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Lighten up on the beach
  |  First Published: September 2013



If your ideal beach fishing session entails hurling a heavily weighted pilchard or slab bait at the horizon with a 10kg-15kg rod around 4m long, and then dropping it in the PVC pipe within arm’s reach of the stubby holder on your deckchair – it might be better if you skipped a couple of pages.

There’s also plenty of great beach fishing that doesn’t involve heavy tackle, thick mono line and anchoring yourself on one patch of sand. And it’s fun, very productive and even likely to be good for your health.

Around 12-15 years ago I gave myself a severe and painful bout of tennis elbow by indulging too enthusiastically in a tailor session throwing 80g metal slugs. It crippled me all Winter, at work and at play.

In between making me whimper in pain, my physiotherapist hit the nail on the head when she suggested I find a lighter fishing rod.

There really wasn’t much around but I’d heard about Rob Dunn up at Brunswick Heads sliding 7’ graphite spinning blanks up through the butts of shortened fibreglass beach rods. It wasn’t long before I’d built my first ‘Blacktip’ on a 7’ Samurai blank epoxied in place up through the bottom 2.3m of a four-wrap surf rod that a mate had snapped.

I could cast lures around 60g a goodly distance and once I started using 20lb braid, a whole lot further. The first strikes of a decent greenback tailor I experienced on braid were almost brutal and I was sold. I mainly cast metals but I also had good success on a bunch of poppers of hardwood dowel with stainless split pins hammered into undersize holes for the hooks and tow points.

The Blacktip got heavily used off the beach and the rocks, although it eventually failed noisily when I tried to lift about 3.5kg of school jew up a vertical face. Not surprising, given the thickness of the blank and the work it had done.

I then bought one of the last G.Loomis SU1324 11’ two-piece surf blanks in the country and built a great rod on this sweet GL2 graphite fast-taper pole. I went to the local rugby league field with my 4500 threadline, 10kg braid, a 60g slug, a bunch of different guides and a roll of masking tape. I played around all day with guide sizes and spacings until I was consistently flinging from the dead-ball line well into the opposition quarter – 70m-80m.

It remains one of my treasured rods and although it’s now one of my ‘heavier’ outfits, it still feels way more like a big bream spinning combo than an old-style beach rod. But it casts a mile and once you hook up, there’s tremendous fighting power in such a lightweight package.

EVER LIGHTER

But in the past five years there’s been a tremendous growth in super-light beach tackle, especially rods that you can carry long distances and cast all day without apparent effort – and with no aching muscles at the end of the day.

Light soft plastic rigs, micro slugs and jigs, conventional hardbodies of all types, poppers, squid jigs and plenty of worms, pipis and strip baits can be cast convincing distances. Compact spinning reels loaded with fine, low-drag braid and fluorocarbon leaders complete the outfits.

As with much cutting-edge fishing, we can thank the Japanese for all this, of course.

While the Japanese are swinging perfectly balanced graphite rods to cast highly tuned plastic and metal lures for coastal sea bass, the Yanks are still mostly hurling rough pieces of timber with quite heavy poles, clunky reels and mono line for their stripers, drum and bluefish.

Australians are developing our own methods of attacking surf species and doing a pretty good job of it.

A bunch of hard-core NSW Northern Rivers locals started flicking small soft plastics into the surf about six years ago, using bream spinning rods extended to about 8’-8’6”. They cast 8g-30g lures, mostly plastics, and caught some awesome bream, flatties and school jew, but they were wading up to their necks at times to get to the good water on the gently sloping local beaches.

I drooled when Daiwa introduced their popular Sea Jigger series of 2.5m-3m rods and they soon became the weapons of choice for super-light beach fishos, and for a hardy bunch of rockhoppers who didn’t mind losing plenty of fish because they couldn’t quite persuade them within reach of the long gaffs necessary.

CAREFUL!

They snapped some rods, too. These are definitely not knockabout sticks for the average rockhopper and anyone who is even slightly hard on their tackle should stick to the Ugly Stiks and fibreglass poles. And don’t even think about lifting a fish on these delicate weapons; they’re not for high-sticking or hefting fish from the water.

