Fishing Estuary Environments

Fishing Australian Estuaries

Fishing in estuaries can be a fun and exciting experience for anglers. Estuaries are where freshwater rivers meet the saltwater of the ocean, creating a unique environment that can support a diverse range of fish species.

When fishing in estuaries, anglers can use a variety of techniques and gear depending on the targeted species. Popular techniques include bait fishing, lure casting, and fly fishing. Common bait options include live or dead baitfish, prawns and worms while lure options can include soft plastics, hard-bodied lures, and surface poppers.

Estuaries can be particularly productive during changing tides, as the rising or falling water levels can cause fish to move and feed in different areas. It’s important to be aware of local fishing regulations and any size or bag limits for the targeted species, and to take necessary safety precautions when fishing near deep water or strong currents. Overall, fishing in estuaries can be a rewarding way to experience the unique ecosystem and catch a variety of fish species.

Quick Facts

  • Australia has more than 800 estuaries, covering a total area of around 50,000 square kilometers.
  • Estuaries are important breeding and nursery grounds for various fish and other aquatic species and provide habitat for birds, crustaceans, and other wildlife.
  • Australian estuaries host a wide range of fish species due to the mixture of saltwater and freshwater environments. Popular target species include bream, flathead, whiting, mulloway, and barramundi, among others.
  • Estuary fishing is a popular sport in Australia, with numerous bream fishing tournaments held throughout the year.

Common fish caught in Estuaries

Tarwhine are a popular target species for estuary fishing, and can be found in a variety of locations, from shallow flats to deeper channels. Look for areas with structure, such as rock bars or submerged logs, and focus on areas with a good current flow

Red Snapper or Squire are a common species found in estuaries along most of Australia’s coastline. When targeting red snapper or squire in estuaries, it’s important to look for areas with structure, such as rock walls, drop-offs, or submerged reefs.

Where and how to fish estuaries

Estuaries are rich in biodiversity, making them excellent habitats for a variety of fish species. When fishing in Australian estuaries, there are certain spots you should target to improve your chances of a successful catch. Here’s a list of things to consider:

Channels and Drop-offs: These are areas where the water suddenly gets deeper. Fish often congregate in these areas because they provide a good hiding place and are where currents often bring small fish and other food.

Oyster Beds: Oyster beds are a popular hangout spot for many fish species because they provide a good source of food and shelter. They can often be found on the edges of channels or in shallow water.

Mangroves and Vegetation: Mangroves and other vegetation provide excellent cover for fish. Look for areas where the vegetation meets the water, particularly if there’s a drop-off nearby.

Sand and Mud Flats: These areas are great for targeting species like whiting, bream, and flathead, especially during high tide when these species come in to feed.

Rocks and Reefs: Structures such as rocks and reefs provide good cover for fish and are usually surrounded by deeper water.

Points and Headlands: These areas create currents that fish like to feed in. They also provide a good vantage point for predators to ambush their prey.

River & Creek Mouths: These areas are often rich in nutrients and attract a wide variety of species. They’re particularly good during the outgoing tide when food is being washed out of the estuary.

Piers and Jetties: These man-made structures provide a habitat for small fish and crustaceans, which in turn attracts bigger fish.

Each estuary is unique and may require different tactics. It’s always important to respect local regulations and practice catch and release to preserve fish populations for future generations.

The best bait and tackle for fishing estuaries

The best baits and tackle for estuary fishing will depend on the species you’re going after, but here are some broad suggestions:


Live bait: Using live bait such as prawns, yabbies, mullet, or small baitfish can be incredibly successful in luring a variety of fish species, including bream, whiting, flathead, and luderick. Preserve the bait’s liveliness by utilising a bait bucket equipped with an aerator or by changing the water regularly.

Dead bait: Dead bait, including pilchards, prawns, or squid, can also prove effective for certain species like tailor, mulloway, or snapper. Depending on the target species and their feeding patterns, you can chop the bait into small chunks or use it whole.

