When soft plastics just won’t do it
Taking a new approach to throwing lures at your favourite adversary can yield some impressive results. In recent times soft plastics have been all the rage and have accounted for some terrific captures but where to turn to after the fun wears off?
After tossing softies for quite a few years and landing some respectable fish, I thought it was time to see whether I could present some of the newer-style lure patterns to turn a slow bite around when the softies wouldn’t turn a reel.
What followed was a snowball effect that has changed the way I fish my local estuaries.
The lures I’m referring to are bladed jigs like Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits and vibrating blades, all of which can be fished with similar styles to soft plastics but have certain situations where they are the preferred method to cover the area where the fish are holding.
Fishing an estuary such as the Hawkesbury River, which has discoloured water for a majority of the year, can be challenging but with the right approach, results can be highly rewarding.
Chatterbaits and other bladed jigs have been around for a couple of years now.
They give an angler a variety of lures in one, incorporating flash and vibration, and are a must if you chase any freshwater natives in rivers or dams.
There use is not limited to the fresh, however.
Using these lures in the brackish estuaries is becoming a more common these days, with jewfish and flathead the main target species on the larger models and bream, bass and estuary perch happy to take the smaller variety.
I use two methods to fish Chatterbaits in the brackish waters of the Hawkesbury. The first is in conjunction with drifting and throwing soft plastics.
I select a preferably snag-free feature on the river bed with my sounder. These areas are often sand/mud ripples that rise and fall rapidly for anywhere up to 400m long and are commonly found on major bends in this estuary system.
There would be similar areas on most tidal rivers on the east coast highlighted by upwellings on the surface that look like stirred up sand/mud. The depth can vary but most are an easily fishable depth between 2m and 6m.
Jewfish, flathead, bream and bass all love these grounds because they are able to sit in front of or behind the crest and rest out of the main flow of the tide until a food item comes their way.
Then they can dart out and grab a feed and return to the safety of the ‘valley’.
Manoeuvre your boat above the area you wish to drift and cast softies. Deploy your electric motor and position the boat side-on to the current.
Cast a 3/8oz Chatterbait up-current, allow it to hit the bottom and place the lure in a rod holder on the upstream side of the boat. This technique works best with a reasonable amount of tidal influence, say tides with over 1m of flow between high and low.
As the Chatterbait is towed along, you should see it start working and then stop. When it stops is where it contacts the tops of the wavy bottom and it will resume working as it clears the peak – this is where the bite should occur.
At the same time you could be fanning casts around with those faithful soft plastics and maintaining boat position with the electric.
Once the drift is completed, take a wide line around the area you are fishing and do the same drift again or take a different line through the same area.
The second method involves casting and retrieving the same style of Chatterbait while drifting or at anchor on the abovementioned grounds.
Slight adjustments to the retrieve are required, rather than the standard lift-and-drop method with soft plastics.
I prefer slow rolls up to 4m long interspersed with pauses to maintain contact with the bottom.
Hits can occur during the retrieve or, most commonly, on the drop.
I prefer to use a baitcaster outfit for this style of lure but have also successfully used a 7’ 4kg-6kg rod with a 4000-size threadline for casting greater distances.
Spinnerbaits are also great tools for use in the dirty river water because they give off a great deal of flash and vibration and are relatively snag-free.
Used mainly for cast-and-retrieve presentations around broken reef, rock bars, drop-offs and the aforementioned sand/mud pinnacles, spinnerbaits are also standouts after dark around well-lit bridges and jetties.
Flathead are the most common catch on these wire baits but I have also encountered bream and small soapy jew from time to time. I’m currently working on a bagging a bigger jewie.
Contact with the bottom is mandatory for success with flathead and the standard lift and drop technique for soft plastics is the required presentation for these lures.
The addition of a stinger hook, as used by many freshwater anglers for those short-striking fish, is common on all my estuary spinnerbaits.
Flathead have cavernous mouths and can engulf the whole lure and with all of those blades and wire in the way of the main hook, a second hook can mean the difference between fish and no fish.
The size of the spinnerbait is quite important also.
Fishing in water 1m to 4m deep you should use 1/8oz to 1/4oz, while depths over 4m warrant the use of 3/8oz to 1oz spinnerbaits. Over 10m deep I select a soft plastic or a blade to get into the zone a little quicker.
When choosing a weight, always take into account the size and nature of the blades fitted.
Colorado blades are great for slower water or shallow presentations whereas willow blades are better for deeper, faster water.
Styles from Bassman, AusSpin and Secret Creek are all tried and proven and are made from quality hardware.
Vibrating blades have been around for quite some time but are ever evolving and seem to be getting bigger.
This means that keen jewie chasers like me have some more experimenting to do.
There is one down side though: they cost around $15, are fitted with two sets of trebles and sink like a stone.
But once you get your head around that, they are a great tools for searching out and catching fish.
Blades work exceptionally well in areas where the chance of snagging on the bottom is reduced. Sand/mud pinnacles are a great start, as well as sandy drop offs and open flats areas such as cockle, yabby and worm beds where fish are widespread and actively feeding.
(You can reduce the penchant for blades to foul on the bottom by retro-fitting upturned double hooks such as those from Vanfook or by replacing snaggy trebles with upturned in-line single hooks such as Gamakatsu Single Lure hooks or the similar model from Decoy. Save one lure from snagging once and you’ve paid for the hooks. – Editor)
Blades are becoming go-to lures for many anglers in our tidal waters searching out bream, flathead, jewfish, kingfish, salmon, tailor, bass and estuary perch.
Slow rolls with pauses, hop and drop, burn and kill and dead-sticking are techniques that all work on any given day.
Blades offer the angler flash and vibration, good contact with the bottom in strong tidal environments and realistic size and profiles of baitfish and prawns, combined with a multitude of natural and vibrant colours and sizes.
The one area I have found blades to be most valuable to the angler is when the wind picks up over 15 knots.
In this situation, casting a soft plastic with any bulk into or across the wind is virtually impossible. Using a blade of similar proportions to the softie, the wind resistance is greatly reduced, the contact with the bottom is restored and bites are a lot more detectable due to the belly in the line being minimised.
This is done by using a low trajectory cast and low rod tip angles on the retrieve. Blades that I have found useful on my local waters include those from Koolabung, Atomic, TT and Jazz.
So the next time you’re out fishing the tidal reaches of your local waterway and the going gets tough, have a search through your tackle boxes and tie on something different – you just might find a lure that turns a dud day into one that sets the benchmark for all other trips.