Fishing mistakes: The practical side of things
  |  First Published: May 2017

In the final installment of this series, we’ll be looking at bait and lure presentation, and the other little one percenters that give us an edge when we’re out on the water. This is an area often overlooked by anglers, but in reality it can make all the difference.

Bait presentation

The old adage that fresh is best is very applicable to bait fishing. What is also important is how the bait is presented on the hook so it looks as natural as possible.

Unfortunately, some anglers mistakenly think they are in with a good chance of a few fish when they throw out huge globs of frozen squid (or similar) on their hook or toss out prawns that go increasingly black as they leave them in the sun beside their bucket.

Alternatively, some anglers may go to the trouble of catching live bait (or even buying it) like live worms or yabbies, but they then present it in such a way that it either flies off the hook during the cast or sits unnaturally in a ball at the bottom of the hook.

To maximise your chances of success when bait fishing, anglers should use live baits, or very fresh or quality frozen baits. Catching live baits can not only be productive and save you money, but it can also be a heap of fun too! For tips on catching a variety of baits, check out my July 2015 article in QFM on bait collection tips, tricks and tools, which is available online.

When presenting baits, make sure the point of your hook is exposed and the bait lies naturally along it. For live worms, this means you should thread the worm up and over the eye of the hook and present it straight, leaving 1-2cm dangling off the end. For bigger baits like tailor slabs off the beach, snooding two hooks is a good option to keep the bait straight. Baits such as a live prawn, shrimp or even a pilchard tail can also be presented neater and stop them flying off or tearing by tying a half hitch around the bait.

Lure presentation

Probably one of the funnier moments I’ve had fishing was when I went fishing with a mate for trout once near Goulbourn, NSW. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him tie on a Wonder Wobbler, cast it out, then sit down and have a beer. After a couple of minutes when I realised he wasn’t going to retrieve it. I asked “Aren’t you going to retrieve that back through the water?” he answered with, “You mean I have to retrieve it?”

It cracked me up at the time, but seeing similar incidents since then has made me realise we shouldn’t assume that everyone knows what to do with a lure!

Another mistake I have seen involves anglers using the wrong lures for the area they are fishing, or the fish they are chasing. If I see this, I will always offer some words of advice, as it saddens me to think that businesses are happy to sell them lures, but not explain where or how to use them. It is another reason that anglers should do their research before handing over their hard-earned cash.

Once again, presentation is critical when lure fishing, probably even more so than bait fishing. Anglers who hurriedly put their soft plastic tails on that are so bent they are almost at right angles to the hook, should not expect the fish to jump on their hooks. Likewise, anglers using hardbody lures need to check if the lure tracks straight in the water first before casting it out or trolling it. At times, the bib can move slightly off centre and cause the lure to swim to one side. This can easily be corrected by ‘tuning’ the tow point of the lure with a pair of pliers by bending it the opposite direction to which it is swimming, i.e. if the lure runs left, bend the tow point to the right.


How fish react to movement, smells and noise is probably one area where the fishing fraternity is still learning. What we do know is that fish tend to perceive ‘good’ (potential food source) and ‘bad’ (danger) signals from what they see, smell and hear.


While we still have a lot to learn about what fish see, we do know that fish use their eyes to spot and chase their prey and can also differentiate between colours in clear, shallow water.

This means two key things for anglers, we want to avoid the fish spotting us, and we want to think about what the right colour lures to suit the water colour.

I think it would be fair to say that there would be very few saltwater anglers that have not seen the puff of mud or sand and the blur of a flathead speeding off into the distance after they have spooked them at the waters edge or while wading. What anglers don’t realise is they have quite likely spooked other species of fish close to the shore over the years that they didn’t even see.

Whiting are one species that will feed right on the edge of the shore where waves from a small inner gutter are breaking right on the sand.

Trout will also feed right on the water’s edge, particularly at night when the water is rising over new ground exposing new food sources.

