Inland Fishing

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent with 70% receiving between 100 and 350mm of rainfall annually. So with such little rainfall, you may wonder whether Australia has a good freshwater fishery. This article explores Australia's inland fishing possibilities and includes a general overview of what to catch, where and how.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: July 2008
Revised: February 2015
Latest Feedback: May 2014

Inland Fishing in Australia

Well it’s true that Australia’s arid and semi-arid inlands may be virtually devoid of permanent waterways, however, most of the coastal fringe and the highlands enjoy good rainfall. These waterways can delve a long way from the coast too. Just look at the Murray River which begins in the Snowy Mountains in NSW, travelling for over 2,500kms before meeting the Southern Ocean in South Australia. Most inland waters are on public property and anglers generally have easy access to rivers and lakes. That said however, check with your state or territory’s freshwater fishing laws to see if you need a recreational fishing license.

Freshwater Fishing for Everyone!

Many freshwater bodies around the country are slowly starting to show an increase in fish stock. The Government and its fisheries departments are working hard to increase the fish numbers in our lakes and rivers by implementing many programs such as: fish stocking of natural and artificial lakes, large-scale hatchery and breeding programs, angling rules and regulations, commercial fishing bans, closed seasons and noxious fish culling. A healthy inland fisheries environment that is both balanced and sustained provides more fish to go round for generations to come.

Inland Fishing Regions

Nearly all freshwater fish species have a preferred environment that is determined by climatic and water conditions. Although many species can adapt to new environment, fish living in preferred waters will typically be in abundance, growing to their full potential size. Species such as rainbow and brown trout will typically prefer the higher cold alpine waters; however they can also flourish in the lower elevations away from the mountain country. There are also hardy tough natives like golden perch that can live in a variety of environments from warm sluggish inland waters to turbid backwaters and billabongs. The inland fishing waters in Australia can be broadly classified as tropical, temperate and cold.

Tropical

The tropical freshwater bodies of Australia include those found in the Northern Territory, tropical Western Australia and tropical Queensland. Heavy monsoonal rains feed a number of rivers, and many permanent and semi-permanent lagoons. Many of these water bodies are home to the famous barramundi, which is one of the most sought after prize fish for its fighting abilities and table qualities. Heading towards the temperate waters further south, barramundi becomes less popular and instead, fish species like sooty grunter, saratoga, golden perch, bass and catfish become more abundant.

Temperate

The warmer temperate freshwaters include the Murray - Darling River systems and those found in the low-lying areas of New South Wales and Victoria. These warmer waters are ideal for species such as Murray cod, estuary perch, golden & silver perch, redfin and Australian bass. Towards the warmer inland waters from the outskirts of the alpine regions in Victoria, Macquarie perch and river blackfish can be caught. These native fish species are highly sought after in Victoria; however Macquarie perch is not targeted in New South Wales as it is fully protected.

Cold

These colder freshwater bodies can be found in Western Australia’s southwest corner, and the cold alpine waters of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. In these states and especially in the alpine regions, trout are the only significant angling species. However, as the elevation decreases, trout shares its environment with many others such as redfin. Trout is rather common in the southwest corner of WA where it shares a similar climate to Victoria and New South Wales. The trout capital of Australia is without doubt Tasmania, where the state has the most ideal habitat with the majority of freshwater lakes and streams holding good numbers.

Inland Fishing Techniques

There are many fishing techniques that can be very effective when used in the right environment. The popular techniques for freshwater inland fishing are baitcasting, lure casting and trolling, and for the keen-eyed trout angler - fly fishing.

Baitfishing

Baitfishing is the most widely known fishing style and involves using real bait such as worms or prawns to entice the fish. Like many techniques these days, baitfishing has become quite ‘technical’, considering the many types of baits (live or dead) that can be used and the various rig setups there are. Nevertheless, the baitfishing basics can still be employed to produce good results. Some baitfishing practices include natural bait drifting and bottom fishing.

