Shallow reef success
  |  First Published: October 2005

Fishing shallow reefs is becoming increasingly popular in the southern bay area and for good reason. The large number of islands that make up the region means there is a massive area of shoreline to fish and the relatively shallow depth allows rocky reef to extend a long way from shore in many places. A great variety of species can be caught over reef in less than 3m of water. Regular catches include bream, sweetlip, snapper, parrot, various trevallies, cod and tailor, as well as less common species such as mangrove jacks and coral trout.

Many anglers ignore these reefs because of the difficulty in fishing them. Lobbing a conventional sinker/swivel/trace rig into a rocky reef in 2m of water is basically a waste of time and money, because it will snag before you have time to flip the bail on your reel.

The standard way to fish the shallows is to sneak in and fish unweighted baits on a rising tide at night, usually for bream and snapper. Although the tackle losses can be horrendous, it is a very productive way to fish on a big tide, especially in the cooler months. It is becoming more common to see anglers prospecting reefs as shallow as 0.5m in broad daylight with a variety of lures and flies.

The most important thing to remember is to move quietly and fish lightly because shallow water equals spooky fish. Electric motors are a big bonus and long rods allow you to cast well away from the boat. Using lighter than normal leaders such as 6lb for bream and 8-10lb for snapper will also improve your hook-up rate.

Try to plan your drift so that wind and tide will take you past some of the prime spots, allowing you to use the electric motor less. When prospecting over a reef I tend to work methodically from one end to the other, paying particular attention to any coral or rocks that stick out and provide shelter, ambush points or interruption to the current. Gutters and drains that run through the reef are also worthy of extra attention.

I use polarised sunglasses to help see the structure to cast to, and hopefully see the fish hit the lure as well. Generally I fish a rising tide, however, some anglers have excellent success on the falling tide, particularly where drains run off a drying shoreline.

Soft plastics, shallow diving hard-bodied lures, surface poppers and various flies all have their place in this style of fishing. In the shallowest of water, surface flies and popper lures are just about the only way to go. Bream frequently patrol around rocky edges in less than 0.5m of water and aggressively take lures worked very slowly on the surface.

The ideal retrieve is to let the lure sit for 5-10 seconds after it hits the water. Give it a short bloop or a couple of twitches, then wait another 5, 10, or even 20 seconds before repeating the procedure.

50-75mm poppers such as Sugois, Pop Queens and Lucky Crafts are ideal for this. Poppers work well further out in 2-3m depths as well, particularly where there is some current movement or bait activity along the reef edge. Working them more aggressively will attract larger predators such as trevally, tailor and kingfish. At the time of writing a couple of anglers have been getting stuck into the snapper using this technique as well.

Shallow and mid-depth lures are very useful for most species mentioned. Small lures like Ecogear SX40Fs and River 2 Sea Static Shads are great for the bream, while larger lures such as Mad Mullets and Lucky Craft Bevy shads work for larger species. Suspending lures are particularly useful as they can be cranked down quickly then paused just above the coral or rocks and twitched every few seconds or so. Sweetlip, mangrove jack, Moses perch and a whole bunch of other species can’t resist this stop/start, injured baitfish retrieve.

Soft plastics are deadly in many situations and are the lure of choice for the majority of bream and snapper anglers. They are very effective in the shallows when teamed up with a light jighead and used with a slow hopping retrieve just above the bottom.

The down side of plastics in this situation is that they are easily lost if sunk to the bottom and some of the really light, bream-sized jigheads can be difficult to cast far enough in calm, clear conditions. Some good plastics to try include Ecogear Minnow S, Zooms and Snapback Finesse Jerkbaits. Slow sinking flies such as Clousers, Vampires and various prawn and shrimp imitations fall into the category too, but it’s easier to cast them a long way with a fly rod. When worked off a floating line these flies get a really nice hopping action that many species find irresistible.

There are a huge number of locations in the southern bay where you can start prospecting the shallows. All of the larger islands have rocky or coral reefs in the shallows: all you need is a small boat, a light spin outfit, some polarised sunglasses and a few lures and you are in business.

Until next month, tight lines. For more information on the southern Moreton Bay area, come and see me at Fish Head (Cnr Broadwater Tce and Stradbroke St, Redland Bay) or call me on (07) 3206 7999.

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