For this reason, anglers chasing such fish should approach the shore cautiously and even throw their first casts 10-15m back from the water’s edge. After you have worked the edge of the shore, you can then move a bit closer to cast a little further out. Once you are in the water and wading in an estuary or a lake, you want to move very slowly so as not to splash or thump the bottom and spook the fish.

Lure colours and accessories

When it comes to choosing lure colours, I’ve heard skeptical anglers claim a tackle shop is just trying to sell them more lures when they suggest different lure colours for different water conditions. I believe you should carry a few different colours according to the water conditions. Basically, natural or clear colours are best for clear water, while at the other end of the spectrum, fluorescent lures are better in dirty water while dark colours like dark blue, black or purple lures will present a silhouette if fished in very dirty water or at night.

A couple of coloured accessories can also help the fish spot your bait. This includes the addition of red tubing or beads just above your hook for whiting, and adding a small green glow-bead just above your hook and charging it up with a light source for fishing at night.


Using berley off a boat, wharf, rockwall or from the shore of a beach or estuary is a great option, provided it is done the right way. The scent of the oils and sight of the berley can bring fish to you.

Unfortunately though, anglers can make the mistake of too much berley, or use it in that in such a way it takes the fish away from you. For example, I’ve seen boat anglers on an artificial reef throwing out pilchard pieces or handfuls of mashed berley during the middle stages of the tide, only to see it drift past us well down current and still floating near the top of the water. They not only didn’t catch fish, but we had to move as well as it took our fish away with it.

The other thing that can happen is that anglers throw out berley intermittently resulting in a ‘broken trail’, and once again lose any fish it might have attracted.

A better option during the mid stage time of the tide is to use a berley bucket or cage and anchor it on the bottom near your boat, or stake it to the beach and let the waves roll it around and disperse the berley close to shore. During the slower periods of the tide you can throw out handfuls of berley, but make sure it is a consistent stream. Start with a couple of handfuls and then throw some more out every few minutes.

Discoloured water

To be a successful angler you need to think like a fish. That includes thinking about where fish might be at a certain stage of the tide, or, where they go when conditions change due to a change in water temperature or water colour. This means that just because you might have got a nice catch of bream on yabbies near some sunken timber in your local estuary one day, it doesn’t mean that will catch them on the same bait in a couple of days time after there has been a major downpour that has discoloured the water.

If the fish can’t see their potential food source, they need to sense it by some other means and this includes smell. Therefore, in times where the water is dirty, be it an estuary, dam or river, anglers need to adapt their baits accordingly as they should lure colour. Oily fish baits, or baits marinated in tuna oil can really come into their own in these circumstances.

Good and bad smells

Transferring unnatural smells onto baits and lures is another in the fishing mistakes category that anglers don’t even realise they are making. Catching fish can be hard at times, so it is important that we give ourselves every chance to maximise success, and that includes not transferring unnatural smells onto our baits and lures.

Before you touch a bait or lure, make sure you wash your hands well after applying sunscreen; filling the car, 4WD or boat up with fuel; or after having a cigarette. Better still, you can apply one of the many fishing scents now on the market to the bait and your finger tips, or sacrifice one of your baits by squishing it and rubbing it over your finger tips and hands. You then simply wash your hands in the water and dry them on a rag so you don’t make your rod and reel handle greasy from the oils.

I first started using scents 20 years ago when fishing for trout with bardi grubs at Lake Jindabyne and Eucambene. Halco Freshwater Catch Scent was especially designed for freshwater fishing and was said to attract trout to your bait from the oils and scent it permeated. Interestingly, despite using the same rigs, bait and tackle as my mates fishing side by side with me, my results using the scent were consistently better. The cause, my mates claimed, was my use of ‘cheat bait’. Unperturbed by this sledging, I continued to use it and despite some stubborn resistance, my mates evidentially joined the fold! It works!

