With winter approaching I thought I would have a look at what that means for our estuaries along the coast and how you can increase your catch rates. Typically winter fishing in our estuaries is a lot harder then other seasons partly to do with the spawning of the local bream populations. Although it’s harder to consistently catch good fish the reward is there for the persistent angler so don’t give up in the cold.
Water clarity: with winter comes dirty flowing water which is usually a result of a downpour of rain and run off from the paddocks up stream. It’s not uncommon to see the rivers flood at least once a winter with chocolate coloured water that doesn’t look the enticing to any angler but there are some positives to this type of water at this time of year. How can you get a positive out of dirty, filthy running water you ask? Well it’s simple the fish will typically push out to what we call the thermocline or salt wedge in the water column which is the level of water where the salt will sit below the fresh due to it’s density opposed to fresh water. The fish will sit in this layer of water due to the increase in oxygen and are fairly easy to find if you can find the salt wedge. Depending on the amount of water that flows down the system this could be from 2m right out to 8m of water. In years gone by we have seen as much as 10m of fresh water in the system which means in the shallow sections the water is completely fresh. This isn’t somewhere I would be fishing as the fish would typically be very doey and uninterested in eating anything in that situation. If you’re fishing in a system that is open to the ocean at the time and there is a big tide then concentrate your efforts around the mouth and incoming tides. The fish especially bream will sit in the first couple of metres of salt water and recharged their batteries with some nice oxygenated water flowing through their gills.
Winter hot spots: if I was to choose 3 estuaries to focus my winter efforts on it would definitely be the Hopkins, Curdies and Glenelg Rivers which all produce some great fishing this time of year when you crack the pattern. I’ll start off with the Glenelg as it’s probably the easiest to find fish this time of year with all 3 main target species in Bream , Estuary Perch and the mighty Mulloway all a real chance of being caught this time of year. In my experience while fishing this system during winter the main areas to target are from Taylor’s Straight down to the estuary. I tend to focus more in the 3-5m range which I’ve found to be a happy place for all these species. I have also done well this time of year around the Hutchesons area and Princess Margaret Rose Caves using Black and Dark coloured blades cast along the drop offs. The Hopkins River which isn’t typically hard to find fish either especially once winter really sets in often produces the bigger bream out of all 3 estuaries that I mentioned. What you’ll see this time of year is that the bigger fish are fat as pigs after feeding up in preparation for spawning. I’ve always done best this time of year from the Bay of Biscay all the way through to the bridge and further down into the estuary proper. It’s not uncommon for your fish finder to be marking fish all day in these sections which frustrates the hell out of me especially when they don’t want to eat. When you see these fish on your sounder the old saying of “don’t leave fish to find fish” is never more true as these fish will flick the switch at some point and if you’re not there when they do and you’re off searching for active fish you’ll miss out big time. I’ve had some of the most insane sessions in an hour then nothing so staying put in the go when you stumble across the motherload on your sounder. The last hotspot estuary and one that is a cracker in winter and that’s the Curdies River which is situated at Peterborough where it enters the ocean. A relatively narrow and surprisingly deep river that twists and turns for kilometres up stream from Boggy Creek can produce some of the biggest Estuary Perch and Mulloway then any other river in our region. The downside is that it usually doesn’t cope too well with lots of boat traffic. It’s a system that you can cast from one side of the bank to the next if using lures and soft plastics which is unique in itself. Not often known for its large Estuary Perch I’ve certainly experienced first hand what this place can dish up when these big bucket mouth make their way down the system and take up residence on the many undercut banks where they lay in ambush. I tend to only fish the bottom half of the system this time of year and have done quite well in recent years. My PB perch of just a smidge over 2kg was caught last year in an insane session where my best mate Browny, Declan Betts, Dan Mackrell and I landed 7 of the fattest perch I’ve ever seen in an afternoon I don’t think any of us will ever forget. There are a few individual reefs that can be packed to the rafters with fish this time of year but it’s the banks where I focus most of my efforts on. Casting your lure as close to the Cumbungi reeds where a lot of the time these big fish will sit under the bank and wait for prey to come past and smash them. Now you know where to start looking for these fish I’ll briefly touch on the techniques with lures and the types of bait that you’re best to use.
Techniques and baits to use: typically during winter if you look at the lure fisherman you’ll notice that most of them will have some sort of vibe/blade lure tied on. These relatively lacklustre looking lures are a simple lure to use and don’t require a degree to be successful especially in winter. Find your fish first and make a long cast past the school of fish. Let the lure sink right to the bottom keeping an eye on your line for 2 reasons. One is to see when the vibe hits the bottom which you’ll see when the line goes slack and the other is to see any out of the ordinary movements in the line that might be a fish picking the lure up on the drop. If you don’t get a fish on the drop then simply wind up the slack and either give the lure a long draw with your rod tip up or a short sharp rip off the bottom. Either way you should feel your lure vibrating which is why they are called vibes. One thing you’ll notice while using these lures is you’ll catch a lot of fish on the side of the face due to the lure being lifted into them while they are inspecting them. Another deadly lure to use is a heavier weighted soft plastic on either a 1/12oz or a 1/8oz jig head. During this time of year I like to simply drag the plastic in front of their faces and pretty much annoy them into eating it. Using scent on your plastic this time of year is a must and can turn non feeding fish into guts’. If you’re looking at bait fishing during winter then shrimp, cut mullet and the humble peeled prawn are all worth a go. Fishing with heavier sinkers to keep the baits on the bottom won’t hurt as the fish are typically in deeper water anyway. As soon as the rivers start to turn brown is when I would look at using shrimp as the primary bait. Load up your hook and hold on cause they really do smash them this time of year.
Hope this inspires you to get out amongst our great estuaries during winter. With the easing of restrictions and the inclusion of fishing again with no time limit or range restriction we should have a proper fishing report next week. Until then tight lines and best of luck.