Finding productive fishing spots

Finding productive fishing spots can be difficult. Remote, untouched waterways are a better bet than metropolitan drains but such areas are rarely convenient, so start exploring the closer options.

Metro rivers, coastal lagoons, dams and even manmade lakes constructed for flood mitigation or decorative purposes can provide some action. Suburban waters are often presumed desolate due to the proximity to populations and the perceived water quality issues—floating rubbish and shopping trolley reefs can be a turn-off. However, it is this perception that can often save them as fishing spots, because few people fish them, as if they’re too obvious to be good.

So how do you pick the best from the rest? Tidal systems offer more potential because it is more likely that new fish will move in and out with each tide. However, land locked systems which open to the sea occasionally can also hold plenty of fish. It’s important to research such areas before you go fishing to check when the last opening occurred—if it hasn’t been flushed for years then your chances are slimmer than in those spots which open at least annually.

A good tip when fishing any closed system is to consider the effect of prevailing water temperatures. The cool of winter can force fish to move into shallower, sun-warmed waters; whereas the heat of summer might move fish into deeper sections where the water is cooler.

Also study the availability of food (such as baitfish, crustaceans and insects) likely to be eaten by the fish you want to catch, and fish where you find it. Tide times are important, even in non-tidal systems, because they can help indicate at what stage of the lunar cycle fish will most likely be feeding.

Good fishing is available to city slickers and it might be closer than you think. Explore your local waterways and if they offer fish food and shelter, then it’s time to start casting.

Top times for freshwater

Tide times should dictate when you fish saltwater locations, but what about when you’re fishing a non-tidal freshwater system? How do you know when fish are actively feeding?

Sunrise and sunset are always productive times and your freshwater fishing should revolve around these events. However, it’s still worthwhile studying the tide charts of nearby saltwater locations to find other peak feeding times in the fresh. There obviously won’t be any tidal movement, but the tides are a controlled by the moon, and moon phase does influence fish behaviour in the fresh as well as the salt.

As well as the typical four tide times each day, it’s worth noting the ‘moonrise’ and ‘moon set’ times. The moonrise is not always after dark; you may have noticed it occasionally against an afternoon’s blue sky. Similarly, the moon set can be long enough after sunrise that you have a gentleman’s hours fishing option.

Moonrise and set can spark some activity underwater and it’s worth experimenting in your area to see what times of year they fish well. And if you’re lucky, sunrise and set, moonrise and set, and the tide times might all fall in to sync so you’ll have the perfect excuse to fish all day!

The best rod angles

A lot of work goes into tempting a fish to bite your bait or lure and it's heartbreaking if they get away. Sharp hooks, good knots and well-maintained equipment help avoid catastrophes. Good rod technique also prevents fish loss.

Rod angles distribute pressure between fish, line, reel and person. Knowing when to use high, low or power angles comes with experience, but there are a few basics to follow to maintain consistent pressure on fish; slack line costs fish.

A rod angle of 15 to 45-degrees is best for most situations. Rods are designed for maximum leverage power through this range. The higher the rod, the more pressure you apply. However, higher rod angles are not better—rods are designed to bend only so far, any further and you risk snapping them. The lower the rod angle, the less pressure you apply. When the rod is pointing straight down the line, the only pressure being applied is from the reel's drag.

The best method is to use smooth controlled movements as you lift (without winding) from 15 to 45-degrees, and then wind down to 15-degrees, keeping tension on the line. Repeat the process as you work the fish to the landing net.

Best time of day to fish

A tide chart should be the first thing you organise for any fishing trip, because if you're not fishing at the right time, no matter how effective the rest of your methods are, you're limiting your chances. Charts are freely available at tackle stores and on the internet.

Fishing 90 minutes either side of a tide change is a good guide. Focussing on these times will help you recognise fishing opportunities. For example, if you're fishing an estuary during the last of the run out (approaching low tide), then focus your efforts around the mouth of the river and tributary junctions; anywhere the water is forced to move through a restricted area. The tidal movement will create ambush points for predatory fish around these areas and that's where you should be fishing.

