After heavy rains, target the drains
  |  First Published: February 2016

Summer is in full swing and with the heat has come some well-deserved rain. With the wet, it isn’t a bad idea to target drains where fresh water will stream out into the salt and attract schools of baitfish that congregate around the color line feeding.

As the old saying goes ‘find the bait find the fish’. In the Mary River (which is just on my doorstep), and in other large river systems around northern Australia, there are generally plenty of drains available.

There are drains on mudflats, on mangrove covered banks and even on rocky headlands, and if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you will almost certainly find fish. Some of the top river sport fish such as barramundi, flathead, threadfin salmon, large bream and even mulloway can commonly be found around running drains feeding on a variety of bait that’s either spilling out of or attracted to the drain.

This bait can vary from mullet, herring, bony bream and a common favorite among almost all predatory fish, prawns. Both large adult prawns and jelly prawns are a large part of the diet of many river fish and are commonly eaten by river predators.

When fishing drains there are a few things you must remember. Firstly, never approach too quickly or get too close. The sound of the boat can scatter bait and spook large fish, especially when they are feeding or schooling in shallow water.

Secondly, try to ‘match the hatch.’ Use lures that resemble the bait likely to be schooling in the drain, or at least get reasonably close in resemblance to what prey is about. When it is clear what the fish are feeding on, try to imitate it with your lure (for example if jelly prawns are twitching, twitch your lure the same way).

Thirdly, take note of ripples, boils or explosions. Flicking, jumping or nervous bait is a good sign; these sorts of clues can help you figure out a fishes’ feeding patterns and even the size and species of fish in the drain.

And finally, if there is nothing happening – no movement or anything – it might be a good idea to search for a new area. In deep water, you obviously can’t see when predatory fish are feeding, but in shallow water if there is no action the fish either aren’t there, or just aren’t feeding at that time. In these situations it could take hours of frustration to get one tap from a bream or flathead, and possibly not worth the effort.

Move on and increase your chances of catching a big one. This tactic of drain fishing can also be practised in freshwater where both natural and man-made drains can hold schools of bait.

In freshwater, barramundi are present and other catches include bass, giant herring, tarpon and even the odd sweet water jack. Freshwater bait includes shrimps, mullet, gudgeons and many other small fish and crustaceans.

The best place to target in saltwater/brackish drains is in the mouth of the drain were predatory fish often lie in rows waiting for food to come floating out, or along the color lines (where dirty and cleaner water meet) where big predatory fish actively hunt bait. In freshwater, snags and submerged obstacles, weed beds and beneath lines of foam and bubbles seem to be the places where big fish lie in wait.

A typical day of drain fishing for me and dad includes us slowly approaching a drain, dropping the power pole (a shallow water anchor), sussing out what bait is around and then choosing lures of corresponding size and shape.

Generally within half an hour, if we don’t get any bites we move on, unless big barra and salmon are smashing prey close to our lures, then we can spend all day trying to get one, and persistence generally pays off.

Even if you don’t own a power pole or any other high tech anchor, a regular one will do the trick just lower it slowly into the water to prevent scaring the fish.

This kind of fishing relies a lot on the tides, the topography and even the weather and time of the day, so be persistent, try different techniques and sooner or later it will pay off.

As with all fishing ‘limit your catch’ and ‘think like a fish’.

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