Soft Plastics Fishing in Geelong and the Bellarine

John Didge was once was of the opinion that “winter sucks”, especially in the early days of his soft plastic fishing. The Jigman creator & experienced radio host says back then the fishing was hard, fish were few and far between and the conditions were “bloody cold.” But fortunately things changed for the better as John explains here in his first article for Kaydo Fishing World.

A top quality snapper taken on a well-presented soft plastic during winter. Read John's debut Kaydo article here for more details!

A top quality snapper taken on a well-presented soft plastic during winter. Read John’s debut Kaydo article here for more details!

As time went on though, I began to discover techniques and soft plastic types that had a real winter water appeal. There are more calm but cool days and if you were like me a Corio Bay/Port Phillip Bay and Surf Coast Tragic then this was great news. Over the last decade or two I’ve heard comments like fisherman putting the tackle away for the winter. Or lay-up insurance – where you lock your boat in the garage or storage and just wait for the next great fishing day ahead. But this doesn’t have to be the way, there is a fishery in winter and a damn good one at that. In this ‘Jigman Special’ I want to try and help you better understand soft plastic fishing in the winter months and try to improve your catch while you’re at it. Corio Bay is a great place in winter to fish. Big snapper are a common catch and thumping whiting that are a regular by catch on soft plastics and a real target species at this time of the year so let’s get started.

How Times Change

As recently as a decade ago bream were regarded as not really being a soft plastic target at any time of the year, especially in winter. But things have changed and now days it doesn’t stop with bream. Also on the list of target species in winter are Silver Trevally, Snotty Trevalla, Salmon and of course my favourite, the flathead. For the most part flathead in June through to September tend to be more commonly caught in waters between 18 and 25 feet of water. They tend to be a damn sight smaller than there summer cousins who average in at 45cm and go up from there. But in the late afternoon on a nice calm sunny day the water temp can rise in the shallow by a couple of degrees bringing fish like flathead and salmon on the chew.

Accuracy Is Key

A well-placed cast can make all the difference difference. In my case, in Corio Bay its important to fish up high – let’s say 8 to 10 feet of water. But in this best case scenario like a deep drop off running down to 20 odd feet when this occurs then this what I call a prime target area. As we (pro-staffer Paul and I) understand from our years of fishing in these condition, we found that its important to have these two depths adjoining each other.
A well-placed cast will put you in the box seat for quality fish like this nice bream.

A well-placed cast will put you in the box seat for quality fish like this nice bream.

Experience shows that most of the flathead we are targeting will travel in the deeper water. In the late afternoon, when the shallow waters warm, flatties will move up onto the edges where shallow and deep drop offs meet. But they won’t travel over shallower water to get there. It appears the feed corridor and pathways are the deeper water. I believe this is due to the crystal-clear water conditions. Whiting on the other hand will spread themselves over all depths. But the best concentrations of fish will be over shallower, weed-covered areas averaging about 10 feet of water. Whiting tend to mill together and feed more so in the slow current areas. Do you see a pattern yet? Targeting these fish on soft plastics is where the stuff gets easier – that’s right easier!  

‘Matching the Hatch’

I always start with finer pattern when choosing my plastics small 3 inch or 4 inch worm or minnow soft plastics will do the job. I try to match the hatch, as they say in the fly fishing world, use soft plastics that will best represent the bait that reside where you are fishing. It may be a small 3 inch pilchard or anchovy for worm pattern plastics try and copy what may exist on the bottom. I like to match the sand in color a beige color like pumpkinseed is the best place to start in my opinion. As for the action be sure to get a soft plastic that works at slow retrieve speeds. challenge 2 (3 of 7)

Vary Your Retrieves

Retrieve action is important more so when the water temps are cold. It’s OK in the summer months when the water temps are in the low 20’s. Most fish will feed with vigor but as the temperatures get colder like us the fish become more lethargic. This means the same twitching techniques you my have used in February will be less affective in July. Slow it down, that’s right, fish slower. It’s human nature to give it to the jig just like you see online or on TV fishing shows but this is not the case. Although it does have its day it’s not the most productive action to apply in Geelong during the winter months. For me its all about slow lifts and small twitches of the rod not moving the soft plastic more than half a meter.

