There are two ways to target fish: one is to keep on the move from spot to spot and to chase the fish by casting to them; the other is to wait for the fish to come to you. You can just wait for this to happen or you can increase your chances by using berley.
Berley is a mixture of small pieces of food and oil that you place in the water to either waft around the area and/or move off with the current. A side benefit of berley is that the oils that come off the berley often smooth the water’s surface and allow you to see into the water more effectively at your fishing spot (such as the back of your boat).
There are two main components to berley – the berley concoction itself and the method of delivery.
One berley system that I use is to cut pilchards (or another oily type fish such as mullet or tuna flesh) into cubes. Then I line them up on the cutting board and flick these cubes over the side one at a time. The general spacing used for these cubes is to flick the next one out when the previous one has just about disappeared from view as it drifts away with the current. This is probably the simplest delivery system however it really only covers the surface layer of the water.
Another way to distribute a surface layer berley system is to use a berley bucket mounted on the back of your boat and to mash the berley with a masher. These set-ups can be noisy and may put the fish off. This noise factor can be partially addressed by putting a rubber pad (or other soft spongy material) on the inside base of your berley bucket and to use a PVC pipe as a masher.
An even better way to cut down on the noise is to use a hand mincer to mince up the fish flesh. You can do this at home. After mincing the flesh up you can then freeze this flesh in ice cream type ‘buckets’ that will then give you a brick of berley that you can drop into your berley bucket. No masher required.
One method that I have incorporated into the surface approach is to tie the frames of filleted fish to a rope and hang them in the water from the back of the boat.
As a young brat, we’d catch tuna on perhaps the Saturday. Then on Saturday night in the marina we’d fillet the tuna in order to eat some sashimi and also to get some bait for Sunday. Then later on Saturday night, on the turn of the tide, we’d hang these tuna frames off the back of the boat and use them to attract bream. We’d then have a lot of fun catching these fish until we fell asleep on the floor of our family’s 15’ centre console.
Other delivery systems for distributing berley involve using some sort of container or mesh bag that you lower over the side of the boat down into the depths (often all the way to the bottom). That way you get the fish attracting offerings down to where the fish are. The idea is to attract the scattered fish to the region under and around your boat. Sometimes the effect is to bring in small fish that get attracted by your berley and then in turn these small ‘baitfish’ will then attract larger fish like mulloway and flathead.
Inside this container I place a rock to act as a weight. Additionally a fish head, some prawn shells and a couple of pieces of bread crust complete a very simple berley mix. This arrangement gives a genuine fish/seafood scent trail as well as some morsels of bread that drift out of the bag that the fish just love to nibble on.
In faster currents you may add additional quantities of all of the berley ingredients. An alternative is to use a more solid container with smaller holes.
My favourite delivery device has always been a mesh onion bag. Simply place the berley inside the onion bag and you have an easily stored berley and delivery system. You can use them unweighted at the back of the boat so that it covers the surface layers. Then weight another onion bag with a rock and drop it on a string/rope to the required depth.
Alternatively, instead of dropping the minced fish flesh into your berley bucket, place a frozen berley block inside the onion bag. The frozen block regulates the rate of dispersion of the berley because the morsels only break away as the block slowly thaws.
One way to get your delivery system down to the depth where your bait is, and keep it near to your bait with the hook in it, is to attach the berley device to your line just above the hook. This can be a little complicated, but in certain situations it works quite well. An example might be when you are anchored in still water behind a reef and the coral trout and/or other reefies are hanging tight to bommies that you can’t get your bait to. Putting a bait down on the bottom with a little berley bag attached can work wonders. This is typically best done at the turn of the tide when there is less current and less chance of tangles. Also there is more chance of your berley lasting longer and staying around the hook bait.
Freshwater anglers regularly employ this technique by using a small canister of berley rigged on the line above the hook. All the equipment to do this is available from coarse fishing suppliers that specialise in European coarse fishing. This approach works well for whiting and bream in the saltwater too.
Luderick anglers may berley by mixing chopped weed and sand into compact balls that fit into the palm of their hand. These balls can then be thrown into the area that they are fishing. The idea is for the berley to attract nearby luderick to the ‘green’ baits that are hanging underneath the angler’s floats. Many other food and/or berley offerings can be incorporated with the sand (or bread) balls and scattered around your spot to hold fish that swim through. It’s a great way to fish the shallow backwaters, saltwater and brackish creeks. Chopped pieces of worm, squid and saltwater yabbies mixed into sand balls make ideal whiting berley around low tidal flow yabby banks.
Berley will increase your catch and it only takes a little ‘keeping it simple’ effort to incorporate it into your fishing system.
Keep an eye on the Fisheries regulations when using berley. The number/amount of prawn and worm pieces, fish frame quantities with respect to bag limits, crab shells, fillet size and legal lengths are all things to consider.Reads: 1956