In the canals, in the quiet still of the early morning, you can hear the sound of fishy ‘kisses’ as bream feed in the growth of the hulls, pontoons and rocks. Because these fish feed so close to the surface, as they suck in food their mouth leaves the water, making that signature kissing sound.
In a situation like this, when the fish are feeding high in the water column, being able to work a lure high in the water is a deadly technique. Other lures swim away from the fish, but with a surface lure you can twitch and kick the lure in the fish’s face for so long that it eats it out of sheer instinct.
The bib or body design of a hard-bodied lure will dictate the lure’s running depth, but with plastics we’re forced to work with the weight of the jighead. When working soft plastics high in the water column, you’ll need to fish them unweighted or on very lightly weighted jigheads.
A similar technique is drifting unweighted baits down to fish that are holding up in the current or around structure, where they wait to ambush unwary prey, or just to pick up whatever the current brings. Imagine a school of whiting feeding on the deep side of the drop-off and drifting a live yabby in the current unweighted. You can sometimes have a hard time keeping the smaller whiting away from it as it runs over the shallows, but if it makes it to the deeper water it’s sure tempt the bigger (and often more shy) fish.
You can use the same approach when targeting mangrove jack or cod that hold up in deep rock bars. Drifting a slab of mullet down to these fish is sure to grab their attention. Drifting livebaits can be difficult because the livies keep high in the water, but it can be done. To make the job easier, place the hook near the tail instead of the head to force the fish to swim deeper.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bait fisherman or a lure caster – the principles are the same. Getting the rig into the strike zone and being able to stay in contact with what’s happening are the two vital steps to success.
Getting the rod and reel right is critical. Small threadlines matched to light graphite rods are the way to go. These outfits can be quite expensive but you can get some models for as little as $200, and at this price they work fine. My choice for this fishing is a 7’ Daiwa Procaster Z with a small threadline to match. Very light, whippy rods are easy to cast, but I recommend getting the hang of a rod that is just a little stiffer. These rods can help give the lure an better action, as well as helping you to set the hook.
Spooling the reel with very fine braided line is also vital. I like to use Fireline because it’s extremely fine and comes off the spool in coils – something that also helps to reduce friction and improve casting distance. I can spool Fireline right up to just a tiny fraction below the lip of the spool and I have no problems with tangles when casting. This is in stark contrast to some of the softer braids, which can come off the spool in bunches and tangle up.
A few years back, we saw a trend towards what was called ‘long cast spools’. These were spools that were tapered forward and were supposed to assist with long distance casting. These reels are great if the spool isn’t full, but they result in a lot of tangles if they’re spooled to just under the lip.
If you’re using braid, I recommend a straight spool or even one that tapers towards the butt of the rod. These rear tapering spools also have the advantage of having a bigger drag washer due to a larger surface area at the front of the spool. When they’re filled correctly they cast very well, with very few problems as far as tangles are concerned.
Selecting the appropriate terminal tackle is an important factor as well. Going weightless is a good option when the fish are shy or have shut down, and there’s no point going through all of the trouble of fishing light just to waste it all on using heavy, highly visible leaders, or not matching the hooks to the bait. Try using fluorocarbon leaders and keep it all neat and presentable.
Some other factors to consider when fishing without lead are things like wind, current, and even detecting bites by sight instead of just by feel. Wind and current are fairly obvious and will determine whether it’s even worth attempting to fish weightless in the conditions. Both can work for you as well as against you, so it can all boil down to just fishing a little smarter.
Putting the wind to your back and lobbing the bait or lure with the breeze will get it sailing to the destination with very little effort. Current can also help you to get the bait into the strike zone. Casting upcurrent and allowing it to drift the bait into a snag or over a drop-off is not just convenient – it’s a deadly technique for a whole range of fish.
You’ll find that detecting bites can be a little harder if you’re used to fishing with sinkers that can hold the line against the rod tip, helping you to feel little bites. You can’t detect bites this way if you’re fishing ultra-light or weightless.
If it’s not too windy, use the slack line as an indicator. As a fish mouths the bait or lure, the line will flicker or go tight. Some anglers strike as soon as they feel the line flicker, but you have to remember that when fishing light line with no sinker, the fish can pick the bait up and swim away with it or eat it on the spot without suspecting there’s something wrong. Pick up the same bait and have it connected to a hunk of lead, and all of a sudden things don’t appear quite so natural.
I have watched fish pick up unweighted plastics and hold onto them for a number of seconds before letting go – and some fish don’t spit them out at all. Scented plastics are so lifelike in taste and smell that they fool the fish into actually eating them. I wouldn’t recommend that you wait until the fish swallows the plastic before setting the hook, but fishing very light certainly buys you plenty of time when it comes to driving the hook home.
Fishing without lead will provide you with some productive new techniques to add to your arsenal. Unweighted fresh mullet fillets for mangrove jacks, unweighted pillies when boat fishing the back of the surf for tailor, and unweighted live prawns in the mangroves at night for massive bream are just a couple of the more deadly options. Lure anglers can start casting plastics that can be worked across the surface with no lead at all, tiny lures for bream and flathead, and new ultra lightweight jigheads like the Nitro Torpedo. Get the tackle right and work on some casting techniques, and you’ll open up a whole new dimension to your fishing.
1) The thousands of boats and pontoons of the Gold Coast have made ultra-light jigheads like the Nitro Torpedo an awesome option for fishing high in the water column.
2) Bass Minnows and super-light jigheads are a deadly combination. Top to bottom is the Nitro Torpedo, 1/30oz and 1/24oz Nitro Bullet.
3) Flathead respond well to unweighted baits drifted with the boat in the shallows.
4) A larger 2500 reel with a longcast spool and a smaller Daiwa Capricorn 1500 with a straight tapering spool. The Daiwa casts with fewer problems and, due to the straight spool, it houses a larger drag washer. This is why I’m not a big fan of ‘longcast’ spools.
5) Ultra-light lures like Tim Morgan’s Sky Walker can easily be presented on the right tackle.Reads: 424