Soft Plastics on the Rocks

Steve Steer

If you are anything like me and you enjoy getting out and catching fish for the sheer fun and excitement of it, no matter what the size or species of fish you may be catching?... then do yourself a favor and grab a selection of soft plastic lures and a light spin outfit and head down to the rocks. Fishing from the rocks with soft plastics and light tackle can provide some adrenalin packed action, which can be seriously addictive to even the keenest of anglers. Be warned though, it is not for the faint hearted, or those who are afraid of loosing a few jigheads/lures and the odd fish to the kelp and rocks as this is just part of the game!

Safety first
Fishing from the rocks is a most enjoyable but potentially dangerous past time and fishing in heavy seas is asking for trouble and should be avoided at all times. On an injury/fatalities scale, rock fishing has the ominous reputation as one of the most dangerous past times you can do. Most injury's and fatalities occur when anglers are washed from the rocks by waves or when they fall from cliffs while trying to reach their chosen fishing spot. Having said this, there are plenty of good, safe, rock fishing locations and if you adopt a sensible "safety first" approach to fishing the rocks and "never" fish them in heavy seas/strong winds and avoid high cliff areas you should not have any problems. For added safety, I always like to fish the rocks with a mate or two and I make a point of taking my time to pick a safe area to fish from. Once I have selected an area I would like to fish, I will then sit and rig up my rods for 15 - 20 minutes while watching the selected area for any big waves or other potential dangers. By adopting a sensible safety first approach to rock fishing you will avoid the likelihood of any mishaps, after all no fish is worth risking your life for!

Picking a fishing location
Rocky points that protrude a long way out from the general coast line and that drop straight off into deeper water are always a good starting point. Schools of bait fish that are traveling along the coast have to pass out and around these rocky points in order to continue on their journey up or down the coast. Therefore, these rocky points force the baitfish schools out into deeper water exposing them to attack from the bigger pelagic species that frequent these deeper waters. Rocky points of this nature also allow you to fish both sides of the point depending on the weather conditions. For instance,  if the wind/waves/current starts battering one side of the point making it difficult or dangerous to fish it can be simply a matter of moving to the other side of the point to find more protected water that you can fish in safety.

Target species   
There are a wide variety of fish species that you may encounter while fishing the ocean rocks in Tasmania, the most common species that you are likely to come across while fishing soft plastics include the following: short finned pike, Australian salmon (black back/cocky salmon), wrasse (various species), barracouta, tailor, trevally, mackerel (slimy), yellowtail (yakka/scad), rock whiting, rock cod, leatherjacket, flathead, searun trout, Atlantic salmon (escapees from the salmon farms), snook and squid to name a few. Remember, this form of light tackle rock fishing is all about catching a wide variety of fish species for the challenge and fun of catching them from the rocks and therefore it is not intended to be so species specific. The lures and techniques I have described below have at various times in the past caught me all of the above listed species while fishing from the rocks in Tasmania. I am also reliably told that the odd yellow tail kingfish and snapper frequent the north and north eastern shores of Tasmania from time to time. These species can also be caught while fishing soft plastics off the rocks and I have caught them in VIC and NSW but am yet to come across them here in TAS.   

Landing hooked fish
Landing hooked fish from the rocks on light tackle can be tough at times especially the bigger fish. Big wrasse which are a common capture from the rocks are notoriously dirty fighters and will try to bury you in the rocks and kelp every chance they get. Australian salmon and trevally are not as dirty fighters as the big wrasse but they do pull hard and can be extremely difficult to stop at times. Nobody likes to lose a hooked fish including me, so to give myself the best chance of landing them I do the following: Upon arrival at a new rock fishing location, I always look for a relatively kelp/weed free location that is within close proximity to my intended fishing position and that has safe easy access to the water. These areas are best used as a landing area for any hooked fish and the idea is to try and get control of the fish while they are out in open water, then guide them towards the clear landing area and lift them ashore using a long handled landing net. This plan does not always work and you are bound to loose the odd fish to the rocks and kelp!  

