THE GEAR THE SUCCESSFUL SURF FISHERMAN USES
As in all fishing, the right rod and reel combination will improve your success. The golden rule is to fish as light as possible; the lightest line, sinker, and rod/reel that conditions will allow. Try not to anchor your bait to the bottom with a big sinker. A bait that is moving with the surge of the waves and tide action will find a lot more fish.
A beach rod capable of casting a heavy sinker or lure, but still with a tip light enough to cast lightly weighted baits and to “feel” the bite is best. The tip action will also enable you to hook and play a fish without placing too much pressure on the line.
The rod can be made of either hollow fibreglass or carbon composite and must be from 3.5 to 4m long. For an Alvey reel, the design of the rod is very important. The reel should sit about 20cm up from the butt and the first or stripping runner should be approximately half way along the rod. Any closer will restrict the cast. To bring the line closer to the finger guiding the line on to the reel, an Alvey open runner can be bound on to the rod above where the rod is normally held with the left hand. The open runner serves the same purpose as an ordinary runner by controlling the line when fishing, and also prevents the line cutting your fingers when playing a fish. When you are ready to cast, simply slip the line out of the open runner. Place it back in for the retrieve or fighting a fish.
Why are anglers who use an Alvey Reel more successful? It’s not just luck, they are using the right reel and an Alvey makes all the difference.
Whether casting bait with a heavy sinker, spinning with a lure, or bait spinning with little or no lead, the Alvey reel is excellent. The fast, direct line recovery lets you keep up with a fish if it runs towards you and the controlled winding will keep the line tight. A minimum of moving parts in an Alvey, and their simple design compared to other reel types, make them almost maintenance and trouble free, especially from sand and salt corrosion. The 600, 650 and 700 series reels are the most commonly used.
There are a number of advantages in using as light a line as conditions allow. You can cast further, feel a bite a lot better and it is less noticeable to fish.
An excellent line for beach fishing is the Platypus brand from 4 to 8kg breaking strain. Lighter line for bream, whiting etc. and the heavier breaking strains for tailor and the larger fish such as mulloway.
RIGGING AND BAITING
Surface feeding fish that move into surf gutters such as tailor and salmon feed mainly on small baitfish. Baits such as WA and Blue Pilchards, Gar, White and Frogmouth Pilchards are the best bait for these fish. Strips of fish flesh can be used in the same manner. An efficient way to use these baits is on a chain or gang of linked hooks. The number and size of the hooks used depends on the type and size of your bait. For Gar you can use up to a five hook rig in 4/0 or 5/0, WA Pilchards usually require a three hook rig in the same hook sizes. Small White Pilchards or similar baitfish need smaller hooks, from 3 to 1/0. You can purchase rigs already made to suit, or make your own. They are made by using a hook that you can open the eye on (Mustad 4200, 7766, 8260 or 3407A. Eagle Claw 60417). The shank on all the hooks must be bent upwards slightly. This is to allow the bait to sit straight on the rig. Hooks with the eyes opened and bent are available (Mustad 4202, Eagle Claw 6043-n).
The correct way to bait your rig is to place it alongside the bait and align the point of the first hook with the eye of the bait. Note the spot on the side of the bait where the last hook rests. Insert this hook first and continue with the others in sequence. The first hook should now go through the bait’s eye socket. The species that take a fish bait usually have sharp teeth that can cut through line so some trace is needed. Wire traces are not needed and do tend to scare fish.
A simple trace of heavier nylon is all you need. About 1m of 15 to 20kg line is sufficient. Platypus makes a special clear trace line that is excellent for this purpose.
The smaller fish such as whiting, bream and dart that feed in the shallower surf zone naturally need smaller hooks. A size 3 to 4 hook for whiting and dart and a size 1 to 2/0 for bream, preferably in a French or beak pattern, which tend to be finer and sharper. If you want a super sharp hook, use any of the chemically or laser sharpened models that are now available.
The bait to use for these fish can vary; pipis and worms can be obtained right on the spot. Bream and flathead can’t resist a white or frogmouth pilchard rigged on a small gang of hooks. The most important step when rigging is to use swivels (as small as possible) and run the sinker on a short section of line between them. The top swivel, the one closest to the rod tip is the major eliminator of line twist.
READING THE BEACH As the weather changes, so do the beach formations. A successful surf fisherman knows this and with experience, learns to read the beach and surf conditions and fishes accordingly.
