Skinny Water Action – Catching More Fish In The Shallows

  Seeking out deeper water to cast a bait, lure or fly into has always been part of the angling mindset. For some unknown reason, we just have this fixed mental concept that bigger fish or more action is to be had in deep water. While there’s definitely an element of truth to this in some instances, it’s certainly not always the case. In fact, shallow water can be more productive when targeting a broad range of species in a variety of places, from inland rivers, to estuaries and even along the coastal fringes and offshore. This is particularly so through the warmer months, when many species actually find more of their food in quite shallow places.
The author with a top quality skinny water flathead.

The author with a top quality skinny water flathead.

WHITING Sand whiting are a classic skinny water angling target. These silver bullets love nothing more than getting right up in the warmest of shallows, where water is barely covering their backs. In other words, flats with only 10 to 15cm water or even less. We tend to ignore most spots like this because they’re either right on the shoreline or so shallow that a bait or lure feels like it’s just about landing on dry sand rather than in the water. Of course, fish aren’t silly and they’ll need some adjacent escape routes so they can safely make a dash out of the shallows if the tide starts dropping or potential predators fly, walk or swim nearby. So when looking for a super-shallow whiting spot, bear in mind that fish are more inclined to be in the vicinity if deeper channels or drop offs are close by.
Fat whiting from super skinny waters.

Sand whiting are a classic skinny water species, particularly through the warmer months. These fish fell to a small surface lure cast around sand flats while the tide was rising.

In some waterways tides are of little consequence, but most estuaries have at least some tidal movement. As hinted on, whiting are inclined to swim into those extreme shallows with a rising tide and move back out again as the tide drops. Perhaps the two most logical and productive techniques to employ in such shallow water are by casting small surface lures (as discussed in my previous surface lure article) or good old natural baits like bloodworms, squirt worms or pink nippers fished with a very lightly weighted rig. No need for heavy sinkers in this situation that’s for sure!
Long toms are particularly fond of very shallow places near deeper channels, drains and weedbeds. This big one took a surface lure aimed for bream just before sunrise.

Long toms are particularly fond of very shallow places near deeper channels, drains and weedbeds. This big one took a surface lure aimed for bream just before sunrise.

FLATHEAD
Flathead are also very much at home in water that only covers their backs. Small prey items like poddy mullet can be in abundance in the shallows through the warmer months, so the pickings can be very easy for flathead. Once again though, slightly deeper water needs to be nearby so give them a safety net for falling water levels or predators. Although they may frequent such spots throughout the day, flathead are more inclined to move right up towards the shoreline under the cover of darkness. If some form of manmade lighting is present, around bridges, jetties or boat ramps, flathead have even more encouragement in the form of all the baitfish, prawns and squid that are also attracted to illuminated water. My normal advice when flathead are the target is to use soft plastics and they certainly do work well in the shallows or adjacent channels and drop offs. However, in some spots the water is so shallow that bouncing a plastic along just about pulls it out of the water with each lift of the rod. This is where super shallow running hardbody lures are advantageous. A thin profile shallow lure like an Ecogear MX48 or Maria Jerkbait looks much like a small baitfish and they only dive a few centimetres, making them ideal for the task. Flathead lying right up close to the shoreline are easily spooked, so whether you’re casting from a boat, kayak or the bank, be sure to make long casts ahead of you before moving along. Over the years I’ve found that most of the good spots for flathead in super shallow water are actually best fished from the shore, so it can be quite simple and easy, as well as productive.
Kayaks enable us to reach very shallow places that may be inaccessible by car, boat or foot.

Kayaks enable us to reach very shallow places that may be inaccessible by car, boat or foot.

BREAM When most people think of shallow water for bream, depths around 50cm to a metre probably come to mind. However, I’ve seen bream in such skinny places that they swim on their side and occasionally flip themselves over obstacles as if they’re almost crawling like a mud skipper. Such spots can be found at the back of bays, coastal lagoons and swampy estuary backwaters. So kayaks and small, flat bottomed punts are advantageous, although walking or wading is another option. Once again, surface lures are by far the best and most practical thing to cast around such places and even then, the smallest models are generally more suitable, as when a lure splashes down it may hit the bottom, only centimetres below the surface, picking up weed or even snagging up on timber or oysters in the process. Over the years I’ve also picked up plenty of flathead, whiting and the dreaded long tom while casting surface lures to bream in these ultra-shallow areas.
Who says you can't catch big bream in super shallow water?