Think Like a Fish

If a fish thinks that getting to your plastic is too much hard work he will just lay there and wait for the next bait fish to swim by. You may have noticed I have only touched on two of the species out of the six I started with so lets impart some more of our experiences. Every year tends to change in some way, on a more recent trip out on the Bay I began to see the more common features that tell me its winter. For example, in July, and I don’t know why but every year fisherman throws there old pilchards out at the boat ramp and nothing eats them.  That’s right, nothing at times they can sit for days before a sting ray comes along. When I see this I can tell that the fishing is going to be hard. One of those small changes for me this year was on a trip in the first week of July I had to apply a short but sharp shutter in the action of my plastic to get the fish to bite. If I didn’t use this action no fish. This just goes to show small changes make a difference. challenge 2 (2 of 7)

Queenscliff Trevally

By far the best target silver trevally fishery is Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsular, fast moving gin clear water that slows at the top of the tide provides some of the most amazing silver trevally fishing in the Southern half of the country. Small 2 ½ inch Grubs with a tinge of green in them prove dynamite time and time again, colors like water mellon and motor oil are a great starting plastic in these situations, but you need to keep the jig head hooks smaller.

Go Small

I recommend using a Jig Man 1/4oz jig head in a size 1 hook. You need it on the bottom that’s why the weight is bigger on the small hook size. You are not going to get fish all the time but in most cases there will be some reward. Australian salmon are a common catch here in the Bay but for me they are a by-catch while targeting other species. Lots of fun but there is no real expertise needed to catch a few for fun.  

Winter Options

There are many more species to target in winter in Corio Bay  – snotties are a good one. They love a Pumpkinseed colored worm as do whiting. Snotties like a lite weight jig head that constantly moves very slowly like a Jig Man 3/32 Worm nose Jig Head in a size 2 hook, most Snotties congregate around jetty’s and structures in thick schools and more commonly than not found in the top 2/3rds of the water column.

Subtle Tactics for Snotties

challenge 2 (4 of 7)There are how ever little changes that you need to make if snotties are to be you target species. Due to the small mouth on a snotty fishing with large or long plastics can be very frustrating. Are the fish constantly picking but you’re getting no reward? For me, in most cases, I will use a worm pattern soft plastic generally around 4 inches long. And I always cut of the first inch on the head of the soft plastic. Snotties have a really small mouth and you need the jig Hook to exit the plastic more than half way down its body.  

"This will make dramatic difference in how many fish you catch."

John Didge

Winter Reds

Lastly the winter red’s – yes we are talking snapper. September is my favorite time in the colder months, water Temps are starting rise and the snapper are hanging around the deeper shore line drop offs. Big jig heads 3/0 – 4/0 Hooks even 5/0 for the land base fisho is needed, fish the deeper waters if you’re in a boat there are a few things to look for. As a land base angler the choices are limited by access but understanding the water way your about to fish is important. Seek local advice where possible so you have the best understanding and can find the deepest water you can.

Use Your Sounder 

If you’re in a boat always keep an eye on you sounder. If there are boomerang shaped arches spread well apart it is fish catching time. Drop a big jig head, lets say a 5/16oz Jig Man worm nose with a 4/0 hook size hook. This will do the job, you want your plastics rocketing past the fish a good speed to induce a strike. If the case is the fish are tightly packed then you have to annoy the crap out of them until you can force a strike, don’t worry they will bite if your using the right plastic and its rigged straight and looks natural.

 Plastics Preferences

I like pumpkinseed worms hands down over everything else here in the bay, but there are colors that will trigger the snapper into a feed frenzy like pilchard or whiting colors. My preferences for the worm is nothing short of being my confidence color or my go to its never let me down so I keep going for it. For the land-base soft plastic fisho its about persistence but don’t despair you will be rewarded for the efforts you put in.
I find that fishing all parts of the tide is good but here in Corio Bay I tend to where possible focus on the start of the out going tide as a prime time, during this part of the tide bait fish and worms are being flushed out from the rocks because of the receding tide.
John Didge

About John Didge

Owner and C.E.O of The Jigman John has had a passion for Soft plastics for the last 30 years and is widely renowned as one of the best in his field of Soft Plastics. But the passion really kicked in about 20 years back and In 1990 it basically become Johns only form of fishing, dedicating himself totally to fishing Soft plastics and nothing else. His reputation is as a big Flathead specialist travelling the coastline of Southern Australia in search of big Flathead and as Captain of Team Jigman along with Paul Mayer and Adam Van De Lugt The Jigman team is well known and it has sent fear into the minds of the Dusky Chasers (trash Talk). John Didge is also well respected in the fishing Media as host of the Geelong Fishing Show for the last 26 years but also on stage talking about fishing at Fishing expos and angling clubs (He never shuts up about Plastics Fishing). Second in the Media Classic during the 90’s at lake Mulwala, 6 time winner of the Conjola Flathead teams invitational (Dodgy little mates event), winner of the Mallacoota Reel it in Flathead Challenge in November 2013 and following it up next year with winning the Narooma Flathead Challenge in Feb 2014 and taking out Big Fish with an 81.5cm Flathead in Narooma Flathead Challenge in 2015.


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