Inshore Fishing Strategies | Everything You Need To Know

The inshore waters along our south eastern coastline offer a variety of exciting fishing opportunities. The “inshore”, a loose term referring to the waters extending from the coastline out to depths around 60-80m includes washes emanating from headlands, the seaward side of beach breaks, bommies and islands, and areas of deeper reef and rubble. In this vast zone both reef dwelling and pelagic species can be prolific in season. While some anglers specialise on a species, there are others who are adaptable and ready to tackle anything.

They fish for what is on at the time. There might be mackerel swarming over the reef or snapper schooling on the gravel. There could be tailor in the wash or a jew on a ledge. The experienced inshore all-rounder can tackle all these species and more. Along our coastline anglers working in shore require a range of skills. They include beach launching, bar crossing, anchoring, trolling and drifting.

Weather analysis is a constant requirement while sounder interpretation is now an important aspect of every trip. Then there is the effective use of a range of rigs featuring both lures and bait. Over the seasons the inshore all-rounder is a busy angler because while there are fish to be caught today, there are also preparations required for later.

Inshore Fishing Boat

The environment of a particular “home water” will shape the type of boat an angler selects. All fishermen want a reliable and seaworthy craft and today this can range from a 4.5m tiller control tinnie to much larger aluminium and fibreglass craft. It is common to see kayaks and jet skis offshore when the weather is good. If there is an estuary or river with a launching ramp and access to the sea via a bar, then the boat will need the ability to run the bar. This constraint rules out anything with low sides or less power.

The worse the bar, the more seaworthy the boat needs to be. In those areas requiring a semi protected beach or surf launch many anglers will opt for a craft that can take a pounding. Surge and swell can knock a boat around significantly as well as onboard technology and gear. Both car and trailer will also take some knocks and the occasional wave. Traditionally, aluminium was recognised as more suitable for this environment. A tough tinnie can take a pounding, cover a huge range of options, and comfortably fish two or more anglers.

Today, you will also see many anglers beach launch substantial fibreglass rigs without too many issues. Kayak anglers can also get into some great fishing as there are many reefs within a few kilometres of shore that are easily reached using leg and paddle power.

Inshore Fishing Tackle

The all-rounder operating from a smaller boat needs tackle that will perform multiple tasks. As a minimum two medium weight spin outfits will cover a wide variety of jobs. These would be based on 4-5000 thread line reels and 7’ spin rods. These multi-purpose rigs can cover bait catching, float lining, spinning and live baiting. A jig or over-head rod can be used for trolling, live baiting and bottom bouncing. Heavy spin gear cane used for popper and stick bait work, while overhead game outfits are used for trolling for larger predators such as Wahoo, mackerel and small marlin.

A tackle box with a range of light to heavy gauge hooks in suicide, circle, gang and straight patterns will cover most tasks. Likewise, a range of leads including snapper, ball and bomb styles is required. Traces and wire, bait jigs and a set of pliers, scissors and knives are found on most anglers’ boats. There is also a rigging box so the all rounder can quickly produce a new or replacement rig if the need arises.

This box will include lumo beads and tubing, crimps and crimper, ball bearing and standard swivels, wind on leaders, spare braid for rigging and live-bait loops, lighter, shears and sundry other items. Pre-made rigs will keep the crew fishing rather than rigging when the bite is on. They can be kept in boxes lined with close cell foam or in separate zip lock plastic bags.

Inshore Fishing Lures

Lures include jigs, metals, small and medium  skirts, minnows, soft plastics and surface options  (stickbaits and poppers). It is better to carry a  selection of each and restock as losses occur.  Minnows and skirts are used for trolling and  some hard stick baits, metals and soft plastics for  spinning. In some cases, the all-rounder will also  take some metal jigs in weights up to 150 gm or  more. For soft plastics, jig heads in sizes ranging  from seven to 28 gm or more are required.

Inshore Fishing Lures Bait

Many all rounders use both dead and live bait.  There will be a block of pilchards and maybe  some good quality frozen squid in the esky as  insurance for when the live baits don’t bite.  A frozen tuna is also taken for the berley pot.  An early start facilitates bait gathering on  shallow reefs near the bar. Where squid are  plentiful, putting a dozen in the tank is a smart  investment. Slimies, yakkas, pike and garfish are  all highly desirable too.

