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Fishing the Flats
Estuaries can be found in almost every coastal town and these often-overlooked resources can be a real fishing treasure trove.
Words and Images by: JOHN WILLIS

Catching luderick in the intertidal zone is a load of fun; part of the joy of fishing is being out there to watch the sun rise and set; the lower reaches of estuaries are great places for kids to fish.

The intertidal zone where rivers and lakes meet with the sea create some of the most beautiful coastal visions and opportunities, both above and below the water.

I have enjoyed some of the greatest moments of my angling life wading golden sands and the rocky outcrops of our estuaries, while flicking baits and lures at the species dwelling in those life-giving waters.

Many years back, my 10-year-old daughter and I donned mask and snorkel and drifted an incoming tide through the entrance of a south coast NSW estuary.

We were carried up through fast flowing shallows, over the sand flats and into the crystal-clear dropoffs of the deeper pools, completely  mesmerised by the aquarium that unfolded as we gently allowed the flow to reveal its secrets. It’s a great way learn about the ‘circle of life’ no matter your age…

A good friend of mine once said the problem with fishermen is that we only see the life that we can catch, not the full spectrum of the underwater environment. In many ways, he was right.


These lower intertidal zones are amazing habitats, where a huge variety of species live permanently, or use as a transit point in their busy lifestyles.

Fish move through the intertidal zone to feed, spawn and to find  preferred salinity levels, particularly in times of flood and drought.

Often we can find seagoing species high up in estuary systems, especially in times of low flow, as they prefer the lower salinity to trigger spawning. Snapper typically come to mind; however, I have also found King George whiting high up into feeder streams, where they have lived for so long that their usual glistening silvery armour was replaced with gold plating from life in the tannin stained water. Even wild trout will run to the lower estuaries as a part of their lifestyles.

Many species of whiting inhabit the golden sands and clear blue waters nearer the entrances and the keen angler can use a variety of natural baits and lures to target them. Some fishos have developed skills with tiny surface poppers and soft plastics, yet I still prefer the natural baits of the surrounding areas, such as pipis (cockles), nippers (bass yabbies), mussels, or even a slice of pilchard or whitebait.

Estuary perch generally live high in the brackish water of estuary systems and their feeder streams.

You can also find excellent fishing in the lower reaches, especially around the full moon in the winter and spring spawning runs.

Bream and tarwhine run in and out of the system, as do mullet, mulloway, trevally, garfish, flounder, herring, tommy ruff, tailor and Australian salmon.

Then there are also northern species such as barramundi, queenfish and some mackerel, but beware these tidal flats can be very hazardous up north, with active crocodile populations!


Exploring the intertidal zone is a most relaxing way to waste a day.

Perhaps the greatest target species here is the humble flathead. These big flat lizards lay in wait for an unsuspecting morsel to drift by, so they can be caught on a huge variety of baits and lures.

Flathead just love small live mullet and the sandflats are their nursery grounds. The lurking lizards will also engulf a surprisingly large soft plastic with their great big flat gobs.

Some flathead specialists fish with soft plastics up to around 100mm, but I generally back down to around 50-75mm lures with at least 30lb fluorocarbon trace to have some sort of chance with the sharp dentures that will destroy lighter lines.

Every now and then a mulloway will surprise the hell out of you with a blinding first strike and run that takes many unawares. These beautiful silver streaks put on a fine display with a big paddle tail gaining enormous momentum in their fight for life. They can be dirty fighters, running for shelter and smashing you on rocks and oyster racks, yet winning the battle with a rampaging mulloway in the lower estuaries will be a fight to remember.


Float fishing can be another exciting and successful approach in the intertidal zone.

This is where luderick dwell, with their little mouths feeding mainly on sea lettuce weed, among other leafy growth.

You can usually find some suitable weed for bait growing around a rock ledge or pool, a mooring buoy or other structure.

Luderick have tiny little mouths, so you need to present the bait on very small hooks to be in with a chance, but when hooked, they are terrific little scrappers.

Luderick aren’t strictly herbivores, so it’s not unusual to catch one by accident when fishing for bream with a sandworm or peeled prawn.

You can also target mullet, garfish and a number of other species using float fishing methods, and there’s something magical about watching that little globe bob up and down when a fish enquires.

Australian salmon and tailor are other regular visitors to the lower reaches of an estuary, so it’s always worthwhile keeping a few silver slice lures and wire traces handy for the toothy brigade.

Nighttime is also amazing on the sandflats when prawns, flounder, flathead and a host of other species come up into the shallows to feed. Grab a net, spear and flounder light for some aquatic hijinks in the darkness.


Bait collection on the tidal flats is all part of the game, and can be a huge part of the fun.

Take the kids pumping for bass yabbies, crabs, shellfish or sand worms for a terrific, educational and fun-filled outing.

Learn how to collect beach worms, set a bait trap for mullet, drag the weed for small shrimp, scour the rocks for some mussels, shellfish or oysters or, where it’s allowed, throw a bait net for a swimming selection.

Prawning is a fun-filled nighttime adventure for the whole family that produces great bait and a delicious feed to boot.

There are a million options to explore in the intertidal zone.

A simple canoe or kayak can further your horizons and they are a simple, lightweight alternative to a boat when travelling.

What could be better than a sunfilled day, or even a warm still night, simply wading the shallows and enjoying the action? It’ll do me!

Tags: Fishing Fish Estuaries Coast Boats Bait Sea Ocean Lakes Sand Aquarium Drought Soil Flood Snapper Whiting NSW New South Wales
Category: Unknown
Written: Sat 01 Apr 2017
Printed: April, 2017
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