As the strong cold fronts associated with winter lash the southern beaches, scouring out deep gutters and holes in the process, one particular fish comes on the angling radar and provides endless fun for surf anglers - the Aussie salmon.
These thick-sided green-backed fish thrive in the churning, high-energy surf environment and for those willing to hit the sand and cash-in on this prime period of the year for salmon, there's some A-grade fun to be had on bait or lure.
What I like most about catching sambos is that they can be caught by so many methods, and you can spend a full day setting up in a gutter and using bait, or you can go for a leisurely stroll on the sand hurling metals at the likely sweet spots on a beach. When low-fuss sessions are in order, or time is limited, grabbing a bunch of metal lures, like Raiders, and a bare minimum of gear is pretty hard to beat for simple, wholesome fishing, that can easily turn into a red-hot, fish-a-cast session.
As touched on, this cooler period of the year is the time southern salmon generally peak, and you're more likely to encounter large schools of fish, and plenty of individuals lurking in any promising water.
Talking up the spinning approach has many advantages for surf salmon. There's the simplicity factor talked about, but importantly it allows you to actively cover ground and find the fish. So many times I've walked straight past bait fishos targeting salmon and hardly catching, only to strike masses of fish that were holding hardly several hundred metres away.
Spinning also opens up a lot of water that can't be effectively fished with traditional bait methods, such as when you're casting hard against reef edges or cranking metal over unforgiving bottom, or through areas that have considerable sideways water movement.
First priority for me when kicking off a salmon spin sesh is to initially try to spot a school of fish, as one black blob of salmon can make your day and provide all the fish you'll need. So after scanning the water for a while from a height looking for fish, or even the predators that chase them like seals and dolphins, it's then time to hit the beach. The B-plan is to be making a lot of casts and covering ground to seek out single fish and smaller schools. Of course just spending a decent amount of time on a beach gives every chance of being Johnny on the spot should a huge school drift into casting range.
Many beaches we fish are quite lengthy and it's impossible to cover every inch of water with a metal lure, so we tend to narrow the focus down to a few main points of interest. Obviously any holes or gutters with an increased water depth compared to surrounding areas are cast over, and gutters don't have to be overly deep to hold even monster-class sambos. These gutters can also be parallel to the shoreline or running at right angles to the beach, it doesn't really seem to matter. If it holds bait there will be salmon raiding it at one point or another.
Those throwing metals should be focusing on any structure as well. Near any rock or reef fringes there's usually deeper holes and relief from strong currents and they're great zones for baitfish to be holding and sambos are well tuned into this and patrol these areas. Any foam lines or white water should also be prospected, as there's not much cover on a surf beach and whole salmon schools can be seeking cover in these areas, and quite concealed.
Timing can play a part with this fishing. First and last light are 'safe' times to be spinning for salmon, however a rising tide usually encourages the fish to come in close also. When the salmon are bunched up they can be herded against the shore by predators like sharks and seals etc. and can be caught at any time of the day (or night). After a strong blow when a beach is 'weeded out' is probably one of the few times spinning isn't that effective. Mostly though, if you cover the ground, explore the options and make the casts it's rare not to pull at least a few fish worst-case from a half reliable beach.
With much lighter and stronger tackle now available at affordable prices, the face of spinning from the sand is a changing one. Early days for me were about using 12-foot glass composite rods, heavy and thick mono on large threadline or overhead reels and trying to rip metal over the horizon - oh, how things have changed! While occasionally I still turn to longer rods for this work, a bulk of sessions are carried out using much lighter and less taxing gear, that still offers amazing distance on casts. Distance casting has been helped along considerably with the advent of braid and crisp graphite rods, with only smaller reels required to create a balanced outfit that you can happily cast all day long. I'm still constantly amazed how far you can peg a metal with modern threadline tackle!
Fishing heavy surf isn't really the domain of ultra-light bream tackle, and unless the fish are close to shore and the conditions are super mild this gear only occasionally gets a run. For a majority of the salmon spinning I do on the beach the outfits I prefer are a 9-foot lighter option, running 5-7kg braid on a 4000 sized threadline, which can effectively punch metal lures between 40 to 85g. The second is a similar length rod, yet heavier, with the TCurve Revolution Spin 902 currently filling the role, fishing 10-15kg braid, which will throw even heavier metals again up to and just over100g if required. These two setups seem to cover most scenarios, and only if I'm bait fishing and spinning in the one session, will I spin with my larger 12-foot surf outfit.
Take a spread of metals with you between say 40 to 100g to cover bases. Raiders are a personal favourite I've been using for years and cast like bullets. I'll routinely replace trebles with singles for salmon, for the solid hook hold they provide (unlike trebles which salmon can easily dislodge) and to help with easy catch and release. Keep your single hook on the larger side, with 4/0s to 6/0's fine. A spool of 20-60lb fluorocarbon is really the only other essential, with the hard wearing nature of this leader ideal for multiple fish sessions and long stints of hard casting.
With the cooler weather here, I can't wait to get the waders on, hit the beach and start throwing metals for a twisting, jumping and gill flaring sambo. These fish are quite edible if cared for and cooked fresh, or put in the smoker, but most important of all are just a straight-out hoot to catch, and there's equally as much satisfaction throwing them back into the suds and watching them swim off!