Boost your beach fishing success by learning how to see.
Soaking a bait in the surf is fishing, simplified. With all the nonsense that clutters the way we fish stripped away, surfcasting for your supper can remind you why you first grew to love fishing.
I’m guilty as the best of ‘em, when it comes to amassing and hoarding obscene quantities of tackle to cover every imaginable angling scenario.
I’m sure that it’s partly because of this that it can feel so freeing to occasionally leave all the high end gear at home and simply load up the 4WD for a beach run, armed with just a single rod, handful of terminal tackle and a few fresh baits.
KNOW YOUR TARGET
The first step, when it comes to achieving beach fishing success, it to head out with a plan.
There’s nothing surer, in the angling universe, than the certain failure of those who trudge towards the shoreline armed with a pack of servo pillies and no gameplan whatsoever.
Spend just a little time scoping out the area you want to fish and figuring out which species are likely to be present.
The sometimes forgotten second half of the phrase ‘jack of all trades’ is ‘master of none’. Head out without a target species in mind and you’ll no doubt return with naught.
Around much of the country, a mighty mulloway is considered the pinnacle of beach angling success. These apex, chrome-flanked warriers are surely a worthy target for all surf anglers, but perhaps not the most fitting for all situations, given their scarcity.
If you’re looking to simply catch a feed, rather than have a crack at that fish of a lifetime, perhaps set your sights to a target more attainable.
Bream and flathead are prevalent in the coastal waters along much of the east coast, from southern Queensland down to Victoria, as well as along the south and west coasts for much of the year.
Sand whiting are a perfect light tackle target in Queensland and New South Wales waters, throughout the warmer months, and bite with little hesitation on a variety of easily sourced baits.
While cool water species such as Australian salmon and tailor are viable targets off New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and West Australian beaches for much of the year.
PICK A SPOT
Knowing how your target species behaves, and as such where it’s likely to be found, is paramount to success on the beach.
Being able to identify gutters and rips is the first step to finding the fish on any beach. Very few fish will actively hunt in the turbulent whitewater of the breaking waves. Most will choose to patrol the deeper water on the fringes of the whitewater.
Bottom feeding species such as sand whiting and bream are often found fossicking for a feed in shallow gutters or troughs that run parallel to the shoreline.
To fish these shallow gutters effectively, you need to place a lightly weighted bait just a couple of rod lengths out from shore – hurling your bait as far out into the whitewater as you can cast will often hinder your efforts, rather than help!
Big predators such as mulloway and bronze whaler sharks are popular targets from the beach, however their behavior is very different to that of smaller, bottom feeding species that hunt in the shallows.
Large predators will often haunt the deeper water behind the breakers, often in the vicinity of deep rips as they wait for their prey to be caught up in the current and swept towards them.
In order to target mulloway and sharks from the sand, look for the biggest, deepest rip you can find, and lob a large bait out as far as you can into deep water.
Tailor are one of the few surf species known to actively use the whitewater to their advantage. The wily predators use the cover of the turbulent whitewater as a cloak of invisibility as they hunt their hapless prey. Schools of tailor and Australian salmon are often found haunting rips and channels on the fringes of whitewater.
A supply of fresh bait is all too often the determining factor between success and failure on the sand. Spending the first half hour or so of your fishing trip collecting a supply of fresh bait is a valuable use of time, and an important part of the beach fishing experience.
Two of the best baits you can get for a wide range of fish are beach worms and pipis – both of which can be caught on beaches around the country.
Pipis are quite simple to catch, simply stand on the shoreline and dig your heels into the wet sand, moving up and down a section of shoreline and feeling for hard shells with your feet, dig the pipis out of the shallow sand and store in a bucket with a little sand and seawater.
Be aware that in some areas it’s illegal to remove pippis from the beach, meaning you can catch and use them for bait on the spot, but will be fined for taking them back to your car to use later. Pipis are very effective baits when fishing for sand whiting, bream and dart.
Bait pumps are a popular tool for catching your own supply fresh livies. They’re most effective when used for pumping saltwater nippers from the mudflats around coastal creeks and estuaries.
Beach worms are very prevalent and are an extremely effective bait, however mastering the art of catching them is very, very difficult! Beach worms live in the sand around the shoreline and will poke their heads above the surface when they smell a fishy feed in their vicinity.
A smelly fish frame tied to a metre of rope is a perfect way to get their attention. Sweep the fish frame back and forth along a stretch of shoreline, keeping an eye out for the ‘V’ shape that appears in the slick sand when a worm pops its head up to check out the scent.
Once you’ve spotted a worm, hold another smaller piece of tough fish flesh directly in front of it, but just out of reach, so it must extend it’s body another centimetre or two out of the sand in order to eat the fish.
As the worm arches the short section of its body protruding from the sand, you must subtly and swiftly grip it behind the head with your thumb and index finger, and deftly pull it from the sand in one smooth pull.
I’ve seen a few guys make beach worming look easy, but it’s much trickier to master than it looks! Once you’ve developed the skill, you’ve got a supply of perfect beach baits at hand for life.
One tool that can help improve your catch rate when beachworming is a pair of graphite worming pliers.
The whole idea of beach fishing is to keep things simple, so I like to fish with just one rod, however if you must cover a few bases, then two setups will have you well covered.
If targeting bread and butter table fish like bream and whiting, an 8-9’ light action rod matched to a small 2000-3000 size threadline reel loaded with 10lb braid or monofilament line is perfect.
If you’re into targeting jewfish and sharks from the beach, a sturdy 12’ fibreglass rod matched to an 8000 or 10,000 size threadline reel loaded with 30 or 40lb braid will have you covered.
Alvey sidecast reels have been a favourite alternative style reel for Australian surf fishos for generations, and they’re still perfect for the job. Note the number of Alvey setups you see in use on your next surf fishing trip, or adorning roof racks and bullbars en route.
Load your two surf fishing combos into your 4WD, along with a small box of terminal tackle, a couple of PVC rod holders to stick in the sand, a folding chair and an icebox with a some cold drinks and room for your catch. Sounds like a perfect day’s fishing!