How to

Structure V Cover

Knowing the correct definitions of key fishing terms such as “structure” and “cover” can help you to become a better angler, writes KEVIN SAVVAS.

FROM an etymological standpoint, I love the verbiage that we use to describe the things we do in fishing. Evidence suggests there are some imaginative fishos amongst us. To the uninitiated it may seem we are speaking a different language, especially when we use terms like “slapping the slack”, tie on rigs like a “drop shot” or use knots like an “improved Albright” or a “cat’s paw with a flemished eye”. Even seasoned anglers can be left wondering what these things mean. Good publications like this one go a long way to keep us abreast of this terminology and what it refers to. Your local tackle store should also lend assistance in this area.

Even still, social forces can lead us to use the wrong terminology to describe certain things. Perhaps the most widespread example of this is the reference to “structure”. We hear it often. In fact, it’s one of the key components to finding and catching fish. I’m sure in this magazine alone there will be many references to it. But I’m here to tell you, the majority of you fishos refer to it incorrectly. For a long time I was one of the many misinformed.
Basically, every time you talk of structure you will actually mean “cover”. The two are not synonymous and are altogether different features, although are used interchangeably. Read on and see what I mean.

In fishing parlance, structures are the physical features of the bottom strata.  Structures are areas where there is a variance in depth creating contours, and these changes can range from subtle to dramatic.  Structures can be natural as well as man-made and collectively create the underwater landscape. It is a massive factor in fish habitat and certain types will concentrate fish more than others. Most of us refer to structure incorrectly to describe any fish-holding object that aggregates fish such as submerged timber, marker poles, jetties and moorings.

Here are some common fishing structures. 
A “ledge” is the beginning of a distinct change in depth.  It marks the top of a “drop-off”, which is simply the “slope” of the bottom towards deeper water.  Ledges and drops are main structures that hold many species, such as bream and flathead. While studying this, I was surprised to learn within the boundaries of structure there was actually a common differentiator to determine the types of contours. Drops are characterised by a depth change of 30 degrees or greater. Less than a 30 degree angle and you are fishing a slope.

A “hump” is a shallow area surrounded by deeper water and often a preferred piece of structure for snapper and kingfish. It can also be referred to as a “pinnacle”. A “hole” is the opposite of a hump – a deep area in the bottom surrounded by shallow water. 

Holes are favourite hiding spots of bottom-dwelling hunters, like mulloway.

Structure provides different advantages to various species such as aggregating baitfish, providing an ambush area, or being close to deep water. These attributes will “hold” fish in a particular area, especially when feeding. Another major facet is fish movement. Fish use structure to traverse a waterway following certain paths such as channels or gutters. These may be scoured out by tidal flow or can exist as a redundant river bed in
a dam. Impoundment bass often follow the path of the old river and usually this is the deepest point in the vicinity.

One thing I’ve found to be a consistent theme, though, is unless actively feeding, fish will nearly always hold near the edges
of the structure. Prospect your efforts on the perimeters of a hole or a pinnacle as this is usually where the fish will be. Learning how the fish you’re targeting relates to structure and being able to find structure on the water will increase your ability to catch fish.
If structure means bottom contours, then cover is anything that can hide a fish. Like structure, cover can also be natural or man-made. Examples of natural cover are: fallen timber, rocks, boulders and weedbeds. Understanding how your target species interacts with available cover will yield better results as certain fish have a preference to certain cover at certain times. Knowing where fish hide and why will help you catch them.

Man-made cover is usually more pronounced and can be bridge pylons, wharves, pontoons, jetties, moorings, marker poles and breakwalls, to name only a few. Jewies, for instance, love to hang near bridge pylons as well as breakwalls to get respite out of the current, usually in eddies. These locations also sweep food past them with the current, meaning they only have to expel a small amount of energy while feeding. Bream are found around old moorings, under pontoons and jetties while they gorge themselves on the growth of barnacles and small marine life attached to the cover. These areas give both food supply and shelter. Kingfish also use marker poles as both feeding stations and cover.

