Canals are now well established along much of our coastline. Many anglers have a canal estate nearby while others encounter them on holidays or as they travel. These safe and productive areas offer fishing opportunities often too good to ignore.
Canals tactics is all about understanding fish behaviour and working structure. Most of the stuff we consider when going fishing still relates. The bite is often season and tide related while factors such as time of day, boat traffic and water temperature impact too. Like most places the presence of bait can make a big difference.
In this article we look at how to approach a canal to catch the common species found in many of them.
It is inevitable that anglers will encounter residents as they work along the canal edges. These people can be friendly or hostile. Exceeding the speed limit and creating waves, hitting boats with lures, leaving rubbish, playing loud music or staring into people’s backyards are all likely to draw an angry response. Anglers fishing late at night can be mistaken for thieves.
Check local and state laws to know your rights. Politely acknowledge a resident and if they behave badly just move on without argument.
Canals are stable environments because they are protected from the effects of foul weather and floods. Water temperatures are also relatively constant. Nonetheless different species still respond to seasonal effects.
In winter big spring tides on the full moon will see most bream depart the canals to seek deeper water to breed. Smaller tides later in the cycle will see them back and often keen to feed. Larger fish are often taken in winter and some very good sessions can be had using surface lures. Colder periods are not productive for species such as jacks and trevally.
In spring baitfish can seek shelter in the canals and with rising water temperatures species like jacks and trevally will soon follow. Flatties are found in canals all year but in spring they will be more active.
Warmer periods over summer and autumn see the broadest diversity of species in the canals and many will be ready to bite. Again, big morning tides are often hard work while smaller tides produce much better fishing for bream. Some of the best jack fishing occurs as the water temperature starts to fall and this species feeds up for the leaner months ahead.
Most of the waterways have been bulldozed and then flooded. They have a featureless bottom and sloping sides. Some have rock retaining walls or narrow strips of imported sand forming beaches. Many waterfront properties have either a jetty or a floating pontoon. Boats are often moored to these or left sitting on a ‘hydro-lift’ or similar dock. Bridges and piles for riverside walks also add to a canals’ structure.
Canals are also dumping grounds for things such as shopping trolleys, cars, bikes and builders’ rubble. In many cases these add fish holding options for anglers as well as lure eating snags.
In some areas, authorities dredge canals to keep the waterways free flowing. This is a mixed blessing as the discoloured water can repel fish and the smelly ooze left on the bank destroys worm and shellfish beds. On the other hand, dredging can act like a huge berley dispenser and whiting can be taken in good numbers downstream.
Some canals have natural features like rock bars and drop offs. These along with gravel patches, tidal eddies and deep holes provide variety and opportunities for switched on fishos.
Pontoons harbour a wide variety of desirable species. These include mangrove jacks, bream, trevally, flathead and luderick.
These floating docks create overhead cover for fish. The structure breaks current and forms eddies on the edges and underside where fish hold with less effort. Weed growth and bait sheltering underneath attracts feeding fish
Fishing pontoons requires stealth and accuracy. Shadows and movement can spook wary fish. Successful anglers will hold well off and keep noise to a minimum. In this environment an electric motor is a great tool. Cast next to the pontoon so the lure lands within 30cm of the edge. Feeding jacks and bream will sense the splash and if in the mood will move out and smash your offering. Start with a cast along the up-current edge then the outside edge and finally the inside corners. Casting accuracy is vital. Avoid contact with the structure and plan each cast so you have a clean line to extract a hard-pulling fish.
One other method that works well too is to cast up current where there is flow and let the lure sink slowly down and under the pontoon. Slow sinking lures including prawns and similar soft plastics are good for this technique. It works well at night too.
In most cases boats are moored in deeper water. Yachts and larger launches need at least two to three metres and these areas hold fish. Some owners rarely move their pride and joy so weed grows on the hull and mooring lines which is attractive to fish. Along with shadow, boats offer fish a comfortable, shady area to hold.
Fish hulls in a similar way to pontoons. Place the lure close and let it sink before rolling out. In some cases, by letting the lure settle some good flatties can be taken.
Bridges provide vertical structure in the form of pylons as well as shade. Some bridge supports have concrete structure at water level which offers a roof for fish to sit under. Bridges are mostly constructed to take advantage of narrow, deep sections where current can be strong. However, they break the flow and create eddies which fish like bream and jacks prefer.
Bridges are also popular areas for land-based anglers and will often feature some very gnarly snags. It is not unusual to deal with shopping trolleys, old cast nets and discarded line when fishing a bridge. If a bridge has overhead lighting it will often fish well at night.
Jacks love bridges and by methodically running a lure next to each pylon you can generate a strike. Work alongside and between each section and don’t forget to let the lure get down. Bream are also taken near bridges with both soft plastics and crab style lures good options. Throw a crab lure in close, let it sink, give it a slow draw and any fish nearby will often come over and pick it up. Flathead are also attracted to bridges and often sit right next to the pylon.