Trolling some small skirts or Christmas tree lures  will often hook some tuna, bonito and tailor which  are perfect for cut baits and berley as well as live or  dead troll baits. Having a spin outfit ready with a  metal slug means the all rounder can take advantage  of those fleeting bust ups. Tuna from these make  excellent bait or can be trolled dead later.  Bait gathering tackle includes bait jigs and  sinkers, light hand lines, squid jigs, berley cage and  berley, small skirts, bait flies or similar trolling  options and some small (10-25 gm) chrome slugs.

Inshore Fishing Berley

The all rounder has an ongoing requirement for  berley. Many prefer tuna but old bait and fish frames are also used as are prawn and crab shells.  Ideally the angler will have a large chest freezer  to keep the berley in. A tree saw is handy for cutting up frozen tuna or blocks of bait.  This stuff always smells and while it is vital for  good fishing it is also highly detrimental to a  relationship with non-fisher people, so it needs to  be kept away from sensitive noses.

Best Inshore Strategies


Along with what is biting, wind and sea state  influence what strategies the all rounder will employ.  Calmer conditions make anchoring and berleying  viable while blowy choppy conditions may make  trolling or drifting and casting a better option.

Anchor and Berley

On days where conditions are reasonable,  putting the anchor down and getting a good  berley trail working is a highly effective way of  taking some great fish.  Reef anchors should be heavy and have short  prongs. Adding a boat length of chain will increase  the chances of the anchor gripping and staying in  over a session. By anchoring well upstream from  your target you can let out plenty of rope so the  angle is toward 45 degrees and the system can  absorb the shocks from short chop without pulling  the anchor.  Many boats now prefer to use “spot lock” on  their electrics as an alternate to anchoring.

Berley can drift a long way from the boat and  draw in fish from hundreds of metres away. It is  vital the particle and scent stream crosses areas that  attract fish like reef and gravel. Many make the  mistake of anchoring on top of a feature which may  result in the berley missing a large portion of  productive reef. It is often better to be up current of  the main feature and let the berley draw fish in.  Berley containing both heavy and lighter  particles is best applied continuously but  sparingly.

It should tempt but not feed fish. Bigger chunks like tuna heads can be used as  they will settle under the boat and bring in bait  fish. By chopping a big heap of small pieces, the  berley operator can flick one or two chunks in  regularly while tending his or her lines.  A berley pot full of frames and old pilchards can  provide a slick of particles and only requires some  “ramming” every five to ten minutes. I like a frozen  bottle of fine berley chunks hung overboard that  defrosts and provides a constant stream with no  work or noise.

Fill some used plastic milk  containers with a coarse mince of tuna, pilchards  and other suitable material and freeze. Cut part of  the bottom open when ready to use.  In a typical session we will place one or two  live baits under the boat. These are offset so they  don’t tangle. We will both work one or two rods.

As one bait tumbles back at the same speed as  the berley, the other can be left wafting well  back. Vary the size of the sinker to avoid staying  on the surface or plunging straight to the bottom. Commonly we use #0 to #3 ball sinkers.  For snapper one or a pair of snooded 4/0 – 6/0  suicide hooks will work fine. For toothy fish like  mackerel opt for a gang.


If conditions are a little rough or the current is  running hard trolling two or three live baits can  be a great way to cover an area to find fish. Cobia, kingfish, marlin, Spanish and spotted  mackerel all love a live slimie while less loved fish like longtail, striped and mackerel tuna will also  take them and fight hard. Look for bait schools,  areas of reef, the colour change off a river mouth  or current lines with temperature differences.  After catching a dozen or so slimies the ideal  approach is to tow baits at a dead slow pace with  the current. A single hook is placed through the  bait’s nose and a size 1/0 treble is pinned two thirds  the way down the bait. This rig is built on single  strand wire in 58lb or slightly heavier. If marlin are  the target use heavy mono and discard the treble.  Alternately dead baits can be towed, and these  include bonito, garfish, tailor, slimies, pilchards  and pike.

