There’s no need to hang up your fishing equipment just because the weather turns cold. Scott Thomas shares a seasonal guide to the many Winter fishing options out there.

Our temperate climate allows keen fishos to enjoy their pastime all year round. Most populated areas in Australia, even in the southern states, still experience mild conditions compared with North America and Europe. We don’t often get “snowed under” and we don’t have any reason to hang up our gear and hibernate or find another hobby during the off season. That said, while we can enjoy year-round fishing, changes in temperatures and oceanic currents typically change the way we fish and the species of fish on offer. For this reason, it’s worth understanding how the changes of seasons work and what species are most prevalent during the cooler months. Before we go any further, it’s worth noting the type of species on offer varies greatly between states and even more between the tropics and the south.

Ocean Currents

To understand winter fishing you need to understand water temperature. It can be confusing to a newcomer. Our oceans are driven by currents. Some of these currents can be particularly powerful. It’s common to see, for example, the East Australian Current (EAC), move at several knots as it heads south over summer. The above example is the most well known current and takes place along Australia’s East Coast. It moves warm water each year from the Coral Sea down the East Coast to the Tasman Sea. Interestingly, while the weather cools down during autumn along the East Coast, the remnants of the EAC hang around and you can experience warm water and tropical species right down the East Coast, even as the weather changes outside. Some of the best warm water fishing happens in autumn, while early summer often has cool water and cooler water species on offer. It’s the same reason the water at the beach often feels a lot different to the outside temperature.

Confused yet? Think of it as a delay. The warm currents, and warm water they carry, lag behind the outside temperature by one or two months each season. It’s also worth noting this only happens offshore. The estuaries are more susceptible to influences from outside temperatures. If we have a week of cool weather at the start of autumn, chances are the estuary water temp will plummet. Likewise, our freshwater systems will do the same. Another factor is wind. While offshore currents will move water up and down the coast, wind direction will determine where this water will end up. For example, a southerly will often bring the warm water from offshore closer to the coast. I’d encourage you to Google water temperature charts. There are several high-tech websites that offer colour charts showing warm and cool current around the country and globally. You will soon get an idea of weather patterns. Understanding currents and knowing the months where fish will turn up in certain locations along our coast is important. Let’s look at some of the favourite fish to catch over winter.


Snapper seasons vary from state-to-state. I’m based in NSW and much of the better snapper fishing takes place in the cooler months and spring. Snapper is a southern species and extends from around Hervey Bay in Queensland, right around the bottom part of Australia up into Western Australia. In South and Western Australia, they’re called pink snapper and red snapper in the other states. If you’re in South and Western Australia, pay special attention to regulations.

Strict new regulations in WA put snapper off limits for many months of the year. While in SA, depleted stocks have created a need for a full closure in certain parts of the state. Thankfully, for now at least, stocks of snapper have been better managed in the other states and they remain a very popular winter target. Snapper can be found in the estuaries, but typically the larger species are caught offshore. You don’t need to travel too far offshore either, with plenty of action occurring in the shallow reefy water just off the coast. Areas around capital cities such as Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne all hold snapper. For these heavily fished areas, you’re best focusing on low light – morning and afternoon– and using fresh bait or light gear. Snapper respond well to baits such as cubed (cut up) and lightly weighted pilchard.

They also love lures such as soft plastics and various jigs. You’ll need a medium-size spin reel set up, something about 4-8kg and a reel size from about 4000-5000. It’s reasonably light gear, but that makes for lots of fun catching these popular fish. Snapper also makes a great feed, although only take what you need and release the rest.


Bream can be caught all-year-round, but winter is known as a season for big fish. Bream are found all around Australia. The black bream, found from southern NSW into Victoria and around the bottom part of the country, is a very popular winter species. Yellowfin bream are found in many of the same areas and further north into Queensland.

Bream are found in estuaries and rivers extending right up into brackish water. They can also be caught off the beach and rocks. They’re usually a smaller fish than the snapper mentioned above. A big one may weigh around 2kg. They’re fantastic fun on light gear and love eating lures, bait or fly.

Focus your efforts on structure. Bream will live under sunken logs and around oyster racks. That said, you will also catch them over shallow sand flats, especially in low light. Bream, in my opinion, aren’t as good eating as snapper. It all depends on personal taste. Again, like most fish, I encourage you to take only what you need and check what your local bag and size limits allow.

Fish light for bream with spin rods in the 1-3kg range and reels from 1000-2500 size. Light braid and fluorocarbon leaders are also useful.


Depending on where you live, tuna can be considered a winter species. In southern NSW and Victoria, we experience a run of yellowfin and southern bluefin tuna each year during the cooler months. The same southern bluefins can be found during the warmer months off South Australia. It’s all part of the migration of these oceanic speedsters. Most of this tuna fishing off the East Coast during winter is far offshore and requires seaworthy boats and experienced crew. Tuna can grow large – sometimes over 100kg – and require heavy tackle.

They can be caught on bait or lures and are an incredibly powerful and spectacular fish to catch. Once you do catch one, they’re also delicious to eat. In fact, these same fish fetch big dollars in Japanese fish markets. As such, you should treat them with respect. If you keep one, bleed it and put straight into ice. Many of these fish are too large for an ice box. Instead, you can buy a specialist cooler bag. Fill it with ice and keep the fish cool until you return home. Tuna makes great sashimi!

Australian Salmon and Tailor

While not quite as exhilarating as a large tuna, Australian salmon and tailor are two species that are well known and popular winter species. They’re also very accessible to the average fisho with small boats and they can be caught in most southern states. Australian salmon (not a real salmon) grow to about 6kg, although are more frequently caught up to about 3 or 4kg. They fight hard and take lures and bait. They’re also a popular fly-fishing target. Use small realistic flies and lures that imitate baitfish.

They have average eating qualities. Again, it depends on personal taste. and fly they take and the areas you fish. In fact, often they swim in the same schools. Personally, I quite like eating tailor. They’re a bit oily and can be hot smoked. Both species often travel in large schools. They’re ravenous feeders and can be seen moving around on the surface chomping on baitfish. They attract birds, which feed off the baitfish scraps. Find the birds and you’ll often find the fish.

They move into estuaries over the cooler months and can also be found in the inshore waters around headlands and in the wash.

Freshwater winter species

You can still catch freshwater fish in winter, too. However, some of the natives such asAustralian bass are off limits due to a closed season over the cooler months. Other fish, such as Murray cod and golden perch, can still be caught. There is a Murray cod closed season during spring except for a couple of impoundments that remain open all year round. While these fish can be caught in winter, their metabolism typically slows, and they become harder to catch. Murray cod are known to feed ravenously at the onset of cold weather. They feed up forthe long winter ahead.

During this time and further into winter, I always like to use larger lures or flies. Fishexpel a lot of energy when they grab your lure and anything they eat needs to offer them the best return for their effort. Trout, an introduced cold-water species, are another great winter species in freshwater. Most trout rivers are closed over winter, but given trout can’t spawn in lakes, all of the lakes are open all year. Again, given their slow metabolism, you do have to work harder. But your efforts will be rewarded with persistence. Trout love lures, fly and bait and all those work well in the cooler months. As for eating qualities, I prefer to release most of the Murray cod and golden perch and don’t mind eating the odd trout. They’re delicious smoked.

Get out there

Winter fishing can be red hot. While the water is cold and so is the outside temperature, there are many species that are considered winter fish. It pays to understand ocean currents and pay special attention to the movement and migration of fish between seasons.

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