Beach Fishing: Catching different species of fish off the surf.

Surfs up for fishos

It's time for a Sea Change

By Rod Mackenzie

Often nocturnal in nature, the sand trudging surf fisho is a creature of great patience. The ability to stare into the small hours of night as the long rods bob to the rolling swell is compounded by many variables. Some of these steal from the romance of fishing in a place where salt meets sand and the silence is marked by the pond of rolling surf. A place where wind, weed and wild seas will commonly replace expectation with self doubt on one’s own fishing sanity. Yet, get it right but once and you are far more hooked than any fish you are likely to drag from the brine as the highs associated with fishing the suds often cancel out the many lows.  

So there you sit watching the tip of the rod waiting, almost willing it lay flat to the beat of one of many unseen predators that feed just beyond the breakers. The hours roll on as you trudge the heavy sand to the cold chill of a night sea breeze as fresh baits are cast time and again into the into the inky darkness that cloches the rolling waves. Where they land is only an educated guess as the rods are set high in the holders, held firm and slightly bent by the grappling sinkers that cling fast to the bottom. The small fluorescent tubes light the tips dancing back and forth almost hypotonic, it is more than easy to become lost in their rhythmic pull. That is right up until the moment one suddenly pops back straight as the line goes slack and the rod sits still in its holder. Before you can find your feet the rod rips over and bounces as line is torn from the reel. Heart in mouth you make the dash and snatch the rod from its PVC stand. With line still leaving the reel, the hooks are set and the battle begins. A series of solid bumps all but rules out the unseen quarry as one of many rays that hunt the shore line gutters. Their style a weighty exchange of powerful runs that slow to a tug of war that sees them try to hold close to the bottom. This fish however was quick to move and change direction, all the time rattling the line as it was fought towards the shore. Minutes later in the glistening light of the headlamp lay the solid frame of a nice snapper. Its iridescent pink magnified in the light and at 4kg or more it’s a good catch from the beach.      

Spring and summer are great times to hit the beach as a cross section of species skirt the coast feeding up on schooling baitfish that take refuge amongst the breakers. Australian salmon are a likely catch and ok on the plate if eaten fresh. Salmon also make excellent bait for other fish species and a fresh slab cast into the waves is sure to tempt any larger predatory fish that may be lurking about. Gummy and school sharks are also common catches from the beach and provide not only great sport but a fresh feed of flake for your efforts. Of recent times the occasional elephant shark with a noggin that only a mother could love has found their way onto the line. And of course there are always a few unstoppable subs that keep you guessing on what might have been. Many Victorian surf beaches have to be accessed on foot this often involves a long hard slog totting all the gear required for a sessions fishing. Other areas however can be accessed by four wheel drive vehicle and these are the most popular as they open up a range of opportunities as in availability of holes and gutters. For this reason most of our surf fishing sojourns take place across the border from Nelson through into South Australia and along the back of the Coorong. This area stretches through Kingston all the way to the mouth of the Murray River and is a first class surf fishery for many species. 

Overnight camping is available along the beach and you will require a permit to do so along some sections. These can be purchased at a few places that including Kingston or as you enter the beach itself.   The 28, 32 and 42-mile crossings are popular entry points as is the Tea Tree Crossing just a few kilometres from Salt creek. This is just the start of the surf fishing season and as the weather warms over the next few months we can expect to see the action increase. Mulloway enthusiasts eagerly await the first run of fish amongst them the occasional monster around the 30kg mark. More often though a good fish is upwards of 10kg or so and there are no shortage of soapies to keep you on your toes. As is often the case, large snapper are in company and wherever there are schools of fish; sharks will no doubt be nearby. South Australia has a different size and bag limit on many of its fish species to Victorian waters so it pays to get up to speed on each states regulation. South Australia also has a closed season on snapper so be sure and check all these before you hit the suds. Other available fish from the beach include mullet, flathead and whiting. When you consider what’s available you may just be questioning why you have never fished the beach before.

Suitable tackle for beach fishing generally begins with a rod approximately 3-4 meters in length. A good thread-line reel capable of holding around 300 meters of 10-15kg line will see you able to control larger species you may encounter. Hook and bait size will depend on what species it is you intend to target. For example, if its snapper or mulloway use a 4/0-6/0 with a large bait of fresh squid or fish fillet is best. Fish this on a heavy nylon leader in a paternoster rig. For sharks the same rig will work exchanging the nylon leader material for wire trace. For smaller fish like mullet or salmon also run a nylon paternoster rig, just scale your hook size down to around 1/0-2/0 to suit the smaller baits. Pilchard, small pieces of squid and pipis all work well on these smaller fish. When salmon are about in numbers, small metal lures cast and retrieved at high speed will also produce fish. Best times to target the beach are during periods of low light and into the darkness. In saying that we have also had some excellent catches in the middle of the day. Just having a rod in the water gives you half a chance.

One of the great things about fishing the beach is that you can never be sure of what’s coming next. The ocean has a huge variety of fish and a good number of them visit the back of the breakers at one time or another. I remember a run of trips where several good sharks were landed expecting more of the same we returned confident it would only be a matter of time before some fresh flake was dragged kicking from the ocean. It didn’t take long and the first of the long rods lay over. A bit of a tussle and into the breakers rolled 6 kilos of snapper. Over the course of the afternoon six more of these glamour fish would be landed, the smallest a modest 4kg.That is the unknown of the ocean; most fish that inhabit its waters are nomadic in nature. Schools come and go. You can never be sure what’s going to swim past next or how big it might be. When fishing the beach there are a few things to keep in mind.

With very little shade, sun block is mandatory as are sunglasses and a hat. Hot days can quickly turn cold as the sun slips bellow the horizon; warm clothes are essential if you are to fish on in any comfort. Headlamps are handy for night fishing, providing free hands for baiting hooks or fighting fish. A length of PVC pipe makes an excellent rod holder and a deckchair a great vantage point to survey the rods from. Other essentials include a sharp knife and don’t forget the gaff. Surf fishing provides us land lovers the opportunity to mix it up with some of the larger more glamorous species that our boat fishing brethren regularly encounter. There is something to be said about fishing the surf where the ocean meets sand and a loaded rod and screaming drag are often but a short cast beyond the rolling waves.