How to

Practical: Fishing your backyard

MANY of us these days are hung up on travelling to fish remote locations and rarely take the time to look in our local waters for what can be rewarding and memorable species.

While these days I would give my left leg to go to the Top End, PNG or Fiji and chase any number of huge exotic fish, I have found over the last ten years that my local waters have been fairly productive and I don’t have to travel far to satisfy my fishing needs. Not only does fishing closer to home save you bucks at the bowser, the short trip means more time on the water.

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The fruits of a little research.

This article gives a run down about how to check out your local area in more detail and use methods to improve your fishing in these local spots. Results will take time but if you put in the time and effort you will be rewarded as many little rivers, creeks and quiet estuaries hold an abundance of decent fish. One needs to just look deeper below the surface and spend a few lazy afternoons on the water to extract them.

Do the time, do the research.

No one can expect to rock up to a location, throw in a line and bring in heaps of fish. Yes, there can be pot luck but most anglers these days will do a fair amount bit research prior to fishing an area and spend time fishing the same location over and over until they know and where and when a site produces. Local knowledge is gold so talk to people in your area, friends, locals, neighbours, fishing guides and tackle shop owners to get more info about your local river, beach or estuary.

More often than not, you have to put in the time yourself and fish those new spots that you often overlooked, until you crack the code. This may produce many a dud trip or yield little return but then one day it will all come together.

I am fortunate to live relatively close to several major river systems in the Far North Coast of NSW. The main river I fish is tidal and about 90 per cent fresh water where I’ve had mixed results fishing for bass and EPs, plus the occasional bream in summer when there has been no rain. I’ve never really given the area near home much thought as I always thought it more of a highway for bass making their way down to the salt to breed and that all the smaller creeks produce the better fish up river. I have fished it in both boat and kayak, noting snags and sounding out recently fallen trees with mixed results. There are plenty of snags and bends, shallow bays and the river is mostly wide, reasonably deep and often a bit murky. The ramp is about two minutes from my house and I have’nt really bothered to give it a go, favouring the saltier parts of the main river 15 minutes away.

The fruits of a little research.

So this summer I spent some time fishing near home at least twice to three times a week in my boat and kayak until I cracked part of the code. The bass had always been there but the days I had targeted them the barometer was not good, or I went just because I could get a free moment away from the family. I was lucky to be on a few months break, so I was able to focus my trips on the best times to fish; often on a rapidly rising barometer on those clammy afternoons you expect storms, and my results greatly improved. (Tip – plan a bass trip when the barometer is rising, even if you have to cut work early to squeeze a trip then do it).

Fishing during the “right” weather patterns can make all the difference. A steady rising or rapidly dropping barometer has worked best for me. Tides also play a big part; ever noticed when fish come on the bite for no apparent reason, even way up the top end of a tidal river 30km inland? I focused my most of my fishing two hours before the top of the tide or the bottom and two hours after the slack.

Record the tides, catches and barometer.

This goes without saying. You could come back to the same location, same snag and get very different results if the conditions have changed. I had been storing this knowledge in my head but as I get older, the memory is fading. Recording your catch, the location and conditions is reference point. There are heaps of apps for iPads and smartphones that can do this. In my favourite salty part of the main river one particular day I caught a dozen 45cm + flatties in the space of a few hours. The tide was incoming on a mid morning, it then peaked and as it dropped I got most of my fish on the dropping tide. So I now fish this spot at the same tide for similar results.

It is easy to maintain a fishing log, just a few lines on the computer, iPhone or in a notepad is all you need for valuable reference info for future trips. History and knowledge of a spot allows you to achieve consistent results. I am fortunate enough to have been introduced to some good North Coast bass hotspots from some fishing friends (sorry cannot disclose the site on threats of pain…). The guys who share this spot and knowledge rarely fish it on a low barometer, use only surface lures and make all efforts to try to conserve the spot from overfishing.

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Put in the time and they will come – fishing for bass during the “right” conditions ie usually a rising barometer, often helps.

With the knowledge from others I would wander blindly into a spot like that, get mixed results and probably never want to go back. So I applied the principle of a rising barometer closer to home and the results came. Even a variation of few 2015PA to 2020PA on the barometer can make all the difference to get bass smashing surface lures.

Concentrate on an area

If you concentrate on one or two areas long enough, you will eventually learn to fish
it when it produces. I have a spot down in the salty part of the Richmond River which I mentioned before that is about 15 minutes from my place. It’s not heavily fished and is relatively shallow at around one to six feet and is part of a bay inlet off the main river. I had caught the odd decent flathead there on my way through trolling, but it wasn’t until I spent a few longer concentrated sessions in the same spot that I found all the drop-offs and channels and the spot revealed the best times to target fish.

Rather than scoot up and down the river trolling all over the place looking for fish, I focused my efforts on a particular area about 1.5 km long and 500m across and worked it over a number of times. I have that area sounded out well enough now to know where the best channels are and when to move off the shallows up into the channel at the right times to chase lizards. Over the space of five or six trips I now have that spot wired. I know exactly what tide to fish it and which method to use. I found high tide is good for trolling Micro Mullets and Manns 5+ and a run in tide is good for soft plastics on the drift, casting to the deeper channels. Once again the theory of concentrating efforts on one spot produced consistent results.

