Surf Simplicity
  |  First Published: August 2014

Starlo reckons you can’t beat the simplicity of beach fishing, and offers some valuable tips for those just getting started in the surf.

Beach fishing is one of the most popular forms of land-based angling in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why. Our island home is blessed with long, often empty beaches, stretching all the way from Broome in the far north west to Hobart and beyond in the deep south east… And they all have fish swimming within casting range of the wave-washed sand.

For me, one of the greatest attractions of beach fishing or surf casting, as it’s better known in some regions, is its inherent simplicity. You don’t need a mountain of equipment. Nor is long term planning essential. In fact, beach fishing lends itself beautifully to spontaneous, spur of the moment forays. Yesterday was a case in point for me. I looked up from the computer screen mid-morning to see that the tree tops beyond my office window were sitting absolutely still against the blue sky. A walk on the local beach suddenly seemed like a wonderful idea. A quick consultation of the tide chart indicated that high water was only an hour or so away, so I made the last minute decision to carry a light surf rod with me on my stroll. Fortuitously, the outfit propped in the corner of the shed was already rigged with a Spanyid Maniac metal lure. I didn’t even bother taking a spare!

That 45 minute walk proved to be a great tonic and completely revitalized me for an afternoon’s work. And the 500 g tailor I landed on about my tenth cast made for a delicious lunch. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, for consistent results in the surf, a little more preparation and a tad more gear doesn’t go astray, but you can still carry everything you need for a longer session in a shoulder bag or day pack, with a plastic bucket to transport the bait out and (hopefully!) bring the catch home.

Using the right tackle makes a huge difference. Good surf rods are generally quite long: anything from 3 to 4 m. This helps with casting and also keeps your line above the annoying surge and drag of the shore break. But don’t burden yourself with a telephone pole. Modern, lightweight surf sticks are a joy to use and will handle most of the fishy critters you’re likely to encounter. My favourites are the various Light Surf models in several ranges of Shimano rods, including my Jungle StiX and the amazing Catana Nanos. Balance the rod up with a 4000 to 6000 size eggbeater (spinning reel) spooled with some 4 to 8 kilo line (mono or braid)… and you’re in business!

Finding the best spot to cast your bait or lure is the next trick. Beaches can be a bit like deserts, with the majority of their life concentrated around the “oases” represented by gutters, channels, holes or isolated outcrops of reef and rock. Focus on these areas. Climb to the highest point behind the beach and use polarized sunglasses to help locate these features. Deeper water is darker, and unbroken areas in the foamy surf line indicate gutters or holes and their accompanying rips.

Tides can be important, too. A rising or making tide tends to bring feeding fish closer to the beach. Often, and especially at high water, you’ll only need a short cast to reach them. Don’t make the mistake of always trying to punch holes in the horizon with your sinker. It’s easy to cast over the best fish, which may well be swimming literally at your feet, particularly on steeply sloping beaches.

If that rising to high tide coincides with the half light of dawn or dusk, so much the better: it’s time to heat up the frying pan!

One last but very important tip: modern, sophisticated reels don’t like sand. If you’re one of those folks who insist on lying their rod and reel in the grit, stick to an Alvey sidecast. They’re great surf reels, anyway. But if you opt for more high tech’ equipment, never hit the beach without carrying a metre-long section of PVC pipe. Push this deep into the sand and stand your rod and reel in it every time you bait up, re-rig or need to put the outfit down. Trust me, your reels will last many years longer as a result.

While it’s a tad cold in many areas right now, you can catch fish in the surf at any time of the year. In a few weeks from now, as winter’s grip finally weakens and gives way to spring, the appeal of this angling style will increase dramatically. Soon it will be time for shorts, bare legs, clean sand crunching between your toes and the tang of salt in your nostrils as you belt a bait or lure out over the break… Catching a fish is almost a bonus!

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