There are many different ways of fishing a bait. The method I use more often than any other is the floating bait. I have been asked many times to explain how to fish floating baits so I will attempt to do so here. Fishing floaters covers an enormous range of fish & fishing grounds so I will just explain the basics of the method here & it can be adapted to suit conditions. Firstly a quick rundown on fish species. I have caught everything from Mullet to Marlin on floating baits. It is in a very effective system of fishing & the species I use it most often to catch in the Hawkesbury River & Broken Bay areas are Bream, Snapper, & Jewfish. Fishing floaters does not mean fishing an unweighted bait only. A floater is just a free moving bait that drifts down a berley trail & looks as natural as possible. Offshore in 50 meters of water a floater may well mean a bait with a 20 or 30 gram ball sinker above it maybe even more whereas in at Whale beach in 10 meters & little current no extra weight is needed at all. Methods of berleying need to be altered to suit the depth of water & the current as well. Below I will explain the methods I use in Cowan Creek, Hawkesbury River , fishing offshore in shallow water grounds. Tackle is a personal choice & the tackle I prefer has been covered in my other articles on Bream , Snapper etc so I will not go over the same again here.
Cowan is a slow moving body of water with very little current. The main targets inside Cowan for me are Bream & Jewfish. Both species respond well to floaters in berley & react badly to boat noise in this quiet section of river. I use light line here for both species. For Bream I use 2 & 3 kilo line & for Jewfish 10 kilo. I do not use any lead at all in Cowan Creek as there is not enough current to need it. For baits I generally use fresh squid as Jewfish baits & for bream I prefer a flesh bait like Striped Tuna or Slimy mackerel as the frames from tuna & mackerel make up the bulk of my berley. It is important that your berley is similar to your bait. For example there is little point using pilchards for berley & prawn for bait as the fish are tuned in to the burley's smell & that is what they are searching for. One of the biggest mistakes I see made is the over use of tuna oil when it is added to chook pellets & wheat etc. A capful in a 20 liter bucket of berley is plenty. Any more & it attracts unwanted species like small sharks & tailor plus the slick it creates adheres to your boat & stays there & often will cause a swarm of yellowtail & hardiheads to sit right under your boat & it will be almost impossible to get a bream bait past them. The berley I use in Cowan Creek is made up in advance & I use frames of Striped Tuna , Bonito & Slimey mackerel which have been chopped into small sections then run through a meat mincer. I mix a bit of stale bread through the mince to add bulk then put it into ice cream containers & freeze it. The reason I do this is I can put a frozen block in my berley pot or hang it over the side in an onion bag & as it thaws it disperses berley quietly & I do not need to be grinding away at my berley pot. If I am fishing for Jewfish as well as Bream I drop a few bits of bread in my berley pot & drop the ink sacks out of my squid baits in there & lightly stir it occasionally & Jewfish love that ink smell. The rigs I use for both species are simply a suitable hook or hooks tied to the line with no weight at all. The only time I use lead is if I am using a live squid I may use a small ball sinker to get him to go down deep. Once the berley is going down its time to fish & I prefer to use reasonably large baits. For bream I use a piece of tuna or mackerel approximately 3 inches or 75mm long & around 1.5 inches 35mm wide. As bait for Jewfish I like big baits & use a strip at least 6 inches or 150mm long & 3 inches or 75mm wide. These may sound a bit large to some but I have always gone with the Big Bait for Big Fish theory. A reason large baits are so effective is when fishing floaters either inshore or offshore your berley will attract a host of pickers & small fish. These unwanted fish will be picking at your bait constantly & when a good fish comes along he will be attracted by the activity around your bait & charge through the small fish & grab it. If your bait is too small it will not last long enough for this too happen. I put my baits on by simply going through once from the flesh side through the skin then putting the hook back through from the skin side so it finishes on the flesh side & is hanging straight on the hook & not bunched up. I just drop it over the side & start feeding it line & when it hits the bottom I leave it for a couple minutes then retrieve it & start again. To allow your bait to drift in the berley stream properly you need to feed line to the bait as it goes down & the line between the bait & your reel should NEVER come up taut. If it does the bait will drag up & out of the berley stream & therefore be somewhere where the fish are not looking for it. this is probably the most important factor in successful fishing of floating baits & the main reason why people fail to have success. You need to be actively feeding line out & winding your bait back for another drift or it just does not get results. When a fish takes the bait normally it just takes off & pulls the slack out rapidly so just engage the gears or close the bail & fight the fish. There is no need to strike hard I just wind up tight & lean back a little. At times a fish will pick up the bait & swim towards you & about all that happens is your bait appears to have stopped sinking. Just wind fast & get tight as quickly as possible. A final tip is when the fish start you MUST keep a steady stream of berley going also. Fish will feed along a berley trail & come right to the back of the boat at times whether it be inshore or offshore but if the trail stops they will turn & follow it back down
