Let's hit the beach
Beach fishing is probably the most popular form of fishing in Australia; more people take part in beach fishing than any other form. Why? Because it is accessible to just about anyone, chances of success between beginners and experienced anglers is not too dissimilar. Having said that, experience will lead to better quality catches.
So are you looking to go sea fishing, don't have or can't afford a boat, sick of sitting on crowded pontoons in the river? Then grab a rod, head to your nearest beach and cast a line, it might just surprise you.
This article is for those out there that are interested in catching some quality fish, but have no way of getting out into the open ocean, and think it would be nice to go home with a fish for a change, I am writing about beach fishing because I too have been sick of trying for a feed of fresh flathead, but the only ones I seem to catch in the Tamar River are so small they wouldn't make a feed of fish fingers. Well hopefully I have the answer.
I have been fishing the beaches in the north of the state for about 4 years. After numerous fishing trips on the Tamar River, fighting for a spot on the jetty, a mate said "let's try the beach'.
So the next weekend we packed our surf rods and headed to the beach just east of Bridport, Saint Auburns Bay. Here we set our plan to find the best gutters and troughs during the low tide, after an hour of scouting the beach we had picked our spot, set up for the day and got ready to fish the incoming tide. The incoming tide can be very productive; with fish following small schools of bait fish into the shore as the water rises.
This is the prime time to rig up, cast out, put your surf rod in a holder, and try flicking soft plastics out into water. On my last trip the surf was so flat that I could see everything in the water and to my surprise I found myself sharing my little piece of the beach, with a number of eagle rays, who were not at all worried about me, occasionally swimming past me as they moved for a better location in the sand. That day I learnt a lot about that beach just by watching fish swimming up the gutter and how the bait schools would work the edge of a trough, always watching for predators. You could see them get nervous, just before they would explode out of the water, as a small school of salmon would shoot through hoping to gorge themselves.
When ever you are fishing, whether it is the beach, the river, or the rocks always be watching what is going on. I try to learn something new every time I fish so I am always watching what is happening.
For those that know nothing or very little about beach fishing, the following information will be of use if you use it as your guide until you learn more from fishing the beaches.
Baits and rigs
Baits are the preferred method for beach fishing in Australia, although the new generation of soft plastics can be fished effectively as baits. I will often use dead baits on the bottom hook of my surf rig but on the top hook I will use a bright coloured soft plastic. I have found that I will catch the majority of the salmon on the plastic rather than the bait, but the bait tends to be better for flathead and is a must for scavangers such as gummy sharks.
Baits that work well for beach fishing are: Blue bait, pilchards, squid, tuna, barracouta and just about any smelly oily fish that will stay on the hook. Bait durability needs to be considered especially if the surf is rough.
Baiting the hook, as simple as it may seem, needs some attention when surf fishing. No point casting out into the waves to have your bait ripped off before it even hits the bottom.
When using baits such us blue bait, these are a small version of the pilchard, they are extremely effective baits but are very soft and fall off the hook easily. For this reason I try not to use them hole, so I cut them in half and use them on a 2/0 single hook.
I place the hook through the thickest part and then back through near the tail or through the eye. This seems to work ok, but you will still need to check it often if it is the only bait you have on. Tip: use this on the bottom hook, and on the top use squid, soft plastics or popper bug.
Squid is great bait, tough as nails but needs to be replaced every half hour or so, as it loses it's flavour so to speak. Easily put on the hook any way you like whole, sliced into strips, or using the head. It doesn't matter just make sure the hook point is out by at least a centimeter.
Pilchards are probably the most common beach bait in the whole world, generally fished whole on a three gang hook configuration. Now there are many people out there that will agree and disagree on which way the head should face with pilchards. I like the head to be facing towards the rig, because I believe most fish eat other fish from behind. Some people believe it is the other way around and will fish tail to the rig, but what ever works for you do it. The important thing when baiting pilchard on gang hooks is to make sure the pilchard is hooked evenly and when finished it sits straight, this will make sure it doesn't fly off when casting. Just experiment a bit if it is your first time using pilchard.
You can rig your line anyway you like, most important is that it is going to get out to the fish and that it has enough weight on it to hold in the sand. Most beach fisherman use star shaped sinkers as these are very effective in settling into the sand and not drifting too much. Star sinkers are best when they have a swivel in the top of them. This stops the rig from twisting when winding in the line to check baits
The most common way to rig up for beach/surf fishing is using a paternoster rig, this has two hook positions and has the sinker fixed at the bottom. This works well because the line is anchored to the sand and the bait is displayed in the water column rather the sitting on the sand where the crabs and weed can cover it.
