Zen and the art of beach fishing…
Soaking a bait in he surf might not compare with offshore game fishing or livebaiting from the rocks when it comes to hauling in trophy sized fish… but damn, it’s got to be one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a summer afternoon with the sand between your toes.
There’s just something about cruising along the beach, seeking out a likely looking gutter and carving off your own little slice of sandy perfection.
Catching your own fresh bait is all part of the surf fishing ritual, but if you’re short on time, frozen pillies from the servo have accounted for more than their share of decent hauls.
The best part is the bar for entry is about as low as it gets. All you need is a 12’ surf rod, six-inch Alvey or mid sized threadline reel and a handful of terminal tackle. Pack a PVC rod tube to stick in the sand, a fold out camp chair and a cooler full of cold drinks for the full experience.
Bottom feeders like sand whiting, bream, tarwhine and dart cruise the shallows just metres from shore. Often in the shallow gutters directly in front of the tideline, amongst or even closer in than the breakers.
These species are generally stirring up the shallow sand hunting for pippis, beach worms and smaller crustaceans.
If you’ve managed to perfect the dark art of catching your own beach worms from the tideline, or spend half an hour digging pippis from the sand, bagging a haul of whiting and bream is all but a sure thing.
These species tend to move around in schools, so it can be worth staying on the move to find the fish. If you’ve fished a gutter or rip for 20 minutes or so without any action, it’s worth moving up and down the beach, casting a bait into likely looking holes until you find a school.
Mid-sized pelagic species like tailor and Aussie salmon often move around in big schools and put up a great tussle on mid strength tackle. They tend to patrol the slightly deeper water out in the deeper rips and gutters or out behind the breakers.
Both species are suckers for a well-presented pilchard bait. A gang-hooked pillie cast out into deeper water and pinned to the bottom with a star sinker or larger ball sinker will do the trick most times.
Both species seem to feed more actively in the low light periods around dawn and dusk, and will continue to feed through the night. Keep a good supply of pilchard baits on hand, as you don’t want to run out of bait when you’re onto a hot bite.
You can’t go past live or fresh beach worms and pippis when targeting whiting and bream. Fresh pumped salt water nippers are also a gun bait for the above species, but they tend to fall off the hook fairly quickly when fishing in turbulent surf zones. When fishing calmer spots they will often be the number one bream bait.
While fresh or frozen pilchards are the fall back bait for tailor and salmon, strips of fresh or salted mullet, slimy mackerel, yellowtail or tuna will often perform just as well.
If you’re losing baits to small fish or unwanted bycatch, salted slab baits are a great option as they’ll often last through the onslaught of pickers until your target species happens along.
If you want to be in with a chance of tangling with the Holy Grail of beach species, a big surf mulloway or jewfish, you’ll need a heavier outfit and a big fresh bait.
Slabs of fresh tailor or whole fresh squid are on top of the menu for these chrome flanked beasts, but whole beach worm baits are often irresistible for smaller school sized ‘soapie’ jew.
A single 12’ beach rod matched to a reel loaded with 10lb monofilament line is all your need to handle the bulk of fish you’re likely to hook from the sand.
A light setup like this is perfect for bream and whiting, but is capable of landing larger flathead and tailor if you play them out patiently.
If you’re specifically targeting tailor or larger Aussie salmon, a 20lb setup is probably more appropriate. While jewfish specialists will often use 30lb setups when fishing from the sand, or go up to 50lb gear when fishing around rocky structure.
Saltwater is tough on terminal tackle, so don’t go bringing your whole kit down to the beach each session.
A single plastic tackle tray with a few different sizes of long shanked and suicide pattern hooks, some small barrel swivels and a handful or pea-sized ball sinkers and a couple of larger star sinkers should see you will equipped for most sessions.
A backpack or shoulder bag to carry your gear will make it easy to stay on the move, while it’s worth bringing a bucket to carry your haul back to camp and a knife and scaler for cleaning your catch on the spot. Don’t forget the cooler with a couple of coldies!