Eight top tips for slow trips

By Tyson Manley

Atherton Tablelands

As a primarily land-based angler, I’m left in the lurch when it comes to fishing technology. I don’t have any of those magic tools everyone else seems to have that makes fish just appear on their hooks (like a $2000+ sounder).


There are only two things I can pull out of my arsenal that help me to catch fish: my eyes, and a giant box of lures. Admittedly, if I had a brain, I would probably use it as well! Of course, having adaptable skills is necessary to all fishermen, but I feel they are extra critical for the land-locked, who can’t simply take the boat somewhere more convenient.


There comes a point every night when I am fishing that I literally say to myself “God, you must look like a tosser”. Firing five hundred casts mindlessly at the same spot without any success whatsoever is nothing but wasting time. And who has the time to be doing that? I must have some kind of learning disability, because I have this grand realisation every time I fish, yet it is only after I realise what I’m doing that my fishing starts to improve.


While fishing towards the end of last barra season, on one particular night I was getting increasingly frustrated. Mullet were literally rooster-tailing across the surface as big fish charged around as far as you could see under the full-moon, and yet I may as well have been casting on the sand instead of the water. So I thought, Why are there fish everywhere, except attached to my lure? Obviously the only way to truly answer that question was to experiment.


I downgraded my Delalande soft-plastic from a half ounce to a quarter ounce jig-head and switched my retrieve from a roll to a short hop in an attempt to keep the lure in the top of the water column. On only my second cast, my line was stripped to the backing and retrieved before I was able to lift the 150cm culprit (a big, nasty barracuda) from the water. It may not have been the kind of ‘barra’ I was looking for, but my word! What an absolutely stonking land-based estuary fish! Never mind the crocs, looking at those teeth I had a new found fear of getting in the water! Apparently I was fishing too deep, and that’s the simple reason why I suddenly sucked at fishing. Three casts later I had a rat barra, and for next hour or so was averaging a rat about every ten minutes.


Unfortunately, there eventually came a time when the fish stopped coming. Clearly, it was time to change tactics again, as the tide had now shifted the bait into holding in different positions than it was before.


The only change I made was to use a simple lift and drop, leaving the lure sit for approximately five seconds before lifting it a metre or so off the bottom. It wasn’t long before I was getting a hit a cast, always right as I lifted the lure from the bottom. From the visuals we got, the big mother hen barramundi I eventually hooked was estimated at 130cm… (Isn’t that what everyone says when they lose a fish?) In any case, it stripped the guts out of my reel it was running that fast, so we’ll never know. (Incidentally, I still cry myself to sleep over this memory months later.) It also meant that I was out of action, considering I was poorly prepared (lesson learned – bring spare rod). I explained to my fishing partner Tom the technique that was giving me such success and the very next cast he landed a 110cm barra. Beauty!


I guess the moral of this story is if you know there are fish where you are casting, but are not achieving the triumph you deserve, it’s probably only a small change that is needed to put some hurt upon those trophies that are just itching to have your hook in them. Below are my top eight tips that I find make the most difference to my game when I drop the ball. They focus mainly on using soft plastics, but definitely apply to hard-bodies as well. If I go twenty minutes without any action, it is time for a change!


  1. Speed Kills


As hinted above, I’m pretty sure I have a terrible attention span. I often attempt to count my casts and say things to myself like “After 50 casts, I will change lures, or tactics…”. Pretty sure the highest I ever make it in the count is about six, because I just tune out and go on auto-pilot. One terrible side effect of this is my retrieve speeds up due to being impatient and not paying attention. Make a dedicated effort to slow down and control your roll – I have never seen a retrieve that is too slow, particularly when using softies. The obvious exception is high speed retrieves used for metal lures.


  1. Rise Above (or Below) the Challenge


Sometimes moving up or down in the water column is what you need to do to literally ‘find’ the fish. Moving lower can be achieved by using heavier jig-heads with slower retrieves, or diving hard-bodies and vibes. Moving higher in the water column is particularly effective during the sunrise and sunset times, especially when it coincides with a tide just beginning to push in. Poppers are one option, but perhaps better choices include:


  • Metal slices and slugs such as ‘Bumpa-Bars’ when targeting pelagics and some aggressive estuarine species, particularly queenfish, trevally, tarpon and salmon. These are best retrieved by ‘burning’ just below the surface, with sudden changes in winding speed to reflect light off the jerking lure.
  • Fizzers such as ‘Bill’s Bugs’ or River2Sea’s ‘Tango Props’ when targeting barra in glassed out conditions. These lures are best retrieved in short jerks with a rest to create a noticeable bubble-trail.
  • Sub-surface stick-baits such as CetoTackle’s ‘Barbarian Bombers’ are great all round, particularly in the estuaries. Simply retrieve with a roll and continual flicks of the rod tip.


  1. Stop, Drop, and Roll


Changing your retrieval method between rolls and “­lift and drops” will often encourage fish in the vicinity to “reaction bite” your lure. This technique works particularly well with soft plastics and suspending shads. Don’t be afraid to experiment with letting your lure sit motionless for reasonably long periods, but be ready. The bite will generally come as soon as you pull your line.


  1. Alluring Aromas


One option that is often over-looked is adding bottled scent to your lures. I personally have found this is a highly successful technique when you are getting lots of hits but the fish are not holding onto the lure for long enough to set the hook. A good place to start is by trying Pro Cure’s ‘Mullet Scent’. It is pretty sticky, and will coat your lure for a whole session.


  1. Is Bigger Better?


Generally we think big lure equals big fish, but this is not always the case. Make sure you observe what kind of bait is schooling. If it is mullet, you can get away with your 6” or even 9” plastics and catch anything from flathead, grunter, jacks, tarpon, all the way to your trophy barra. (Unlikely as it seems, I even caught a scat on a 6” plastic last trip). If smaller bait, like sard’s or herring, are on the go, stick with your smaller lures (don’t be fooled into thinking a big fish won’t take a 2.5” lure). You want your bait to seem natural, but stand out as ‘injured’. It is also important to realise you may need to use a smaller bait as it gets colder, when fish are not as hungry or active. Colour can definitely make some difference during the day, but that is an argument beyond the scope of this discussion.


  • My favour large plastics include ZMan 6” SwimmerZ and 9” GrubZ, or Delalande 6” Fury Shads or Skeletons, weighted on a quarter or half ounce jig-head
  • My favourite small plastics include Atomic 5” Plazos, or ZMan 2.5” GrubZ and 3” MinnowZ, weighted on anything from 1/16 through to 3/8 jig-heads


  1. Change Your Angle


If you are targeting a particular snag or location, particularly in running water, try casting at it from a different position (when possible, of course). This might allow you to better replicate the way bait is moving in the current.


  1. Cast a Net Instead


Nothing beats fresh bait when you are sick of luring for a while (none of this store-bought rubbish). Give yourself a physical and mental break, bust out the cast-net (not in freshwater though) and put some live or fresh dead baits on. You might be surprised what you catch while your mind and back are recovering and you plan your next move. It’s also the perfect opportunity to try Number 8 on this list.


  1. Have a Beer (or at the very least, a rest)


This may seem like it has nothing to do with fishing, but it will give you a chance to rest and calm down. Chances are if you aren’t catching anything, you’ll be getting pretty worked up by now and could do with the mild sedation a beer will provide. Start afresh, and continue to try new things. Just make sure you don’t have too many beers, or you might not be able to find your way back to the water. And of course, be croc-smart and don’t drink and drive.


Good luck!