There are high and low tide gutters. A gutter that produces good fishing on high water can be almost dry on the low tide. Conversely, a gutter than can be fished at low tide can be increasingly difficult to fish as the tide rises. The surf fisherman must be able to select a likely spot by assessing the conditions, state of the tide and the existing structure of the beach formation.
DEFINING SURF GUTTERS
A surf gutter is formed by an outer submerged sand bank running parallel to the beach. Variable in length, the channel in between this outer sand bank and the beach can have an outlet at one or both ends. Long featureless gutters are not as productive as smaller, shorter or narrower ones. Holes are formed at the gutter’s outlet to the sea. Waves breaking on the outer bank spread a layer of foam and broken water across the inner channel. Referred to by fishermen as white water, this disturbed water offers cover to fish and stirs up the bottom exposing food.
The ideal gutter is one that is narrow enough to allow the angler to cast to the outer bank and bring his bait back through the deeper water of the channel. This is known as bait spinning and is best done with fish bait and as little lead as possible. A sand spit jutting from the shore often has a corresponding spit forming inwards from the outer bank. This creates pockets in which fish congregate to feed. If you have to use extra weight to reach these spots, keep it to a minimum.
Fish will often be found where a gutter empties to the sea. The surge of water in and out, stirs up the sand and with it food. Position yourself near the mouth and allow the bait to drift with the run from the gutter. Potholes are the small indentations which form in the shallower water, often near the edge of the beach. Anglers often wade through them, not knowing that they can offer some good fishing. Whiting, dart and flathead actively feed in this shallow water, so it often pays to try these areas before disturbing them.
Dawn and dusk are usually considered the best times to fish the beach, but often good fishing can occur during the day if the conditions and gutter formation are right. Fishing at night can be done during moonlight conditions when it is easier to read the water. Often good gutters can be picked during the day and returned to at night, when the conditions are more suitable for fishing.
Now you have equipped yourself with a balanced rod and reel outfit and have selected the right spot to start fishing, how do you go about catching some fish? As mentioned before, the species of fish you are chasing will dictate the tackle and bait to use and where to cast.
Fishing for tailor needs a long cast to the white water breaking into a gutter. As the bait lands and you turn your reel around to the retrieve position, give the bait a short sharp flick to make it break the surface before letting it sink. This often attracts feeding fish and provokes a strike. Keep the line tight with a slow and steady retrieve, occasionally lifting the rod to impart action to the bait. When a fish hits, you will feel a distinct bite. Sometimes the fish will take the bait and move towards you indicated by a sudden slackening of the line. When this happens, lean back on the rod and increase the retrieve rate to set the hook. Keep the rod high to take the weight of the fish, but always be ready to let the fish have line if it decides to make a dash seaward. Fishing for other species in the shallower pot holes and gutters requires the same slow retrieve to keep the line tight.
Lure fishing off a beach is an exciting way to catch fish. Tailor salmon, flathead and even the occasional dart or bream will take lures. Tailor and other fish which feed out wide need a lure that you cast the distance. A metal lure weighing anywhere from 25 to 90g is required. Some lead bodied lures have a strip of prism tape to add flash and give you a lure with maximum weight with minimum bulk to help you attain the distance. Another popular design is the chromed metal slice, one of the original lure patterns.
To get the best results when spinning, you need a fast retrieve. The Alvey 65OGRC, 6500BCVRR and 700C models have the best line recovery for spinning the surf and a drag to handle the heavier strike you will get on a lure. Our 650GRBC reel is the only Alvey reel with internal gears giving a ratio of 2:1. This gives approximately 1m per turn recovery which is enough to excite many pelagic species that cruise outside the beach break. If a large fish is hooked you may need to use the pump and wind technique with your rod as you would with any geared reel to recover your fish. While the reel has stainless gears and bronze shafts you still need to maintain the reel regularly and lubricate all moving parts to get the best results. The smaller you go in spool size, the slower the retrieve and the less effective. You do not need a sinker when using lures however the addition of a snap swivel to connect the lure to the line will help alleviate the increased line twist that comes with spinning.
Try to cast to the edges of tailor schools. Often the lure continually being pulled through the school can alarm them. Give the lure an erratic action by working the tip of the rod as you retrieve. Shallow water fish will also take a lure, particularly the smaller spoon or minnow styles. When targeting these shallower water fish, you don’t need the fast retrieve as used on tailor. A steady but still erratic retrieve is usually best. Once again, it’s important to move carefully when wading so you don’t frighten the fish. Start at one end of the gutter and cover the water in a series of casts before moving along a short distance and doing the same again.