In the figure below you will see how to put together a paternoster rig. It is easier to use three way swivels than to tie the dropper loops if you are not familiar with the knots. But if you wish to tie your own completely then you will need a copy of Geoff Wilson's Knots and Rigs.
Alternatively you can purchase pre-made rigs that are made in wire form or from heavy mono-filament line, they are my choice of rig as they are cheap to buy ranging from about $1.50 to $4.00 and they withstand most toothy critters that you might encounter, such as barrracouta and small sharks.
What size hooks to use?
Hook size is important. It is important to what you are intending to catch. If you are trying to catch whiting in the surf, then you want a small hook size 2 or 4, but if you are looking at the big picture, and want to catch the majority of species on offer you will be looking to use a hook or gang hook around about 1/0, 2/0 or 3/0 depending on your bait selection and size.
Always use sharp hooks! If it's rusty get rid of it. The days you catch nothing, will be the days fish are a bit shy. They bite, but if you don't get that hook into them, or something big takes a run, because it is big and its mouth is hard, that rusty hook just won't cut it.
Where and when
The million dollar question. Where and when do I surf fish? Well it is easy. Any beach and any time, but there are still laws to fishing the beach as there are to any fishing style, these rules are not concrete but they do increase catch rates.
Firstly the beach is best if it has gutters and troughs in it, these can be found at low tide or from the knowledge of local people. For example Bell Buoy beach at Low Head is very flat and shallow, with few or no gutters and troughs in it, it can still fish well but it is home to mainly salmon and gummy shark. But other beaches such as the ones I fish between Bridport and Bellingham are full of troughs, even though it is still relatively flat and shallow.
These troughs provide a place for bait fish to feed and concentrate; it is these very places that larger predatory species come for food. If you understand how fish are feeding then you can make the educated decision on where is best. If you are like me, you know what it is like to stand next to a guy fishing, using the same bait and the same rig and he gets all the fish. He either knows or just got lucky and is casting into the trough that you are not.
At low tide you can see clearly the troughs and gutters in the beach
Tides are not important to catching fish in the surf but they can change how actively feeding fish will be. For instance flathead will be feeding when ever the water is moving, they will sit and wait for food to wash past them, so when ever the tide is receding or coming in is going to be best. At high tide it is better for pelagic fish such as salmon, barrcouta even tailor, because these fish swim in the water column, they need water, therefore high tide has sufficient water for them to come close to shore and feed.
Moon phases effect tides, but they also effect fish feeding and I believe that the best times for beach fishing are usually around first and last quarter of the moon, these provide high tides later in the day so you can fish the evening on a high. Full moon is also very good but high tide is usually in the middle of the night. Fishing through the night on full moon can be both pleasant and rewarding.
Many experienced fisherman believe that barometric pressure is important to high yields when fishing whether it be trout fishing or beach fishing, I guess I too keep a close eye on barometric pressure. But I cannot tell you which is the best pressure for a type of fish or if high is better than low. But I can tell you that I believe that if the pressure is rising or falling I will catch fish, if it is stable at a high or a low pressure fish seem to be quiet. So if you are new or old to the sport you should try keeping a journal of conditions such as barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, clear or overcast, etc. these will help build important data and take some of the guess work out of fishing.
I will finish up on with a few key points to consider when beach fishing and I hope you all got something out of reading my article. Even if most of it you already knew most of it, maybe I gave you something fresh to think about, or got you inspired to go and find yourself a beach, cast in a line relax and hopefully get your self a nice healthy feed of fish.
Because Tasmania has some of the best fishing in Australia so get into it!
Key points to beach fishing
Always check weather forecast before going beach fishing.
Try and pick a beach with prevailing wind off shore or try to find a sheltered bay.
Weather can change quickly so go prepared for wet cold conditions; nothing spoils a fishing trip more than being wet and cold.
Read the water e.g. Look for rips or current as these will indicate troughs or gutters, these are where the fish will feed. If you can't read the water, try to get there early and find gutters at low tide.
Go to your local tackle store and find out which beach is best for you in your area.
Use sharp hooks
Keep a journal of weather, tides, gutters, wind and anything else you think is important on the day, such as dolphins in the bay, sea gulls working etc
Most of all enjoy yourself.