If you're fishing the last of the run in (approaching high tide), then focus on those areas where the high water allows predators access to food rich areas inaccessible at any other time during the tidal cycle, such as sand flats that house a lot of yabbies, or shallow mangroves and rock bars. Fish won't waste such an opportunity, nor should anglers.

The best fishing times aren't always convenient, but with four tides a day, at least one of them should fit into your schedule.

Using a fish’s competitiveness to your advantage

Fish that school are easier to catch than loners. The more fish there are, the more competition there is for food. Anglers can use this competitive behaviour to their advantage by triggering schools to feed aggressively, making them more prone to striking lures.

Concentrate your fishing activity around structure that holds baitfish schools—they always have chaperones lurking nearby, which are the fish you want to catch. To instigate a feeding frenzy, start by creating a fine mist of berley to stir up the baitfish and get the predators in the food mood. Then begin casting lures in unison with some mates to create the impression there’s something stirring up the baitfish. A mix of surface and diving or sinking lures is good.

Make sure you fish around the most likely feeding times (tide changes, sunrise and sunset) to maximise your chance of stirring up a feeding frenzy.

If you need further convincing about using competitive feeding behaviour to your angling advantage: cast six-inch soft plastic stick baits rigged on a 5/0 worm hook at the schools of Australian salmon cruising the coast at the moment and see how many fish attack it!

Choosing a beach to fish

Choosing the best beach to fish can be difficult because they can all look too similar to know which one is more likely to produce a feed of fish. A popular screening process involves starting at the bottom of the food chain.

Beaches subject to constant high-energy waves usually have coarser sand compared to protected beaches, which have finer sand. Along these protected beaches, any area that sees enough water to keep the sand moist makes a good home site for microscopic animals and burrowers such as worms, crustaceans and molluscs. It’s easier to dig into the moist fine sand than coarse sand.

This doesn’t mean you won’t catch anything on a beach with coarse sand—they often have a steeper angle, which can be beneficial—but if you’re trying to catch fish that regularly feed on creatures that burrow, then protected beaches are a good place to start casting. And what better bait to cast than one you collected fresh from the very place you intend to fish?

Finding fish

Catching fish is easy compared to the task of finding feeding fish, but if you can master the latter and use appropriate tackle and techniques, you'll never go fishless again.

Modern marine electronics maximise your chance of finding feeding fish. The information included on the latest GPS chartplotter maps eliminates the guesswork on where to start your search for fish. This information includes locations of reefs, channels, depth contours plus man-made additions such as wrecks, navigation markers and other structures that attract fish. These locations can be further investigated with a colour depth sounder to help you identify seafloor composition, baitfish and predatory fish. It's important you monitor the different kinds of areas where you catch fish to see if any patterns develop.

Finding fish by watching birds

Various Australian bird species live on a water-borne menu, from inland creeks out to the continental shelf. These waterbirds are baitfish signposts and good indicators of where you might find feeding predatory fish species.

Familiarity with your local bird species, their behaviour and preferred foods will help you identify feeding birds rather than waste time on cruising birds. Scavengers such as sea gulls are not much use because they feed on scraps, but hunters such as gannets and terns should grab your attention.

You don’t have to become a dedicated bird watcher, just be observant and use commonsense to determine what they are doing. If they’re heading in one direction quickly, they’re going somewhere. If they’re moving slowly and holding high, they’re looking around for something, so keep an eye on them to see if they dive at anything. If they’re swooping or diving into the water, they’re feeding on baitfish that have most likely been pushed to the surface by bigger fish. That’s where you want to be fishing.

River birds will stalk the shallows snatching food as they move. If you find any birds feeding in the same section of river for a length of time, fish or gather live baits in the adjacent deep water.