Rocky Banks and Retaining Walls
These are designed to stabilise the canal edge. Fish find these areas attractive at times particularly if bait is hovering nearby. Bream can often be heard crunching and slurping along walls. Surface lures rolled near a wall can often draw a strong response. Slow rolling cranks and soft plastics can also be highly productive. Areas with shade, overhanging foliage or trees are often very good as are walls on points and canal junctions.
Submerged rocks can also offer some good fishing especially where current is flowing over them. A weightless soft plastic drawn over the top then let waft down can be a deadly approach.
Bream love sandy edges. They often patrol here on high tide looking for worms, shellfish and small baitfish. They sometimes leave a distinctive wedge-shaped indent you can see on lower tides. Many lures will work here but surface poppers and stick baits give the angler a visual thrill as bream chase and slam them.
These areas require stealth to fish as they are shallow. Stay well back and cast long. Once you have caught a fish or had a follow move on as spooked fish will not return to the bite for quite a while.
Sandy flats are also good areas to find flatties which can be taken on hard body lures and soft plastics. In my local canals with sandy bottoms there live some huge whiting. These shy and difficult to catch fish can be seen gliding away as the boat approaches. A live bait such as a yabbie or small prawn will sometimes trick them, but they are one of the hardest fish to take consistently in the canals.
Drains and Ramps
The drains that link canals can hold some great fish. Some reside in the tunnel entrances while others hover near the lip or rubble apron. Jacks are often taken by those who are aware of a deep drain.
Stormwater drains are also worth investigating if they offer some feature a fish can hold in. After rain, these drains can attract bream and jacks feeding on the inflow, but this bite may not last long.
As mentioned in bridges, canals can feature over water lighting that can produce some excellent fishing. Trevally, queenfish, tailor and jewfish will all be attracted to the verges of a light pool where bait is flicking. They will come well out into deeper water to ambush prey and can be tempted with fly or surface lures. Soft plastic lures are also very effective.
The species – Bream
Bream are one species that really have taken to canals. They are prolific in our local waterways and range from runts up to 40cm plus trophy fish. They love structure but also patrol the sandy verges.
Bream can be hard to tempt but anglers who adopt tournament fishing methods can take good catches regularly. Good bream fishing is all about stealth and casting long to fish which aren’t aware of your presence. Finesse or a light approach is well worth adopting as you will get far more bites.
A good approach is to take a “surface” outfit fitted with a bent minnow or small stick bait. A crank rod with some small deep diving lures and a soft plastic rig designed to throw 50mm curl tails and similar baits. Crab style lures thrown near structure will also be effective. Mix up your approach as the terrain changes. Try a variety of things until a daily pattern emerges.
Jacks are mostly cover oriented and may not bite for long periods during a tide cycle. Good jack anglers cover ground testing each pontoon, rock wall and bridge pylon. Once they find a red fish, they mark that location for next time. Jack bite times vary but many like the builld up to an afternoon storm or hot humid mornings on a rising tide. Others prefer the change on low tide. Night-time is also favoured by trophy hunters.
Jacks will take hardbody and soft plastic lures mostly in the 70-110cm range. However, the next one to whop a 50mm bream crank will not be last. Some anglers are also using big swim baits with some success. Anglers need a stronger outfit to wrestle these hard fighting fish from structure. Many fish will win their freedom and lure losses can be high. In SE Queensland, jacks in canals can reach well over 50cm and some huge fish in the 60-70s have been taken. You have been warned!
Trevally, Tailor, Giant Herring and Tarpon
These fish range along canals and can sometimes be seen busting up on a canal junction or near structure. They will take a variety of lures and they are particularly fond of small surface chuggers and walkers.
Anglers specifically targeting ‘trevs’ will fish dusk and wait until the small baitfish start to flick near the surface. Working a 50-80mm chugger or stick bait is a fun way to connect and may also produce a Giant Herring or Tarpon. In more southern waters tailor are sometimes encountered in larger canals and can be caught in a similar way.
In many cases flatties are an incidental capture but there are enough of these ambush predators in the canals for anglers to regularly take several in a session. Any sandy verge or rocky shore can hold a few so a cast or two with a soft plastic can often pay off.
Some bigger fish will also sit under boat hulls, near bridges or in deeper holes and can be caught fishing vertically using a vibe, slow jig or soft plastic. Work near any bait you see on the sounder and don’t be surprised to catch school jew too.
A few realities
Canals are used by a wide range of people. In my area, paddlers and rowers can be quite assertive and will not normally make allowances for anglers. They tend to operate around dawn and later in the afternoon.
Many locals feed fish from their pontoon or wharf and are protective of their pets. If you are fishing and a local has concerns, then acknowledge them and move on.
Canals are very common along our coastal fringe, and more will be constructed as our desire to live near the water continues. Many of our local species thrive in them thanks to the extensive structure and food available. Anglers can fish safely in these sheltered waterways and don’t need a large, expensive boat to get into the action. Anglers who use a stealthy approach and cover plenty of ground will get the best results from fish like bream and jacks.