Light tackle spinning for mini pelagics.
High speed spinning is an extremely simple, yet undeniably effective fish catching system. It comes down to heaving weighty lures into the surf or from the ocean rocks, then ripping them back at a cracking pace in order to elicit strikes from revved-up pelagic fish.
At the apex of the game, practitioners do adrenaline-fueled battle with mighty gamefish like northern bluefin tuna, Spanish mackerel and giant trevally.
These beefy predators are prized targets for dedicated fishos, yet captures of these top tier targets remain an unrequited dream for most punters.
A scaled down version of the sport is practiced by scores of fishermen around the country employing lighter gear, sparring with far more prolific species like bonito, frigate mackerel, tailor and Australian salmon.
The technique is said to have been pioneered by a crew of cluey anglers midway through last century at the famous ledges of Avoca headland on the NSW central coast. This switched-on crew figured early on that speed was crucial to prompting strikes from these fish.
Prior to the invention of the high-geared spinning reels we take for granted in the modern era, these blokes would lob leaden lures past the wash zone using handlines, and rip them back to shore with their bare hands, while running backwards along the headland to up the pace of their lures through the water.
Today, specialised highly geared threadline reels and crisp casting rods are the norm, making for a simplified yet highly effective approach to catching these awesome sport fish from the shore.
The basic technique involves blind casting weighted spinning lures from the shore into the deeper currents that most pelagic species tend to patrol. The best spots to target these fish are generally prominent headlands and breakwalls that jut out into deep water.
A prime spinning possie will usually feature a flat ledge without too many obstructions to get in the way of casting, and easy access to deep water without any low lying boulders, reefy ledges or cunje beds to snag up your lure or prevent landing a fish.
The best spots are generally common knowledge amongst the landbased fishing fraternity and often see scores of blokes jostling for space to cast in the midst of a hot bite. Thinking fishos will use their experience and intuition, and tools like Google Earth, to suss out low profile spots that can often fish just as well as the big ticket ledges, minus the madding crowds.
Spinning specialists will sometimes employ sightcasting techniques, whereby they’ll spy pods of fish from high ground, aided by polarised sunglasses that cut through the ocean’s surface glare, and aim precise casts at distant fish.
Other species like tailor and giant trevally tend to favour turbulent water flowing over shallow reef and bombies, and can be specifically targeted in the foamy washzones that are usually avoided by tuna, mackerel and other more popular targets.
In the temperate waters off the NSW central and south coasts, the bonito is the light tackle spinman’s staple from late spring through summer and autumn. These tasty little tuna are close relatives of dogtooth tuna and can be reliably targeted on small metal slices spun through the depths at dawn and dusk.
Frigate mackerel often inhabit the same currents and are caught interchangeably, although they will sometimes tend to range further north up the coast.
Mackerel tuna are caught all up and down the NSW coast in late summer and autumn and put on an epic display when hooked on light tackle. As the cooler winter currents push up the coast, the same techniques will yield solid hauls of tailor and Australian salmon.
Big Aussie salmon, greenback tailor and the smaller tommy rough are all viable spinning targets in the cooler waters of Victoria, South Australia and the southern quadrant of West Oz, while a few of these ledges will turn up the odd pint-sized southern bluefin tuna for a lucky few.
Queensland based fishos and those haunting Western Australia’s more northerly ledges can reliably target queenfish, mackerel tuna and school mackerel on light tackle, but should be prepared for the occasional hookup to a big longtail tuna or marauding Spanish mack.
A mid-sized threadline reel loaded with 20lb braid matched to a crisp 9’ spin rod is the perfect combo for targeting most small pelagics from the shore.
Some anglers will modify their gear depending on the terrain they have to contend with, sometimes employing rods up to 12’ long for extra casting distance, or beefing up their gear with heavier line classes and increased capacity if hookups to higher order pelagics like longtail tuna or kingfish are an issue.
Some old school fishos still prefer to use conventional overhead reels for spinning duties, although good quality modern threadline reels are more than up to the task these days and most punters find them easier to use without the risk of line backlash.
While modern braided lines are the way to go due to their superior strength and reduced diameter, it’s definitely a good idea to tie on a rod’s length of monofilament shock leader for abrasion resistance while landing fish and to introduce a little bit of stretch into your system to mitigate pulled hooks and cast off lures.
It’s hard to go past the tried and tested performance of metal slugs and slices in the spinning arena. These chrome-dipped brass casting plugs win hands down when it comes to weight to size ratio, meaning they can be cast to the horizon with ease.
40 gram variants are perfect for targeting most mid sized species in normal conditions, although larger 65 gram plus lures can be handy in choppy conditions or when casting into a headwind, while little 20 gram slices can be useful when the fish are honed in on tiny baitfish or generally finicky.
There are plenty of modern takes on spinning lures including heavy bibbed and bibless minnows, pencil poppers, stickbaits and South African style plastic casting plugs.
All of these profiles can be effective on certain species in certain conditions and should have a place in any spinman’s lure box, although a well-stocked box of metals should be the cornerstone of any arsenal.
Spinning up pelagic fish from the shore is just about the most fun you can have with rod and reel, and the action can be thick and fast when the stars align. The exceedingly low barrier to entry is a great equaliser; all you need is a single casting combo and a handful of metal lures to get involved and start hooking fish.
The best part is it’s perfectly suited to travelling fishos, as there’s hardly a stretch of coastline around the country that isn’t seasonally patrolled by pelagic fish, and just about all of ‘em will eagerly smash a lure cast their way.