Double Trouble
In my opinion, fishing a combination of structure and cover is best most of the time. In fact, I think most people fish both without realising it. Take fishos who cast lures from the shore. They will cast at all the visible cover they can see, such as weedbeds, points and isolated rocks and are also fishing the bottom structure, which is the depth change from the shoreline. For other combos look either side of bridge pylons or marker poles that will have holes scoured out by current, fallen trees tight to a steep shore, wharves and pontoons, and weedbeds on the fringe of a channel. All of these areas can be found quite easily in most waterways. Spend some time at low tide as well finding a few of the less noticeable hot spots that receive less fishing pressure by others. These are gold if you can find them!

Presenting Your Lure
To adequately describe how I would present a lure to every type of cover or structure for different types of fish would necessitate a novel. However I can narrow down a few key techniques I use that remain constant, no matter the scenario.

The first aspect is lure direction. I know this is an old theory now but the direction the lure travels to the fish is vitally important.  I have seen in crystal clear water the reaction fish have when a lure is presented to them in odd ways. They usually head for the hills. When targeting fish holding in cover attempt to have the lure travelling with the current, not against it. Fish almost always sit nose to the current waiting for food to sweep past. At worst, fish cross-current.

You can present the lure with the current in two ways: either from a stationary position, such as anchored or with an electric motor, or by drifting. From a stationary position you will need to cast up-current and work the lure back to the boat. Let’s look at an example. If I was targeting bream tight against the side of
a bridge pylon I’d position the boat down-current and cast along the pylon and work it back to the boat. From this position I could effectively use hard-bodies to target the top water column, lightly weighted plastics to target the mid water and blades to target the bottom zone.

Drifting is a great way to present your lure and allows you to cover large tracts of both cover and structure. The good thing about drifting is you will always be travelling with the current (if it exists where you fish) which means your offering is half way to being presented correctly.
I started off dragging the lure behind the boat in the early days and it worked great for species like flathead but flighty species like jewies and bream required me to change tack. I now “back-cast” and have the lure travelling ahead of the boat pushed by the tide. The lure is still heading in the right direction but the shadow of the boat has not spooked the fish before the lure passes them. It works really well.

The second aspect is go light. Once again, there is no revolutionary breakthrough with this suggestion, but it is important and can be a real balancing act. If I was fishing an oyster rack for bream I will beef up my gear to 6lb mainline and 12lb leader to extract the fish once hooked. If I was fishing a deep gutter or a sand flat with blades I would scale down to 3lb mainline and 4lb leader as I know I can back my drag off and play the fish out. The rule of thumb is to go as light as you possibly dare. If you lose every fish you hook or get no bites at all, the sweet spot will be somewhere in the middle.

Staying in the “zone” is another benefit of fishing light. Take a fallen tree in a river, for example. Bass and bream will hold up tightly underneath the stump close to shore, not on the bottom. Therefore a lightly weighted lure will hang in the fish’s face longer, enticing it to strike. A lure sinking like a house brick will give the fish little time to respond. This applies to oyster racks, pontoons, wharves and moorings where the fish are likely to hold up off the bottom. Then you can factor in the current to allow the lure to drift underneath for best impact.

A third aspect is to work fast, but methodically. I often see fishos get too impatient, fire off a few casts and leave the area for greener pastures. While I agree it’s futile to fish where the fish ain’t, it’s also important to give the spot a chance to work. You will hear me often state my No.1 factor for successful luring is mobility; the ability to cover large areas of water in a given session. I still hold firm to that, but in the process ensure that before I move on the fish really are shut down. I tended to spend less time on a spot than I do now but many trips up north for barra showed me the benefits of plugging away at a snag for longer than my instincts favoured. It isn’t uncommon to catch a barra after 30 identical casts. Being methodical is probably a better way to describe it. Work slowly but work efficiently, try a few different lures, if you have no success, then move on.

A fourth important aspect is the fish finder. I never stop to fish an area without looking at what’s down there first. If there is nothing sounding to inspire me I will move on. This can be a little haphazard at times as fish may be there but slightly out of the sounder’s beam, especially with conventional sounders. That’s where the new side imaging units are unbeatable. They allow you to scope out a wide area and truly “see” the cover or structure below.

The key here is that you don’t just stop in the middle of nowhere and expect results. Try and understand where the fish you’re trying to catch feeds or hangs out. Look for the structure or cover where the fish will hold up in, sound them out, present a natural looking lure in the way a fish would expect and fish methodically but with confidence.

I can guarantee that if you can combine these attributes together, mind-blowing sessions will be just around the corner.

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