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Rock’s first steps
  |  First Published: May 2015



Late autumn through to mid-winter is a great time of year hit our wave-lashed rocks and pin a feed of fish. Bream, luderick, drummer, tailor and salmon are all on the move and generally eager to eat baits or slam lures. Each of these species and others that frequent this coastal zone aren’t too hard to catch either.

Of course, fish don’t just jump on the end of the line without some encouragement from the angler. Rock fishing, like any other style of our beloved pastime, requires planning and effort in order to bring rewards. So here we’ll run through some of the most important aspects of the game for those who may be new to rock fishing or just wanting to enjoy a bit more success.

SAFETY FIRST

Without question, the first thing anyone should consider before heading to the rocks is their own safety and the safety of friends or family. We’ve all seen those bad news stories on TV or in the papers, about rock fishing fatalities or rescues. The truth is, such incidents are normally the result of people going fishing when they shouldn’t. In other words, when the ocean swells are building or the seas are basically just too rough.

The power of a large wave spilling over a rock ledge is much the same as a freight train or a speeding truck. It can knock a human flying and probably prove fatal. We just can’t go playing around with the full force of nature and expect to get away with it.

So before any fishing, the first thing to do is check weather and sea forecasts. A simple TV news forecast telling us it will be a nice warm day tomorrow or to expect some rain is useless. We need to see a more in-depth weather report, where they talk about seas and swell. This may mean switching channels to watch someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.

These days we also have access to reasonably accurate information via the Internet or phone apps. Some to check out are the BoM coastal weather forecasts and the WillyWeather website, where you can type into the search box the specific area you plan on fishing. From here, you can then find the swell heights, wind speed and direction, as well as tidal information.

If the swell is predicted to be less than 1.5m, then it’s probably safe enough to fish at most spots. Even so, a small swell of this height may still be hazardous in some places, so try to pick a day when it’s no more than a metre. If forecasts indicate a swell height of any more than 2m, stay well away from the rocks as it will be too dangerous.

A large high tide may also mean waves will be spilling over rock ledges that may have been dry and safe around low tide. So overall, the best idea is to look at swell and tidal predictions. Always remember that swell height is enlarged when combined with a high tide.

Once everything’s been sorted out and you’re heading down towards your chosen rock fishing spot, now is the time to stop and observe. Give it at least a few minutes to see if any larger waves form up and crash onto the rocks. Quite often there will be a safe looking lull for 5-10 minutes, followed by a set of larger waves, and these are the ones to look out for. If all seems safe, proceed down to the spot. If not, look elsewhere.

Appropriate footwear is also important. Thongs, gumboots, hard-soled work boots or bare feet are no good. Try to quickly move across slippery rocks and you’ll run into problems. Specialised rock fishing booties or sandals can be purchased from most good fishing tackle shops. I’ve also found those cheap Dunlop Volleys to be quite comfortable and safe on my local conglomerate rock platforms that aren’t overly slippery.

Now that you’re on a safe outcrop or ledge, with suitable footwear, it’s also very important to constantly keep an eye on the water while fishing. Everything may be perfectly fine for 2 hours, then suddenly the swell starts pumping up and the next thing a larger wave crashes onto the rocks. This is not a ‘freak wave’, it’s just a larger wave and it can easily catch anglers off guard if they’re not observant.

GEARING UP

Using tackle that’s suited to this sort of environment will go a long way towards comfortable fishing and good results. The main part of this is to use longer rods that keep line clear of the rocks in front of you. If the rod is too short, then line is likely to catch around some kelp, cunje or barnacles. Rod lengths of 3m are a good starting point, but up to 3.6m can be better in some places.

Most of the time a mid-sized threadline reel will provide easy, trouble-free fishing for most species. For newcomers to rock fishing it’s probably best to stick with old school nylon lines, rather than using braid. It’s just easier to use, doesn’t require a long leader, and works out cheaper. A good breaking strain to use for a variety of species is 6kg. You’ll catch plenty of bream, luderick, drummer and tailor with this line.

If more demanding opponents such as groper, larger salmon, big drummer or kingfish are likely, then step up to at least 8kg line. Once you’ve got more experience under your belt, then it may be time to think about trying braided or PE lines, but the truth is you’ll catch plenty with nylon. A couple of very reliable brands to use off the rocks are Schneider and Maxima.

