Liz with one of the many solid whiting she landed on the day.

Topwater Tactics for Estuary Species

G’DAY everyone; in this month’s article I will provide you with some helpful topwater tactics on how to target flathead, bream and whiting.

Fishing with stickbaits and poppers is a fantastic topwater tactic because it is easy to do and apart from producing good numbers of fish has the bonus of being visually exhilarating as you watch your lure being smashed on the surface. You don’t require any special equipment for topwater fishing.
All you need is a 7’ rod matched with a 1000-2000-size reel loaded with 6lb braid and 6lb fluorocarbon leader.

If you don’t already own a combination like this it might be worth saving for because this same outfit is also ideal for lures such as soft plastics and small hard-bodied minnows. My favourite surface lures for the job are Bassday Sugapens, Atomic K9 Walkers and small Damiki poppers.

Locations

Numerous areas in all our local rivers and creeks are suitable for surface fishing. The best places are very shallow grounds that hold bait such as yabby beds and locations with a broken sand and seagrass bottom. You’ll find heaps of these spots from the Southport Broadwater all the way to Moreton Bay.
The other important thing to remember when finding a suitable area is it must be very shallow.

In fact, for the best results I fish in 60cm of water or less. Bream have a tendency to slurp down a surface lure in water deeper than 60cm but trying to tease up whiting and flathead becomes more difficult and way less productive the deeper it gets. Most of the results on whiting and flathead come from water that is 30-45cm deep.

A great thing about topwater fishing is that having a boat is a bonus but land-based anglers can still find an abundance of good topwater grounds if they are prepared to walk along the shallow river banks and flats. Surface lures are very versatile because while diving lures and soft plastics continually foul up in seagrass, surface lures can be worked across the top of heavy vegetation.

Tides

You can surface fish at any stage of the tide but I’ve found by far the best results come from fishing the last hour of the run-in tide and the first hour of the run-out. I feel the last of the run-in allows the fish to move out of the deeper water to feed across the shallows and when the tide turns to run out they seem to spike into a feeding frenzy before the falling tide forces them back into the deeper water.

Technique

Surface poppers have a cupped faced and eject bloops of water in front of them during the retrieve, which creates a lot of noise and disruption on the surface and gets the fish’s attention. They can be worked slowly and continuously across the top in a straight line, which means that as long as the lure is blooping you don’t need to apply much action with your rod tip.

Stickbaits on the other hand are best worked with a steady retrieve while simultaneously wobbling your wrist. 

While not big bream, you have to be happy when you get two fish on the same surface lure.
While not big bream, you have to be happy when you get two fish on the same surface lure.
This whiting took an Atomic K9 Walker retrieved using the walk the dog method mentioned in the article.
This whiting took an Atomic K9 Walker retrieved using the walk the dog method mentioned in the article.
The author hooked this cheeky little jack on the surface while walking along the bank. The MB16 coloured Bassday Sugapen is one of the author’s favourite topwater lures.
The author hooked this cheeky little jack on the surface while walking along the bank. The MB16 coloured Bassday Sugapen is one of the author’s favourite topwater lures.
Jim had just caught a 40cm whiting on the surface when he cast again and the Bassday Sugapen lure was smashed by this bigeye trevally in shallow water.
Jim had just caught a 40cm whiting on the surface when he cast again and the Bassday Sugapen lure was smashed by this bigeye trevally in shallow water.
The mud exploded when this flathead rose to the top to hit Courtney’s Bassday Sugapen surface lure.
The mud exploded when this flathead rose to the top to hit Courtney’s Bassday Sugapen surface lure.
A wobbling wrist means a wobbling rod tip and your stickbait will start working with a short and sharp left to right movement commonly referred to as ‘walking the dog’. In fact, some small surface lures are branded as ‘dog walkers’.

When whiting are pursuing my surface lures I find it important to maintain my composure and keep the action rolling until a solid hook-up occurs.
If a bream is following my lure I might pause the continuous action briefly, which often results in a solid strike. Always watch your lure as you retrieve because it is the visual aspect of seeing the fish crash your lure on the top that makes this technique so much fun and so addictive. Having a good pair of polarised sunglasses is a must to make the most of topwater fishing.

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About Brad 'Smithy' Smith

Brad 'Smithy' Smith
Smithy has been working as a full-time professional fishing guide for over 20 years, which makes him southeast Queensland’s and northern NSW’s longest-serving guide. Above all the commitments Smithy has in the charter industry, his overriding passion has always been to pass on his specialist experience to anglers and teach people of all ages and angling abilities the correct techniques required to catch all the Gold Coast’s estuary species on a variety of different lures. Smithy’s unique charter operations guarantees you will catch fish on lures or you don’t pay.

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