In the Hawkesbury River itself many areas have a fast running current & it makes fishing floaters a bit more difficult. It is best I find to fish the smaller tides in the Hawkesbury River wherever possible but even more so when you intend to fish floaters. I like to get to the spot I intend to fish during the tide just as it starts running & put some large berley down. By large berley I mean a few Tuna or Bonito heads & frames & things like that which will stay where they are dropped & not be washed away by the current. When I do this I normally let about 20 meters of rope out & when that is taken up I drop my large berley & once it is down pull the 20 meters of rope back in & then I know my berley is directly down current from me & how far away it is also. I use frames in my berley pot which I chop to create a stream of berley before the current gets too strong as well. When the current is in full swing I don't bother with the pot berley at all. In this area I mainly target Bream & Jewfish again but due to the current I normally anchor my Jewfish bait near the berley & fish floaters for Bream. I make up rigs in advance with different size weights on them & then use a snap swivel tied on the end of my main line to make changing them simple. Generally you need 2 or 3 different weights per tide. I use the same size & types of bait here as in Cowan. The method is the same just slip the bait over & start feeding it out until it hits bottom. You need to use a bit of judgment here as to how far it is going before it hits bottom. You want it getting down around your berley so vary the weight to suit. The method for hooking up is the same. Fishing floaters in the Hawkesbury is rewarding even though the run in the water makes it difficult it is worth the effort.
Fishing floaters in shallow water offshore say water up to 30 meters or so is one of my favorite forms of fishing. Just about anything can & will turn up. Again I try to use fairly light lines whenever possible & generally I am targeting Snapper when I am using this method. I mainly use 6 or 8 kilo line & the weight if any is dependant on the current at the time. Striped Tuna or Slimey mackerel again are the top baits & berley for this fishing. How I berley depends entirely on the current on the day. If there is little current I will just use my berley pot & chop some frames up & get a steady stream flowing from the pot. I also combine the cubing technique with this & drop in a cube of tuna every 30 seconds or so. If there is a fair bit of current running & berley from the pot appears to be getting washed away along the surface I will use large chunks of berley to get it down in the area I intend to fish & not bother with the berley pot at all & use fairly large cubes. The baits I use for this type of fishing are much larger than those used inside the river. An average size floating bait would be a piece of tune around 6 inches or 150mm long or a whole Slimey Mackerel fillet. The bait presentation is the same as above just hook it up lightly so it lays straight & float it down through the berley. As I mentioned above I am normally fishing for snapper when I do this & there is no mistaking the bite of a snapper on a floating bait. They just crash the bait & take off with it. It is preferable to use no lead at all but often a small ball sinker is used as because of the longer lengths of line out when fishing offshore the line drag can cause the bait to drag upwards & away from the berley. This method is a very effective way to fish around the large areas of reef that are available out from Broken Bay. All the common species in the area like bream, trevally, Teraglin, Kingfish, Bonito & Jews will hit floating baits as well.
This is just intended to help those who have never used this method before. As I said at the start there are many variations to this way of fishing but it remains extremely effective way of fishing for many types of fish. I have covered the baits I use but Pilchards are a bait that can be used in place of tuna. Prawns are fine for use in Cowan but try using them shelled & putting the heads & shells into your berley. Boiled wheat is another great berley for inside if you are using Prawns for bait & is simply made by half filling a small bucket with wheat & covering the wheat with boiling water. Leave it for a few hours & the wheat will swell up absorbing the water. Its a good berley for inside & bream love it. The main thing is try wherever possible to get away with no lead at all & only use the minimum to get your bait down when you have too. I must stress again feed line to your bait don't wait for the bait to drag line out or it will drag upwards out of the berley. try fishing floating baits it's a very successful way to fish. Tight lines!