Working a School of Fish

Working a school of fish on the surface is one of the most entertaining, knee trembling and exciting fishing experiences anglers will get to endure regardless of the species being targeted as Jarrod Day shares this experiences and shares his techniques


Be it a school of salmon in the south, queenfish up north or tuna in the east or west, seeing a bubbling school of fish actively feeding on the surface gets every angler’s blood boiling with adrenalin.

This is a common sight that many mad keen anglers can relate too and as much fun as it is casting an assortment of lures into the frothy mess, there is a downside. j10

A school of blood thirsty fish when they are devouring a baitfish school , despite the concentration of feeding fish, they are actually quite flighty.

Over 90% of the time, noisy boat motors and anglers which drive right through the busting mess and will always send the fish deep. When this happens, they scatter and while they might pop up again soon after the boat has moved away, history repeats itself and time and time again anglers continue to plough right through the thick of it then wonder why all the fish have gone.

Anglers new to this style of fishing can often be seen doing this and eventually the fish will head off, ruining a good thing for everyone.


Finding fish no matter the species can be quite a difficult task, especially those that feed on the bottom or mid water but when it comes to pelagic’s the game is much easier.

Pelagic fish have a tendency to school up their prey and cause them to push to the waters surface. In a feeding frenzy, from below they swam in devouring what they can and at the same time while trying to escape being eaten, the baitfish launch from the waters surface and are devoured from the birds above. j6

For an angler, finding this mayhem is as simple as looking for the bird’s dive bombing into the waters surface. Though this may sound simple enough, there is a point that can give a false reading. By that I mean, birds can act differently depending on what the bait below the water’s surface is doing.

Regardless of what species you’re targeting, all sea birds will act in a similar manner. If the bait is deep, birds such as seagulls and gannets will fly higher in the sky circling above. If you have the time to spend on the water, you will notice that as the day wears on and the predatory fish below push the bait towards the surface, the birds will slowly lower towards the surface until the point where the bait is boiling and the birds are dive bombing into the water. j

This process may be simple to understand but occasionally, birds can be misread; especially when they are diving on bait along a current line. Often, just the force of the current can push bait and potential foods to the surface in which anglers may think there is fish beneath the diving birds. In this case, you tend to waste a lot of time, casting and trolling for fish that just aren’t there.

To combat this “false” feeding frenzy, it pays too motor over to the vicinity of where the birds are working and look for fish busting and splashing on the surface or look for a sight that resembles an area where the water is bubbling like a spa bath. It is these two visual stimuli that guarantee’s a sure thing that fish are also feeding.

Understanding how to find birds to find fish is a simple task and is a vital key in being successful when it comes to successfully finding fish on the surface.


When it comes to working a school of busting fish, there is an etiquette to adhere too in order to keep the school on the surface rather than scattering them and eventually having them disperse from the area.

On the approach to a school, it is best than rather going in full noise, too sit back for a few seconds and take note in which direction the school is travelling. Once this is noted, drive the boat outside the school or far enough away they won’t be spooked and try to get ahead of the school. j1

If you manage to do this, pull in front of the school and cut the engine. In turn, the school of fish will come within casting range and you should be able to drift with the school and continue to catch plenty of fish.

Boats that are set up with an electric motor often have the advantage in this instance as they can use the electric to stay with the school almost silently. This is a huge advantage as you won’t have to start the motor to chase the school each time the school moves out of casting range. This style of sports fishing is highly addictive and providing you can prevent the school from dispersing, everyone can get in on the action. j4

In saying that, some anglers prefer not to cast lures to busting fish, but rather sit back and troll metal slugs, skirts or hard body lures through the mix. Once again, trolling right through the school will send them down. Trolling is best kept to the circumference of the school allowing anglers to work the outer rim. Providing those trolling can manoeuvre the boat correctly, they should be able to drive around the school bringing the lures over the top of the bubbling mess.

This technique is very effective without causing any disruption to the school. In saying that, when multiple boats are trolling the same school of fish it can make working the school difficult in that lures and fishing lines can become tangled if the boats trolling become too close to one another. j2

The ideal situation is too keep a decent distance from the school of fish and other boats so that just the lures cross over the school. If this is impossible achieve due to the influx of boats, casting lures to the fish might be the best option.


