Summer surface on the flats

Stinger hooks can increase your catch rates.

• by Michael Randall

I fish many different species from the kayak, fresh and saltwater, across different seasons. With warmer weather well and truly upon us, I am super excited for some surface lure action on the estuary flats for bream and whiting, and it ramps up even more when the prawns start running around the new moons early in the year.

      It is easy to get addicted to those surface ‘boofs’, especially when the smaller fish launch an attack from under the lure and go full aerial like a tarpon! Like many other anglers who love surface fishing, I’m super addicted to the visual aspect, and the way an unexpected strike gets the adrenaline pumping.

Smart anglers will adapt their approach to the prevailing conditions.
A selection of surface lures for bream and whiting.
Whiting are suckers for a fast-moving popper.
Bent Minnow style lures can be very effective.
A hungry bream that fell to a Lucky Craft Sammy.
This bream couldn’t resist a Lucky Craft Gunfish.

      When I first started chasing bream on surface flats I thought I’d cracked it but soon realised it could be feast or famine. To consistently get results some things need to be in your favour: water over your chosen flat or mangrove-lined bank, a good amount of tidal run, a bit of breeze (which conceals your presence and obscures the unnatural aspects of your lure), and also the presence of baitfish or prawns. You need to be in tune with what’s going on, looking for feeding birds, bust-ups, and things like prawns skipping, which might only be detectable when it’s still. These are sure-fire signs that fish are on the flat. Broken weed, rocky outcrops, mangrove lines, current breaks and little drop-offs are all good places to try, depending on the tide stage.

      Sometimes a flat is lifeless and barren, so you need to keep moving as best you can with a kayak. I plan my chosen areas to fish with the tide and launch point, so I can expand my fishing domain.

      Being in a kayak does give you the stealth advantage – I have had fish hit my lure right at the nose of the yak, and then dive hard for the bottom. And if it’s shallow, they seem to fight super hard, running across shallow ground.

      However, don’t get complacent. I’ve had several big blue-nose bream find one lone rock to rub the lure off on!


      When it comes to surface fishing for bream and whiting, there are factors that we can control, and I want to discuss the nuances here that can tip the odds in your favour.

      First of all, on the flats it helps to have a long, light rod with a fast enough action to work your surface walker or popper properly but not pull the hooks. The mainline should be light braid that doesn’t get wind knots; I recommend lightish mono leader a metre or less. I favour threadline reels with larger spool sizes for long casting.

      I use rear stinger hooks on a lot of lures now for better hook-up and landing rates, especially on the whiting, which tend to slash at a lure worked at speed. I tried lots of lures back in the day and found good success on bream with lures like the Lucky Craft Sammy 65 and ZipBaits Fakie Dog, Lucky Craft Gunfish 75 and various 30-50mm poppers. Then it was the Bent Minnows and, the best all-rounder in my opinion, the Imakatsu Dilemma Popper. Changing tack to chase whiting brought the Bassday Sugapen back to a prominent spot in the tackle tray. It’s definitely a gun lure.

      Something to keep in mind with all light hardbodies for bream and whiting is that changing any hardware can alter the balance and action immensely. For that reason you should try to mimic the weight and size of these components if you swap them out.

      Even more important, and where I see others fail, is the willingness to vary your lures and retrieves to match the conditions and the mood of the fish. A general rule is to keep the lure moving to fire up the whiting, and pause and twitch the lure for the bream, but this doesn’t always apply. For example, when it’s millpond still and the tide isn’t running hard, a slower retrieve with a subtle action lure like a Sugapen or a small Bent Minnow may gets them to commit.

      The penny dropped for me on a day where the wind started blowing hard and there was just too much chop for the fish to find my lure. I thought the whole session was trashed, and really got the sulks. Still, I decided to try to fire up some whiting if they were about, with a really fast and splashy retrieve on a Dilemma Popper which walks and splashes.

      To my shock and amazement I soon had a pack of big bream chasing my lure down through the swells with their backs out of the water, as the lure bounced from one wave to the top of the next. I got some epic takes while the lure was moving.

      Polarised sunglasses are a big help for sight fishing on a flat in this way. If you can see a pack of fish fighting over your lure you can be more aggressive with the retrieve, even pulling the lure away from the small ones until that big brute in the school comes charging through to take your lure. If it’s a single bream, you might need a more subtle retrieve with smaller twitches and pauses to entice the strike.

      On those frustrating days when the fish just stare at the lure and won’t commit to taking it off the surface, it can help to have a lure that sits tail-down on the pause (dressed stinger hooks can also help). The Bent Minnow 76 and 86 really excel here as you can drag the lure under the surface with slow twitches, and the fish will smash it sub surface or as it floats back up.

      I reckon one fish on the top is worth half a dozen off the bottom, so a good surface session might not yield that many fish. When there is loads of bait though, and a school of fish, it can be spectacular fishing. I once placed second in a bream kayak competition fishing a 50-100m stretch of bank for almost a whole morning getting a fish or a hit every other cast. Mental!

      A bonus of skinny flats fishing is the rays, turtles and dugongs you see out there. You can be privy to some magic moments with that stealthy kayak presence.

      I hope some of this information helps you refine your current fishing or inspires you to give this a go if you never have.