QUICK GUIDE TO ESTUARY HABITATS AND FISHING STRUCTURE
The vast majority of anglers fish within estuaries. Estuaries comprise of rivers, creeks, lakes, harbours, and bays and are readily accessible fishing grounds. Estuaries provide relatively protected waters for boating and encompass a huge array of fish-rich habitats.
Here is a list of prime habitats to target in estuaries and instruction on how and when to fish them.
SAND AND MUD FLATS
Shallow sand and mud flats can be found at river mouths or towards the backs of sheltered bays and coves. Estuary flats are often associated with a creek or river that contributes to the sediment build up. These areas are generally a safe and productive area to fish. There are very few snags or obstacles to cause problems and they’re suitable for families and kids.
Techniques: Flats are generally less than 1m deep so wade or use a small boat to access the shallows. Use lightly weighted baits, soft plastics, shallow running hardbodies, or poppers, and target the edges of drop-offs and weed beds. Worms, prawns, nippers, and small baitfish are common inhabitants on flats so they naturally make good baits.
Timing: Predatory fish move up onto the flats to feed on molluscs, worms, baitfish, and crustaceans during a high tide so that’s obviously the best time to fish them. As the water starts to recede species such as Flathead and Barramundi lurk in holes and drop-offs and ambush vulnerable baitfish. Ideally, fish over the high tide and continue until the water drains out.
Rock bars and rock walls provide all sorts of nooks and crannies for baitfish and crustaceans to reside in. Not surprisingly, the predatory fish are never far away. Rock bars also provide eddies and refuge from currents. This creates an ideal hunting ground for fish.
Techniques: Choose lures based on the depth of the rock bar. If it’s shallow, use light or shallow running lures. On deep rock bars, bomb plastics down into the drop offs. It’s a good idea to fish the interface between the current, eddies and still water. Often predatory fish lurk at the edge of the turbid zone awaiting the opportunity to pounce on wayward food items. Cast your lures in the current and let them drift into eddies.
Timing: Rock bars usually attract predatory fish when there is movement in the water. Incoming and outgoing tides are productive, but take note of the current direction and the position of eddies. Shallow rocks bars also retain heat, so they’re a good option in the cooler months.
Mangrove forests are nursery grounds for juvenile fish. Their roots, branches, and propagules also offer structural complexity and habitat for baitfish, crustaceans, and predators. Mangrove fishing requires some skill and accuracy but they can be highly productive and exciting habitats to target.
Techniques: Mangrove habitat is snag central, so care must be taken. Select floating hardbody lures that can be twitched down into the snags but floated over any obstacles. Soft plastics should be rigged weedless if you intend to cast them among the roots.
Predatory fish are often backed up into the mangrove snags, so cast baits as close as possible and be a little daring with lures. Accurate casting is paramount in mangrove environments.
Timing: The opportunity to fish mangrove habitat is usually dependent on tides. The ideal scenario is to target mangroves when the water has inundated the leading edge of roots. If the tide is too high, the fish will move deep into the mangrove forest and out of casting range. Similar to flats habitat, predatory fish will also hunt the front edge of mangroves as the tide drains and baitfish are forced to retreat to open water.
Artificial structure refers to any human-built structures such as wharves, pontoons, bridge pylons, oyster leases, rock walls, shipwrecks, or channel markers. The amount of artificial structure in an estuary will largely depend on its proximity to human populations. Estuaries in remote areas of Western Australia will have few, if any artificial structures, while estuaries such as Sydney Harbour are riddled with it.
Artificial structure is a fish magnet. In particular, old submerged objects that have accumulated a mass of growing organisms and stimulated a miniature ecosystem will be very attractive to predatory fish.
Techniques: Cast baits and work lures as close to structure as possible without becoming hooked on it. Fish usually sit tight to structure so, the closer you cast, the more likely you’ll get a response. Be bold and cast under wharves, sink down among pylons, and use the current to get lures under pontoons
Timing: The best time to target structure will depend on where it is located. It’s good to fish shore-based structures such as wharves and pontoons during the high tide, while objects in the middle of waterways are best during low tide. Fish retreat from the shoreline during the low tide and then lurk around deeper water pylons and underwater structures.
Although structure can be fished at any stage of the tide, the top and bottom of the tide will have less current and make fishing easier.
Moored boats could slot into the artificial structure category. However, given that they provide such a unique habitat and are so prolific in southern estuaries they deserve a category of their own.
Moored boats and yachts provide structure in the upper water column that acts as temporary habitat and feeding grounds for temperate species such as Bream, Tailor and Kingfish. Moored boats are usually less productive in tropical waters, but can attract species such as Trevally and Mangrove Jack.
Techniques: Search for moored boats that have been in the water for extended periods and have lots of marine fouling. Yacht hulls and keels provide additional underwater structure and are more likely to have Bream mooching around and biting on the encrusted hulls.
Moored boats are ideally suited to soft plastics fishing. When Bream are the target, choose grub style plastics that imitate a worm or mollusc that has been dislodged from the hull. If Kingfish are the target, sink and jig stick-bait style plastics around the hulls. Beware of mooring lines because Kingfish will have you wrapped up and busted-off quick smart.
Timing: Although fish can be caught from moored boats at any stage of the tide, low water seems to concentrate them. Fish will also retreat to the shade that boat hulls provide to escape the sun.
There’s certainly no shortage of habitat to target in the estuaries of Australia. These 5 habitats are among the most productive and accessible. Think about the estuary habitat in your area, put together a plan of attack, and get catching.
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