Who says you can’t catch big bream in super shallow water?

BASS Another species that frequents extremely shallow places regularly is the bass. As with their saltwater cousins, they’re more likely to swim in such places, looking for food around sunrise, sunset or at night. Again, I’m talking ankle deep water, barely covering their backs and again, surface lures are the best option. In dams, look towards the back end of bays and spots adjacent to rocky points, drowned timber and feeder creeks. For wild river bass, the top end or head of a deeper pool, just where the first lot of water bubbles down from rapids is generally the prime spot. If there’s a generous amount of shade overhead so much the better. INSHORE PREDATORS Small saltwater predators like tailor, salmon and frigate mackerel move into very shallow water for exactly the same reasons as bream or bass; to find a feed and possibly hide from larger predators. I’ve enjoyed excellent fishing for these species around my local rocks, beaches and inshore reef over the years and it can be a real eye opener once you start placing casts in spots that actually look too shallow! Tailor are particularly fond of cracks and crevices in rocks that have a near constant supply of whitewater spilling over them. Obviously such spots can be difficult to fish and quite snaggy. So again, surface lures are a logical choice, but if you’re careful, metal lures, shallow diving hardbodies and unweighted pilchards pinned to a set of ganged hooks can also be very effective. Salmon, frigate mackerel, trevally, queenfish and even kingfish may, at times, move into shallow bays adjacent to major headlands or at the end of a long beach. The simple reason is that these bays also harbour bait like mullet and garfish. So when a pack of marauding predators move in, the bait gets trapped and it’s game on for the fish and angler. As is the case for estuary targets in the shallows, a rising tide around dawn, dusk or through the night is generally best when looking for some action, but it can also occur through the day, providing the baitfish are in good supply and predators are in the vicinity.
Areas of clear sand, between patches of weed are always worth a few casts for bream, whiting and flathead. The only place that’s too shallow for these species is dry land!

Areas of clear sand, between patches of weed are always worth a few casts for bream, whiting and flathead. The only place that’s too shallow for these species is dry land!

HOW BIG? Some of our largest and most popular angling targets like mulloway and barra move into much shallower places than most of us realise. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of people make the mistake of casting into deep spots in the hope of pinning a mulloway, when a better, much shallower hot spot is nearby. Beach fishing for mulloway is a prime example. These large chrome fish may move in from deeper areas, via channels, but they’re moving into the surf zone to find food. A large percentage of potential prey items ranging from mullet to beachworms are over the washy sandbanks or right up towards the shoreline, just behind breaking waves. So a long cast out into a deep hole or gutter may actually completely miss the hot zone. Barra have very similar habits to both mulloway and bass. So for impoundment barra, those shallow back ends of bays or along the edges of points can be the best places to cast after sunset or very early in the morning. In tidal areas, barra may move right up to where a feeder creek drains out into the main river, picking off any bait that gets washed out. Quite often, this means they’ll move over the shallow mudflats or mangrove edges to ambush their food. Some other large predators that aren’t afraid to hunt for food in very shallow water include Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, mack tuna, cobia and sharks. Overall it’s largely a matter of being confident of presenting a bait or lure in very shallow spots and understanding why certain fish may be there at specific times.
Robley Skinny 05

Surprisingly large predators move into very shallow spots. Impoundment barra like this beast are one example, but mulloway, sharks and cobia are others that often show up in water that most of us would think is simply too shallow.

  Photo Captions: 1 – 2 – 3 – Bream love to get way up into ridiculously skinny water at times. In fact, a metre may be too deep during the height of summer. 4 – 5 – 6 – The back of sunwarmed bays are ideal areas to look for bass or barra after sunset. 7 – Fish shallow estuary water and you’ll soon find flathead. This one fell to a hardbody lure aimed at bream over a sandy flat at the mouth of a creek. 8 –
Jamie Robley

About Jamie Robley

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, less than two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Jamie Robley started fishing around his local lakes at an early age. Bream, flathead and tailor were the main source of entertainment for a young Jamie but of course, like many other kids who’ve been bitten by the bug, he quickly became interested in other species and more advanced styles of fishing.

Previous Hot Spot in Pittwater
Next Bream by Kayak

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