Artificial lures: Soft plastic lures, hard-body lures, and poppers can be beneficial for targeting predatory fish such as flathead, tailor, jewfish, or trevally. Experiment with diverse colours, sizes, and retrieval techniques to discover the best combination for the conditions and target species.


Rod and Reel: A medium-action spinning rod and reel combo, approximately 7-9 feet in length, is versatile enough for most estuary fishing situations. Opt for a reel with a smooth drag system and spool it with 6-10lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line for better casting distance and sensitivity. If you’re targeting smaller species, use a lighter line.

Leader: Utilise a 10-20lb fluorocarbon leader, depending on the target species and structure. Fluorocarbon is resistant to abrasion and almost invisible underwater, making it harder for fish to spot. Use a lighter leader for smaller species.

Hooks: Choose a suitable hook size and style for your bait. For live bait, a circle hook in the size range of 1/0 to 2/0 can work well, depending on the bait size and target species. For dead bait or soft plastics, use a long shank hook or worm hook, adjusting the size to match the bait.

Sinkers and floats: Depending on the water depth, current, and target species, you might need to use a sinker or float to present your bait at the correct depth. For shallow water or fishing around structure, a running sinker rig or a float rig can work well to keep the bait off the bottom and decrease the chances of getting snagged.

As with any fishing, be ready to adapt your strategy based on the conditions and advice from local anglers in the area. The more you understand the specific behaviours of the fish species in your chosen estuary system, the better prepared you’ll be to select the most effective bait and tackle for success.

Top Target Species

Barramundi are a highly sought-after game fish that can be found in estuaries and rivers throughout northern Australia. They are known for their powerful runs and acrobatic leaps when hooked, making them a thrilling catch for anglers.

When targeting barramundi in estuaries, anglers often use a variety of techniques and gear. Bait options include live or dead baitfish, prawns, and crabs, while lure options can include soft plastics, hard-bodied lures, and surface poppers.


The best time and season to fish estuaries

The best time of day and season for estuary fishing can fluctuate based on the location and the specific fish species you’re looking to catch. Here are some tips on seasons and times.

Time of Day:

In general, estuary fishing tends to be most productive during early morning and late afternoon. Many fish species are active during these times, which aligns with their feeding patterns. Given that some fish are more nocturnal in their feeding habits, dawn and dusk often represent transitional feeding times when fishing can be notably active.


Tidal changes have a huge impact on estuary fishing. Different fish species have preferences for either high or low tide. As a rule, the changing of tides stirs up food sources and prompts fish to be more active. As such, fishing two hours before or after the peak of high or low tide can be a successful strategy.


The best time to fish can also depend on the fish species you’re targeting, as each has different seasonal habits.

Summer (December to February): Warm water species such as whiting, flathead, and mangrove jack are typically more active. Early morning and late afternoon fishing can be particularly productive due to cooler temperatures.

Autumn (March to May): This period is often an excellent time for estuary fishing in Australia. Numerous species, including bream, tailor, and mulloway are active during this season.

Winter (June to August): In the winter months, species such as luderick, bream, and tailor are commonly targeted. Due to colder water temperatures, midday fishing when it’s warmer might yield better results.

Spring (September to November): As the water gradually warms up, many species like flathead, whiting, and mulloway begin to be more active. This season can be particularly rewarding for targeting species like flathead as they move into shallower water to spawn.

Remember, these are broad guidelines, and actual fishing conditions can be influenced by various factors, including local weather and water conditions, bait availability, and more. Always check local fishing regulations, including size and bag limits, before heading out.

Estuary fishing safety and regulations

When estuary fishing in Australia, it’s important to keep safety top of mind and follow all fishing regulations. Here are some key points to consider:


Check the weather: Before heading out, check the local weather forecast. Sudden changes in weather can make conditions dangerous, particularly if you are in a small boat.

Wear appropriate gear: This includes a lifejacket if you’re in a boat, as well as hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect against the sun. Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes if you’re fishing from rocks or a slippery surface.

