Working the snags!
  |  First Published: December 2003

LURE casting to snags, along with flyfishing, is still one of my favourite ways to spend a day on the water. The fact that you’re continually reading the terrain and almost constantly anticipating the possibilities of your latest cast serves to keep interest at a very high level.

The thousands of casts that make up the majority of such days are not really relevant, except when that stray one finds a lump of wood or rock that won’t let the lure go. Fishing with beginners can alter this ‘perfect’ scenario somewhat, with the effort spent retrieving treed lures cutting into otherwise quality time.

A fair proportion of my clients prefer to lure cast in the creeks and rivers, and some spend their entire four or five days thus engaged. This year the effects of poor wet seasons over the past two years has played havoc with local estuarine systems, causing us to work much harder for our fish. When the going gets tough…!

The main species affected was the barra and it was the need to find other species to make up the difference that moved my new guide, Josh Lyon, and myself to look more closely at techniques that we don’t often use. Our best producers were soft plastic tails and prawn imitations fished deep.

The big problem when using weighted plastics is that it takes a fair degree of skill to work the lure without getting snagged almost every cast. Trying to interpret and anticipate just what lies under the surface, then watch and work your lure accordingly, is a fairly intense and sometimes frustrating way to catch fish.

The degree of difficulty rises exponentially when trying to school clients who are used to the standard cast and retrieve technique. However, in spite of the increased lure snagging and losses, the results usually more than compensate for the effort.

Working the deeper water around snags and rock bars with soft plastics such as Saltwater Assassins, Squidgies and AusSpin shads has proven to be an excellent way of boosting the number of mangrove jack, fingermark, estuary cod and juvenile Queensland groper taken on an average outing. Some nice barra still come along, but overall, fishing deeper opens up a wider range of fishing opportunities.

The other lure that has proven very useful is the Prawnstar. A couple of clients have used these lures with a high degree of success, the only ‘drawback’ being that they have the propensity to be grabbed by large groper and taken home to their favourite snag, usually without regard for heavily set drags or burning thumbs. Prawnstars often continue to raise fish like fingermark when no other lure will even get a sniff. However, there are days when the fish go ‘prawn shy’ and conventional jerkbaits and soft plastics leave prawn lures for dead – but this doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a permanent spot in your tackle box.

Getting the most from this technique requires a light tipped rod with heaps of grunt in the bottom end, something along the lines of the Loomis Crankbaits, and this is one time I prefer braid to mono in estuarine conditions. Feeling the lure over any structure and resisting the urge to strike every time a bump is felt is part of the deal.

Often, jiggling the tip after a slight bump or bumps will prompt an interested fish to grab the offering. The secret to catching more fish when using this method is to waiting until the weight comes on the line before lifting the rod firmly to set the hook.

Standard tackle is a single handed baitcasting rod at the heavier end of the ‘barramundi’ style loaded with at least 10kg braid rigged with a meter of 20-30kg mono leader. Crank the drag up to maximum for the line class then be ready to get both thumbs on the spool as quickly as possible to supplement those hard working washers.

A trip to the Skardon River with a couple of my vintage mates helps demonstrate the usefulness of having these few tricks up your sleeve. On the final day, Ken Stien, Gavin Adams and myself headed upstream to take our first look at the top end of the river, having spent most of our time flyfishing the waters close inshore and along the beach.

Gavin, always a gentlemen, opted to give me a day off and drive the Hooker 5.9, allowing Ken and myself to compete both in terms of putting crap on each other and comparing numbers landed. When I opted to fish an Assassin 4in Sea Shad plastic alongside Ken’s Bomber, this proved a bit too unconventional for the recently retired stalwart and the brown stuff started coming thick and fast!

Ken’s mood became a little quieter as the tails started to outscore the industry standard, both on barra and jacks. When I pulled over 90cm of superbly conditioned Lates calcarifer out of a big snag – after voluntarily letting him take the first cast – Ken was suddenly interested enough to ‘borrow’ one of my jigheads and tail then use it successfully for the remainder of the day!

The lesson here is to always keep your options open and be prepared to move outside of the fishing ‘square’ if your regular methods aren’t producing. Josh and I have certainly changed a few frowns to grins amongst our clientele by applying this rule of late.

1) A hefty groper taken while deep fishing a soft plastic around a snag. Stewart Vella was the lucky angler.

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