Wednesday, February 28, 2024
How to

Estuary IQ

IF I had to choose one style of angling to enjoy for the rest of my life, I would select light tackle fishing on the NSW far south coast estuaries.

While I consider myself a bit of an angling all-rounder, there’s something about estuary fishing that genuinely floats my boat (pun intended). I’ve fished scores of estuaries up and down the NSW coast, but the systems in the far south-east have it all – pristine scenery, isolation, a plethora of angling options and loads of fish to boot!

But these systems don’t always give up their secrets easily. Some are incredibly popular and quite heavily fished by recreational anglers. Others, although more off the beaten track, still take some working out.

You certainly shouldn’t expect to rock up to any southern estuary and experience immediate success.

Hopeful but ill prepared anglers regularly walk away from a trip on these waterways with their tails firmly between their legs.

When you’re pumped up about fishing a specific spot, a donut day can be a humbling experience.

But you can use a demoralising outing on the water to your advantage. Estuary fishing success is built on learning and experience. You can become a “smarter” fisho by storing the lessons from each trip in that data bank between your ears.

And smarter anglers always catch more fish. So, what are you waiting for? Peak season is fast approaching – it’s time to boost your estuary IQ.


It is astonishing how little attention some fishers pay to arguably the two most important ingredients to successful estuary fishing – weather and tides.

Air and water temperatures, wind, air pressure, and tidal flow are all play huge roles in dictating the behaviour of every estuary species. Time your trip with less-than-ideal water and weather conditions, and you’re likely to struggle for results. But get the timing right, and it’s like
someone’s flicked a switch, transforming the fishing from lacklustre to lively.

It sounds harsh, but if you don’t have a basic grasp of what the tide is doing, you probably shouldn’t be estuary fishing in the first place. Getting it right is paramount. For example, I have recently been chasing over-sized salmon and tailor in a few systems in the far south of NSW.

These fish pour into the estuaries in May and hang around for months. They’re still there as I write this. At the top of the tide, they’re very spread out and hard to locate. Sometimes they’re impossible to find, even if you’re chasing the schools in a small boat.

However, at the bottom of the tide – especially when it’s a very “low” low tide – these fish are restricted to the holes and channels left behind by the receding water.

They’re much easier to find and relatively easy to catch – reward for understanding the tides and planning accordingly. It’s a similar story when it comes to the weather.

“Anglers who understand why certain natural events are unfolding, and how that relates to the fish they’re targeting, are more successful more often.”

Tides are predictable and there are countless resources at your fingertips for gauging the tide.
That means you should never be ‘surprised’ by the tide you’re confronted with when you arrive at your chosen location.

There’s roughly six hours between every tide change, so mistiming your visit means, at


I can’t think of too many factors more important than the weather when it comes to influencing fish behaviour.

I’m typing this in the depths of another bleak southern winter. The air is cold and the water temperature in the NSW far south coast estuaries is verging on single digits. It’s depressing.

But in six week or thereabouts, the sun should start shining on the rivers and lakes I like to fish.
That first magnificent run of consecutive 20-plus degree days sees a quick spike in water temperatures, especially in the shallows.

If this coincides with a steady or rising barometer, it often produces some of the best fishing days spring has to offer, with species like flathead, bream, trevally, perch and bass responding almost instantly to the warmer water.

If you’re across the latest weather forecasts, you’re in the box seat to ‘be there’ when the action bursts to life!

If you don’t know – or don’t care – what the weather’s doing, you’re odds-on to miss out.


One of the most effective ways to boost your estuary fishing IQ is to become adept at observing – and interpreting – what is going on around you.

I’ve written pieces before on the importance of observation skills. They’re as crucial as any other skill in an angler’s repertoire.

Fishers who don’t notice the presence of bait, the boils of feeding fish, or the behaviour of birds and other marine life are behind the eight-ball.

And there’s more to it than simply “noticing” things. Anglers who understand why certain natural events are unfolding, and how that relates to the fish they’re targeting, are more successful more often.

It takes me back to a session earlier this year on a far south coast river.

My son and I were exploring the southern shoreline along a stretch of water we rarely tread.
The tides were good, the water temperature was up but the fish weren’t overly enthusiastic about hitting our lures and bait.

After 20 minutes of little to no action, we noticed some small disturbances on the water’s surface. These disturbances because quite frequent. They weren’t mullet or whitebait – they were prawns. Tiny prawns. And they were everywhere.

A quick change of lure and bait – I tied on a diminutive prawn-imitation soft plastic and my 11-year-old tried an unweighted fresh prawn bait – and both of us were “on”.

We both caught species that you’d expect in and around schools of prawns – flathead and bream.
But we also landed some nice chopper tailor, fat trevally, flounder and even a few Aussie salmon. Unsurprisingly, all of them were chock-a-block full of prawns.

It’s a rudimentary example, I know, but it was a pleasing reward for fishing with open eyes, noticing the signs and correctly interpreting them.


Everyone’s heard the famous Thomas Edison quote about genius being ‘one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration’.

It applies to most aspects of life, including fishing. The smartest anglers also tend to be the ones who put in the most effort.

I’m a firm believer in “working” for your fish. In the world of angling, you’re often rewarded for effort, even if it’s over the long term.

I’m enthusiastic about my fishing but by no means am I a supremely talented angler. I catch more fish than a lot of my mates, though, simply because I fish more, and for longer.

Naturally, when you fish more you also learn more. So a preparedness to do the hard yards never hurts when it comes to boosting your angling IQ.

That means driving further, exploring deeper, walking or paddling around that next bend, persisting for an extra hour or two and a having a willingness to do it all again the next day.

Doing the hard yards also extends to the work you put in “off the field”, so to speak. The more effort you dedicate to planning, researching, forecasting and preparing, the better the results.

With the east coast poised to experience its first El Nino spring and summer for years, the coming months are sure to throw up plenty of challenges and opportunities for southern estuary anglers.

By applying a dose of grey matter to your fishing, and building that angling IQ, you’ll put yourself in a strong position to reap the rewards from what could be one of the most interesting seasons on the estuaries we’ve had in years.

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