Its time to hit the surf

Ron McBain takes a look at Surf fishing.

Because Tasmania has many excellent surf fishing beaches that are easily accessible; it is no surprise that this form of angling is one of the fastest growing. It doesn't have to be expensive and it's a form of fishing that can involve the whole family.

While some family members may not enjoy fishing, most will enjoy a swim, sunbake or making sandcastles while the family anglers will do their best to catch a fish or two.

Species of fish
By far, the most popular and sought after fish would be salmon. These range from juvenile cocky salmon to the adult blackback. Flathead and mullet are also very common. Species of sharks, especially gummies and various types of rays and skates provide good fun on lighter tackle (although heavier gear is usually used when fishing for these). Other species that may at times be caught in Tasmania off the beaches are whiting, trevally, couta, garfish and tailor. Night-time often sees cod caught. Species that normally are not regarded as "surf species" are sometimes caught - for example, tuna! An angler I knew personally got the surprise of his life when an estimated 20 kg bluefin torpedoed out of the waves with his rig attached! He lost the fish after being de-spooled of line in a few seconds - that was at Scamander.            

Where to fish
Basically, surf fishing is done where ever there is a beach to fish from. The beaches on the East and North East Coasts are the most popular, but many large salmon and some good shark fishing can be found on the West Coast. Fish can still be caught from many of the North Coast beaches, but generally they don't contain the surf conditions that are looked for by surf anglers - that is gutters and channels that larger fish are usually found in. These gutters are deeper waters of some lengths that may run parallel to the beach, or could be at right angles. Sometimes it is hard to find these from where you are standing on the beach, but if you get onto a higher position, such as on the sand dunes or a hill, look for darker water or different wave movements.

Waves may break, for example, some distance from the shore. From that point, to most of the way to the shore, the water may be a lot calmer and deeper - then the waves may build up again and break onto the beach. Many people think that the further you cast, the better fish results. Sometimes true, but often anglers will cast too far and over the schools of fish in the shallower water

Many of our beaches will contain such deeper spots. Beaches that are popular for surf fishing are Swimcart, Wrinklers (Scamander), Four Mile Creek, Chain of Lagoons and Friendly Beaches - just to name a few.

What to use
One of the best parts about surf fishing is that fishing on a sandy bottom, you don't lose a lot of gear. Star sinkers of around 3-4oz are the most popular styles, but other shapes may be used. Hook sizes depend on the species that you are fishing for. Sizes 2/0-4/0 are a good all round size, but if fishing for species with smaller mouths, such as mullet, then a size 4 or 6 would be more suitable. Fish such as gummy sharks would require a larger hook - around 6/0-8/0. The most popular breaking strain of line used would be 7-10 kg - about 15-20 lb on the old scale. As with most forms of fishing - the lighter the gear, the better the results. Rods are usually around 3.5-4.0 m in length. There are many to choose from, beginning at around $50. Most surf rods will break down into two or three sections, thus making transportation easier. Reels also vary in price - from about $50-$500. The Eggbeater, or Threadline Reel, is what is usually used in Tasmania. Because of the size of line that is usually fished, these reels are a lot larger than what is usually used on trout spinning rods. Some people prefer to use an Alvey side cast, or an overhead style - but whatever type of reel you select, make sure it will hold at least a couple of hundred metres of around 12 g line. The most common rig used is a sinker on the bottom with 2 or 3 hooks attached above.

For blackback and gummy sharks 2 or 3 gang hooks with a pilchard or fish fillet and a ball sinker coming down to the swivel which is attached 2-3 ft above the hook.

Bluebait, pilchards and squid are popular baits - as are prawns, pipi and just about any type of fish flesh. Make sure your bait is fresh. Essential items for surf fishing are Popping Bugs. These are a type of lure made of cork and feathers. Deer hair ones also work well. Colours vary, but red and white or blue and white would be the most popular. They move around the water with the wave movement. To use these, just substitute one of these fro one of the hooks in the rig.

Lure fishing off the beach is fun and usually rewarding. Long surf rods are not necessary for this. Many anglers use their surf rods for bait fishing. They leave their rod in the rod holder while fishing and use a lighter rod - perhaps their trout rod - and cast out silver metal lures that resemble small bait fish. The smaller the lure the better, but you want enough weight to cast out some distance.

Finally, look after your gear. Sand is not good for your reels - so after every trip, send a few minutes washing it and making sure it is free of saltwater and sand. Surf fishing is usually regarded as being safe - but be careful of that extra large wave that could drench all your tackle, if not yourself - especially if fishing where the sand is on a steep slope. Remember to keep only what you need. Think of our fishing future. Tight lines.

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