These are rigged so they swim in a  lifelike manner. It requires a degree of skill to achieve this. The key is to add lead to the second hook in the gang to stabilise the bait.  Tow the rig slowly and ensure the bait is pliant  and wriggles as it moves through the water.  Some anglers rig baits before going out then  defrost them as required.  If there is a run of small black marlin then the  in-shore all-rounder can troll small skirted lures or  a mixture of skirts and minnows to tempt these  aggressive juveniles. By catch includes wahoo,  dolphinfish, mackerel and tuna. If small marlin  are thick then trolling current lines quite close to  shore will often be all that’s required. Ideally the  water needs to be hot (24 degrees plus) and a deep  oceanic blue.

The best results come from working  bait schools rippling on the surface. Predators are  never far away from these food sources. Two or three lures can be trolled even from a  small boat. 10-15kg outfits are perfect for this  application. Make sure reels have at least 250m of  line as small blacks can get mobile after hook up.


After a big blow fish like snapper will patrol the  wash zone looking for dislodged food.  Positioning the boat where a cast can be made  into the wash can result in some great catches.  It is vital one person remains ready to instantly  drive the boat out of trouble. In many areas the  back wash will ensure the craft stays out in safe  water, but in some situations the wave action can  draw the boat into the rocks.  The humble pilchard on a gang will take most  fish found here. Tailor, bonito, snapper, bream  and mackerel will readily take this bait. It is  weighty enough to cast and will flutter down  naturally without any additional weight. By using  cunje or prawns anglers can tussle with rock  blackfish and groper where these species occur.  In some situations, the boat can be anchored  or ‘spot locked’ and berley used to draw wash  feeders in.


In areas with extensive reefs in shallower water,  anglers can drift and cast lightly weighted soft  plastics. Light wind and surface chop seem to  enhance the bite and quiet, stealthy anglers can  take some great fish even on very shallow grounds.  Electric motors are now commonplace and used  to keep noise to a minimum. In deeper water this  method works well too but weights are increased.  Jig heads should be just heavy enough to get  down and 7-10gm is a good start. A wide range  of soft plastics will work. Gulps and other  scented options are good.  Alternately pilchards on a gang will do the  same job.


Many in shore all rounders have marks for  snapper, pearl perch and other prized species that  they guard carefully. It may take you quite a few  trips to find your own areas. Mark any knob or  pinnacle as you drive along. As a starting strategy  work well-known reefs early with fresh bait.  While some anglers will drift over reef with  “paternoster” rigs, the best method to take a good  feed is to find and work fish you detect on the  sounder. A ball sinker on top of a pair of hooks  baited with a strip of fresh tuna or pilchard is a  good option. The sinker should be heavy enough  to take the bait down slowly. Experiment to find  the best option on each outing.

Sending a live bait down while you work a pilchard is feasible. In this  case use a heavy barrel sinker to keep the bait directly under the boat and  out of the way or other rods. Position the bait several metres off the  bottom to avoid snags. Live bait will take bigger snapper, pearl perch,  teraglin, kingfish, cobia, jewfish, amberjacks and bonito.

Jigging can be a good alternate or companion strategy. Standard jigs are  popular while slow jigs are often a good option when fish are less active.  Pearl perch and snapper will readily take them. Also kingfish and  amberjack will turn a slow day into the memorable one if you hook an  oversized specimen.


In cool westerly conditions, in shore waters on the east coast flatten out  and become clear. One option when this occurs is to spin the surf zone.  The main target is tailor and salmon. When big schools of mullet are  present, trophy tailor will shadow them and can be caught using this  method. In our area fish up to four or more kilos are caught each season.  Again, one crew member should be alert and ready to steer the boat  clear of waves. Anglers take turns to cast metals or heavy stick baits into  the wash. A steady retrieve will find any takers. By slowly idling along  stretches of beach and headlands, schools of feeding fish can be found. Late season mackerel will occasionally take a lure as well as bonito, salmon and small tuna.

Wrap Up

After a year of hard fishing the camera will record mackerel and small marlin taken in the warmer months, snapper and pearlies in the cooler months, the odd cobia and kingfish and some tailor from the surf. There are shots of  jewies taken as the last glow of the sun fades on the coastal ranges. However,  it’s what might turnup next that grabs many anglers’ attention.

The successful inshore all-rounder will have a plan, but is ready to take  advantage of whatever opportunity arises on a trip. If the late season  mackerel aren’t playing the crew can quickly turn to snapper or live  baiting for kings.

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