How to care for your catch so it tastes great

Catching some fish can amount to a huge effort so it's important to make the most of the rewards. If you plan on keeping your catch, there a few things you can do to ensure the passage from the ocean to the table is not detrimental to the taste of your catch.

The first step to tasty fillets is using appropriate tackle to catch the fish. Light gear is fun but it can stress fish unnecessarily, which will affect the taste. The shorter the fight time, the better the taste will be. Use a rod, reel and line match that can subdue the size of fish you're targeting with ease while not eliminating the fun. Braided lines are great for this because they offer the casting potential and limited water drag of thin mono lines with the strength to pull when needed.

Be positive and prepare for success every time you head out. Take a suitable sized icebox or cool bag, complete with enough ice to last the length of the trip. Once a fish is landed, despatch it quickly and humanely with a sharp tap on the head with an appropriate instrument-varieties of which are available at any tackle store.

The next step is to bleed the fish in a bucket of seawater for a few minutes and then place the catch into the icebox and cover with ice. This will keep the flesh nice and fresh for when you prepare it for dinner.

Terrestrial fish foods

Successful imitation of a fish's natural food source is the start of good fishing. It is easy enough to identify a food source by observing which small fish and invertebrates are in the areas you fish, but if you're only looking for what lives in the water you could be missing valuable clues.

Many fish feed on terrestrial prey. Insects are a common food source for many species, and some of the bigger fish species will also devour frogs, lizards, rats and even small birds!

The use of terrestrial creatures as live baits isn't as socially acceptable as it once was, but that's easily avoided by the use of the myriad flies and lures that imitate all manner of airborne insects, plus ants, beetles, grasshoppers, worms, amphibians, reptiles and all sorts of funny looking creatures. So how do you know when the time is right to try terrestrial tactics?

Availability is the key to any bait or lure choice. Next time you're out on the water, observe what other creatures also live adjacent to the water's edge and in the overhanging trees and you might just discover a few ideas your next big fish will find irresistible.

Finding hot spots in cities

The side effects of cities—manmade lakes, rock walls, breakwaters, marinas, piers and jetties—provide welcome food and shelter for fish. Any tidal areas with such structures are worth exploring with a rod and a box of lures. And you can further increase your chances of a good fish if you choose your spots wisely.

The older the manmade structure the better. A food chain needs time to establish itself before the apex predators join in. Focus your efforts on those structures with good sea plant and barnacle coverage, and plenty of nooks and crannies—food and shelter for baitfish.

Rock walls are among the best manmade fish habitats. They are usually situated in areas with good water-flow and can maintain vibrant fish communities.

The rising tide is a good time to fish rock walls because the high water allows predators to move into areas they may not be able to access throughout much of the tide cycle. Small baitfish are also active at this time scavenging amongst the debris collected by the rising water—a fact not lost on bigger fish.

Take some time to observe which small fish, prawns and crabs are busy on your local rock walls and use baits and lures that best imitate them. Avoid using sinkers or heavy jig heads where possible to achieve a more natural presentation—this will also help avoid your rig being caught on the rocks.

Does the moon affect your fishing?

Theories abound about the moon’s affect on fish and many anglers acknowledge it does influence their catch. So which moon phase is better for fishing?

Evidence suggests the new and full moons. The belief that bigger tides during these moon phases fish better matches a popular fishing saying, ‘no run no fun’. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting the theory that fish feed more actively around these spring tides.

You will still catch fish at any time during the lunar cycle but smart fishing is about maximising your potential for success. It’s easier to catch fish at certain times of the lunar month, so fish hard when the conditions are good and explore the features of new areas when the conditions are less favourable.

The backlighting of a full moon rising in a clear night sky is a great time to flick surface or shallow diving lures. The silhouette of a slowly worked lure is an irresistible target for hungry nocturnal predators. This theory also works well with a nervous live bait suspended just below the surface with a float. Shadow makes them easy targets for fish hunting from below.