Be mindful of the tide: Tides can change quickly and you can easily get cut off from the shore, especially in areas with sandbars or oyster beds. Always be aware of the tide times and changes.

Stay hydrated and bring food: Fishing can be a long activity, and it’s important to stay hydrated and have enough food to keep your energy levels up.

Be cautious of local wildlife: In certain areas, be cautious of wildlife such as crocodiles, snakes, and spiders. Always keep a safe distance.


Fishing regulations vary across different states and territories in Australia, but here are some general rules:

Licenses: Most states require a fishing license. Be sure to have the appropriate license for the area where you’re fishing.

Size and Bag Limits: There are specific regulations on the minimum size and the number of fish you can keep. These limits are in place to ensure sustainable fishing practices.

Protected Species: Some species are protected and can’t be caught or must be released if caught. Be aware of these species in the area where you’re fishing.

Fishing Gear Regulations: Certain types of gear may not be allowed in some areas. Check local regulations for information on what types of bait, hooks, and other equipment are permitted.

Closed Seasons and Areas: Some species have closed seasons where they can’t be caught, and certain areas may be off-limits to fishing entirely. Always check the local regulations.

Remember, the goal of these safety guidelines and regulations is to ensure that everyone can enjoy fishing while preserving fish populations for future generations. Always respect the local environment, other anglers, and the fish you catch.

Tips and Tricks for Fishing Estuaries

What areas should I focus on when fishing in estuaries?

Look for areas with structure, such as submerged logs, rock bars, or mangroves, where fish are likely to congregate. Pay attention to any changes in water depth or current, as these can create prime feeding areas.

Like most shallow water fishing, being stealthy is important.

Fish can be easily spooked by noise and sudden movements. Try to minimise noise and movement as much as possible to avoid scaring fish away. Shadows can also spook fish so be mindful of the directions you are fishing and try to keep shadows to your backside.

How to improve your strike rate of bream.

There are numerous tactics for catching estuary bream. Below are a few proven ways to really super charge your hit rate.

Target moored boats – Flicking live bait or lures at the side of boats and letting them slowly sink down will definitely get you some fish.

Docks & piers – Similarly to the tip above, letting baits slowly sink around or under these types of structures will improve your strike rate.

In the absence of the above structure, look for weed and oyster beds to target bream camped out in these natural structures.

Try this cheeky bait trick if your losing your bait to often.

Often times when there are loads of smaller fish feeding around the areas your targeting, you end up losing your bait before landing the larger fish.

One small and very effective tip is to use chicken, it is similar in texture to other baits but is more hardy and will not come off your hook as easily as other baits. Add a bit of fish scent to it and away you go!

Search the Australian
Fish & Marine Life Database

Australian Fish & Marine Species Identification – Freshwater & Saltwater Fish, Sharks, Rays and Invertebrates of Australia.

Explore Other Environments

Australia offers an incredible variety of fishing habitats, including coral reefs, rugged coastlines, pristine estuaries, sandy beaches, meandering rivers, and freshwater lakes, providing anglers with abundant opportunities for fishing – Learn more below.






Ocean rocks



Discover More

Dive into our resource library to learn fun facts and get information on everything about estuary fishing and more. All your Australian marine life and lifestyle resource in one place!

Paternoster Rig & Variations

The paternoster rig and its variations are a popular and easy rig to create. It can be created with single or...

Tips for hiring a boat

Hiring a boat is an excellent way to explore the beautiful waterways of Australia. Whether you want to go fishing,...

Top boating activities

Australia is surrounded by water, with a vast coastline and numerous lakes, rivers, and waterways, making it a...

What type of boat is best for me?

Australia is a nation surrounded by water, making boating a popular recreational activity for many Australians....

An introduction to game fishing

Game fishing is a popular recreational activity in Australia. Known for its vast coastline and abundant marine...

How to catch squid

Catching squid is a popular pastime in many coastal communities around the world. Whether you're an experienced...