Natural Bait Drifting

Natural bait drifting is the art of casting and retrieving virtually unweighted baits. This technique requires perfectly tuned gear and a good knowledge of natural baits as well as weather conditions. It used to be the main method of catching fish like trout before flyfishing was developed. The style is well-suited for small rivers, creeks and lakes that are sheltered out of the wind. It is more advantageous to cast into very calm waters and have a slight wind behind you. Trout for example will have no problem taking baits that can float on the surface such as small mudeyes (dragonfly larvae) or minnows.

Bottom Fishing

This technique uses natural baits or lures to target fish closer to the bottom of rivers, streams or lakes. Bottom fishing can be successfully achieved using a balanced combination of running sinkers and floats. When fishing the bottom terrain, it is recommended to use the running sinker rig with an added float to suspend the bait just above the reeds, weeds or even amongst timber. The main purpose of a running sinker is to allow the line to run freely through the sinker when a fish picks up and pulls on the bait. Bottom fishing can also be very effective using lures - especially those designed for targeting specific bottom dwelling species such as Murray cod and Eel-tailed catfish.

Lure Casting & Trolling

Lure casting is the technique that describes casting and retrieving of artificial baits, whilst lure trolling works on the same principle except the lure is usually towed behind a moving boat. Lures are typically made of metal, wood or plastic and are designed to mimic bait fish and other fish food. You can also purchase lures specifically designed to appeal to a particular fish such as barramundi or Murray cod. A lure does not need to look exactly like the prey to be successful so long as it imitates features such as movement and colour. Some of the main groups of lures include: soft plastics, spinner blades, surface, minnows, spoons and slices.

Fly fishing

Fly fishing is the technique of casting almost weightless artificial lures called flies. Flies are made of materials such as fur, feathers and artificial substitutes. They are designed to imitate insects like mayflies, caddis and beatles. Since flies are so light, casting can be very challenging and thus requires the use of heavy lines, long flexible rods and not to mention - good casting skills. An angler must swing the rod back and forth in the air as to generate enough line speed for a successful cast. This skill requires some practice to keep the fly airborne and to accurately cast into a designated area. Fly fishing can be used for targeting almost any freshwater fish, although trout is the species that responds exceptionally well to the technique. The two categories that flies fall under are dry and wet.

Dry Flies

Dry flies are designed to float on the top of the water surface. They are commonly used for targeting trout, which frequently feed on small insects like mayflies or caddis floating on the surface. These flies look very close to the insects they are imitating and come in two categories - terrestrial and aquatic. The commonly used terrestrial dry flies include Kelly’s Hopper, Gum Beetle and Red Tag, which imitate terrestrial insects like large beetles. Aquatic dry flies favoured by anglers are: Black Spinner, Royal Wulff, Blue Dun and Elk Hair Caddis, which imitate airborne insects such as mayfly, caddis and damselflies.

Wet Flies

Wet flies are designed to sink and are used to target deeper dwelling fish such as Murray cod and golden perch. When retrieved, many wet flies are designed to imitate the behavior of a particular organism swimming through the water. Nymphs are flies whereby their pattern resembles the nymphal stage of freshwater insects like mudeyes and caddis. Bead-head, Brown and Damselfly Nymphs are three wet flies that can be used for trout. Other more general wet flies include Mrs Simpson and Tom Jones, which are designed to imitate aquatic animals such as bait fish and water beetles.

Inland Fish Species

Throughout Australia’s inland waters, there are over 196 native freshwater fish species from 35 families and 24 exotic freshwater species from 7 families. Some exotic species were introduced into Australia for their sporting or ornamental qualities, while others were introduced for aquaculture or biological control of mosquitoes. Like many introduced species, this has unfortunately brought with it some problems such as the decline of native species due to the aggressive and territorial nature from some exotics like redfin. For an in-depth look at freshwater fish found in Australia - including scientific and family names, please check out the Summary of Australian Freshwater Fish from Native Fish Australia.

For more information including photos of individual fish species in NSW, there’s an excellent guide in the PDF format called What fish is this? A guide to freshwater fish in NSW created by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Below is a state-by-state list of the more familiar freshwater fish species found in our inland waters.

Western Australia

Barramundi, black & bony ream, eel-tailed & fork-tailed catfish, northern garfish, sooty grunter, mangrove jack, redfin, roach, Atlantic salmon, brown & rainbow trout.

