Land Based Lure Fishing – Shallow Flats / Mangrove edges (Parramatta River)
First things first – I am a beginner fisherman. I began fishing only in May 2020 and spent many fishless months in the estuary systems before lure fishing finally ‘clicked’ late last year. In the past few months I’ve been fishing the Sydney estuary systems most days and I’ve learned enough to now be confident I can catch fish most days regardless of the tide.
I don’t profess to be an expert and have much to learn myself, but hopefully I can share some of the learnings I’ve had as a new land-based lure fisherman in Sydney to help other poor boat-less folks get on some fish.
For us land-based fishers, there’s far less content out there on the internet than for those with boats. Often when searching for tips on sand flats a promising looking video ends up with a boat hundreds of meters from shore, with guidance on drifting and engines and positioning yourself relative to the fish. We don’t have that luxury with the dry-boot brigade having to fish where we can.
So, this will be focused on land-based fishing, with the occasional wade into the water up to our knees only if we absolutely have to (like retrieving a favourite lure from a snag). All of the areas I am fishing are shallow, with the focus on around knee high water max.
In the current summer months the fish I am targeting in the estuary systems are Bream and Whiting. Flathead and Tailor will turn up frequently on the end of your line too but won’t be specifically targeted.
Be light and mobile
For gear I’m recommending a 2-4kg rod with 4lb braid and a 6lb-10lb flouro leader. 10lb leader is heavy, but around these systems are a lot of rock oysters, snaggy rocks and sharp-toothed tailor/large flathead itching to slice up your leader so I fish a little heavier to give me a bit more confidence – which is important when you’re throwing $20 lures out there.
The biggest recommendation I can give for any land based lure fisho is firstly, be mobile. Get your walk on and cover a large area rather than staying in a single spot. Besides just making it more interesting, you increase the chance you’ll find fish even if you aren’t paying attention to tides and wind (more on that later).
Leave the big tacklebox at home and take just your rod and a backpack. In the backpack we can keep all our essentials – a handful of lures/plastics/jigheads, our leader line, pliers, scissors. I also take sunscreen, insect repellent, water and band aids.
Just making that one change saw me catch exponentially more fish on lures than standing for hours on my old faithful bait-fishing platform. If you only do one thing differently, fish on the move instead of a single spot.
Scout the low tide
I used to think dead low tide was the absolute worst for land based fishing. Far too shallow to catch anything within casting distance and a special smell in the air made for some pretty rough sessions. While it’s definitely not the ideal time to be catching fish from shore, it’s the perfect time to be having a proper scout of the area you’re intending to fish.
The first thing to look for at low tide is where the food sources are that fish can’t yet reach. That could be rock oysters on rocks out of the water, or it could be crabs, insects, shellfish that live in the muddy mangroves. You can usually see the high tide mark by the line of debris it left behind hours ago, and so pay close attention to what is in between the low and high tide areas.
Let me get specific for a second. At an area I fish around Lilyfield, there’s some mangroves near the Bay Run which are dry at low tide, with the high pushing them half underwater. At dead low tide, I can see lots of tiny little holes in the sand there, lots of oysters and mussels. So, the food is here. But when will the fish be here?
Look for access areas. Where is the water coming in first? Is there a rock ledge or small dirt hump that the water will need to spill over before the fish can come in? In my area the water comes in via some small channels (as in a foot wide) and in between some rock ledges before spilling over the rocks and into the mangroves.
The water in this example begins filling up in the small channel from about +40cm of rising tide. It hits the rock edges about +70 with some of the bigger rocks not being covered until +90, and the mangroves get inundated after that through to high tide. I know these measurements now from experience but I could also have figured this out with a tape measure and a tide chart.
There are plenty of tide websites but I use www.tide-forecast.com which gives me a live tidal height to reference against what my eyes are seeing.
There’s tons of other things to look for at low tide too. Where could you walk/wade if you had to? Where is the sand hard vs soft and muddy? What snaggy areas do you want to avoid? What are good angles to cast at if you’re stuck on shore?
Find the fish
Using the same Lilyfield example, I can guess where the fish are at any time despite being stuck on land. By knowing where the food is, how the fish will arrive and how fast the water height changes you can have a pretty good point-in-time guess on where the fish will be.
If it’s dead low tide, I can go out and stand on my rock ledge and fish the rising tide near me.
Once the water gets close to +70cm, the fish are coming towards the shore and sitting underneath my rock ledge.
As the water spills over and we get to +90, I can find some fish near where I was just standing as the fish come across the rocks to the mangroves. For the rest of the rising tide I can fish around the mangroves.
When the tide starts to recede, the same happens backwards – and you can fish those same locations back to low tide again.
First come the small baitfish, then the bream and whiting. Flathead are always going to be found not far behind. If the baitfish have made it to the mangroves, then the flathead are back waiting near the rock ledge to ambush them on the way out. If the baitfish are near the rock ledge, the flathead are behind them ambushing latecomers.
It's important to also consider what the wind is doing. If you can, fish the side of the river or bay that the wind is blowing to. Plankton and small baitfish will get funnelled over that way and your target fish will be following them. It might mean you can’t always cast with the wind at your back but better to be casting where the fish are than long-bombing to no mans land.
Use the angles, and the right footwear
Wherever you can, try and fish parallel to the shore. If you have a rock ledge that’s running near shore you are better off casting right along the length of it than over it to ‘open water’. While I try and keep dry boots wherever possible, often it’s beneficial to get in the water and wade to somewhere you can cast from a better angle to keep your lure in the zone for more of the retrieve.
