When It Gets Tough – David Hodge April 2014

Looking at the tide charts and wind strength and direction, you set yourself a plan for a day’s fishing. Everything looks great, and you head out from the boat ramp spot on the right time to have yourself where you need to be at the perfect time of the tide.

Expectations are high as you slide the electric into the water and prepare for that first cast. An hour later and you still haven’t bent a rod, and you start to wonder what else there is you can do to swing the odds in your favour, or at least get some sort of action.

Oh, don’t worry, there are times when you can try anything you like and it won’t make one scrap of difference, but on many occasions there are some things to try to get something happening.

First rule is of course is to find the fish and where they’re holding. Then choose a lure that will work at that depth. Water clarity has a huge bearing on how far a fish will travel to hit a lure and if you are snag casting a large percentage of your casts need to be spot on to get the results. Also, dirty water can make small subtle presentations almost undetectable to a fish, especially small noiseless soft plastics, so try a more vibrating and sometimes even rattling lure.

On most occasions it’s a matter of “find the food and you find the fish”. That could be mullet, herring prawns or whatever. Also be aware that often barra, threadies, and grunter tend to move in and out of systems with moon and tide changes, so sometimes they just won’t be there. Jacks, on the other hand, seem to hang around areas indefinitely, so they are a good fall back species if your target is absent.

Casting lures when it’s cool

In the cooler months when the water is clear, one game changing tactic for a tough day is to downsize your lure, and this simple alteration can make all the difference to the day’s tally.

At Akwa Marine we sell ten times more small lures to barra anglers in the colder months than in summer. Lots of 60 to 80 cm fish are caught during this time on 50 to 75mm lures. Colour doesn’t seem to be as important as the size when it’s cooler, but in saying that, whites and natural mullet, herring or prawn shades are generally good starting points.

Suspending lures that hover around snags for longer are also a good choice, because they are seen by predators as being much more easily picked off than healthy swimmers.

Stinking hot tactics

Actually, water temp is one of the biggest considerations when the going gets tough. It has been a hot summer here in Townsville and the water temps where way up. We found water as warm as 35.2 degrees in some of the top end reaches of the drains and creeks. It’s these situations where you just need to think outside the square a little. Sometimes all we had to do to catch fish in the hot stuff was to look for the deeper holes, often found near drain mouths, and chuck a sinking lure at them. It may only be a metre deeper than the average depth of a stretch of water, but that is where the fish find some relief from the stifling heat and feel comfy enough to actually feed. Sinking lures that have a reasonable noise or vibration but only have to travel minimal distances to make it can be the secret. Lures such as the Ecooda or Zerek prawns and the ZMan or Berkley paddle tailed plastics twitched with a short, sharp jab of the rod tip can punch out enough noise to get the bite a high percentage of the time. In contrast to this is the reaction strike approach, and the secret to this is to do a fairly quick retrieve as close to the structure as possible with no change in pace, just a brisk, rhythmic action. This often induces a strike from a fish’s lightning reflexes. If something darts past quick enough to grab their attention, but slow enough to actually catch, the chase will ensue. Once committed to the chase, they’ll usually grab it within a fraction of a second!

Using the same tactical theory, deep vibing (you gotta love some of the terms we use these days) in the holes of the main river offers the same results, but the fish are generally of a better class.


Even though I have mainly been talking about lure casting, trolling is an age old tactic that is probably the most popular for pursuing barra in the bigger sizes with lures. It is a great tactic for tough days if done right! Understanding and interpreting what the feedback is on your sounder screen is paramount. It’s not just a matter of chuck a lure out the back and hope for the best. Just as an example, if I take someone casting lures for the first time I can just about bet the house that I’ll spend most of the time retrieving lures from the trees if they haven’t practised in the back yard first. On the other hand, if I take someone trolling, I clip on the right lure for the depth, put the electric on or the fossil fuel, if the tides ripping, and all they have to do is sweep and twitch the rod tip and hang on till the strike comes. Just about every waterway around North Queensland has stretches of water that are suitable to troll, but as with casting, tides can play a huge part in the success rate. Personally, I’m a big fan of the hour either side of the high tide, or if there isn’t much flow and the water is relatively clear, it can be done at any stage of the tide.