The tackle box doesn’t have to be anything special. A small selection of hooks, sinkers, swivels, floats and perhaps a few metal lures is all that’s required to target a range of different fish. Hook sizes from 6-1/0 can be used for bream, luderick, drummer, trevally and small snapper. For groper, larger drummer or average size snapper, try hooks from 2-4/0. Of course, when it comes to using baits like a whole pilchard, then ganged hooks in sizes 4/0-5/0 are a good choice.

Another couple of handy items include rubber float stops, small rubber lumo beads, and a spool of thicker line to be used for traces if you’re mainly chasing tailor or salmon. Remember though, to stick to finer line when it comes to trickier species like bream or luderick. They tend to shy away from thick line, even if the bait seems appealing.

A sharp knife, a decent pair of pliers, a small mesh keeper net to hold your catch, and a rag or towel to keep hands clean are other things you may need to bring along. I always carry a couple of plastic bags for the purpose of putting any rubbish such as bait packets, snack wrappers or empty drink bottles in. If no rubbish bins are in sight, then it comes home with me and goes in my bin.

BEST BAITS

Fish generally aren’t as fussy around the rocks as similar species found in calm estuary waters. However, some baits definitely do better than others. The good old blue pilchard is one of the best, providing you’re able to purchase decent quality ones in the first place, as soft, poorly treated pillies are all too common. Used whole on ganged hooks they’re fantastic for tailor and salmon, and bream will always be keen to take a bite at smaller cut pieces.

Plain white bread is a really good bait for bream, blackfish and drummer. Compared to other baits, it’s also quite cheap and 1 of my all-time favourites. It works best when squeezed over a small size 6-4 hook and fished either unweighted or suspended beneath a small bobby float.

Green or cooked prawns are another top bait that will attract most species, but prawns also lure in any small pest fish that may be in the vicinity. Naturally occurring baits that can be found around the rocks like crabs or cunje are also great, but once again attract undesirable pickers and pests.

Green cabbage, also known as sea lettuce, is the primary bait for luderick, but black drummer are quick to snaffle up a feed of greens. If you want to have a go at using cabbage for bait, try it on a size 6-8 hook and fold the delicate leaves over a few times as the hook is threaded through. It takes a bit of practice when baiting up with this stuff, but it’s worth persisting, as both luderick and drummer rarely refuse it.

TOP SPOTS

As suggested at the beginning of this article, safety is a priority, so look for dry ledges rather than those with water spilling over them. Still though, the best spots are those with some fairly constant whitewash around. In general, baits cast under sudsy looking water are more likely to score bites than those cast out into clearer water.

Depth is not essential at all. In fact, some of the best fishing for a variety of species occurs in relatively shallow locations, especially if there is a sandy bottom next to the rocks. Bream are particularly fond of sandy spots.

Too much rock out front of you can present problems such as snagging up as you wind the line back in, so wherever possible, try to fish where the rock ledge drops straight down to the water near your feet.

BEST TIMES

Most forms of fishing are best done early in the morning or later in afternoon rather than around midday. Although the same generally applies when rock fishing, it’s important to fish the tides. In most areas, for most species, a rising tide is better than a falling tide.

Over the years I’ve often found the middle part of the rising tide to be the peak time to catch old favourites like bream, drummer and blackfish. Therefore, arriving at the chosen spot at dead low tide and fishing the next 3-4 hours of the rising tide is a good strategy.

If you can time the tides early or late in the day, so much the better. If not, those dreary overcast winter days often produce good fishing as well. So get out there as the weather cools down and warm yourself up with a spot of rock fishing.

NSW SIZE AND BAG LIMIT REGULATIONS

Bream: 25cm – 10

Drummer: 30cm – 10

Luderick: 27cm – 10

Snapper: 30cm – 10

Trevally: 30cm – 10

Groper: 30cm (only 1 over 60cm) – 2

Jewfish: 70cm – 2

Tailor: 30cm – 10

Kingfish: 65cm – 5

Bonito: 10

Salmon: 5

Abalone: 11.7cm – 2

Turban Snails: 20

Squid: 20

Octopus: 10

Bait Crabs: 10

Cunjevoi: 20

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