Making The Most Of Half Tide Ramps – Lee Brake Oct 16

St Helens Beach in North Queensland is a sleepy little seaside town will three rows of houses, a small park and a camping area. As far as beaches go, it’s not exactly going to give Bondi or Whitehaven as run for their money, but what it lacks is squeaky white sand, it makes up for in piscatorial potential.

This area is a hunter-gatherer’s retreat. Its black-lip-oyster-encrusted points attract reef fish like grassy lipper and parrot fish; its mangrove flats are crab-rich and perfect options for top of the tide flats fishing; and its sandy flats are covered in sea grass – dugong food! The whole ecosystem is alive and healthy, and I honestly have never seen a place with more turtles.

Creek wise, there are plenty. To the north of the beach lies Jane, Blackrock, Station and Saunders Creeks – all are good jack and grunter creeks, because they are littered with shale and rubble bottoms as well as plenty of rock bars.

South lies Home, Mystery, Murray, St Helens and Mathers creeks. All are healthy mangrove jack and barra habitats. What’s even better is the whole bay is a net-free zone. That means no gillnets, which is a plus for a lot of species, especially those that traverse the creek systems regularly.

However, that doesn’t mean they will be simple to catch. This is not the domain of the “hope for the best” angler. This is an area that tends to handicap anglers in a way that many quaint beachside regions do. It forces you to work in a tidal window that coincides with a half-tide ramp.

Half-tide ramps are rather common constructions. They’re cheaper, easier to site, and they require less maintenance than full-tide ramps.   Mostly they keep small communities happy where user numbers don’t warrant greater expenditure. This means they have both advantages and disadvantages for the thinking fisher. Areas serviced by half-tide ramps usually don’t receive anywhere near the fishing pressure of those serviced by full-tide ramps.

On the downside, you really do become a slave of the tides. Overstay your welcome and suddenly you’re looking at a marathon fishing session.

No one likes the thought of being stuck on a rapidly drying sandbar with one box of Pizza Shapes, a few thawed bottles of fishy-tasting water and a circling swarm of sandflies.

This means that logically you have two different options for fishing this area, and most areas with half tide ramps – half out to half in and half in to half out. In other words, fish the top of the tide change or the bottom. Both have their advantages, and we will explore a few of them below, but it’s important to note that if done right, these kinds of estuary quick trips can be very successful.

Prepare first

Now, one of the things with fishing half tide areas, is that the moment you can launch, is usually also the moment a key bite period kicks off. For example, the last of the run-in is dynamite on the right rocky flats and the last of the run out is when the drains and snags come alive in the creeks.

So, you obviously don’t want to spend the first hour or two after launching getting ready.

For bait fishers, this might mean getting bait on foot before you can launch. At St Helens for example, you can throw a cast net or drag a net on the main beach area and catch plenty of live bait. Obviously you’ll need to be croc wise and have your wits about you though. Once you have some choice livies, a simple aerator pump and a bucket will keep them ready for when you need them. Yabbies too can be pumped the day, or even days, before, and a lot of yabbie beds can be driven too. For example when fishing St Helens, a quick drive to Seaforth, and a short walk will allow you low tide access to the bed at the front of Seaforth Creek. Once you have your yabbies, store them in a cool, dark place; keep them moist and even put a few handfuls of sand in with them if needed. Alternatively, yabbies frozen in zip-lock bags with some rock salt hold up okay in a pinch. This same trick works very well with herring, mullet etc too if you have more than you can use in one trip.

If all that seems a bit hard, buy the freshest baits you can find. Be fussy and reject any with freezer burn. Personally, I will usually spend a little extra and buy trolling baits aimed at the Spanish mackerel fishers. Gar and ribbonfish are usually locally caught and make excellent strip baits that grunter, big bream, fingermark and jacks can’t resist.

Crab pots are another bite-time-waster. If you want to run pots, have them all baited and ready to drop and run. In fact, it can even be worth quickly dropping them all along a single easily-accessible bank near where you want to fish for a few hours while you make the most of the bite period. Then, when the bite slows, you can check them and move them if needed.

Even for lure anglers, being prepared can make all the difference. Something as simple as have three different combos rigged with three different lures can mean you will still be casting when others would be sitting and retying. It might not sound like much, but an extra dozen casts in the right spot at the right time with the right lure can be a game-changer. If you’re into fishing weedless plastics like I am, another massive time saver is the new TT Snakeheads. These things have interchangeable tow points and weights, which means you can have a few different weights on different rods and then simply change hook and lure with the turn of a twist lock.


Low tide assaults

Half tide ramps on draining tides can be troublesome affairs, simply because once you have the boat launched, you need to get where you want to fish quickly before you run out of water. For this reason, it can sometimes pay to leave an hour earlier then you want to start fishing, just so you are in place and ready, especially if that place is inside a creek you plan to get trapped in. Once inside such a system though, you will find a world of possibilities.

