Working Lures to their Full Potential

Giving lure fishing a bit more thought and being willing to change it up and try something else, is the key to successful lure fishing as Scott Bradley gives us some pointers in lures, tactics, retrieves and locations .

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From a very early age I had a fascination with lures. I’d spend hours at the local tackle shop sorting through their lure selection to find the next addition to my tackle box.

In the  beginning we were using Abu Toby’s and Wonder Wobbler Lures. Then we progressed to Floppy’s and Nils Masters and the first time I tied on a Cotton Cordell Rattlin Spot my world changed forever.

These lures were the first bibless rattler I had used and Australian salmon went nuts for them. We would cut up some old pilchards and berley the mouth of the local marina, then cast the rattlin spots in the berley trail. The salmon or “bay trout” as we knew them, would fight each other to hit the lure and many times you would catch a fish each on both sets of trebles. Even back then you couldn’t help but notice that the anglers catching most of the fish weren’t just blindly casting and cranking, but were targeting structure and looking for signs on the surface to indicate where the fish were. They also worked the lure, adding rod tip movement to the retrieve to enhance the action of the lure, greater replicating a wounded baitfish.

The fundamental difference between the anglers consistently catching fish to the anglers catching the occasional fish, was their thought process on where to cast and how to best retrieve the lure as apposed to the cast and crank mentality. As anglers we digest as much information as we can from television and fishing magazines like this one, for the latest tips and techniques to hone our skills and hopefully catch more fish,, but it’s all for nothing if you can’t read what’s happening on the water.

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Tell tale signs like birds diving on bait being associated to feeding pelagics are easy enough to recognise for most anglers. Reading birds to know which way a school of fish is moving and even to show individual fish is an invaluable skill for every angler to learn. It sounds simple enough, but I have seen many anglers over the years oblivious to the feeding frenzy in front of them or how to go about catching the fish causing all the commotion. The more subtle signs often missed can be the game changers. Once you know what to look for and what to do with the information you will catch more fish. Reading the water and looking for structure and fish holding territory is paramount to any fishing but none more than flats fishing. Being land based you want to spend as much time as possible where the fish are, and not be hiking all over the place looking for fish.

Obviously the more time you spend at the one location the more you learn about where fish are found at different stages of the tide. On my local patch of ground there are ridges of rock covered in oysters that run across the beach on an angle out to deeper water. As the tides moves in ,flathead and bream will hang on the outer edge of the rocks where the tide pushes all the bait up against it and ambush their prey. Knowing this I get in a position so I can cast up current and work my lure back to where the fish are. Once the bait moves on so do the predators to the next ambush point until the bait reaches the mangroves which provide plenty of food and shelter. As the tide recedes predatory fish will hang on the edges of the mangroves along the main drains ,so casts into the gaps between the trees and working along the front of the mangroves is where you want to be.

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Once the tide drops enough you work your way back to the ambush points you fished earlier, but on the opposite side of the ridge, where the bait is now being pushed against as they move out to deeper water. Understanding where bait moves through the tide is the key to finding the fish.

Even though I have a fair idea where fish will be at any stage of the tide, I’m still looking for signs of bait on the surface. Prawns flicking on the surface are a lure casters dream and I usually only get a couple of turns of the reel before the lure gets slammed by a bream. Any signs of baitfish are always worth a cast and even a school of 2kg mullet can hold bream, flathead and grunter underneath them. Stingrays feeding let the angler know where yabbie beds and crustaceans are and always attract baitfish and predatory species looking for a free feed as the rays stir up the bottom. If your fishing amongst the stingrays your in the right spot, just watch your step!

Knowing what lure to use where and when can be a tough one when your starting out because what works today may not work tomorrow. Using lures the same size and profile as the local bait or “matching the hatch” is a good place to start. Next you have to think about what sort of country you plan to fish and in what depth of water. If you are targeting bottom dwelling fish you need a lure to be making contact with the bottom or very close to it. If your fishing gnarly country like I do ,dealing with rocks and oysters, you need to use floating divers that can be given slack to float off a snag. I’m only fishing shallow water often less than a meter, so shallow diving floaters are perfect. If the water is too shallow for divers or the country is just too rough for sub surface lures, switching to poppers can be the best way to approach it. If I’m fishing a drop off that is too deep for hard bodies to reach, I’ll try vibes or soft plastics and fish them deep allowing them to sink to the bottom before working them back to the rod.

