The nomadic lifestyle is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy life on the road, fishing is often part of the attraction. Hard-core anglers will pack a rod for every contingency, and will have researched likely fishing spots for months before they hit the road. This article, however, is aimed at nomads for whom fishing is something new, and who aren’t keen to invest too much time, cash and space on a sideline.
Fishing might not become a new passion, but hopefully you’ll find it a useful way of providing a tasty meal. I’ve travelled and fished a lot myself, and here’s some tips on how you can take a minimum amount of gear, and still catch a feed of fish.
Luckily a wide range of Australian target species can be caught using similar techniques.
The All-Rounder Fishing Rig
If you only want to own one fishing rig, you should go for a good quality spinning reel in a 5000 size, and a medium-action rod of around 1.8 metres in length. A two-piece rod will be easier to stow when you’re on the road. Expect to pay at least $200 for a rod and reel and choose a quality brand such as Shimano, Daiwa or Penn. Avoid their cheaper ranges of reels as salt water will soon render them useless.
Spool your reel up with 6-8 kg nylon line, or braid if you’re willing to learn an extra knot or two.
This outfit can be protected in a length of 90mm PVC tube with an end cap glued at one end and a screw-in cap at the other. The reel will need to be removed and kept in the box. I’ve used a rod and reel just like this one to catch bass, snapper, whiting, flathead, barramundi, mackerel, and dozens of other species.
The key to successfully using the All-Rounder Rig in a range of environments and to target a wide range of species is to carry a well-stocked tackle box. You don’t need anything too fancy for this. One of my best mates, and one of the cleverest fishermen I know, used a large plastic bucket to cart his gear around.
Two or three tackle trays with closing lids will carry plenty of terminal tackle. Here’s a basic shopping list but you can add or remove items as necessary.
- Diving lures
- Surface lures
- Bean or ball sinkers
- Long shank hooks in sizes 10, 6 and 3
- Hooks in sizes 1/0, 3/0 and 5/0
- Swivels and snap swivels
- Pre-rigged wire traces. (If you know how to tie a haywire twist and barrel roll, just buy a length of single-strand wire and make your own.)
- Fluorocarbon Leader in 3, 5 and 10 kg strengths.
- Soft plastic jig heads in various sizes.
- Soft plastics in various colours and sizes.
- Sabiki jigs, various.
- Celta Spinners
- Filleting knife
- Pliers or side cutters
Fishing success can be broken down into three elements. 1) Locating and accessing the areas where fish are likely to be found. 2) Presenting a bait or lure of a size and form that will appeal to the fish. 3) Using tackle that allows you to land the fish successfully.
In all environments, including deep-sea fishing, fish have certain requirements that can help you predict where you will find them at any given time and place. Structure, time of day, and tides all contribute to creating an ideal time and place for fish to be.
Fish like to feel safe, because no matter how big they are, there’s always something bigger. Apart from flathead, that hide in the sand, or open water pelagic fish that rely on speed, most fish like some kind of structure where they can hang out and ambush food that comes along in the current. In the estuaries and fresh water that means snags or rock bars. In the ocean that means hard reefs, wrecks and bomboras. Food also grows on structure, providing an added attraction. In rivers, structure in deep water will almost always hold fish.
Some fish feed best at night and only tentatively or rarely during the day. That’s why top mulloway fishers learn how to live without sleep. Other species, like flathead, will bite all day. Nothing, however, beats being on the water at dawn or near dusk, no matter what you’re chasing.
Get a tide chart or a good app like WillyWeather. Tide means movement. Most fish bite best on the run-in tide, particularly towards the top. On the beach, I rarely fish at any other stage. In rivers, the run-out can produce fish too.
Think about where the fish are. Then think about how you can tempt them with something they habitually eat, or that resembles a common food source. This usually means using the lightest weight you can get away with. Heavy sinkers or jig heads are just as likely to scare the fish away as attract them. The same goes for inappropriately large lures.
The fish are being driven by two strong impulses. The desire to eat and also to be safe. You have to help the former impulse overcome the latter. Careful presentation, subtlety and avoiding boat noise/bank movement helps.
Bait or lure presentation.
A worm that looks like it’s been out in the sun for hours is not likely to interest fish. Baits that flop down to the bottom of the hook or hang off it at weird angles won’t work either. Trim stray line after tightening knots. Tidiness is strangely important. Fish like it.
Be an information sponge. Spend some time at the local cleaning tables when you arrive at a new river. Most anglers are happy to share at least some of the details of their catch, including the bait used, the depth of water and the gear. Don’t ask them to share their specific fishing spots, as a refusal may offend.
Buy your lures locally when you can, and pick the brains of the sales people in return. Quite often they’re keen anglers and will be more than willing to put you onto the right gear, along with some accurate local knowledge.
One of Australia’s true glamour species, barra are at the top of the list for many travellers heading north. Available across the top of Australia, from roughly Hervey Bay on the East Coast, to Dampier in the West, they are a hard-fighting, excellent eating and overall attractive catch that aren’t as hard, or as easy, to catch as you think.
The nomadic angler can target these fish from the estuary mouths, right up into the fresh water. A tinnie is a big advantage, but you’re not out of the race without one. On my last trip to the Gulf I caught most of my fish from the shore, some in creeks I could throw a stone across.
Beware of crocs, of course. Barra country is mostly saltie country, so don’t fish right at the water’s edge. Find a rock bar, high bank or similar, and plan how you intend to land your fish. A long-handled net is a great start.