Rod, reel and lines used
All that is required for this style of angling is a light spinning rod in the 2-4kg or 3-5kg line classes and in a length from 6'- 8 foot long. Add to this a small spinning reel in the 1000 to 4000 size range and you are in business, remember it is all about fishing with light tackle and having fun! Due to the nature of the terrain (i.e. rocky and full of kelp and other obstacles) it pays to have a fast to extra fast taper rod blank that has a nice light tip for casting light weights but also has a strong butt section for putting the brakes on a determined fish. When a big wrasse, salmon or trevally takes a liking to your lure it can be hard and fast action that can test your reflexes, tackle and knots to the limit. Therefore, I recommend the use of a strong, zero stretch mainline such as "Berkley Fireline" and attached to this via a seven twist surgeons knot (a very strong leader to mainline knot), I recommend a 2-3 metre section of tough, clear, abrasion resistant leader material such as "Siglon Sinking Fluorocarbon" or the equivalent. Typical mainline breaking strains that I use with success on most fish species range from 4lb to 10lb "Fireline" with 8lb being a good all round general purpose breaking strain that gives you a fair degree of muscle when you come up against a tough fish. I typically run a leader in anything from a 4lb-12lb with 8lb being a good first choice to adequately handle most situations.
Lures used
There are a wide range of soft plastic lures on the market that will catch you a fish or two off the rocks and each fish species has its preferences with regards to lure shape, action and color. In my opinion there are three basic soft plastic lure patterns that are consistent performers when it comes to this style of angling and I have shown some examples of each below.
Slim profile minnow "Stick Baits'
If I had to choose one lure style that was a stand out off the rocks, in my opinion it would have to be the natural slim profile baitfish imitations sometimes referred to as "stickbaits" (shown below). I typically fish lures of this type in the 1.5" to 6" size range with a 2.5" to 3" lure being the most common size I would use.

Most predatory fish will take a well presented slim profile baitfish imitation and I can highly recommend these as a great all-round fish catching lure pattern regardless of the fish species you are targeting. Sure, some lure patterns are better suited to certain fish species but when it comes to all round versatility I think you would be hard pressed to find a better fish catching lure pattern than a thin profile, soft plastic baitfish imitation.

Paddle tailed minnows/grubs
Another great lure pattern for fishing off the rocks is the "Paddle Tailed Minnow/Grub" pattern (shown below).  These lures also do a pretty good job of representing a natural baitfish and I use them when a little more tail action/vibration is required to entice a strike. I typically fish lures of this type in the 1.25"- 4" size range.
Note: Trevally love this style of lure in the smaller sizes and natural colorations!

Single/curl tailed grubs
Another great lure when fishing from the rocks would have to be the single/curl tailed grub pattern (shown below). These are also thin in profile but provide even more of a wiggly tail action as they sink or are being retrieved which can be the trigger to turn aggressive fish on at times. I typically fish lures of this type in the 1" - 3" size range with a 2" being the most common size I use.

There is a saying "Every dog has it day" well I believe that "Every Lure has its day also'. All of the above pictured lures will catch you a fish or two off the rocks on any given day, it is then just a matter of trialing and adjusting the size, shape, color, action and depth of your lures to suit the aggression level and reaction you are getting from the fish on the day.
Please Note: The subject of how to select an appropriate soft plastic lure size, color, shape, action and depth for each species of fish you are likely to come across when fishing the rocks is beyond the scope of this article. Please keep your eye out in coming issues of this publication where I will attempt to describe how to go about the lure selection process in detail.

Rigging options
There are several successful methods that I use for rigging my lures when fishing off the rocks. The most common method I use is to rig them directly onto a weighted jighead and cast and retrieve them using the "2 short - 1 long lift and drop retrieve" that I have described in detail in issue 52 of this publication.

The idea with this retrieve is to cast your lure out and count it down allowing your lure to sink down to the depth you wish to fish then work it back in a lift and drop fashion keeping it above the bottom and away from the kelp/weed as you get closer to shore.
Typical jighead weights that I use off the rocks range from 1/30th Oz in a size six hook, for small mouthed fish such as leatherjacket, up to about a ½ Oz size 4/0 for your larger lures and bigger fish. It's important to match the jighead size to suit your lure and the fish you are targeting/catching on the day.

Drop shot rig
Another rigging method that I have used with success off the rocks is what is called a "Dropshot" rig. (See diagram).

This rig can be cast out and allowed to sink until the sinker is sitting stationary on the bottom and then all that is required to get a fishes interest is a slight twitch/flick/lift/drop of the rod tip to make your lure dance enticingly above the bottom. You can adjust the length between your sinker and your lure so that your lure is dancing at the desired depth/height above the bottom. You can also lift the sinker up off the bottom from time to time and move it along to cover more ground.  Keep an eye out in coming issues for more on this drop shotting technique.
Some soft plastics can also be fished with success under a float in exactly the same manner as you would fish a bait under a float off the rocks.

Fishing with light tackle and soft plastics from the rocks is a great way to catch a wide range of fish species and can be a fantastic way to put the fun back into your fishing. So if you are up for a challenge and don't mind loosing a few lures and the odd fish, get out there and give it a go!
Steve Steer   

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