach them before you do, otherwise you’ll spook them.

If you end up right at the mouth of the creek without a hit, reel in and walk back upstream and repeat the pattern. If there’s a feeding flathead there, you should get him. Just fish for the first hour of the day, then go home for breakfast before the crowd arrives.

So, there it is: be different. Don’t follow the crowd, because you can bet they won’t catch too much!

1) This flathead fell for a live mullet.

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