I now also use scents, such as Pro-Cure and S-Factor on all my lures, whether they are soft plastic, hardbodies or metal vibes. My reasoning is that it masks the unnatural smells mentioned above such as sunscreen. Further, I find especially with soft plastics, that fish such as bream and flathead will come back for a second or third hit on the plastic covered in scent with much more consistently than fishing without them. There are also scents such as Ultrabite, which is said to contain fish pheromones and stimulate fish to feed. I’m not sure about the validity of those claims, but I have used it on my lures and in my berley and it does seem to be effective.


I have seen and heard all too often well intentioned anglers giving clear instructions to fellow anglers to keep their voices down and the radio volume low or “it will spook the fish”. Yet these same anglers will bang about on the bottom of their aluminium boat to get the anchor out, throw around gear (such as steel yabby pumps) or otherwise move about clumsily or noisily. Once located, they will then give the anchor and chain an almighty swing and toss into the distance that even a champion rodeo cowboy would be proud of! Once the anchor is down, they will then toss out a bait with a lump of lead that could almost act as an anchor for the boat, which of course causes another almighty splash.

Another mistake I see boat anglers (including more experienced anglers) make quite regularly is ignoring the impact of the noise of the motor on the fish. All too often I see them roaring up at full speed to their desired location having scared off any fish in the immediate location. A better option is to slow down when you are within about 50m of your spot, and if you have an electric motor, use that for the last 10-20m or so. Similarly, I see anglers who are drifting over a spot, return to the start of their drift by motoring directly over the water they are about to start drifting again. A far better option is to swing around in a wide arc and again slow right down as you approach the start of the drift.

From the shore, I’ve seen fellow trout anglers get up before the crack of dawn, drive their vehicle right down to the lakes edge then thump about setting up their rod and chairs inches from the shoreline. After a while, they then look across and ask each other why my mates and I seem to be catching fish only 20m away while they haven’t got a touch in the first hour of their arrival.

I have also experienced first hand the effect of anglers wading very noisily on the flats either between locations or making their way back to shore to land a fish from the flats. When they get to their desired spot, often next to their disgruntled mate who they have ‘claim jumped’ they then wonder why neither they nor their mate (who was catching fish consistently), can now not get a bite!

The answer lies in the fact that fish can hear and feel sounds whether they come from above or below the water (including vibrations from the water’s edge). So keep the music down, tread softly and move about in your boat as quietly as possible!


Finally, there are a couple of fishing techniques that I see some anglers adopt that can cost them fish.

The first is the ‘set and forget’ technique with rods. While placing your rod vertically in a holder off the beach can make sense to keep your line above the first breakers and stop it getting washed in, it can also help hook fish that hit the bait hard like tailor and salmon. However, it is not always the best technique to use for all species yet I see it all the time.

When setting your rod in a holder in an estuary, lake or calm water flats, keep the rod low and parallel to the water, allowing fish like whiting, flathead or freshwater species to take the bait and run and thus not feel the resistance of an upright rod. Switched on trout anglers also use baitrunner reels or open the bail arm of their reel and lightly bluetac the line to the rod so the fish can pick up the bait and feel little resistance as they move off with it.

Secondly, sweep from the beach can be an area that frustrates anglers to no end, having their lines washed sideways into other anglers lines or into the shore. In such conditions, anglers should ditch ball sinkers for star or breakaway sinkers to get a better hold. Sometimes even this doesn’t work so it is then best to move along the gutter or channel until you find a rip, where the sweep is dragging water out to sea. From here you want to fish the side opposite to where the sweep is running out to sea. You will find this area much easier to fish with much less sweep.


So there you go! Fishing is a fantastic pastime and can be very rewarding and relaxing. But it can also be frustrating if you keep losing, or not catching fish and not understand why. I hope these tips and tricks help you catch more fish and learn from your mistakes. I hope it also encourages you to keep learning more from time on the water, with guides or reading magazines and books.

For more tips, reports and giveaways, check out my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ontourfishingaustralia. Until next month, bag your mates – not your limit!

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