The new moon fishes well at night because there’s a lot of baitfish movement—especially in estuaries, when prawns make a run for it under cover of darkness. These creatures at the bottom of the food chain like to be as invisible as possible when they make their move—but predators are wise to this and are ready for the ambush. And anglers, wise to this, are also ready…

Fishing smarter

You will always catch more fish with a specific target species in mind when preparing your tackle. A general one-size-fits-all approach can work, but most fish respond with more enthusiasm towards specific baits, lures and rigs.

The reason for this is as simple as that which makes you prefer steak to chicken, or chocolate to vanilla-certain fish prefer certain foods. Good fishing starts with good knowledge of the bottom end of the food chain, so if you can figure out what tickles the taste buds of your favourite fish, you will catch more. Anglers spend a lot of time studying the behaviour of popular fish species when really we should be spending more time studying the lifestyles of baitfish, cephalopods and small crustaceans. Predatory fish are simple to work out: they eat, so if you find the food source, you'll find the predators.

A fish's favourite food can vary throughout the year depending on water temperature, migrations, breeding cycles and availability. So how do you figure out what the chef's special is when you're fishing?

Availability is the best clue. Be observant and take note of what is abundant in your local area at various times of the year. Watch out for schooling baitfish, investigate what local water birds are hunting, or catch some samples.

If you take your fishing more seriously and want to investigate further, then spend some time wading and/or snorkelling.

Once you figure out what the available foods are, use lures that best imitate the creature, or catch them to use as bait (when legal). And as always, fish them near the food source and focus your efforts around the turn of the tides.

Fishing with the tides

A common reason for a modest catch is that novice anglers fish when it's convenient for them rather than when it's convenient for fish. Hard core anglers, however, owe their success to a 'whatever's necessary' mentality to be fishing when the bite is hot—whether that be during gentleman's hours or at 2am on a bitter winter's morning. Their estimations of these peak feeding times are dictated by the tide.

Tide charts are freely available at tackle stores and on the Internet. A tide chart should be the first thing you organise for any fishing trip—because if you're not fishing at the right time, no matter how effective the rest of your methods are, you're limiting your chances.

Fishing 90 minutes either side of a tide change is a good rule of thumb. Focussing on this time window will also help you recognise fishing opportunities. For example, if you're fishing an estuary during the last of the run out (approaching low tide), then focus your efforts around the mouth of the river and tributary junctions—anywhere the water is forced to move through a restricted area. The tidal movement will create natural ambush points for predatory fish around these areas and that's where you should be fishing.

If you're fishing the last of the run in (approaching high tide), then focus on those areas where the high water allows predators access to food rich areas inaccessible at any other time during the tidal cycle, such as sand flats that house a lot of yabbies, or shallow mangroves and rock bars. Fish won't waste such an opportunity, and nor should anglers.

Tide times don't always fit in with life's commitments, but four tide changes each day give you options. Pick one that fits your schedule, have a think about what opportunities it affords your target species and then you'll know where to cast.

Fishing weed beds

Catching fish is relatively easy when compared with the more difficult task of finding feeding fish. In estuaries, weed beds are a good place to start looking because they provide shelter for baitfish and small crustaceans, and good ambush points for predatory species. They can be fished with a range of lures, baits and fly, so there is opportunity for everyone.

Targeting the edges of weed beds is the most productive tactic. This will give you an easy to follow plan of where to fish that can be made more specific if you follow the clues; bird activity, flicking prawns or disturbed surface are good signs of fish. Also look for combinations of fish shelter such as weeds and rocks, or weeds and fallen timber. The idea is to spend more time fishing the most likely areas.

Weed beds generally produce a smaller class of fish, so scale your tackle accordingly—but be prepared for the big surprises!

Weed beds are just one example of the many incarnations of underwater ‘edges’ that all anglers should be aware of. They can all be found easily by observing your surroundings.