Changing tactics

I also switched from my favoured option of using surface lures for bass, which work really well in smaller arms of the river, to spinnerbaits and the results also improved. Because I was not getting hits on the surface I just assumed that the fish weren’t there and moved on. By using spinnerbaits to cover the whole water column I was able to access the fish holding dwon deep against the structure. The light came on in my head – had I been so hooked on surface action that I’d been ignoring fish under my feet?

You just have to be willing to mix it up. If you don’t get results first go on one type of lure, try all the different parts of the water column to entice a strike. I have a dozen or so snags and few river bends that I now know produce fish on a regular basis and I can slip the boat around the corner, have two hours to myself and get my bass fix. Because I’m not travelling far to fish, my boat is already pre-setup to go. I also save a bit on fuel for the car and boat and don’t have to rinse down the boat after the trip as it mostly run in fresh water.

Fishing close to home I now can produce a few good fish a trip, put a smile on my face and be home in time for dinner. Another location I’ve learnt about is near the bus stop where my kids catch the school bus. Same deal; this spot isn’t much more than a little
creek with a few deep holes until one day I stopped on my pushbike and saw a guy fishing there casting from the bridge. He pulled out a 48cm bass while I was watching him and ever since then I get to the bus stop early to cast a few lures before the kids get home on the bus. Just because a spot doesn’t look big enough to be fishy doesn’t mean it holds no fish. Bass don’t need much water to be big fish in a little pond.

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Jack attack – you never know what you might catch close to home!

Fish different times of the day
One tactic I have tried is to try fishing different times of the day. I’ve always been a dawn warrior, but recently I’ve been fishing the afternoon due to the summer heat and because I wanted to also crab at night. One such notable session resulted in my daughter’s first mangrove jack. We were mucking around at an area I’d fished heaps of times during the day but never on dusk. We were casting 70mm Squidgy Wrigglers around some coffee rock bank hoping to put her onto a few a bream and to my surprise halfway back on the retrieve she hooked up. I thought it was another pesky little bream or tailor and to my surprise it was a decent jack of 35cm which put a decent fight on bream gear! I’d never thought that there would be jacks in this part of the river and now we regularly target them on surface lures. Needless to say, two casts later I landed another jack too so I was pretty happy.

It’s not the quantity of time-spent fishing but the quality, so more often I fish at 5pm till 7-8pm into dusk during summer. Hide tide on dusk has been a very productive time on the salt water as in the fresh. It is amazing on dusk how much surface activity there is. Picking the optimal time and tide when fish are feeding or on the move will increase results. For bass, warm sun hit spots in shallow parts, or fading sun on banks and snags are the best areas to target.

Change tactics, lure types, line.

I found that if surface lures are not working, switching to soft plastics or spinnerbaits often did. When fishing for bass I’ve been a surface or hardbody guy for as long as I can remember. If I cast a few Taylor-Mades, Jitterbugs or Manns-1 lures into a snag and got no hits then I used to think a spot was fishless. It wasn’t until a buddy used a few Bassman spinnerbaits on one slow session and pulled a few fish under my surface lure that it convinced me. I now travel with one on a pre-rigged rod.

A few casts with a surface lure, a few with a spinnerbait and for backup I take a soft plastic rod. All bases are now covered. This allows me to fish the complete water column. This may seem excessive but it saves time re-rigging and better if a hot bite is on and you lose a lure. One thing I have changed is line strength. I was using 8lb braid for everything from bass to flathead. I have now dropped down to 4lb and 2lb braid,
which has helped control smaller lures when casting and increase catch rates on
lighter line.

One problem with people starting out in fishing is that they use too high a line strength for what they are trying to catch. i.e. 4 kg for whiting? When was the last time you landed a 4 kg whiting? For most estuarine species 2-3kg line should be the maximum. If you find a spot isn’t producing after 15-20 minutes of casting and you know fish should be in the region, move to the next snag.

For a Plan B, have a few drift runs with soft plastics or get busy with a yabbie pump. Yabbies in my mind are still the number one bait for targeting any estuary species; I have caught jewies to whiting on the humble yabbie. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. If a spot doesn’t work on lures, try yabbie baits or a softbait imitation. There are some great lifelike imitation baits like the Berkley Shrimp that are extremely effective.

So the next time you drive to work past that little creek near home or work, take a rod and have a few casts. Try talking to some people in the local area or take a closer look via a small watercraft. It is amazing when I ditch the boat for the kayak, the things I take notice of that I’d missed before in the boat. Spend the time around a few spots to learn when it produces fish. This will all take time but I guarantee it will be worthwhile. I don’t know any confident angler who just walks up to a spot and pulls fish.

Most importantly, take what you need for a feed and practice catch and release. I like nothing better than coming back to a snag knowing I released a fish there not so long ago and find it’s challenging me to catch it again.

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Fishing close to home makes it easy to include family in on the fun! 

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