Different species will respond to different lures when busting due to the different baitfish they are feeding on. Regardless of the species, it pays to have options and that entails having a wide range of different lures in order to try to match the hatch so to speak. j7

Undoubtedly, soft plastics make top water sports fishing very easy. Softies don’t just closely resemble the prey that’s being devoured but with the added weight of a jig head, can also be cast decent distances. Soft plastics are quite versatile but it does pay to have a selection of colours and sizes at your disposal. For example; I might have a packet or two of Keitech’s 4” shad impact jerk baits in one colour but will also have a few packets of the 5” and 3” models in case the fish want a larger or smaller bait.

Stick baits are another worthy lure to have on board. Stick baits can be quite heavy and can be small in size making them the ideal casting bait.Stick baits, can be cast to a busting school and retrieved at high speed or be left to sink amongst the turmoil and then retrieved right through the middle of the fish. j5

These styles of lures tend to be used in the north, east and west states for species such as long tail tuna, queenfish, giant trevally, red bass, brassy trevally and the like while in the south, small stick baits may be used for salmon and tailor or larger stick baits for southern blue fin tuna and yellow fin tuna.

At the end of the day, lure selection is critical and it pays to have a few models of each size stick bait available depending on the species you’re choosing to target.


Depending on the species being targeted, rods and reels can differ immensely. Anglers are travelling anglers and we are always on the lookout for that one rod and reel package that will accomplish everything we want it to. Unfortunately, there is not just one rod and reel that will do this, so to find the right outfit to suit your needs you need to look and understand everything there is to know about the species you’re choosing to target to base your outfit on. j8

For instance, if I’m heading north to Darwin to target longtail tuna or queenfish I’d choose a 6-8kg graphite spin rod with 5000 series reel and 30lb braid. For salmon and tailor in the south, I’d have a 2-4kg graphite spin rod with 2500 series reel and 10lb braid while when targeting yellow fin or southern blue fin I’d opt for a 30lb stick bait rod with an 8000 series reel and 50lb braid.

For the specific’s, my personal weaponry consists of a Wilson Venom “Heavy” coupled with a Shimano Biomaster 5000 and 30lb braid, Wilson Blade ‘n’ Tails “Medium” coupled with Shimano Rarenium 2500 with 10lb braid and a Wilson Venom popper “PE3” rod with Shimano Stella 8000SW and 50lb braid in order of the above species. The reason for the necessary mention of the above products is because these specific rods have a unique dead lift strength that allows the angler to control a fish while in battle along with allowing the angler to cast quite heavy lures in each case. j3

Each rod is specifically tailored to fish in certain scenarios, and regardless of the rod you use, the more you can make the outfit specifically suit the species and style of fishing your doing, the easier and more fun you will find it.

Don’t get me wrong, the old favourite fibreglass ugly stick will do the job for those that are content on using what they already have stored in the garage but to get the best out of changing the mindset of species of fish that has its focus on a particular bait they are feeding on to an artificial bait requires the control crispness of a graphite rod.

While I’m not one track minded and saying that a fibreglass rod wont work, what you will find is that a graphite rod is built more for the task and will enable the angler to control, use and manipulate a lure so it acts in the same manner of the fleeing baitfish that are being hunted in order to get a strike.

Everyone by now has heard of the “one percenter’s” in fishing and while these so called “one percenter’s” incorporate numerous things, one of the major parts is using the right outfit to get the most out of your fishing. j11

The more you can specifically build your arsenal for the jobs at hand the better you will be at getting the lures to work in the way that they will cause the fish to strike rather than continuing their focus on the bait they are feeding on.

Working a school of fish on the surface is one of the most entertaining, knee trembling and exciting fishing experiences anglers will get to endure regardless of the species being targeted. Providing you understand the scenario and work the school effectively, this type of fishing will leave an everlasting memory of epic proportions rather than a hatred towards the anglers that caused the school to dissipate.

Jarrod Day

About Jarrod Day

As a young boy, fishing from the Portsea and Sorrento piers along the Mornington Peninsula coastline was a regular occurrence during the school holidays. My love for fishing grew and many years later now find it much more than a hobby, but a lifestyle. My website has been developed with fishing and photography in mind. Take a look around, I hope you enjoy it.

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