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How to catch more fish with burley

by Gary Brown 15 Jun 2019 13:40 UTC
How to catch more fish with burley © Gary Brown

What is burleying?

Burleying is an essential technique that every angler should learn. Put simply, it's the process of attracting fish using additional forms of bait.

All the time, I'm asked things like:

  • Why should I burley?
  • When should I burley?
  • What should I use?
  • And do I need to do it every time I'm fishing?
As well as every other possible burley-related question you can think of.

To begin with (and to help simplify things), a good rule of thumb is that whenever you're bait fishing at anchor you should always have some sort of burley trail from the back of your boat.

Boat Accessories Australia currently offers three types of burley buckets that you can fit to the rear of your boat: the standard 'D' shape, a smaller and more compact bucket, and Bell Marine's adjustable transom-mounted bucket.

However, as is the case with a lot of things, the gear by itself is almost useless if you don't know what you're doing. So, in order to address all the basic concepts of burleying in one article, I've arranged everything you need to know under five key questions.

How often should I burley?

Let's say you're on the hunt for some snapper, bream or mulloway, and you're using a combination of dog or cat pellets, chicken layer pellets and small pieces of pilchard to draw them in. The ideal order in which you'd throw these components overboard would be the dog or cat pellets first, then the chicken layer pellets, and finally the pilchards.

The reason for this is because the larger pieces (i.e. the dog or cat pellets) will sink to the bottom faster than the smaller pieces of pilchard, creating an even spread through the water column and over the seabed. To begin with, this process should be repeated every two to three minutes. But once the fish start biting, this time can be extended to every five or six minutes.

Fishing from the shore is much the same process, except it's often better to use slightly larger chunks of bait that won't be swept away so easily. Simply place all your burley ingredients into a bucket and throw the whole lot into the water every ten minutes.

Which types of burley should I use?

When heading out for a day on the water, a lot of anglers will just take whatever scraps happen to be lying around to use as burley. In most cases this is fine, but there will be times when you'll want to exercise greater precision with your ingredients to really attract the right type of fish.

There are many different combinations of burley ingredients that I use to target particular species of fish. Some of the more common ingredients include:

  • Bread
  • Bread crumbs
  • Chicken layer pellets
  • Dog or cat food
  • Pilchards
  • Prawn heads and shells
  • Pipis (a type of edible clam)
  • Worms
  • Maggots
  • Fish frames
  • Chopped weed and green cabbage
  • Sand
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Tuna oil
  • Various fish scrapes

For instance, if you're after luderick during the winter months in Sydney, I find that a mixture of cabbage from the rocks and green weed from the estuary mixed together with sand will make for an irresistible treat. However, if you're on the Shoal Haven River, it might pay to throw a few chopped-up squirt worms and pink nippers in the mix as well. I've had great success catching luderick with this recipe, but it's also not bad for bringing in the odd yellowfin bream as well.

Since 2003, the number of silver trevally in Botany Bay has increased tenfold. Yet there are still a lot of anglers who have consistent trouble when it comes to reeling them in. The best combination, from what I've found, has been soggy bread and chicken pellets. By soaking these ingredients in water for a few minutes, it makes it easy to squeeze together handfuls of mush to create tantalising burley bombs (around half the size of a cricket ball is best) which you can then throw into the water every three to four minutes.

When it comes to yellowtail, slimy mackerel or garfish, pilchards are by far the most effective. The mixture of flesh and oil seems to create a delicious soup that these species go crazy for. Estuary leatherjackets react well to diced prawn heads and shells; while bream, snapper, flathead, tailor, Australian salmon and yellowtail kingfish can be brought in with more pilchards, tuna and chicken pellets.

Does the water flow make a difference?

In most cases, this isn't an issue. Most currents simply aren't strong enough to sweep your burley away without it having a chance to attract any fish. However, if you do seem to be having trouble, there are a couple of things you can do.

If I'm fishing in around five metres of water with a racing current, the simplest thing to do is throw some of the larger burley pieces (dog or cat pellets) further upstream. These larger pieces will sink to the bottom where, when they finally come to rest, they should land right near the boat.

Similarly, you can use a device that will allow you to place the burley bait directly at the bottom of the river or sea bed.

How much burley should I use?

There's a very fine line between too much burley and not enough. A common error made among inexperienced anglers is that they'll throw out too much too soon. Of course, fish of all sorts will flock to the free buffet, but it won't be long until they've had their fill and the bait on the end of your line will have little to no effect at all. The key here is to make sure that the burley pieces you're using are consistently much smaller than the size of your line bait.

I was recently out at Brown Mountain near Sydney chasing some yellowfin tuna with whole pilchards on a single hook. For burley, I used small 1.5cm cubes of the same - four cubes every five minutes.

When the yellowfin tuna could be seen snacking on the burley pieces, I lowered in my whole pilchard with a single 8/0 Owner circle hook in it. Almost immediately the line was taken.

(I was then thrown into an hour-long battle with a 29kg yellowfin on an 8kg line, but that's a story best saved for another time.)

Which type of burley bucket should I use?

When you're using dry ingredients, a handheld bucket you can empty into the water is more than enough.

The use of wet ingredients, however, can become quite messy - this is where the specialised burley buckets come in. These buckets can be mounted directly on the back of your boat, as long as they're not creating any unnecessary drag when you're moving through the water.

The ideal bucket setup would be one with an adjustable bracket, like the one from Bell Marine. This will allow you to raise and lower the bucket as necessary, so that you can achieve the optimum position in the water.

However, if you're like me and the design of your boat won't allow for such convenience, you still have a few options.

When I'm using a dry mix, a bucket with a lid is easy and cheap, and I can put it anywhere I like. For a wet mix, I normally hang a plastic burley bucket over the side of the boat (just remember to remove it when you take off).

Be gone and burley!

So that's it - burleying in a nutshell. There will inevitably be a fair amount of trial and error when you first start burleying, but it won't be long until you find out exactly what works for you and the fish that you're trying to catch in your area.

Don't forget to check out the burley buckets online at Boat Accessories Australia, as well as related products like bait boxes and bins or bait boards.

Gary has always loved being outdoors. Whether fishing or boating, each day poses a new and welcome challenge - the greatest of which, he finds, is the primal battle between man and fish.

With a career spanning over 40 years, Gary is a regular writer and photographer for a host of established magazines, websites and publishers. Having taught and held demonstrations at tackle stores and fishing clubs around the country, he's always keen to help others get the very best out of their fishing trips so that they too can experience the same enjoyment and passion that he has come to love.

You can follow Gary on Instagram at

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