Shallow water fun – fishing the flats in Marlo by Peter Jung

Throughout East Gippsland many of the systems have large shallow expanses of water that people disregard to search for deeper water to go fishing. The Snowy River system at Marlo is a perfect example of this. Huge areas of sand are exposed at low tide and are only knee deep at the top of the tide.
Although there are many signs that fish inhabit these areas, most anglers ignore them and head to the main channels of the system, leaving some great fishing areas unexplored. I would like to give you an insight into the fishing options available to those willing to get out and explore.
The main areas I wish to discuss in this article revolve around water that is 2-3ft deep and peters off to very shallow margins. The best part about all of these areas is that they are best accessed on foot, which means that anybody can give it a go.
There are a few things to remember when you are looking to fish shallow flats. It is quite possible that at low tide the majority of the area you want to fish will be totally exposed and therefore the peak times to fish will be from the start of the run-out tide.
In the case of waters where the bar is closed (recently the Marlo Bar was no longer passable by boat) first light or last light are great options. Even choose an area where the wind is blowing towards the bank you're fishing from. Keeping these things in mind when planning your outing will maximise the chances of catching a fish.
The key to walking the flats is keeping it simple. A small backpack or bum bag for your gear and a drink, plus a 2-4kg spin outfit spooled with 4-6lb main line, is all you'll need.
It pays to have a mixture of lures from 2-4" soft plastics matched with 1/8oz and 1/4oz jigheads, to a variety of hardbody lures that cover the 2-6ft diving depth range. The other lure option that is a must is a crab imitation, whether it's a soft plastic style or a Cranka Crab. They can be deadly when other lures don't seem to work.
Footwear is the other thing to keep in mind. The flats in Marlo are predominantly sand and are quite firm, so I tend to go barefoot. However, Crocs or thigh waders (in the cooler months) can offer a bit more protection and peace of mind.
There are three parts to the planning process when it comes to fishing the flats. Firstly, in the tidal areas you'll need to know what the tides are and how much tidal movement there will be.
Secondly, scope out the area from above. Marlo has a number of vantage points along the Marlo Conron Road that you can look out over the water, so you can get a feel for where the shallow and deep water areas are. This will help you decide where you want to try. Google Maps is another avenue to find likely areas.
Lastly, walk likely areas at low tide. Walking the flats when no water is present is fascinating. You are looking for likely food sources (yabby holes, soldier crabs running around, soft shell and worm beds). Where there is food, the fish won't be too far away.
You'll also find evidence of fish and their movements. Flathead lies are fantastic sources of information. They not only let you know that the fish have been there, but they also show you their movement as the tide has dropped. Take note, as they are creatures of habit and are likely to be in the same areas during the next high tide.
You'll also see where bream, whiting and even trevally have been digging to get themselves a feed. Find concentrations of these spots to narrow down your areas to try when you return to fish.
There are lots of options and very good access to the shallow water fishing in Marlo. The foreshore that extends from the Marlo Boat Ramp all the way around to where the Snowy River splits can be accessed from Beach Road at the boat ramp and via a number of walking paths that descend down from opposite the Marlo Ocean Views Caravan Park.
You then have another path that goes down from the Mots Beach Car Park and another walking trail descending down from French Narrows. These are all part of the Snowy River Coastal Walk, well-maintained and make getting to the water easy.
The main species you are likely to catch are bream, flathead, whiting, silver trevally and tailor. The beauty of fishing for all of these species is that many of the methods to target them will work on multiple species. I find that it is still best to focus on a species and if you get another, happy days.
I love catching flathead in shallow water. There have been times on the flats that I have hooked fish and they have leapt from the water before heading across the flats looking for deeper water. There are a few keys with the flathead. Fish a heavier leader; 10lb minimum is required, as their raspy teeth will wear through light leaders.
Flathead are an ambush feeder and love to take advantage of depth changes, channels and bottom changes (they will hang around single rocks or next to weed beds in the middle of sand). Don't think that some water is too shallow.
Always put a cast in front of where you intend to fish; there is nothing worse than spooking a fish while you rush to get to your next casting spot. If you look at where some of the flathead lies are, you will understand how shallow these fish will sit and wait for food to swim past.