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The  latest styles of lures are more reliant on rod tip action than ever with the emergence of soft plastics, soft vibes and stick baits being so popular and many having little or no built in action. Graphite rods and braided lines have helped improve lure presentation giving direct contact with the lure, allowing for more refined twitches and pauses during retrieve. Rod tip action is crucial when using surface lures ,where often the best strikes can come during the pause between twitches. Imitating a wounded insect, prawn or baitfish often calls for the stop start approach in order to initiate a strike. In other situations a constant flutter across the surface is the go. I personally like to give a few pauses when using the constant flutter even if it’s only a brief pause and find that is often when the strike happens.

Like with any lure fishing varying your retrieve to find what the fish are responding to on the day is essential. If nothing is working try changing lures and repeat the process.

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Trolling lures requires the same principles as casting, you just don’t have to cast all the time! You still need to think about what you are trolling for and what kind of country you are trolling. When I’m trolling reef or snaggy country I always want a couple of lures hitting bottom or making contact with the structure to let me know I’m in the strike zone. Getting snagged comes with the territory and if your not getting the occasional snag your missing out on fish. I tend to run a couple of shallow divers along side the deep divers to vary my spread ,and appeal to other species and if your running four lures you don’t want all four getting snagged at the one time. As you would have seen on any fishing show most switched on anglers don’t just put the rod in the rod holder and wait for the strike. They have a rod in their hand and keep working the lure with rod tip action to initiate a strike. It also gives the angler direct contact with the lure,letting them know how the lure is working and what type of ground your covering. I’ve been lucky enough to step on board a professional commercial mackerel fishing boat a few times over the years and you can learn a lot from the guys who do it for a living. There’s no mucking around with light line and fancy lures here, it’s deck winches and 80 braid rods towing garfish on gangs and they never stop working the baits. They call it “wogging” which is basically just pulling the line a meter or so, than letting it drop back and repeat. After seeing this I’ve tried it when trolling hard bodies around bait schools where you know there are fish in the area but can’t get a strike. In desperation I’ve grabbed the rod and starting wogging and pulled a strike within minutes.

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Other times changing lures or repositioning the lure in the spread made the difference, it really is a case of keep trying something else until you have success. Even when everything is working changing lures can bring other species in the mix. I’ve been guilty a few times of just sticking to what works and it took someone else doing something different ,or I’ve run out of a particular lure and had to try something else to unlock more species. Giving lure fishing a bit more thought and working them to their full potential, and being willing to change it up and try something else, is the key to successful lure fishing. Use that with everything you’ve learned about recognising the signs and fishing structure ,and not only will you catch more fish you’ll have a lot of fun doing it. There’s nothing more satisfying than fooling a fish in to eating a piece of plastic, metal or wood that you have made look like the real thing!

Scott Bradley

About Scott Bradley

Scott Bradley was born in Hastings Victoria and grew up fishing for King George whiting, snapper, sharks, Australian salmon and flathead. At 15 years of age his family moved to what he calls ‘God’s own country’ for the fishing and lifestyle that Queensland’s Hervey Bay is famous for. At 19 he bought his first boat and started to properly explore the fish-rich waters adjacent to world-renowned Fraser Island. “I carved my teeth chasing pelagics and to this day find it hard to go past a boiling bait school without firing a slug or popper into the action,” said Scott. “Longtails and spotted mackerel were all I chased until age 20 when I caught my first marlin trolling in 10 meters of water, 500 meters off Fraser Island and I was hooked.” From then on Scott has spent years chasing marlin inside Fraser Island. On the good days he says 5 to 10 shots at marlin are not uncommon. Now 37-years-old, Scott maintains that game fishing is his passion. “But I'd also fish in a bucket of water,” he said. “September to March is when I chase Marlin leaving the rest of the year to stalk the flats for flathead and bream. I also hit the reefs for snapper, reds, cod and coralies plus also throw the net for a feed of prawns or shoot up a creek if the wind is up.”

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