East Coast lagoons backyard secrets

Jamie Henderson looks at his backyard lagoons around St Helens at some fantastic fisheries that are all but deserted at this time of the year. Access is easy, a boat is not essential and accommodation is bargain priced. Why not take a break in Tassie and enjoy the fishing.

As winter looms closer many of our fishing options become restricted, trout fishing is limited to only a few lakes and the snowy weather conditions stop us venturing to the highlands. Many of our salt water species either migrate or become dormant in their activity and less daylight hours means less time on the water. But there is a saving grace of piscatorial delights that is commonly overlooked by most anglers, many drive straight past them next to our main coastal highways and don't even give them a second look, yet they can be alive with fish life just waiting to be caught.
I am talking about our coastal lagoons. Some of these lagoons are no bigger than that a couple of backyards and some can be as big as many of our lakes, some are landlocked for long periods of time while others are open to the sea and tidal.
They can be fished by walking the shore, wading or even from a small boat or canoe/kayak. They can have a wide variety of fish and environments for fish to live in, many have small creeks that feed them with fresh water whilst others are pure salt water that are topped up from seepage through sand dunes. Some have dark tannin stained waters while others have crystal clear water with fantastic sandflats ideal for polaroiding but they are basically all the same, wonderful places to wet a line.
They stretch right up and down the coast with names like, Big Lagoon, Sloop lagoon, Grants Lagoon, Dianas Basin, Wrinklers lagoon and Hendersons Lagoon and many that don't even have names but they all offer their own little surprises. Most are at the top of the East Coast, but not all.
The Fish
Most of our coastal lagoons hold an amazing variety of different fish species, these include mullet, Australian salmon, tailor, leatherjacket, flounder, flathead, snapper, whiting, luderick, eels, silver trevally but by far the most common is the bream. I have personally caught all of these species out of one lagoon or another all up and down our East Coast and these fish can be targeted by many different forms of fishing such as bait, soft plastics, lures and fly.
The Techniques
Lagoon fish can be targeted by using a number of different methods by far the most popular being bait, however soft plastics, lures and fly come a close second.
A simple rig of a running ball sinker, keeping the size of the sinker as small as possible, straight through to the hook will be ideal. As most of the lagoons are landlocked there is no tides or currents to have to deal with so a minimal amount of weight is required, just enough to let you cast out a reasonable distance from the shoreline. If there is weed around or the bottom is a little rocky rather than sand or mud then a small swivel tied 18" above the hook to act as a stopper for the sinker will stop your hook from becoming snagged to often. Hooks such as size #2-1/0 in long shank, octopus and sports circle styles are ideal depending on the baits being used. Good baits to try for the lagoons would be frozen prawns and pippies from your local tackle store or for those with a little more dedication freshly pumped nippers and sandworms are dynamite baits.
Soft Plastics/lures
This is my most favored technique for fishing the Lagoons as it is a very versatile method and you are able to mimic a wide variety of natural food items. Most of the substrate of a coastal lagoon is either sand flats, patchy weed covered mudflats or weed beds and is home to a wide variety of prey items for the fish. On the sand flats nippers and sandworms bury into the sand leaving little mounds all over the place and lots of small baitfish scurry everywhere. All around the weed areas there will be schools of small baitfish as well as crabs, prawns and shrimps a rich food source for most fish.
With the use of soft plastics you can imitate most of these natural food items and by adjusting the jighead weights different depths can be fished, the shallows a mere foot deep to the deeper drop offs that can reach 20-30 feet in depth. If wading from the shoreline and fishing the shallows I like to start prospecting with a TT-Head hidden weight system in either 1/40 or 1/60 ounce and #1 hook. These weights coupled with a Berkley Sandworm in natural or Camo to imitate a sandworm or a Squidgy Flickbait 70 mm in Evil Minnow to imitate the small baitfish. Just by walking the shallow waters staying in water from ankle depth to knee depth and placing long casts in a fanning type motion to cover as much water as possible until you find an area of feeding fish. With the worms a very slow rise and drop retrieve with small twitches and jerks and every now and again just sitting it there almost like a bait will be most effective. With the flick bits an erratic twitchy retrieve trying to imitate a wounded baitfish will bring savage strikes from any hungry bream or trevally in the area, same again every now and again just sit it in the bottom and you will be surprised as to how many fish will just pick it up. In this situation a top quality pair of polarized sunglasses is a must, not only to protect the eyes from harmful UV rays reflecting off the water but to also spot schools of fish moving around up on the sandflats. Contrary to popular opinion many good sized bream will venture into water as shallow as 1 foot to feed so don't discount the water right at your feet.