I have been lucky enough to have fished the Barra Classic many times over the years on the Daly River in the NT, and there is one particular lure you see hanging of many, many competitor’ s rod tips. That is the Halco 80mm Poltergeist. This lure gets down to 5m, and the bib angle and size is just right to walk it through the roughest of timber. If the bib digs under a branch or rock, it’s just a matter of throwing some slack back, letting it float and twitching it over the structure, then once clear, twitched over the snag slowly. Many of the strikes come as the lure is being ‘walked’ through the rough stuff. The big bib imparts a strong, tight, shimmy action at very slow speeds giving the angler the chance to hang the lure around the snags as long as possible. With two heavy duty trebles in contrast to the traditional three that most trolling lures have, it doesn’t hang up anywhere near as often.

As with local waters, the water colour is filthy on the bigger tides in the NT, so the lime green body with red throat is the colour of choice. The Scorpions are also a great trolling lure.

Don’t feel guilty for bait fishing

If you just want to catch a fish and you’re not that into lure fishing then baits are the only other option, but don’t just go and throw a frozen prawn or pilchard and sit back, landing net in hand, and expect the action to start. As with all forms of fishing, it’s preparation that is the key to success, and gathering live baits can sometimes take longer than fishing itself, but the rewards are in the results. A successful live bait fisherman shows as much commitment and planning to his chosen technique as the most avid of lure or fly fishers.

To fly in the face of elitism and condescension that seems to be part of modern day sportfishing, I have an admission to make, and I fully expect someone to call me a meat hunter or gumby fisherman. If I have no fish in the freezer and my target species isn’t playing the game … here it comes … sometimes … wait for it … I will bait fish! I fish lure and fly 99 percent of the time for the challenge and because I like to actively chase fish in the snags, but this is just my preferred way to fish, most times.

Sadly, angling credibility is graded in several stages, and this seems to be the ‘pecking order’. Some fly fisherman look down their nose at lure fisherman, believing that they are at the pinnacle of the sport, and anyone not chucking fluff is less worth as an angler. Similarly, some lure casters shun trollers, believing that the only reason anyone would troll is because they can’t cast. Then we have some trollers looking at bait fishers as Neanderthals, not capable of nutting out the lure thing. If you have visitors from down south, or a first timer that just wants to catch a barra, and the fish aren’t playing the game on lures, then live baits are the best option, by far, without doubt.

The faithful old mullet reigns supreme in the livie stakes, as they are hardy, can usually be caught in bigger sizes, and are easy to keep alive with a decent set up. In saying that, there are times when a big juicy live mullet or ‘barra lolly’ is rejected and a herring about three to five inches long gets all the action. If the prawns are running, they are going to be on the menu of everything that swims in an estuary. A live prawn can bring the biggest barras undone.

Whether it be bait fishing or lure casting, braided line or PE is going to catch you more fish, with its thin diameters and non-stretch characteristics giving anglers an advantage over mono. A leader of 40 to 60lb and at least 1.5 metres in length will add a little stretch and plenty of stopping power, not to mention abrasion resistance. A sinker running down onto a swivel, then a trace of around 50cm to the hook is all that’s needed. To actually view the rigs, knots etc, log onto the Akwa Marine website at www.akwamarine.com.au for step by step instructional videos on how to rig single and snelled hooks, braid to mono leader knots, and plenty more of the hints that help you overcome any problems you’re going to come across.

High tech

In comparison to years gone by we are a fairly high tech society in lots of ways, and fishing is no different. Two items that are just about mandatory these days are a good sounder and an electric motor. It’s obvious why these items are important when luring, but they still have very effective uses in bait fishing situations also. Trying to sneak up or stalk bait with a cast net while fishing alone can be difficult, but with the aid of an electric motor you can silently approach schools of bait and throw before they sense the threat. Even when sounding out an area for deploying a bait, an electric won’t spook fish and you scan the bottom with a sounder and position yourself to anchor.

Anyway, I’m out of room, but these are some of the game-changing hints for each of the most used tactics. Hopefully these tips may help you out when the going gets tough.

Cheers and good luck, Hodgie.