Underwater structure is important to barra. They love to find a vantage point out of the current where they can gently swish that broad paddle tail and watch for food coming their way. They then move like lightning to grab it. Crank your lure slowly with the current, letting it get down to its natural depth. A few twitches don’t hurt. A “bite” is usually a lurching rod accompanied by a jolt of adrenalin into your system.
Live baits are often fished under balloons, but floats are a little more environmentally sensitive. Both methods stop your mullet or bony bream from burying itself deep into the sticks. Use tiny long shank hooks baited with fish flesh or even beef to catch your bait. Sabiki jigs will work under the right conditions.
What are the best barra lures? Once again, walk into any tackle shop and ask which barra lures have been working lately. Half a dozen of the medium-priced models should be enough for a week or two of intermittent fishing.
This is the preserve of those who travel with a sea-capable boat. In general these should be four metres or above, with a reliable outboard, high sides, and all the required safety gear. You’ll need a sounder to identify areas of reef on the ocean floor, and in particular to pick up fish activity.
Float-lining is one of the best ways to bring home a feed of everything from snapper to coral trout, depending on the latitudes you are travelling in. This technique actually has nothing to do with floats. Just rig your All-Rounder outfit with a small bean sinker and 5/0 hook, anchor up-current of the reef, then feed out baits pinned lightly on the hook. Check your drag setting so that a big fish can take line if it needs to, and sooner or later you should get a bite. If nothing happens in thirty to sixty minutes, find a new spot.
Soft plastics are often fished on the drift, or can be used at anchor in the above manner.
Pelagic fish such as mackerel are targeted with lures or live bait using wire traces, and your all-rounder rig will handle most spotted mackerel and grey mackerel. Smaller Spanish mackerel should be OK, but every now and then one will take every bit of line you have and head for New Zealand. Once you’ve seen those teeth you’ll know why wire traces are necessary.
These tasty fish inhabit our eastern and southern coasts. There are two main species, dusky and sand flathead. Duskies grow big, well over ten kilograms, but both species will respond to the same techniques.
Flathead love to lie in the sand, almost covered, and snaffle food that passes within a yard or two of their hideout. They eat just about anything that’s edible, and are suckers for skilfully fished lures. All in all, they’re one of the easiest fish to catch, and as I said earlier, don’t mind biting right through the day.
Flathead like a moving bait, so drifting along in a boat, with a rod in the holder, and a whitebait, prawn or neat strip of mullet for bait will get results. Careful casting to potential lie-ups will work even better, and flathead do love soft plastics.
Flathead have a large mouth, full of small but sharp teeth, so you’ll need a leader, and the lightest sinker that will get your rig to the bottom. A 1/0 hook is big enough for most flathead, and will also give you a shot at bream and another smaller-mouthed species as well.
Bream are voracious feeders that, pound for pound, probably provide more fishing fun than any other species. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to get past the small-fry to the legal sized fish.
Like flathead, they’ll take just about any bait, and are also suckers for soft plastics. The approach, however, is different. In estuaries, cast lightly-weighted baits towards breakwalls, bridge pylons, oyster leases, snags, and areas where currents meet. Yes, you will sometimes hook up on rocks, but that’s where the fish are.
On beaches bream often turn up in the same gutters as whiting, and some of these are quality fish. They’re also taken off the rocks, but I’ve found as I get on in years I just don’t have the agility for rock fishing. I’d keep clear of them unless you have a lot of experience.
Many Australian anglers cut their teeth on whiting, and I’m one of them. They are beautiful fish, translucent silver, with a mouth designed for vacuuming tasty morsels up from the sand. They also fight hard and taste great. Sand whiting are available all down the East Coast, while the larger King George Whiting are limited to southern waters.
Worms or pipis (cockles), and nippers in the estuary are by far the best baits, and if you have the skills to catch beach worms you’re half way to bagging a feed of whiting. The next thing is to find a deepish gutter close to shore on the beach, or a sandy stretch of river with some drop-offs, underwater banks and other structure. In South Australia, plenty of these fish are caught from jetties.
In recent years, some surprising new techniques have turned up. Tiny surface poppers, clever soft plastics and small hard-body lures all work on these fish.
For many nomads the aim is to drop the caravan alongside some inland waterhole, and catch a feed of yellowbelly, cod, or silver perch. Of these, yellowbelly are the most prolific and the best bet. They can be caught reasonably easily if they’re around, and bait will give you the best chance.
Unweighted small yabbies, bardi grubs, and large earthworms are all good baits. Soft plastics in grub or yabbie shapes are always worth a shot. If you do want to target murray cod then live bait is best. In the lure department, bibless types are the most popular and once again, ask at local tackle shops for a selection of “hot” lures.
The abovementioned species are just a selection of the most popular and likely targets for casual anglers on the move. Many others will turn up as by-catch from these techniques. The next barra lure monstered by a mangrove jack won’t be the first, and many a soft plastic intended for bream has become breakfast for a hungry mulloway.
With one good rod and reel, tucked safely away in your van or tow vehicle, you are in with a chance of catching a range of great-tasting and hard-fighting fish. Don’t expect instant success, fishing is not always easy, and perseverance is an important trait for the successful angler. If you enjoy the hobby, however, you’ll soon be adding more gear, reading books and watching YouTube videos to help hone your techniques.
There are fish out there if you put the time in, and the sport can be both addictive and life-affirming. Here’s an old Japanese proverb I heard once: we all have a certain number of hours on this earth, but time spent fishing doesn’t count towards the total.
By Greg Barron