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Summer flats fishing

I LOVE summer. Whilst offshore fishing can be quiet on the bottom, the influx of bait schools can bring juvenile black marlin close to shore, while estuaries and rivers come alive with loads of lure-munching species. Warm days, still mornings and sultry afternoons get me excited with possibility and it’s possible to have a fish before or after work. What’s not to love?

Wading shallow flats is one of my favourite pastimes. With a good pair of sunnies, light gear and patience it’s possible to immerse yourself in this watery environment, enjoying close encounters with an almost meditative sense of calm. Such a great escape from the frenetic pace of the silly season. A mate of mine who focuses almost solely on flathead attributes his recovery from a heart attack and the associated mental health difficulties to flats fishing because he reckons it’s where he finds the most peace!

That said, yesterday’s pre-work mission was a tad less than satisfying. After pulling up the canoe on a mid-river sandflat, I hopped out and commenced working the edge of the flat, casting a 25 cm soft plastic into the channel and up into the shallows. Having spooked enough big flathead in 15cm of water, I always cast lures ahead of where I’m headed, just in case, so you can imagine my chagrin when an 80 cm+ fish bolted from the sand about 2 m in front of me. Bugger, she mustn’t have been hungry!

About 15 m further along the edge I spotted a small “cove” in the leading edge of the bank and it looked like a perfect posse for a big fish. On the third cast my plastic was slammed on the sink and a quick lift set the hook. The big flattie bolted, and sediment clouded the water. It was a great fight, lasting 5 min or more before I was able to get a good look at the fish … and it appeared to be a stonking fat fish in the low to mid 90 cm range. Stoked!  After two fishless trips with a missed hook up a few days previous, I was almost counting my chickens when the unthinkable happened. My braid parted and off she went. Don’t know why, but there’s a re-spool on the agenda; 15lb line shouldn’t break!

But that wander through the shallows gave me more exciting intel. Decent sized whiting and a few big silver-sided bream had come into my field of vision as they cruised past or darted off at my approach. Great news, as I also love throwing small surface lures at both species. Catching whiting on small surface poppers and walk the dog style lures is awesome. Like a squadron of fighter jets, whiting home in on well-worked lures and when they are in the mood, fight each other to get to it first. Even if they peel off without biting, it’s exciting stuff! My formulae for success is to fish in slightly discoloured water with plenty of flow, particularly when an active yabbie bed is lying a metre or thereabouts below the surface. By avoiding boat-busy areas the fishing can be awesome.

Bream are similar but there is one key difference. Whilst bream will come up on a steadily moving lure, and at times snap on it, I find that they are much more likely to attack when the lure is paused or on a subtle twitch after the pause. In contrast, whiting will swim off a lure that stops moving. So they key is to be able to recognise the indicative slurp of a bream from the splash of a whiting and act accordingly. It’s not difficult and it won’t take long, but you’ll need remain vigilant as opposed to the calming scenario of draw/pause used for flatties.

Just a few things to note, however. Sandflies are one consideration as they can be either a nuisance or a sanity-stealing itchy nightmare if you come up in welts after a bite. Easy to fix though, either by spray, long lightweight trousers and shirts or if need be, wading in water that’s deep enough to come up on your pants, although you might wish to apply relent to your upper regions. Footwear is another good idea, even if you like the feel of sand between your toes. Sharp sticks, oyster shell and broken glass are possible. Then there’s the sun. Cover up, wear a hat, and enjoy the sights made possible with polarised sunnies.

Flats fishing is great fun! It’s family friendly and one of the few scenarios that is safe for youngsters, although if yours are like my grandsons, it’s almost impossible to keep them quiet…

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