To this end, Kmart sell cheap wading shoes for $8 bucks. Thongs are hopeless, barefoot even worse. I have shredded my feet up so you don’t have to – buy the cheap wading shoes. Barefoot sounds nice and all but rock oysters are sharp as hell, and stingrays are also a thing. I’ve seen stings buried under the sand inches from shore. Don’t go barefoot. While you might not want to get in the water at all, if you’ve scouted it properly at low tide you should be comfortable enough with wading out to retrieve a snagged lure or to change angles. The right shoes make all the difference.
If you are getting wet boots for a better angle, consider how you’re going to land and unhook the fish. I see videos of veteran fisherman unhooking in the water while holding their rod but that is tricky for me or other beginners to do, so think about where you’re going to take the fish hook out if you are wading in the shallows or around the mangroves.
While talking about shoes, here’s a pro tip. I used to wear my regular sneakers and they would STINK something horrific after walking near the flats. They’d stink out the car, they’d stink out my room, and no amount of sprays or powders would remove the smell. Until I read about a trick to chuck them in the freezer overnight, killing the bacteria responsible for the smells. Crazy, but I can attest it works!
Lures and retrieves
Soft plastics are very effective in the right hands, which aren’t mine. I can catch fish with plastics but I can snag out a lot easier. Tired of losing so many lures to snags and wayward casts I began focusing on two types of lures which I have a much higher chance of going home with – surface lures and floating crankbaits.
Surface lures such as the Bassday Sugapen, MMD Splash Prawn, Skinny Pop Jr are verygood at catching whiting. A constant walk-the-dog retrieve works great for whiting, and if you throw in the occasional pause you can catch bream too – though I’ve found that only the larger bream will have a crack at surface lures. Smaller ones will follow it and then just stare at it. A bit of wind on the surface and overcast is perfect for topwater – the fish need to not be scared of birds or other predators to take a lure off the surface and a windy surface or overcast day will have them more confident. Too much wind can shut this down though as your lure can go unnoticed in the noise.
Shallow diving crankbaits work much better to extract bream. Drew M has a video on his Youtube covering many of these lures which I’d recommend. The Jackall Chubby 38F shallow is my crankbait of choice. This will dive down to a meter or so depth and then bang along the bottom until I stop retrieving – at which point it will float slowly back to the surface. This is good for snaggy areas because you can fish it slow and then at the first ‘bump’ on a nasty zone you can pause and get back to the surface. For the retrieve I tend to do a constant slow roll with occasional accelerations. I don’t pause for bream usually, with the change in speed being enough to get them on. The pauses make whiting lose interest, so by keeping a slow roll going we can ensure both bream and whiting are in the frame.
Blades can be fished the same way but with a much higher snag rate. You can mitigate this somewhat by keeping your rod tip high on the retrieve, but I tend to avoid blades in shallow water due to the snag fear. They cast so far that often they’ll snag where I don’t have an appetite to wade and retrieve. I love them and they’re super effective but I don’t like losing them. The Jackall Chubby has the same vibration as a blade but with the benefit of it having a slow float too.
I will link to videos on Youtube below covering a number of these lure types.
Learning all this stuff has not been a painless process. I’ve slipped, scraped, scratched, ripped and scared myself plenty, so let’s highlight some watch-outs.
Firstly, slippery rocks. Rocks are slippery and complacency is your enemy. Watch every step and if you’re walking on rocks that are submerged or recently submerged, try to stand on bits that have ‘dimples’ to give you some natural grip. Footwear can make or break you here. Decent grip on your shoes and watch every step.
Sharp rocks. Rock oysters, specifically – these are sharp as hell and will cut you up. Interestingly, you might not even feel it when underwater but they will cut you and deeply. You do not want to slip on a slippery rock and grab onto these to steady yourself.
Stingrays. I didn’t know much about stingrays until I began fishing but I see them plenty in the shallows all up and down the Parramatta river and Sydney harbour. They will bury themselves in the sand and be almost invisible, and worse will do so very close to shore in as shallow as a couple of inches water. I’ve never stood on one thankfully but I read a tip on how to walk in the shallows to avoid treading on one. Shuffle your feet in outwards circles, kinda like you’re ice skating. If there are any rays buried you won’t stand on their back this way which is good for all concerned. If you do get stung it’s gonna be on the feet and the treatment is the hottest water you can stand without burning yourself.
Spiders. Only this morning I was rolling through the mangroves to get to the rock ledge and I forgot to wave my rod ahead to break the webs. I walked face first into an orb spider web. After a manly shriek and a few spins around I was able to carry on but they are everywhere in the groves stringing their webs at head height between trees and can sometimes be invisible.
There are a couple of Youtubers I highly recommend as they do a lot of land based fishing around the Parramatta. Shroom ( https://youtube.com/c/ShroomFishing ) and Aaron from Windsor Bait & Tackle ( https://youtube.com/c/WindsorBaitAndTackle ) Both of these guys put out a ton of content and beyond catching cracking fish they talk about their thought processes a lot. I’ve learned almost as much from their sessions as my own personal experience and have applied much of their ideas to my own fishing (as well as fish the spots they did!).
Google Earth is unbelievable when it comes to locating spots to fish (or trying to figure out where someone on a youtube video is fishing…!)
www.tide-forecast.com for live tides
www.willyweather.com.au for live wind and sunlight hours
This video on tides was very in-depth while still being concise and easy to follow: Aardvark McLeod Fly Fishing (how to understand tides for flats):
Drew M – crankbait lure selection
Drew M – topwater lure selection https://youtu.be/iUx4x-SQXNk
Niall – Topwater bream article:
Other fishos – talk to everybody you see fishing! There are so many different perspectives and insights to be gained from locals and I’ve found without fail other fishermen are only too keen give some advice or tips on the local area and what works and doesn’t. Some of the best advice I received for fishing the Cooks River came from another fisherman walking the bank who turned out to be an absolute ace, helping me with rigging and locations and reading the river. Talk to others wherever you get the chance!