How to

Wading The Estuaries

I HAVE a boat and a kayak but sometimes the only way to access a fishing hotspot is to get your feet wet.

Before I could afford my tinny and Hobie, I used to wade the NSW south coast estuaries all the time.

It was a cheap and effective way to get into fishy water and target species that lived in the shallows, along the weed edges and in the channels.

While wading rarely afforded access to the deepest holes or snaggiest backwaters, it was a reliable way to target flathead, whiting, bream, trevally, tailor, salmon and the like on lures and bait.

In fact, I caught heaps of fish while standing knee deep in some of my favourite creeks, rivers and lakes.

But when you get a boat or a ‘yak, and you suddenly have the mobility to go anywhere in a given system, wading the flats and shallows often takes a back seat.

Why walk when you can suddenly paddle, pedal or drive?

You zip over the shallow stretches of water that used to bring you so much joy in a bid to find the deepest drop-off or hidden snag or next bend in the river.

Wading, however, seems to have come back into vogue – at least on the estuaries I often fish between Batemans Bay and Bermagui.

This probably has something to do with the rise of surface luring for whiting, bream and flathead in less than a metre of water.

This has opened many anglers’ eyes to the fishing potential of relatively shallow water.

Fishos are also discovering that leaving the boat or kayak at home and fishing on foot can open up access to areas they could never reach with a water craft of any type.

Get on top

Without doubt, my favourite way to fish when wading is to flick surface lures for whiting, bream and flathead.

In the south-east, all three species come up onto the flats some time in November, when the water temperature creeps over the magic 22-degree mark. They’ll remain active in the shallows until late March, feeding on prawns and baitfish in water less than a metre deep.

The great thing about this style of fishing is that you don’t have to wade too far – as soon as you get your feet wet, you’re in the strike zone. Whiting and flatties, and to a lesser extent, bream, will happily chase lures into ankle deep water when they’re in the mood.

Everyone has their personal preferences, but I find surface action really clicks into gear when the water hits about 24 degrees. Couple this with a making tide and a breeze to ruffle the surface – and assist with casting – and you’re in business.

Don’t discount ultra-shallow water – I’m talking 30cm or less. The number of seriously large whiting that patrol water that barely reaches your shins – or even your ankles – is remarkable.

Just bear in mind that the shallower the water, the spookier the fish. That’s where the long casts come into play. Use the breeze to fire the lure as far away as possible – that’s the secret to undoing wary whiting and other species.

When topwater fishing the flats, I am almost exclusively use Bassday Sugapens – the best ‘walk the dog-style’ lure in existence in my opinion.

I can’t fault them because they cast beautifully, come in an array of appealing colours and boast a very reliable and highly enticing action.

The 55mm, 70mm and 90mm are all excellent, but I’ve had the most success on the mid-sized 70mm model – it seems to mimic the size of bait these flats feeding fish are homed in on most of the time.

Of course, there are many other surface walkers on the shelves that work just as well. And don’t discount poppers, either – their noisy blooping action can sometimes pique the interest of a fussy whiting or bream when other lures fail.

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On edge

Wading is a terrific way to access edges and drop-offs, where the flats give way to areas where the tide has carved channels and holes two, three and four metres deep.

These locations are natural fish magnets; predatory species lie in the depths waiting for bait to travel from the relative safety of the flats into their lair.

Positioning yourself on the cusp of the drop-offs, you can stand in water up to your knees while your lure bounces through the strike zone.

Flathead are without doubt the principle target here and there’s no better way to connect to a lizard or two than by working these areas thoroughly with soft plastics on light to medium jig-heads.

Squidgy Wrigglers, Berkley Nemesis and Z-Mann Grubs around the 100mm mark, fished on 1/6 or 1/4 oz heads, are deadly over the drop-offs.

I like the ebbing tide – flathead congregate on the edges as water levels over the flats drop, dragging with them a variety of tasty morsels.

Cover as much ground as you can. I never plonk myself in one spot and continually cast in the same area. You’re on foot so you can be as mobile as you wish, just keep wading and casting, wading and casting…you’ll soon find a patch of willing flatties.

You’ll hook into other species on a regular basis, too. Trevally, yellowfin bream, flounder, tailor and salmon are all regularly landed while focusing on lizards.


Get wet

Sometimes wading is your only option. There are some systems on the NSW south coast – mainly very small inlets and lakes – that are virtually only fishable on foot.

Sure, you could possibly drag a kayak or canoe into some of these areas, or perhaps launch a tiny tinny, if you have a four-wheel-drive and sense of adventure, but they’re mostly accessible via old fashioned leg power.

Walking into these estuaries and then wading the margins can produce mind-blowing fishing. It’s because they’re lightly-fished – you mostly have the entire systems to yourself.

The aforementioned techniques – surface luring the shallows and flicking plastics over the drop-offs – will yield all manner of species.

The most notable characteristics of lightly-fished estuaries are the spread of species you’ll encounter and the sheer numbers of fish.

I walk and wade a number of isolated inlets, mainly in the far south of the state, an area blessed with secluded systems. A couple of wading sessions spring to mind where I’ve beached a dozen flatties to 75cm in a tick over an hour.

I’ve also had trips where I’ve encountered seven or eight different species on lures in the one wading session. That’s memorable land-based fishing in anyone’s book.


Wading the estuaries has its dangers. The most obvious are stingrays, which can be prolific at times. The issue with rays is that they often don’t flee when they see you coming – they simply bury themselves in the sand. You don’t know they’re there until you’re literally on top of them. And you don’t want to be ‘on top’ of a ray of any size.

While I’ve had plenty of close encounters, I’ve never been unfortunate enough to feel the pointy end of a stingray barb. I know of anglers who have, and they describe the most intense and long lasting pain imaginable. Most stings require a hospital stay.

With that in mind, I recently invested in some fairly basic “aqua shoes” –basically snug-fitting waterproof booties with a rubber sole that offer a degree of protection against rays and other nasties. I find them comfortable to wear and they don’t inhibit my movements at all. Mind you, I still keep an eagle eye out for anything for any submerged hazards. Nothing beats being watchful and cautious when wading in any terrain.

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