Techy Thursday - Fly Fishing Estuaries, Your local Winter Option

You know trout live in tidal estuaries year round right? And with the majority of NZ’s population living somewhat near the coast, chances are there’s a river mouth open near you. So why wait until Spring? Throughout the winter, the lower reaches of our coastal rivers can provide fishing opportunities to maiden fish which have not moved upstream to spawn, returning hens and year round estuary dwellers along with random bycatches which can include Kahawai, flounder and mullet.

You will be fishing all day looking for that often short window when everything is right and the fish suddenly appear and are on the feed. Sometimes this window can last for hours, but most often it will be a short period of time where you need to make the most of your day. This window can change daily according to conditions so be prepared to spend more than ‘half hour down at the local’ if you want the result.

I favour a fast 7wt like the Primal Raw for estuary work, and a reel with multiples lines. In particular a long belly floater like the Airflo SuperFlo TRC, a fast intermediate and Di7 from the Forty Plus range and an Airflo Streamer Max shooting head for getting out there and getting deep quick. I’m likely to switch lines multiple times throughout the day. My leader is simply 10-12’ of trusted, level Trouthunter fluorocarbon.

It’s not blue ribbon water. You aren’t often likely to get that pristine, backcountry hike in, and you’ll probably need to swap that box of dries for a handful of big, meaty streamers. The best anglers I know are all adaptable and multidimensional and at worst, you’re casting will be less rusty come opening day. There is no downside to getting amongst it in an estuary this winter.

So, let’s get you on track for success with my top ten for hitting the estuaries this winter:

  • Look for inlets, weed patches, deeper holes or calm spots in the lee of points and bank extensions. Just as summertime upriver fish like structure and cover, these fish do too.
  • Look for deeper shorelines. The difference between shin deep and thigh deep water can be all it takes to locate fish.
  • Keep your eyes moving. Look for fish themselves, bow waves, movements or swirls. Often the days are calm and water clear, so be prepared to sight fish.
  • These fish move and so should you. Fish each spot slow and thoroughly, but keep walking and cover ground, particularly on new water. That high and dry patch of rocks over yonder may become the hotspot on the incoming tide.
  • Estuarine trout are apex hunters so land your streamer quite a ways in front / beyond the fish to avoid spooking them and to give yourself time to control your line and commence your retrieve. Trust me, they’ll notice it.
  • Cast along, or at an angle out from the shore. These fish will be moving in from the salt, or patrolling the shoreline, drop offs and current lines so retrieving your streamer at say 45 degrees from the beach will keep it swimming in the likely hotspot for longer.
  • Baitfish aren’t generally strong swimmers so cast up current and retrieve your flies back in the direction of the flow / tidal push. Swinging will work, but you will hit more fish by working with the current than against it in my experience.
  • Take various lines. Sometimes it’s too shallow for high density lines but across at that channel, the tidal pull can make your floater redundant.
  • Approach the water low and slow. It may be big water, but fish are often found close into shore and like those of your favourite backcountry stream if they see you, its good night nurse.
  • Watch your back, especially on the incoming tide. Within moments, that ankle deep trickle you crossed earlier may be uncrossable on return, especially on the West Coast where tidal movements can be extreme. Likewise, when fishing the river-mouth never turn your back on the waves. Never.