Big Rigs in Estuaries
  |  First Published: October 2005

How many of us have drooled at some of the estuary monsters heaved up for the camera in fishing mags such as this? How many of us have actually hooked ‘something big’ and how many have stayed connected?

If any of you answered ‘no’ to the third question, then chances are you were more than likely targeting something with less horsepower and passed off ‘the one that got away’ as a stingray. Generally, those scaled scoundrels of the estuary with less mass can be angled for with just about any ‘off the shelf’ fishing outfit that employs little or no customisation of the business end of the gear – the rig itself.

However, as fish get bigger, so do teeth and the ability to find logs, rocks and remove more line from a hapless angler’s reel.

Bigger fish often don’t worry about a piece of pipi on a number 8 long shank whiting hook because they’d need to eat about 200 of them to feel like it was a satisfying meal. This means that baits for bigger fish are often more effective if they are larger as well, and as we start upsizing our bait, our rigs and tackle need to follow suit!

So if you would like to answer ‘yes’ to all three of the questions in the introduction, hopefully this article will help you to do so by upgrading your rigs effectively.


Most estuary predators need to be able to hang onto their prey. This means a decent set of dentures or some very rough, line-fraying inner lip construction. 3-4kg monofilament is just not going to hang onto anything too big that has a mouth full of the aforementioned dentures. You need to customise your tackle’s business end to be able to cope with your quarry’s pointy end.

If you intend to target something reasonable, then a 10kg mono leader would be an absolute minimum. By ‘minimum’ I mean this is about right for large flatties or bigger toothless critters that have the pace to get your leader against some rocks.

20kg leader material is getting up there for small jew and jacks, but I’d be looking around the 30kg mark if you think you may run into some decent jewfish near rock outcrops.

Leader length should be at least one metre. Anything shorter can lead to quivering of the bottom lip if decent fish manage to get you amongst an unseen shopping trolley or something similar.

Some leaders are nice and soft, which makes knot tying very easy. Soft leaders are also more susceptible to being bitten or cut off and the knots can often slip, so make sure they are snug. Generally speaking, stiff leader material is more abrasion resistant but can make it harder to get your knots to really ‘bite’ into themselves. Heavier leader material may require a set of pliers to hold your tag while you get it nice and tight.

Rig Set-Up

The overall construction of the rig is just about the most important thing to consider. It will dictate the depth, angle, stamina, realism and fish-hooking ability of your bait.

There are also some major factors that will affect how the rig is constructed. They include species targeted, location, water movement, water depth and type of bait.


Some have bigger teeth than others. For example, if you are after flathead, a 10kg leader would be fine. If a night’s jew fishing is on the cards, then 20kg is a good starting point as their teeth are like witches’ hats!


Your fishing location will dictate the strength of the main line and thickness of leader. For example, you might be fishing for jew within 25m of a large rock outcrop. If this is the case, 30kg-plus leader is a good option.

Water movement

This one is fairly obvious. If the tide is running fairly quickly, you will need more lead to keep it on the bottom. For example, flathead are traditional bottom dwellers, so your rig needs to be made so it stays there, but the leader needs to be long enough to give your bait a bit of life.

Water depth

The deeper the water of the estuary, the more weight you will need on your rig when chasing bottom-dwellers. If you are chasing flatties in a deep estuary, you will need a rig that will get your bait in their face and unless there is absolutely no flow, unweighted baits won’t be of any use. Thankfully, there are very few estuaries that are terribly deep.

Type of bait

The bottom line here is that bigger baits require bigger hooks. Pinning a 1kg live fish with a size 1/0 hook will rarely result in a hook-up. When using large live fish as bait for jewies, you’ll need a hook from around a 6/0 to a 10/0. If smaller hooks are used, there is every chance it will either bury itself back into the fish or its jaw will glide over the top of the small hook without taking hold.

If your bait is live and mobile, such as a large crab, prawn or decent baitfish, there is a good chance it will do what comes naturally and find somewhere to protect itself, such as under a rock or inside a cluster of logs. This is an occasion where it may be prudent to either anchor your livebait to the bottom or, conversely, float it about on a balloon where depth can be regulated.

Faster water can also dictate leader length. Having a 1m leader in a 5-knot current on a rig that is anchored to the bottom will result in the bait being fairly close to a madly humming main line – this noise is something fish despise.

Bait Casting?

This term originally comes form the USA where lures are known as ‘baits’ – hence the term ‘baitcaster’.

Bait and lures are two different things in Australia but the above title does carry a good idea. Find yourself a tough live fish and rig it up with the front hook through the top lip. This can now be used like a lure and cast to likely looking fish-holding territory. They are then worked back very slowly and if everything goes to plan, allowed to swim by all of the worst snags. You can use a small pea-sized sinker right to the hook to counteract the line drawing the fish to the surface. When you feel a snag, just lift the rod tip and guide the fish up and over it.

A singer hook just under the skin and after the dorsal fin is also a good idea as predators will often attack from behind.


Catching livebait can mean turning up to the estuary many hours before you intend to start fishing. There are many species that are ideal livebait and some have more endurance than others. Whiting, mullet, garfish, herring, tailor, pike and Australian salmon are all great livebaits. Please remember that many of the fish that are good livebait still carry size and/or bag limits that are enforced by fisheries officers.

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