It may be getting a bit nippy out there but the fish are definitely hot to trot. KRIS SWERES reports on estuary and inshore winter fishing options.
EVERY fisho has his/her favourite times of the year to target specific species, usually for good reason. Big, spade-headed lizards in spring, angry jacks in summer and monster surface smashing bass on balmy nights are all well-known seasonal fisheries, especially in my home waters of southern Queensland. Certain fish definitely seem to fish better at different times of the year. In days gone past, winter tended to be a time of year that usually saw fish – and fishos – “shutting down”; but for many switched-on anglers winter can actually be the best time to have a look in at some of the best sportfish on the list.
Brass Monkey Mornings
We all know the ones.
The alarm is dialed in and we’re ready for action but when the morning bell arrives it’s so cold and dark outside that your nice warm bed is near impossible to leave. The fishos who can fight through this are the guys who will be hooked up first, believe me! Get up, grab that hot cuppa, your beanie and lucky flannelette shirt and you’ll be definitely upping your chances at tangling with the better sized fish. Polar fleeces, trackie daks and even gloves can turn the “hero” into the warmer guy so dress accordingly. It’s not a fashion parade out there and when your boat is up and on the plane before the sun rises it can be brisk enough to bring a tear to your eye. All this being said, I’ve enjoyed some of the nicest mornings on the water in winter. The air seems crisper and cleaner, there are usually less boats out and the fishing can be down right electric. Winter sees some of the sportfishing brutes really turn on the goods with jew, tailor, bream and even good snapper all showing themselves in many southern estuary systems. All these species are fantastic table fish, which is always a welcome bonus for those who enjoy a feed of fresh fish.
Luke and Eddy Sweres face the cold of an early winter’s morning. It can be murder getting out of bed but the rewards are often worth it.
For me the mighty jewfish, or mulloway, is the holy grail of winter targets. They fight like an angry steam train with plenty of head shakes and knocks; they’re one of the most handsome fish that swims; and they are superb eating. They are also a little trickier to find and extract regularly, which in my book gives them an enigmatic quality. Up until only a few years back guys would maybe score a jew while fishing for bream and all their Christmas’s seemed to come at once; but now anglers are specifically targeting mulloway with better results. Following certain patterns can increase your chances at landing one of these challenging fish. Three or four days before and after full moon on slack tides, either top or bottom, seems to work best.
Larger soft plastics such as Squidgy Shads or Flick Baits in 110mm sizes are a good place to start. I prefer Flash Prawn or Bloodworm colours as they seem to get the most hits for me. “Soft” hardbodies like Jackall Transams and Mask Vibes are also amazing fish catching instruments. They’re not as cheap as a plastic but get an 80cm+ fish lolling next to your boat and you won’t care. Big, white stickbaits can also be deadly. I have lost count of how many squid remains I have extracted from the gut cavity of jewies.
Pylons or structure of any description is always worth a look. Mulloway love “holes” and slack current spots to mooch around in and tend to seem a bit lazy when it comes to searching for their dinner. Just Youtube Mulloway/Byron Bay and you’ll see what I mean with some diver footage showing hundreds of metre-plus specimens in rock “caves” and circling round reef cover. I almost cried when I first saw this footage! These are the spots to drop that live yakka or plastic.
A good sounder is worth every penny as locating schools of bait will also increase your chances. Getting your bait or lure down into that slowly swirling eddy behind a bridge pylon or wharf and slowly lifting and then dropping your offering is a really good technique. Another thing to mention when targeting jew is to be patient. Unfortunately these fish tend to only come on the bite for a small period of time so actually being in a likely spot and giving it time can also be a key. Timing a dead low or high tide, just on dark, near structure can really make the difference.
It’s no coincidence that many bream fisherman encounter mulloway while flicking small grubs and blades around structure. Both species will react to virtually the same fishing styles and when the bream are firing they can virtually be on the chew all day in winter. That said, bream can tend to be a little bit spooky in winter when the water is often crystal clear. Lightening up on the leader anywhere from 6lb right down to 2lb can have dramatic results., especially when poppering. Again, like jewfish, look for structure when hunting bream. Rock walls, wharves and bridge pylons covered in old gnarly oyster growth all will hold concentrations of fish. Recently we have been giving 1/8 oz TT Switchblades a swim and by dropping them next to anchor moorings and pylons we have really nailed some top winter bream. More often than not fish will punish these lures on the drop so watch for line twitches and set it home!
Bream are a classic winter target, and the new lures (like this 1/8oz TT Switchblade) which have been designed for them make it easier to target these great estuary fish.
Winter’s chill seems to be the time to grab a spin rod and, if you’re lucky enough to own a boat, go searching for those manic boils of surface feeding tailor. Keep an eye out for birds hovering in the one spot and diving; chances are tailor will be responsible for the mayhem! These crazy swimming “can openers” will just about hit anything so provided you’re fishing a decent trace (15-20lb), any metal slug or popper will usually get a look in.
Last but by no means least is another winter favourite of many anglers Australia wide, the snapper. If you’ve ever braved a cold morning on a freezing winter day and landed a nice reddie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s definite magic when the sun’s rays hit that fish, lighting up its iridescent red sides and pearl blue flecks. Reds love smashing soft plastics and any bottom rubble, gravel, drop-offs or structure that features on your sounder will be worth investigating. Snapper can sit very high in the water column so watch for your bait or lure getting grabbed on the way down. If this happens it will be fairly obvious as your line will really take off at the rate of knots. Engage your reel, smoothly lift the rod and set the hooks. When going out to target snapper I generally use gear that’s as light as I can get away with without be bricked too often. FireLine in the 10-14lb class matched to 10-20lb fluorocarbon leader is a good starting point. Nice big soft plastics such as Squidgy Flickbaits and Berkley Gulp 5” Jerk Shads rigged on 1/4 ounce heavy duty TT jig heads are top lures, too. Cast up current and feed out line, letting the lure drift down through the water column till it reaches the bottom. Now give your rod 3-4 violent flicks and wind up the slack, waiting for a hit, then send it back down to the bottom. This is a sure fire snapper technique. Ensure you bring an ice slurry as a snapper are top tucker.
Kris Sweres with a blade-caught reddie. Snapper will enter rivers and estuaries in winter, and are a good prospect on a variety of lures.
So as the mercury drops don’t despair, there are plenty of hungry fish waiting to be wrangled out of their cold water homes. See you out there!