Northern Territory

Barramundi, bony bream, fork-tailed catfish, northern garfish, sooty grunter, freshwater herring, mangrove jack, roach and northern saratoga.

South Australia

River blackfish, black & bony bream, European carp, Murray cod, freshwater herring, golden & silver perch, redfin, roach, Atlantic & Chinook salmon, tench, brown & rainbow trout.

Queensland

Barramundi, Australian bass, bony bream, eel-tailed & fork-tailed catfish, Mary River cod, Murray cod, long-finned & short finned eel, northern garfish, leathery & sooty grunter, freshwater herring, mangrove jack, freshwater long tom, freshwater mullet, jungle perch, golden & silver perch, roach, northern & southern saratoga.

New South Wales

Australian bass, river blackfish, black & bony bream, European carp, eel-tailed catfish, eastern cod, Murray cod, long-finned & short-finned eel, Australian grayling (totally protected in NSW), freshwater herring, freshwater mullet, estuary perch, golden & silver perch, Macquarie perch (totally protected in NSW), redfin, roach, Atlantic & Chinook salmon, tench, brook trout, brown & rainbow trout.

Australian Capital Territory

European carp, golden & silver perch, Murray cod, redfin, brown & rainbow trout.

Victoria

Australian bass, river blackfish, black & bony bream, European carp, eel-tailed catfish, Murray cod, long-finned & short-finned catfish, Australian grayling (totally protected in Victoria), freshwater herring (totally protected in Victoria), estuary perch, golden & silver perch, Macquarie perch, redfin, roach, Atlantic & Chinook salmon, brook trout, brown & rainbow trout.

Tasmania

River blackfish, black bream, long-finned & short-finned eel, Australian grayling (totally protected in Tasmania), freshwater herring, estuary perch, redfin, Atlantic & Chinook salmon, tench, brown & rainbow trout.

Inland Fishing Tips

One of the most important freshwater angling skills needed is the ability to study the environment and read the water. This involves studying the river or lake, reading the water flow and predicting the locations where fish would normally habitat. Casting your bait or lure into a potential habitat will greatly increase your chances then casting into an open area void of fish.

The habits of freshwater fish - and especially the bigger dominant species can be predictable. They generally enjoy taking up the prime positions in the river or lake. This may be near the main current flow, although not directly in it, as they want to ambush any morsels drifting with the current. Usually the prized positions will be in shelter near slight water flow where food passes often. Bigger fish may enjoy living in the deeper, slower flowing sections, either in the pools or the holes. The water can be read by studying the path of floating leaves and insects and where they end up.

Trout do not like hot weather and they tend to seek solace in the deeper waters. These waters can be targeted as the depths of pools can be roughly determined by the steepness of its river banks. Fish such as Australian bass, Murray cod and barramundi enjoy the protection of underwater timber and overhanging branches. Many of these structures provide good hiding places against predators and also a place to ambush passing food.

Polaroiding is a technique used by trout anglers during bright days where the water conditions are clear. It involves wearing polarised sunglasses to remove the glare from the water which enables much clearer vision below it. Fly fishers can visually locate their target if it be an unusual movement or the flash of scales and then present the fly in the right spot.

Coarse Angling

In a nutshell, coarse angling is freshwater bait fishing for ‘coarse fish’. The history goes back hundreds of years ago to medieval England where class hierarchy determined what fish was allowed to be kept. The higher class aristocrats were permitted to catch prime table fish such as trout and salmon often from the highlands. On the other hand, the lower class commoners were only allowed to catch and keep fish whose flesh was considered too coarse for the table. Hence the term ‘coarse angling’, which has been a prominent sport in the United Kingdom and Europe for the past half a century, is now becoming a popular sport in Australia.

There are three recognised coarse fishing disciplines namely match fishing, specimen fishing and leisure fishing. Fishing in the popular match fishing discipline is said to be one of the best ways to hone your fishing skills. In match fishing, the winner is declared as the one with the heaviest net of live and then released fish. Like any sport, there are rules in place to follow. Anglers are generally allowed to employ specialised fishing gear such as long and very sensitive float or quiver tip rods, finely tuned floats and small hooks. The ‘coarse’ fish usually targeted in coarse angling are carp, redfin and tench.

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