Estuary and Bay Fishing

April 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Fishing Information

Estuary and bay anglers fish from land, from land-based structures such as piers, wharves, jetties and bridges, or from boats. Estuaries exist in bays, inlets, lakes, lagoons and tidal rivers, whoever fresh water meets slat, result in brackish water.

Many fish spend their entire lives in the estuary, but it is also a spawning ground, nursery and feeding area for fish from the open ocean or the lower reaches of freshwater rivers and streams.

estuary fishingWhen to fish

Most fish inhabiting estuaries and bays feed at dawn and dusk; their behaviour is also strongly influenced by tides. For the angler, forward planning is important and should include:

  • decided on the species you are trying to catch,
  • collecting bait,
  • preparing barley,
  • setting suitable tackle, and
  • considering the effect that tide and time of day will have on where you fish.

Dawn and dusk feeders, such a bream, flathead, whiting, snapper and mulloway, will feed in the shallows in low light, but are inclined to seek safer depths during the day. Mullet, leatherjacket and luderick are less demanding about time of day, but still their behaviour is influenced by the tides.

Fish are habitual creatures with seasonal cycles of spawning and forage migrations, and certain habitat preferences. In temperate climates, for example, snapper, heritable, luderick, mullet and bream move in and out of the sheltered waters of bays and estuaries according to season and locality. Generally, fishing is best during the warmer months. During winter, many estuary dwellers move out of the estuaries to deeper offshore waters, returning in spring to spawn.

Where to fish

Fish within estuaries and bays tend to base their lives around structures – whether artificial, like wharves, bridges, rock walls, oyster leases and buoys, or natural ones like weed beds, gutters, channels, points and holes. Such places provide the fish with a reference point, with food and with relative safety. You will do much better fishing these ares than those that are featureless.

Sand or mudflats that are exposed at low tide are excellent areas to explore when the tide is rising. The best fishing occurs on flats that have a deep channel or gutter running alongside. A good flat will have around one metre or more of water over it at high tide.

In many bays and estuaries, you can fish quite effectively from shoreline features such as river banks, beaches and rocky points, or from structures such as piers or breakaways. In mangrove lined estuaries, a boat is essential.

The keys to successful land-based fishing are to be prepared, have the right tackle and bait for the species you are after, and work the tides so you are there are the same time as the fish.


Fish tend to favour the food items commonly found in whatever habitat they are in, so when fishing in estuaries and bays, as elsewhere, locally available baits are often the best choice. To ease the pressure on bait stocks, especially near cities and towns, only gather as much bait as you need for immediate use.

A type of burrowing shrimp often lives in tidal sand flats and can be gathered with a suction pump. Bloodworms and squirt worms ca be dug or pumped, using a bait pump, from exposed tidal flats. Prawns, shrimp, small fish and squid are good baits, as are cockles, oysters and mussels.

Other useful baits for estuary species include the various whitebait, pilchards and blueberries. They are best for flathead, though large flathead prefer tiny live muller caught in a small bait trap. Baits for fresh striped tuna and squid are also effective and chicken gut is very popular for bream.

You do not need bait for all species of fish. Many will attack lures, and tackle shops can often advise which lures work best on the fish in their locality.

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