WINTER ON THE ROCKS

The change of seasons unlocks a wealth of new angling options.

An eastern rock blackfish, or black drummer, from a productive session on the NSW Central Coast.

While summer may appear to be the best time to fish the ocean rocks – judging purely by the number of fishos seen sporting rods up and down the coast – there’s no shortage of angling options open to those willing to brave the more uncomfortable conditions through the cooler months.

In fact, some of the most iconic and sought after species caught on the east coast, and indeed around the country, only really come on the feed aggressively once the mercury begins to drop.

During winter the focus for those fishing the stones tends to shift from the high metabolism pelagic species that prowl the warmer currents, to the deeper dwelling demersal species that populate the reefy waters fronting rocky headlands around the country.

Changing your target species means changing how and when you fish, which can result in a marked positive uptick to your catch rate.

 

SPECIES

Black drummer are a prime target for rock fishos on the NSW South Coast all throughout the cooler months.

EASTERN ROCK BLACKFISH are commonly known as drummer, or colloquially as pigs, and are a very popular landbased target along the New South Wales coastline during winter.

The drummer’s range extends from the Victoria in the south right up to southern Queensland waters, however they’re encountered most often along the south to central NSW coast.

Drummer are a hard fighting, omnivorous species that spend their whole lives searching for food in the turbulent white water wash zones fronting rocky headlands and reefs.

The drummer’s diet is predominantly made up of cunje, cabbage weed and stringy weed, red and black rock crabs and other shellfish and crustaceans they encounter.

The best way to target drummer is to find a likely looking washzone that drops away into deeper water and burley the drummer into range using a bread and saltwater slurry.

Rig cunje, prawn and bread baits on medium sized suicide or octopus pattern hooks and drift them down your burley trail with the addition of a tiny ball sinker.

In calmer conditions you can get away with fishing your baits completely unweighted, which will impart a more natural drifting action and reduce snagging on the bottom.

Yellowtail kingfish can be targeted by land based spin fishos all through winter. Focus on locations that hold baitfish and prime bite times around low-light tide changes.

LUDERICK are also known as blackfish and are caught along the same stretch of coastline as drummer, yet also venture further up river mouths, harbours and bays into estuarine waters.

Luderick are almost completely vegetarian and feed predominantly on a diet of cabbage and stringy weed.

Populations in specific areas will sometimes have a preference for the type of weed that they’re used to feeding on. On very rare occasions luderick will be caught on prawn, yabby or cunje baits, but those who are specifically targeting them will almost always use seaweed baits.

Luderick are caught from the ocean rocks, breakwalls, piers and jetties and are almost always fished for using a clump of cabbage or stringy weed threaded onto a tiny hook and suspended below a float. T

he depth of the bait under the float can be adjusted using split shot sinkers and burley made from shredded seaweed mixed with sand can be used to attract fish to the area being fished.

 

SNAPPER are targeted from the ocean rocks along the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and West Australian coastlines.

Snapper are generally targeted using fresh or salted fish or squid baits. Strips of salted bonito, tuna, slimy mackerel and mullet work very well, and fresh squid is a prized bait when available.

Baits can either be presented on the bottom via a paternoster or pulley rig, or as lightly weighted floater baits that are allowed to waft down a burley trail of diced pilchard pieces.

Snapper tend to be most active during low light periods at dawn and dusk, so if it’s possible to time your trips to have baits in the water at these prime feeding times you’ll likely notice an improvement in your catch rate.

 

AUSTRALIAN SALMON have a wide range and are frequently caught everywhere from the New South Wales mid north coast, right around the southern half of the country and well up the west coast.

While salmon are often encountered year round, their numbers swell during the cooler months and schools of large fish are often encountered in close to the rocks during winter over much of their range.

Salmon schools are often feeding on whitebait and other small baitfish, so are best targeted using either small metal or soft plastic lures that mimic these baitfish, or otherwise on whole pilchard baits rigged on gang hooks and fished either unweighted or beneath a float.

Salmon will often take strips or slab baits used to target other species such as snapper, and will turn up everywhere from open beaches to deepwater headlands and even within bays and estuaries.

 

Female brown groper and the larger, territorial blues will feed right through the day during winter and will slam prawn, cunje and fresh crab baits suspended in the washes.

GEARING UP

All of the above species can be targeted on the same two outfits, so it’s certainly possible to head down to your local headland armed with just two rods and some basic tackle and to encounter a range of species.

Drummer and snapper are both hard fighting fish that grow quite large, so are best targeted on a 12-14’ rod matched to a large threadline or Alvey reel loaded with 20-30lb monofilament line.

If you’re fishing in very rough terrain and are getting snagged or busted off by large fish, it may be necessary to add a rod’s length of 40 or 50lb leader.

Luderick are a more delicate species that doesn’t grow as large or strong as drummer or snapper. A higher degree of finesse is required in order to consistently catch this species.

A 10-12’ soft action rod matched to a small threadline reel loaded with 10-15lb braided line is perfect, and a rod’s length of mono or fluorocarbon line is necessary to improve abrasion resistance.

Long pencil floats are often used to suspend baits below the surface, and you’ll need a handful of tiny sneck pattern hooks in sizes 8 through 12 as well as some split shot sinkers to counterbalance the buoyancy of the float you use.

Australian salmon are quite an easy fish to target and can be caught on very light and very heavy tackle.

Either the heavy setup drummer and snapper setup or the lightweight luderick setup mentioned above could be used to good effect to catch salmon, depending on the size of the fish being targeted and how difficult they are to land at the spot you’re fishing.

When fish need to be pulled through reefy terrain or lifted a long way from water to land, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and use heavier tackle to avoid lost fish.