Apart from the awesome Daiwa Branzino rods, which were just too expensive to survive on the Aussie market, there wasn’t a lot apart from the Sea Jiggers until Marty from Pacific Composites in New Zealand displayed a fantastic 10’6” super-light surf rod at the 2010 AFTA Trade Show. It briefly became part of the EJ Todd product line but Todds now have the NS range of light rods of 8’-10’6” that should do the job.

In 2011 Nitro brought out the Sniper, a great 3kg-6kg super-light around 10’6” and Jarvis Walker released their Rovex Squid Wrangler range of Japanese-designed egi rods. I soon got my hands on the 10’ model.

I spent a lot of money in 2010 on a Branzino 109ML that is still the only piece of fishing tackle I own that brings a smile to my face just by using it. The lures just seem to go farther on this rod. I adore casting hard and soft lures up to 40g with it and it’s whipped some decent tailor and school mulloway with power deceptive in such a skinny blank.

But the Squid Wrangler, which still retails for around $100, is probably 80% as good and casts 85% of the distance for a mere fraction of the cost.

The 2012 AFTA trade show finally bristled with a fine selection of these light beach rods from a number of companies. Daiwa expanded their selection with the Lateo Pirates and Seabass series, among others. The Lox Iridium series featured some great super-light models along with some more rugged rock spinning rods.

Jarvis Walker supplemented the Squid Wranglers with the Rovex Air Surf range, although most of these are a bit beefed up for the 4kg-6kg line, 8g-40g brief that fits this light surf category.

And no doubt the 2013 trade show will turn up plenty morem, now that the benefits of going light for fish that mostly really don’t stretch the old 20lb beach outfit.

TARGETS, LURES

Most of my light beach fishing occurs over Winter, when the westerlies smooth the surf and schools of migrating whitebait and anchovies come in close. Tailor, mulloway, the occasional salmon, bream, flathead and even the odd whiting and dart are the major customers that follow these little baitfish.

So the lures mostly mimic the bait, with a selection of metal slugs and vibrating blades for the days when a bit of distance is required to reach the feeding fish. At closer range, plastics, poppers and plugs come into their own with slower retrieves, sneaky scents, splashes, rattles and interesting actions.

Lures from 70mm-140mm do the job and the closer they mimic the bait, the better. In the mostly clear water, natural colours work best but in the half-light of the prime bite times at dusk and dawn, when the sight predators need a little help, pink, red or chartreuse trim can be a major drawcard.

Any of the 15g-40g chrome slugs will do the job, although some are more aerodynamic than others and some have a little more action built into them. I do like those with a bit of prism flash on the flanks and find it hard to go past the Halco Twisty and Outcast and Gold Coaster John Kovacs Lazer lures.

The perennial Toby spoon and its copies is always good worked slowly, and can produce interesting fish like tarwhine, dart and bream.

Many aerobatic fish like tailor and salmon can easily throw the treble on a metal lure, so I usually replace or add a single hook on two split rings or a home-made assist hook hung from the front or rear of the lure.

Sometimes I’ll even superglue a soft plastic about the same size as the metal from the assist hook, giving the fish a choice between hard and soft.

One more thing: If you intend to cast metals, you’ll be best using braid of 8lb-plus. Go too fine and on a powerful cast you’ll just crack off the lure as you load any of these potent rods.

FINDING FISH

The beauty of having a rod and reel that can total under a kilo is that you can really go places with it. A light shoulder bag with a selection of lures, a roll of leader, sunblock, a knife and braid scissors, and you can go as far as you like for as long as you like without feeling like a packhorse.

On the shorter beaches you can work both rocky ends and all the holes, gutters and banks in between, and then even hop over the next headland and do another.

When you’re walking along longer beaches, you tend to see more in the way of subtle water changes and fish indicators than you ever will charging along in a 4WD from one obvious and often crowded hole to another.

Bird activity is always worth investigating, as is any sort of surface disturbance, even the slightest irregular swirl.

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