Jane Creek at St Helens is a perfect example of a creek that works well on the last of the run-out. It has plenty of drains running into deep-cut banks with fallen snags near the mouths. These are about as good as it gets when barra are the target. As the water pumps from the mangrove canopy, the bait is forced out and into the waiting bucket mouths of the barra either sitting near the drain mouth or on structure situated just down-water. Just remember not to aim where you think the fish with be sitting. Instead, aim up-current, or up the drain, and let the water’s flow direct your lure towards where the fish are waiting. Lightly weighted plastics are lethal for this and floating hard bodies also work well. Precision casting just up-current from the structure with live or strip baits is also effective and will tend to also produce some nice jacks.

As the tide bottoms out, it’s time to get into position for the first of the run in. There will usually be a lull in the bite over the slack water period, so if you need to freshen up your live bait supply or check some pots, that’s the time to do it. Just don’t miss the first kick of the run-in. This bite period is often savage, especially in creek systems that have been locked off by sandbars at low water. Once that tide breaks through those bars, the influx of bait usually results in a hard, fast and very violent bite. Personally, I like to fish to closest rock bar or rubble-bottom hole to the mouth and then fish my way up the system as the bite slows at each rocky area. Blackrock Creek is a perfect option for this technique. It’s has a multitude of deep bends studded with rock bars. These areas are fingermark, grunter, barra and jack central on the run-in, and better yet, you can guarantee they will be feeding! The best offerings include soft vibes, weighted plastics up to about 5”– I like the Gulp Crazy Legs Jerkshads or Atomic Prongs – and of course live baits or strip baits. Once the tide gets high enough that the bait can disperse and push up into the safety of the mangrove canopy, it’s usually all over, so it’s time to head for home. However, don’t be surprised if the bite continues a little longer. Grunter and fingermark especially will happily forage around the bottom of rocky holes right up to near the top of the tide.

High tide assaults

Fishing over the top of the tide is easier in the way that you’re launching on a making tide, which means getting where you need to go without getting stuck shouldn’t be a worry. For this reason, if you are new to an area, fishing the top half of the tide is a good way to find your feet before tackling a draining tide near its lowest point.

The problem with this stage of the tide is that time, and the bite-period, can very easily escape you. Depending on the tidal height, you might have a small window where the water hasn’t quite pushed back into the mangrove canopy of steeper creek banks. I call these “cut-off banks”, usually because they look like a giant knife has been cutting away at their face. If you can find a sheer bank like this, and there are several in the area – Home Creek, Murray, Mathers, Jane and Mystery all have some – then they are worth an hour. Concentrate your casts around any prominent logs that have fallen from the bank into the deeper main channel of the creek. Barra particularly will use these trunks as ambush points. In fact, I have seen areas where up to a dozen fish have been piled up in the lee of the tree. Deep diving hard bodies that dig down fast really come into their own here – think RMG Poltergeists, Leads Hijackers or Lethal Lures Detonators. Soft vibes are also dynamite when buzzed along the trunks.

Once the water floods over the cut-off banks, it’s time to head for the flats. Not just any flats though, look for rocky beach-head flats – the edges of islands or headlands rather than creek mouths. You need the flat to have enough incline so that the tide hasn’t pushed in beyond your casting range. You also need water movement. A flat in the lee of an island or headland can be a dead zone; you need somewhere where the incoming tide is impacting and directing bait and nutrients. St Helens is an interesting place because some of the best flats that fit this bill are literally within a few hundred metres of the boat ramp. In fact, the main beach in front of the township is littered with rocky headlands, sandy stretches and a plethora of single-standing, easy-to-fish mangroves. Be on the lookout for bait. If you’re not seeing schools of mullet, the occasional prawn or shimmer of herring, the chances are might be out of the main current. Try moving onto the next stretch of bank until you do. Concentrate casts around any prominent mangroves or rock formations that protrude into the current flow. Shallow diving minnows, lightly weighted weedless-rig plastics and lightly weighted live baits will all work. Expect barra, salmon, flathead and the odd jack, grunter and bream. Pelagics also cruise the flats, so have a 5-7” surface lure rigged for long casting on a spin stick in case you see some surface commotion.

If the action is constant, there’s no issue with sticking around for the start of the run-out tide. However, just make sure you have your eye on the time, and have a clear cut-off time, because plenty of anglers have spent a long night trapped on the water because they had to have one-last-cast too many.

All in all, half tide ramps can be restricting, but they can also present plenty of opportunities. In my mind, their greatest advantage is they teach anglers to formulate a game plan, and that helps each and every one of us become better fishers.

Until next time, fish hard and stay safe folks.