QUICK GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ESTUARIES BY WALKING THE LOW TIDE
To become a better angler, you need to get into the habit of looking and listening to your environment. Fishing is one pursuit where it really pays to be curious. Being aware of your environment is your key to success. Small clues such a small puff of mud or the flash of a baitfish can give way to great rewards and help you home in on the perfect fishing spot.
I remind myself to think of the estuary environment as an organism. The fish are just one part of that larger body. I’ve learnt a lot about fishing in estuaries by thinking this way. In this article, I’m sharing some of what I have learnt over the years. Obviously it is not exhaustive but it will give you a good start to learning estuaries the way I have.
You can learn a lot from the sand flats during low tide. It’s like reading a map to where the fish will be when the tide come back in. I always take a good walk around on the sand flats when the tide is out. For example, hard sand that has small dunes create small pockets on the downside of the current that will hold food for our target fish.
Another place of real interest is where hard sand meets muddy sand is also a great place to start fishing because a lot of species feed in these areas.
Soft sand and muddy areas normally hold a lot of life in estuaries. It’s because these tidal zones of the river are constantly moving. Where there is one type of life, the food chain follows. I also look for the depressions left by Flathead at low tide. Those marks will show you the areas where they are most likely to return. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking there are hundreds of Flathead. Remember, a single Flathead moves around as he waits for his prey. Nevertheless, if you see a lot of these depressions, you know there are Flathead in the area at high tide.
LOOKING AT THE FLATS
Not everything about flats is flat. All areas of soft mud and sand flats have drains and small channels. These areas are extremely important as fish use these drains and channels to move about. These areas allow fish to stay up on the flats longer and I’ve always found them great areas to fish. Predators often wait while preying on baitfish close to these channels.
With a low tide, you can see how healthy an estuary is. Small mud crabs and worms are an excellent indicator that the estuary is healthy and there are a lot of fish about.
Another sign of a healthy estuary is the presence of stingrays. They leave large depressions in the soft mud and sand. If you see the marks left by stingrays, you know there is sufficient food to support them. Other species, such as Whiting and Flathead follow stingrays around because they inadvertently help those other fish in finding food as they disturb the bottom in their own search for food.
Any good angler gets excited about any deep hole in a river system. Holes just about always carry a lot of fish for a number of reasons. Holes protect with structure and they also help to collect baitfish and other food for larger fish. When you find a hole at low tide, make sure to make a note of it.
Ultimately, to understand the river and estuary better, one needs to understand the flow of water. Bends and depth change the amount of water flow. Generally speaking, flow and current control the movement of fish and the food they are chasing. For example, some fish will sit on the side of the current or water flow that has little movement so they can ambush baitfish passing by. The shapes and curves of the ground and banks all give indications to the way the water flows when the tide comes back in.
So, when you fish an estuary, it pays to learn more about it before you go hard at fishing. I always take the time to take advantage of a low tide to go for a walk and learn more about the area I am about to fish.
Do you have any other pointers and areas to look out for across an estuary at low tide for better fishing results? Share your thoughts through the comments section below.