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How to Systematically Catch Fish

Sean Bekkers shares how he gets the most out of his time on the water by establishing "milk runs". 

In Australia, we have some unbelievable fishing that include everything from fresh, estuary, beach, rock, offshore, blue water and more. However, if your fishing trips are anything like mine, you may find fitting them in around other commitments like family, work and life in general can often get in the way of an epic fishing mission.  Apart from the odd full day trip or overnighter I am usually on the water for no more than 6 hours chasing fish around my local waterways.  To get the most out of this time on the water I have what I call a “Milk Run” spots I like to fish depending on what time of year it is.  So for this article I’ll run you through a few things I take into consideration when establishing a milk run.


The time of year will often make a difference as to what fish are holding in a particular area. Factors like water temperature, weather conditions, tides and bait are all huge factors that will influence a spot and can often mean the difference between donuts and success.  Over the years, I myself have been guilty of heading straight back to a spot because it produced an awesome fish and have been left disappointed because I have not even raised a bite.  How often have you back to the same spot for no reward?

Nowadays, when I’m fishing a familiar waterway or my local I’ll fall back on a milk run to maximise my chances of landing fish for a relatively short time on the water. 

Target species

First off, you will need to settle on a target species or multiple species that you are likely to target for that session.  For example if I’m chasing mulloway I’m usually always chance of a flathead on the same presentation or if a target flathead there is usually a by catch of bream or grunter, the same goes for off shore, if I’m chasing tuna there is always a chase of mackerel, in a nutshell establish a target species. For this article, I will focus on the estuary side of things and in particular flathead and associated bycatches.

Real estate

Once you got a target species in mind, it’s time to establish likely locations to fish based on the tide, as flathead are comfortable being in everything from a few centimetre of water to 30 meters, they can be caught on all phases of the tide.  For me, the less water between fish the better so the last 2 hrs of run out and first 2 hours of run in tide are my preferred flathead bite times and with this in mind my milk run of spots are made up of edges “edge bite” that provide structure for the bait to hold around. 

Spots that have rock, weed banks, mangrove edges and most of all drains or water flow that funnels the bait are all good spots and will defiantly hold bait as some stage of the tide and further more year.  I have spots that fish really well at different times of the year for example some of the smaller rocky patches tend to hold better quality fish throughout the summer months rather than the winter months, so just because it’s not firing for you now it could later.  Hot tip:  go a little old school, if you’re going to put the ground work in to establish a milk run keep a diary of conditions that works and didn’t work and jot down things like the weather, tide, bait, month and time. These will all help establish a pattern. 

When covering ground and likely locations for your milk run it worthwhile having a quality sounder. I prefer one that has a combination of charts, traditional sonar, down and side scan and use a Lowrance Elite TI2 (12inch).  Although peppering the edges like a weed bank edge will produce fish, keeping an eye on your sounder will increase the chances of you catching more and potentially better quality fish. For example a small patch of rock could be holding bait on the other side of the boat and by having a quality sounder you’ll notice these type of areas.  The sounder really is your underwater eyes and will give you an amazing perspective of what’s going on in an area.  

Bait and presentation

Bait is the key ingredient to finding fish, so as long as your spot is holding bait it should hold fish. As I stated earlier bait will move and change locations throughout the year and what is considered as bait will depend on what fish you are targeting. Staying on the estuary side of things flathead will eat just about everything and squid, yabbies, prawns, fish are all on the menu but this can vary throughout the year. Within my local system yabbies and bait fish are the stable food source with the squid and prawn quantities fluctuating depending on the season.   So for the most part when I’m chasing flathead I’ll opted for a presentation that matches the local bait fish.

Once you have found that likely looking ground keep an eye out for the bait moving about, small hearing, hardy heads and whiting are common species I see hanging around when scanning the surface and I match my presentations according to size and bait profile. Zman Slim Swimz, Grubz and Minnowz match on ¼ to 3/8th TT jig head are always a good starting point with the sizes ranging from 2-3 inches. Even though my intended target is flathead having plastics that around the 2-3 inch mark means I am always a chance of a by catch. Species like whiting, estuary GT’s and grunter are always a possibility and a welcome surprise. 

The Milk Run

Now to string it all together, for the most part developing a milk run is not something you’ll pull together in a few weeks or even a year unless you already have a few different spots up your sleeve. Starting from scratch will require a lot of trial and error and good research on your local system. There is a tone of information on the internet to help get you started and any local knowledge you can gain along the way will definitely help.  In a nutshell for each stop on your milk run what you really want is a pattern that works, a pattern which can be easily applied to over and over again to similar type of  ground, in my case an edge bite on the bottom end of the tide. 

Below is a list of what I look for each time I stop: 

  • Find an edge preferably one that drains from the flats back into the deeper water (the bait has to come off the flat)
  • Find fish holding structure on that edge, weed, logs and rocky ground are always a good starting points.
  • Located the bait either on the surface or on the sounder.
  • If the bait is holding start casting

If following a few casts I still don’t have a bite, I’ll either cycle through a different presentation or move onto another spot and repeat the process above until I find the fish.

I’m not going to lie, some days I haven’t won a trick and have covered a lot of ground, but this works to my advantage.  I have spent time watching the sounder and marking interesting looking ground for later. At some time thought out the tide cycle, month or even the year that spot will hold fish for some reason. These seemly empty areas fill a spot on my milk run, until I unlock a time that it fires. 

So if you find that sometimes you’re a little random in your approach to fishing your local water ways, this milk run approach might just work for you. Obviously from a boat you have the advantage of covering a lot of  different ground  quickly but this approach can be applied to anything like a kayak or even land based, you find a lot of experience anglers already have this systematic type approach to their fishing and it definitely help catch fish when your pressed for time.

I hope you’re finding a few.