MULLOWAY SURF FISHING BASICS

By Jamie Crawford

Mulloway, or jewies, are a pretty special fish. I don’t know of any other species which holds the same appeal down south as a big, chromed mulloway from the surf. Mulloway from the estuaries are a special fish too, don’t get me wrong, but seeing a big silver flank roll on the surface in the surf is a sight you don’t forget in a hurry.

Chasing mulloway in the surf is a journey. You have some highs and you certainly have some lows and long fish-less hours, but when it comes together and a big paddle-tailed mulloway hits the sand, it’s an incredible feeling.

I started chasing mulloway in the surf when I was around 14yo, and scored my first decent fish when I was 17. I’ve landed some nice fish since then, but I’ve also lost some good fish too, but I’m continually learning which is all part of the journey.

There were a few years when the reward for hours spent fishing didn’t seem to add up, and I put the species on the backburner for a while. Over the past 5 years however, I’ve been bitten by the mulloway bug again and I’m deep in the chase again. We have managed to beach some lovely fish up to 27kg over our last couple of trips, which got me evaluating our game plan to see what was working, and what was not. 

Weather and Conditions

Probably the biggest factor, other than location, is the weather and water conditions. Having favorable conditions with light or offshore winds, medium swell and clean water will improve your chances of success considerably. I know up the east coast, having dirty water associated with stormwater run off can be a cue for mulloway feeding. But where I fish in SA, having clean water free from floating weed or algae blooms seems to get better results. Having little or no swell can also make the fishing tough, with a little amount of whitewater offering good cover over the inshore water.

Tides

While it is possible to catch mulloway over a dodge or slow tides, having a big high tide offers more water along the fringing gutters. Mulloway don’t mind shallow water, but they are not a fan of stirred-up sand which is often associated with shallow water. Fishing the building tide is my preferred window, with that 2 hour period leading up to high tide a great time to have a bait in the water. Whether this is at night or during the day. Night time can encourage big fish to feed closer to shore.

Tackle

Having quality tackle that can not only withstand the rigors of casting and retrieving large baits continually in a harsh salt-drenched and sand-blasted environment, but also having the line capacity and gearing to handle a big mulloway as it takes line out past the back breaking swell. Surf fishing for mulloway is one of the fishing pursuits where you don’t want to cut corners in the tackle department. A well-sealed surf reel capable of fishing 40 to 50lb power pro braid or 15kg mono line is essential, with line capacity of around 300m recommended.

The first real big mulloway I hooked caught me unawares. I was fishing with my Dad and he had just beached a beautiful 32kg fish. I was only fishing 8kg mono on a light 8 to 10kg surf rod and only had around 150m of line capacity – well and truly under-gunned. I had a screaming run, hooked up, and got dusted by that fish. That one hurt, but it taught me a valuable lesson.

I like fishing with overhead reels in the surf, and always have. This comes down to personal preference, but I like the line capacity and ease of casting offered by an overhead reel. I use a Shimano Calcutta 700B in the surf which is a beautiful reel to cast and use. I have also used a Saragosa SW 10000 in the surf with good results, and I also have an Ultegra Long Cast reel as backup. These are all affordable reels too. If you stick with quality equipment like the above, you can’t go wrong. Maintenance is important with all surf reels though, given the harsh environment in which they work. 

In the rod department, a 12 to 13ft rod rated around 15kg is ideal if you’re serious about chasing big mulloway in the surf. Anything lighter has the tendency to be too soft to cast the larger baits, and will struggle to hold sinker when there’s a rip running. The Shimano Revolution 13ft and 12ft which are both rated at 10 – 20kg are good surf fishing rods.

Baits

Sourcing fresh, quality baits is essential for use in the surf. Using re-frozen fillets or old pilchards just won’t cut it with the fickle feeding habits of mulloway. We spend a fair amount of time leading up to a surf fishing trip catching and freezing baits in reparation. Squid heads, whole squid, fresh salmon and silver trevally fillets, whole mullet and herring are all gun baits. Live baits are the number one bait, but catching and keeping baits alive along a remote surf beach isn’t always easy.

Rigs

The importance of the rig is often underestimated. How you tie or crimp your rig will have a big bearing on how natural your bait sits and looks while underwater. It must also be practical to cast. I use two snelled 8/0 chemically sharpened octopus pattern hooks underneath a swivel, tied on 80lb supple mono trace line. I have a second swivel crimped about 20cm above the first, between which a running sinker moves. This movement is more about the presentation of the bait rather than allowing a fish to run with the bait.

Chasing mulloway is often a long journey, but the rewards are there for those who persist.