Last month we checked out the intertidal drains that attract the hard fighting predators of our estuaries - Intertidal Arteries. This week we look at snags, particularly fallen timber, and explain why they are amongst a lure-tosser's first port of call.
So if drains are the roads on which bait travels, then snags are the destination. As the water leaves the mangroves, fallen branches, overhanging roots and just about anything that disrupts the flow of the main current becomes a drawcard for bait and predators alike. It makes sense that bait fish don't want to be at the mercy of the tide, to be swept out into open water where ravenous predators like trevally, salmon and queenfish wait to mow through vulnerable schools. Instead, they'll look for any shelter in which to hold up. (Do you get the feeling that bait fish live a short and terrifying life?) Snags provide this shelter and on days of clearer water clarity (usually in the dry season around neap tides) submerged timber will often be 'shadowed' by large black balls of bait. These shadows will shower, move, part and twitch as predators patrol the edges and as your lure swims amongst them.
Pinpoint casting is the name of the game. It takes skill and practise to be able to put a lure in the back of a snag pile and then twitch it out again. - Lee Brake Click Here to view large photo
Once again though, much like drains, predatory fish are as switched on to the opportunities for a feed as we are. Snags are the ultimate dine-in experience for fish such as barramundi, mangrove jack, black bream and cod. These fish will find a nice, sheltered part of the snag that both hides their presence and provides a small backwater from the current and they'll suck down any bait (or lure) that comes close. It's an easy, safe way for smaller predators to get a feed, and while bigger fish do hold on snags (check out the video below), you have to be willing to look for the right kinds of snag.
Fishing snags can be brutal work. This barra smashed Graham Brake’s lure and then went berserk. It was a close quarters battle that cost Graham his favourite graphite baitcaster rod. - Lee Brake Click Here to view large photo
Different snags have the potential to hold difference fish. For example, spindly, dense snags made from the foliage and outer branches of fallen mangroves are great places to find schools of small barra, black bream and plenty of bait. Less prominent snags like a single fallen branch or a rotten trunk laying off the bank and into mid-depth water are excellent places to find a jack or cod. These species love sitting right at the back, hard up against the bank where the structure first enters the water. Bigger snags, like a whole tree freshly fallen into deeper water, are ideal for bigger fish. Bigger barra love hanging around under and behind thick submerged tree trunks, often with their nose up against the trunk, facing into the current. As well as these bigger fish, smaller barra, jacks and even fingermark can be found amongst the assorted branches and sticks that protrude from the trunk into the deep water.
The case of timing
So here comes the part where you, as an angler, need to make a decision. You see, as with most drains, snags work best after the mud has started to show on the creek banks. So here lies the conundrum: do you target the drains or the snags? Well, to start with, ask yourself what you're intentions are. If you're after numbers of fish and really want the thrill of seeing your lure smashed as it twitches amongst the branches of a snag, then there's your answer. However, if you're a patient angler who is after quality rather than quantity then a pumping drain is a better option. Secondly, you need to look at your, and your boat mate's, skill level. There's no secret that guides love drains because they are easy to fish. Pin-point casting accuracy isn't required and you don't need to be able to make a lure dance like a Russian ballet dancer to get results. This makes them ideal for beginners and seasoned anglers alike. Thirdly, not all tides suit these techniques. On a very neap tide, drains might not work at all, because the low tide isn't low enough to flush the water from the intertidal zone and on big tides, the current might be flowing way too hard to effectively work snags. For these reasons, plan your technique ahead of time. Don't blindly go looking for the first fishy thing that you see on a bank, plan to either work one or the other depending on the above factors.
Jack attack!!! Be warned, when fishing snags the fish fight dirty. They’ll hit the lure and charge straight back into the timber! - Lee Brake Click Here to view large photo
Why don't we do both?
As the girl on the taco ad says, 'Why don't we do both?' Well, the thinking fisho will realise that the effective time of the tide for fishing snags is much longer than the effective time for working drains. On a tide with enough run to get the drains pumping, but also without so much movement as to prevent the effective working of lures around structure, my approach is to start by working the drains on the flats before moving to my chosen creek to work the snags near the mouth once the first mud starts to show. From there, depending on my success on that first bank, I'll often move up the creek looking for a pumping drain, or series of drains, to work. Then, once the flow from these drains has slowed and the tide is getting towards its bottom, I'll return to working what few snags are left submerged and continue to work them until the tide is about a third of the way back in.
This photo shows a school of mangrove jack and small barra holding in the branches of a fallen mangrove. If you look closely you can see the backs of six fish. - Lee Brake Click Here to view large photo
This may all seem like a bit of hard work to the angler who just wants to get out on the water and relax, but if you are aiming to be one of the 10 percent of anglers that catch 90 percent of the fish, then this little bit of pre-planning and strategising will make all the difference! Fish hard and stay safe.
For a glimpse at what a fallen mangrove looks like underwater and to get an idea of its fish-holding potential, check out the following video filmed by a mate of mine, Dan Kaggelis.