Digging Deeper – By David Hodge
I’m a bit of a traditionalist in many ways, and when it comes to my fishing, and at the risk of being left behind in the technology stakes, I still love using my eyes and ears to indicate what and where I should cast next.
Picking a small gap up in a drain, or skipping a plastic into the back blocks of the drowned mangroves and listening for those boof’s and cracks that give away the presence of a jack or barra is my favourite way to catch a fish.
Keeping your wits about you and paying attention to those sounds is just my ‘thing’. Visual indicators like a few jelly prawns flicking on the surface, a flash of silver or red in amongst the structure, an unexplained boil or swirl caused by an unseen fish, but an indicator all the same. These are the little highlights throughout a day on the water that can make a difference to the total days tally.
I ‘spose I could be classified as ‘greedy’ as my aim is to catch as many fish over a day on the water as possible. When the fish are on the chew this can be an exciting number of encounters over a day on the water, but on those harder days, a handful of fish can still be rewarding when things aren’t happening, but the point is, you still manage to figure out where and how to catch a few.
Fish are where you find them, and not always where we’d like or expect to find them, and this is where breaking out of routine or changing your search area makes all the difference. It’s embarrassing the amount of lures that I have in the boat when we head out on the water sometimes, and we often go through a culling process and trim our selection down to a minimum to see how we can increase room and reduce weight in the boat. It doesn’t take long at all for all of those lures that were deemed ‘non essential’ to work their way back into the storage boxes though, as the odd occasion happens along where we didn’t have what we needed to fish a particular scenario, and that can be frustrating. Due to our snag and mangrove obsession, it was usually the deeper type lures that didn’t make the initial cut.
Sadly these days, the cost of even close to town fishing trips isn’t cheap, and only getting worse these days, so our budget for cool toys is limited. The old Lowrance HDS 7 that sits on the console is probably seen to be outdated technology by today’s standards, though it still works just as well as the day I got it nine years ago, and has been responsible for me finding many fish over the time I’ve used it. Just recently I had the chance to fit up a new sounder on the old Polycraft casting deck, and Ohh my God, hasn’t it been a game changer from the day it was turned on. The bigger screen allows my ageing eyes to see clearly from a standing position, with a display definition that had me dumbfounded to start with. The detail of bottom structure and ease of identifying fish more clearly has redirected a bigger portion of our day’s proceedings from the shallow snags where the sounder is not required, to the deeper structure, and fish that we often passed over without even realising. The new sounder is a Raymarine Element 12, a brand I have nothing to do with for some reason over the years, but have been blown away by since mounting up the new unit. It seems that since I’ve been showing the sounder screen on our little YouTube channel, Hodgie the Barefoot fisherman, many anglers have also been impressed by the display, and the conversion of screen displayed fish to captured fish, and this is what it’s all about for me – more fish caught over a day on the water.
For example, over say a hundred meters of water there may be 10 shallow snag based opportunities to catch fish, but now days with the Element, that number of fish can be doubled due to the awareness of what’s underneath us with just a glance at the screen.
Being able to find fish, and being able to catch them are two different things though, and having the lure and rigging options on hand at the time is essential to be able to capitalise on those more frequent opportunities. Muddy and sandy bottom, shoal type bottoms, deep drains or channels, mud slides or ‘slips’ as we often refer to them are often snag less features, but still often hold fish. These can be fished with your standard soft vibe type lures, blades, whiptail Jigs and ‘J’ styled jig heads quite thoroughly and effectively. The angle of approach is determined by the amount of current and the direction in comparison to the fishable ground discovered. So too is the amount of weight needed to reach and work the located fish effectively.
In times of lower tide movement, such as neap tides or coming up to a tide change as it slows, often has us presenting a lure behind the boat in the same direction as the water flow. Lighter lines allow us to feed the lure back with the current and work it more slowly back towards where the fish are holding. This is easiest done with a Baitcaster outfit where a simple disengaging the spool and feeding out a few feet of line and then re-engaging of the thumb to feed the lure back onto the fishes location, hopping and lifting it from the bottom all the way and staying in contact with the lure to register any taps or bites from resident fish.
Tactics change when you add in a some structure like sunken trees etc, and treble armed lures like vibes and bibless rattlers and even the ‘J’ jigheads snag up repeatedly, and just aren’t cost effective. This calls for weedless presentations, and the way to fish them is identical to what I just described by the line control while feeding back with the current. It is a bit more methodical though and a fast worked lure twitch can expose the hooks point and once again snag up. Longer softer tipped rods are best for this style of feeding the lure back, and much of the lures manipulation and imparted action is done with the rod more-so than the reel.
Feeling your way back through the structure is a fairly delicate process, and the current helps to impart an action to the lure as it descends.
There are a couple of rigging techniques that will help with the presentation, but to be honest you’re still going to snag the odd lure and loose it no matter what. First of all, the size of the weedless hook in comparison to the lures body size needs to be considered. Too big of a ‘gape’ can often expose that hook point as it gently bumps into the structure, so a tighter fit is necessary to keep that hook point concealed close to the body of the plastic, reducing the amount of hang-ups.
Also, the unweighted hooks rigged with the ball sinker in the nose sink nose first and this seems to increase the snag rate a little bit, whereas the belly weighted hooks such as the Atomic EWG’S sink a bit flatter, but more importantly lift the nose when being worked and fed back into the structure. This may sound a bit trivial to some, but makes a difference to the amount of fish landed and lost lures over a day on the water. My two favourite lures for this are the Atomic 4” Prong’s and Halco 5” Paddle Prawns rigged usually in a 5\0 Atomic Seeker 1/4 or 1/3 ounce weighted hook, determined by water depth and speed. Water clarity will determine the colours best suited to a particular day.
Casting hard bodies in current.
The angle you present a hard body lure from is just as essential to consider as a soft plastic, and your snag rate will reflect this. If you’re casting up stream and working your lure back with the current, you’ll often need to work the lure faster in order to get the action of the lure to be strong enough to attract the attention of a fish. Reasonably buoyant lures should work better for you in this situation, as they can be allowed to float up and away from the branches etc when you stop the lures momentum. Sinking or suspending lures will just drift into the snag on the pause and snag up relentlessly. This is frustrating and can be expensive. Lures I often use for this approach are the 90mm Halco Scorpion in 3m and 4m bibs, 125 Scorpion with the 3m bib, the Halco 80mm Poltergeist and Atomic Slim Twitcher.
In scenarios like this you’re often better off positioning yourself up current and casting back in the same direction as the waters movement and using the water speed to dive the lure down and impart a stronger action at a slower speed as you wind the lure back into the current. Usually, I’ll work the lure down with the rod tip angled down towards the water to get the lure to dive to its maximum and then as I feel the structure I’ll hold the rod tip upwards to work the lure up and over a hurdle with twitches and taps of the rod tip, then it’s rod tip down to dive it into the next branch or piece of structure. This can seem time consuming, but it means that the lure has been probed into every crevice and gap that a fish may sit down in. Lures I often use here are the Tilsan Barra, and the Bassday Sugar Deep’s. Just as a bit of an add on here, the exact same principles come into play when trolling, and buoyancy etc are huge considerations.
I really hope this helps to clear up a few of the questions that are regularly asked, and helps you catch more fish over a day on the water.