A Guide’s Perspective
  |  First Published: January 2010

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.

What are your rigging techniques?

There is a code that I live by when lure fishing and that is the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). Unfortunately, it seems to of gone by the wayside for many other anglers who want to turn it into rocket science. But let me assure you that lure fishing is not rocket science, it is more important to be at the right spot at the right time than it is to have some fancy rig.

My introduction to lure fishing was over 20 years ago; this was when A.N.S.A (Australian National Sportsfishing Association) was going strong. Therefore, all my estuary lure fishing was done using 2lb test nylon line with 4lb and 6lb leaders. Needless to say, many lures went astray and many opportunities of catching that once-in-a-lifetime fish were missed. However, I am a now a little older and more experienced: I have learnt a thing or two when it comes to rigging.

Joining braid to leader

The breaking strain of braid tends to be four times their strength, for example 4lb braid will generally withstand up to 16lb force, so you can fish light main lines with some degree of confidence. When using a 6lb or less fluorocarbon leader I tie it straight to the braid as when tying a double. Using over 6lb fluorocarbon I usually tie a short double in the braid as this helps keep the lines to be joined at an even diameter.

The double knot I use is a three-turn spider hitch. The spider hitch is an easy knot to tie and will not let you down in an estuary fishing situation. The joining knot I then use to attach the leader is the Albright knot. I always suggest to clients to tie the knot they are most comfortable with ­ confidence is everything.

The rig I use is quite standard but where I differ from the rest is the length of leader – 8lb and no longer than 18 inches. This is because I hate the knot running through the guides; even the best-tied knot will clunk as it runs out.

Clunking leader knots can affect the accuracy of the cast, and when trying to fish successfully amongst structure it is all about accuracy. If it is windy you can anticipate the wind and cast accordingly but you cannot anticipate the kick as the knot runs through the rod tip to the left or to the right. When using a short leader all knots are past the rod tip when casting.

While many fishing successes have been attributed to the use of light leaders, many losses have also been due to too light a leader. A good angler is better off to start with a heavier leader and drop down in size when needed, rather than lose fish, miss chances and then eventually beef up the leader size. Work out when fish are on the go and fish accordingly, that way lures are not lost and those big fish are caught.

Joining leader to lure

The knot I use when tying jigheads, poppers and hardbody lures to the leader is the locked blood knot. Some authors recommend using a loop knot to gain more action with jigheads. I disagree, as I believe you can get more action with a jighead by fastening the knot on the jighead. For a gliding action have the knot tight at the eye, and for a see-saw action slide the knot away from the shank of the hook but after each fish caught you need to slide the knot back.

Another thing to remember is that the locked blood knot is one of the best knots to use to maintain strength of line; one of the worst is the loop knot. With hardbody lures I tie a lock blood to a split ring, if the lure swims well there is no problem. Just remember a $30 lure tied to a light trace and a loop knot is definitely something you’re not going to own it for too long.

When popper fishing I use a minimum trace of 12lb, that way we have a chance at catching those big flathead. With whiting they generally don’t swim ahead of the lure to see how strong the trace is, they move in from behind and attack the lure.

Bream can be a bit tricky when they are hitting the lure on the pause; this is where a light leader can help. Again the popper is attached straight to the lure not a split ring using a lock blood knot. When the water is really clear the use of long light leaders is definitely an advantage, but remember this style of fishing is for the more experienced angler and even then they can expect to lose a few lures.

How do you fish with a new lure and be confident with it?

I suppose my response is, why use a new lure? I have been fortunate enough to fish for species that have been happily feeding the same way for years. An example of this can be seen on the far south coast where bream feed along the edges of a vast section of rock wall. A 50mm shallow running hardbody cast nearby, would see these fish chasing the lure, often with a bow wave as they took it. They don’t take off into deeper water the second the lure lands; the presentation generated the reaction. This is why popper fishing is so successful.

In the early days we had two facets of lure fishing that were new to the fish: presentation and lure action. Three years ago a novice angler fishing with me could catch more fish on a popper in these estuaries than an experienced fisher could today. We can replace the lure with a lure that has a different bloop or walking action but the presentation has remained the same; the fish have started to show an air of caution. With lure fishing not many aspects are new – what was old will become new again.

However, in saying that we still need to vary things up for the fish, so the key to finding a new lure revolves around trying something different when you actually know how to catch fish. In other words, you don’t really care how many fish you catch, the satisfaction of finding out something new far out weighs catching a boatload of fish.

When looking for a new lure think of all aspects; presentation, action, colour, and so on. Look for that different lure then try and find a use for it. Remember if you are fishing heavily fished water you can fish behind people by using a different technique and get good results, it’s all-new to the fish.

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