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The Lure of the Shallow Reefs

Declan Williams

The waters of Moreton Bay are relatively shallow, but that doesn't mean you won't find quality fish, including some really nice reef fish, just a few hundred metres from the shore. The key, as is so often the case, is structure and bait. When we target Moreton Bay fish, we look for rubble patches, bombies and any other good looking structure. Locate quality structure and the anticipation starts to build. If the structure is holding bait you can feel your heart in your chest and the itch in your casting finger.

Peak bite times are dawn and dusk and these periods of lower light allow you to pull quality fish in as shallow as 20'. When the sun rises higher in the sky it's time to move to deeper water, 40-60' is common and maybe as deep as 80'. When fishing these shallow waters it's important to minimise noise, such as banging through the hull and excess anchor noise. We will general drift across structure as anchoring is a sure way to turn off fish. Slow drifts are generally preferred and we have definitely done better on sweetlip when there is less run.

In the bay we use relatively light spin gear with quality reels, as sticky drags equal pulled hooks. We start with 8lb braid and 15lb leader, but if we find some nasty looking structure with plenty of bait, or we get dusted, then it's up to the 15-20lb braid and 20lb leader.

There are a range of lures that suit this style of fishing, including blades, soft plastics and jigs. Depending on the depth and current we will use a TT Lures 1/4, 3/8, or 1/2oz Switchblade. Smaller blades will get you more bites when fishing the shallows and when people ask me if big fish eat small blades it's a definite thumbs up, especially after losing a cod of about 6kg on 8lb gear and a 1/4oz Switchblade beside the boat as we didn't have a net! From our time on the water it seems that cod and snapper prefer gold colours and naturals, while lippers prefer bright colours. Grassy sweetlip and red throat are the primary target with 2-3kg fish being common and the odd 4-5kg fish turning up and more often than not smoking you.

Cast the blade out, allow it to hit the bottom and then give it a sharp rip up off the bottom. Allow the lure to drop back to the bottom as you wind the slack up, but hold it off the bottom for a few seconds. Most hits will come on the drop or on the pause and it's important to watch your line. If the line speeds up, twitches or stops, chances are a fish has it in their mouth so wind, strike and set the hook.

By-catch includes a variety of random reefies, parrot and school mackerel love blades. Unfortunately they also like biting you off, so you may want to move location or rig for mackerel.

Soft plastics are also a great shallow reef lure. During the peak bite times of dawn and dusk most hits come on the drop, so the plastic won't even make its way to the bottom. This is especially true with snapper who love eating the lure on the drop, while sweetlip prefer the lure on the bottom, so once the soft plastic touches down hop it a few times before you retrieve it. When retrieving the plastic from the bottom we use a rip, rip, and pause, then wind a few metres, pause and free spool the line back before retrieving the lure back to the boat. Sweetlip will often follow the lure up off the bottom and then whack it as it comes back to them. This is also a favourite retrieve for mackerel.

Like with blades, soft plastics don't need to be big and you'd be surprised at times what eats a 3" plastic. Rubble patches and reef are loaded with small toothy critters that will chew plastics to pieces, so we have been fishing the ZMan Lures range which are up to 10X tougher than standard plastics, in the ZMan 3" MinnowZ, ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ and ZMan 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ. These are rigged on TT HeadlockZ HD jigheads in a 3/0 up to a 6/0 hook for the 5" plastics. By-catch when using soft plastics includes longtail and mack tuna, along with the occasional mackerel and a mixed back of reefies and estuary species.

When fishing shallow rubble patches another technique that works well for us is jigging. Again you would be surprised what will eat a jig. Drop one of the 15-40g TT Lures Vector Jigs or Arrow Jigs and then retrieve it quickly for a few metres, pause and then retrieve it quickly to the surface. This technique is effective on cod, mackerel, tuna... and yes, sweetlip.

Moreton Bay is filled with gravel patches, reefy patches and bombies and all of these will hold fish and bait during different parts of the day and tide cycle. If you haven't fished Moreton Bay before, good places to start include Currumundi Reef, Brays Rocks, Murphy's Reef, Inner Gneerings, Mud Island and Peel Island.

These techniques will not only be effective in Moreton Bay though. If you have some shallow reef and rubble patches in your area, give it a go. Grab your spin gear, a handful of blades, plastics and jigs, turn on the sounder and spend some time on the water, it won't be long until you find rubble patches, bait and the fish that are eating them.

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