A Guide’s Perspective Part 1
  |  First Published: April 2009

Kevin Gleed operates Wilderness Fishing Safaris and gets asked a lot of questions about fishing. In the next few issues we will look at some of the most commonly asked questions and how Kev answers them. These little jewels of information will provide some great insight into improving your fishing. So let’s get underway.

Q: When is the best time to go fishing or when will the fish come on the bite?

A: I am often asked when bookings are being made if the date is on the right moon phase, if the tide is right or indeed if the season is right? This is a tough series of questions to answer as anticipating a good day’s fishing months in advance is, in fishing terms, mission impossible.

Sure there are certain species of fish that are known to be switched on by the moon phase, but I find that local conditions on the day play a far greater role in fishing success. Local conditions such as wind speed and direction, amount of freshwater running, baitfish numbers and type, barometer and more are what I find most important.

We all have reliable fishing spots but if that spot is unfishable due to the local conditions, then you need to put on your thinking cap and apply what you know about the local conditions to score some fish somewhere else.

If we actually knew 100% when the fish would come on the bite, there is no doubt we’d go out half an hour before that time and leave when the bite finished. But fishing is not that easy to predict so we use our experience to fish areas where we expect fish to be. This often leads to long days on the water that allow you to discover whether it is a morning, midday or afternoon bite.

Take black bream for instance. I have noticed that on most days it is possible to catch more black bream in one hour than you will for the rest of the day. I believe this is the case because 90% of the good black bream locations we fish have little or no tidal flow, therefore the fish behave a little like cows in a paddock, feeding when they want. The black bream are easy to locate in these areas, but catching them is another thing altogether. If you persist and that little switch flicks, these timid fish turn into voracious beasts and start racing after lures and eating them in full view. This usually lasts for an hour or so and then stops as suddenly as it began.

The only way to be in the right spot at the right time is to spend time on the water so you can learn about the subtle variations in local conditions and how they affect the behaviour of fish. You will not get it right every time and this is the challenge of fishing, the challenge that keeps us interested.

So there is no easy answer to the question of when is the best time to go because the local conditions will determine when the fish bite. Yes, you can be in the right place at the right season, but you have to manage your locality given the current conditions and there is no way to predict those months in advance.

Q: How do you know you are in the right place at the right time?

A: Factors that affect fishing locations are many, but I consider five main factors when I start a charter day. These factors are:

1. Season

2. Water temperature

3. Water quality

4. Tide

5. Wind.

As an example while fishing with clients between Christmas and New Year’s Eve on a south coast estuary some great fishing was experienced. With a cooler start to summer the water temperature was right, the water colour was excellent and the fish were taking surface lures.

As the water temperature warmed after consecutive days over 30C, the clear water tuned into a brown coloured soup and the excellent fishing on surface at that location finished up quickly. The key was that the comfort level for the fish dropped off.

Simply if the conditions are comfortable for fish they will actively feed frequently, whereas if the comfort level is low (dirty water, low oxygen levels, high water temperatures) the fish feed actively only rarely. This means that you can be in the wrong spot at the wrong time and also be in the wrong system all together.

Water quality factors such as temperature and amount of fresh in the system is of great importance when choosing which system you are going to fish, and indeed where you are going to fish in that system. Tidal effects are similar in that on a dead low tide your fishing area can be covered in fresh water, but on the high tide that same area is alive with salty water. The tide also affects the species present and the water depth.

In general, the run out tide fishes better on the deeper side of any given river. This is usually found on the outside of any bend. The incoming tide will see more fish feeding on the shallower, inside banks. Eddies, created by snags, rock bars or bottom contours are worth fishing at any time. These locations are stand out performers in strong tidal flow areas, but the same system works well in slow flow systems too.

The time of year needs to be considered too when looking for fish. Seasonal movements of fish go hand in hand with spawning migrations in a general sense. Fish that breed in the saltwater in summer are found down in the bottom of an estuary in summer, but where they are found in that bottom section of an estuary is more likely determined by the presence of food and cover. If you are armed with some knowledge of the species you are chasing you can easily reduce down the possible areas the fish will be and then refine your search on the water.

When guiding I try to work out what I am fishing for. By this I mean am I fishing for the main bulk of fish, the straggles, the front runners or otherwise? I work best when I can consistently fish one system day in and day out to pick up on the patterns of fish movement and be in a better position to predict where the fish may be the following day. Again, it is time on the water that helps make these predictions more than just hocus pocus mumbo jumbo.

Wind is one of the most important factors I use when deciding where to fish and what lure to fish. A very general rule of thumb is that when you are fishing shallow water, wind is your best friend. This comes back to the comfort level of fish in skinny water. The wind ripples and waves break up the fish’s outline to above water predators while also providing that same camouflage when the fish is hunting baitfish.

Wind can be extremely localised in an estuary with many arms and bays. For example a cool gully may have wind coming down it into a shallow bay producing ideal fishing conditions in that bay.

Wind can also be used by anglers to cast further when targeting shallow water fish. This helps anglers cover more area and means the fish are not likely to be spooked by angler or boat.

As said before, wind is your friend and you should use it to choose the style of fishing that will bring results and get fish in your boat.

With a rudimentary knowledge of the factors presented above and some time on the water you will more confidently pick the right place and the right time more often.

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