Another method that is very effective on the flats is the use of hard body lures, in this situation very light mono line and fluorocarbon line used all the way to the lure is preferred so as not to spook to many fish and to better work the lures. By using the light mono it is possible to cast very long distances which is needed to prospect as much open water as possible. I like to start by wading in water of about 2-6 feet deep and use a straight slow wind rolling retrieve. This will cover a lot of water quickly and usually results in some attention from any fish in the area. This type of retrieve quite often draws very savage strikes from fish especially Bream but if the fish are just following and not hitting the lure then a few changes in the action need to be made. By simply stopping the lure mid retrieve and letting it slowly float or suspend can draw a strike, if not than subtle little twitches or movements with the rod tip may work. Its just a matter of closely watching your lures and the water around them to see what the fish are doing then trying a few different things until the code is cracked and the fish will take the lure. Lures that I find very effective in this situation are the Bushy's Stiffy in most of the colors however the black and gold seems to be very good over a sandy bottom in bright sunlight and the Halco Laser Pro 45 in any gold/bronze type colors. The hard body lures are also a great way of fishing around the weed beds, as most of the lures are either suspending or floating and generally only dive to 3-4 feet in depth it is easy to fish over the top of the weed and around the edges. By holding the rod tip high you can keep the lure above weed patches and leave it to suspend there letting any fish using the weed as cover to race out and mount an ambush, by twitching the lure down hard you can fish the outside edges and margins of the same weedbeds where many fish will be patrolling feeding on small baitfish, prawns and shrimps etc.
The deeper water can be fished in the same manner as with the plastics mentioned earlier however heavier jigheads in the 1/20th and 1/16th ounce regions will be needed. Here the Berkley Sandworms and Sand Eels and Squidgy Wriggler styles work well, also the Squidgy Fish in larger sizes such as 80 mm in Gary Glitter, Avocado, Wasabi and the Killer Tomato are among some of my favorites.
The Tackle
For bait fishing a nice long soft rod is ideal, this will allow you to cast lightly weighted or even unweighted baits a good distance and also detect subtle little bites from finicky fish. Rods in the 7-9 foot range and 3-4 kg are perfect as some larger than average fish can be encountered at times. Any good reel in the 1500-2500 size range with a smooth drag will suit such as Shimano Olivio, Slade, Sienna and the Sahara range are a good choice.
For plastics and lures a high modulus graphite rod in 7 foot and 1-4 kg is needed to get the long casts whilst fishing the flats. Rods such as Shimano Starlo Stix, Catana, T-Curve are great as are Strudwick Sic Sticks. One of my favorites is a Millerod Bream Buster Finesse XF, a great rod for casting long distances with ultra light jigheads and imparting fine movements in the plastics. I also like it for use with mono or fluorocarbon lines when using hard body lures. Reels in the 1000-2500 range, such as Shimano Symetre, Twin Power and Sustain with either 4 lb Fireline or a good fluorocarbon line in 2-4 lb such as Sunline Basic FC.
The Coastal lagoons are an ideal place for the family, they are safe for kids with plenty of shallow water for them to paddle in if they get bored, mum can have a sunbake while dad can wander off and have a bit of a fish. Many have camping areas close by the water and BBQ area's too. Its easy find a sheltered spot and with such a variety and healthy population of fish they can be just the place to introduce the kids to fishing. So if you are looking for a nice spot to take the family and have a fish don't overlook that lagoon right beside the highway.
Jamie Henderson
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