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Winter beach fishing basics
  |  First Published: June 2016



When beach fishing comes to mind, it’s only natural to associate this great Aussie pastime with other summer traditions like cricket and the good old backyard BBQ. The truth is though, beach fishing can be a rewarding activity during any month of the year. Like other types of angling though, a few adjustments need to be made in order to make the most of what each season offers.

The colder weather and water temperatures mean we need to rug up and be prepared differently to the summer months. Thankfully our winters are very mild compared to many other countries around the world, but it still gets icy cold at night and just before sunrise can be particularly brutal on the fingers and feet.

Some species cruise the surf zone through the entire year, and it’s not too uncommon to encounter traditional summer favourites like whiting even in the very depths of winter. Realistically though, the main fish species to expect when beach fishing along the NSW coast at this time of year are salmon, tailor, bream and mulloway. Throw in the occasional silver trevally, tarwhine, snapper, flathead and gummy shark along some beaches as well.

Most anglers using typical and popular beach fishing methods are more inclined to hook salmon, tailor and bream, with more emphasis on salmon south of Newcastle and tailor along the north coast. Some of the more dedicated folk who don’t mind putting in a decent effort after sunset will still catch the same species, but there’s also a reasonably good chance of mulloway on many of the beaches, with some of the biggest specimens hooked during the coldest months.

WARMING UP

Simply walking along soft sand, carrying some tackle and bait is a good way of getting some exercise and warming up. Sometimes though, the sand can feel like you’re walking on ice slurry and bare feet can really start to suffer. While I’ve known some people to say waders aren’t safe or they’re too uncomfortable, I wouldn’t fish the beach in winter without them.

With socks and track pants inside the waders, legs and feet are kept very warm and completely dry. It’s important to be mindful that most types of waders are not at all ideal or safe for walking out into the surf, as this is when waves can wash right over them and when things can become problematic or hazardous. Stick to simply walking into the little bit of foamy wash when making casts or landing fish. If you do wade out into water deeper than ankle height you should consider a wet suit rather than waders.

Unless one of those seriously arctic cold snaps has just hit, I wouldn’t recommend going overboard with thick jumpers and beanies, as it’s often much warmer at the beach than expected. Once you’re walking around and hopefully hooking into some hard fighting fish, it’s easy to work up a sweat and feel overdressed. A fleecy top, with a spray jacket and thin beanie or cap is usually enough in average circumstances.

TACKLE AND TACTICS

Perhaps the single most versatile way to fish the beach through the cooler months is to cast whole pilchards pinned to a set of ganged hooks. Despite all the advances made over the past decade or so, this old school approach still remains incredibly effective for the dominant surf species – salmon and tailor. Good quality pilchards can also be quite appealing to bream, mulloway and others.

A simple rig that does a great job in most situations is a set of 4/0 gangs, with a 30cm trace of 10kg mono or fluorocarbon, swivel and a size 5-7 ball sinker running freely above the swivel. If bream are the main target species, then the same type of rig, with a single size 1/0 hook is normally spot on. For mulloway with bigger baits try a single size 7/0-10/0 Gamakatsu Octopus or two of these hooks snelled about 10cm apart. Exact hook size mainly depends on the size of bait to be used.

Many anglers still use nylon mono as the mainline, which works very well for soaking baits in the surf. Remember, it’s vital to incorporate a leader about the same length as the rod above the rig when you use braid or PE lines. Although fluorocarbon has become the accepted type of line to use as leader material these days, the extra stretch of a hard wearing nylon mono like Schneider or Maxima is beneficial when fighting big fish in a pounding surf. In short, more fish stay hooked with a mono leader than a fluorocarbon leader.

Aside from pilchards, other top beach baits include calamari, strips of mullet, tailor, pike or bonito, whole garfish and for bream try pipis, beach worms and smaller cut pieces of fish flesh. Of all fish flesh baits, my favourite is tailor, especially when it’s freshly caught and cut up straight away. A whole fresh tailor or mullet head also makes a great mulloway bait.

Lure casting is another option well worth considering. When a pack of hungry tailor or a big mob of sambos move into a gutter, lures can actually do a better job than baits, as it’s a faster form of fishing, and there’s no need to put on a new bait all the time. Once the action has died off, it may be a good idea to switch back to bait soaking.

If forced to bring just one lure to the beach I would pack a 40g Surecatch Knight. These simple chrome lures have proven highly successful on tailor, salmon, bonito and other species time and time again over the years. However, there are times when different lures should be considered.

Salmon often feed on tiny, slim profile baitfish at this time of year and small, thin metal lures in the 15-25g range can work quite well. Another sort of lure that sambos really like is a small, slinky soft plastic such as a Berkley PowerBait Minnow pinned to a jighead that’s heavy enough to cast into the surf. Unfortunately, such lures don’t cast that well and it may take some experimentation with lighter rods, reels and line to achieve a distance that acheives results.

Sinking stickbait style lures have become more popular for rock and beach fishing lately, as they have enough weight to cast reasonably well, and a larger profile than a metal lure so they stand out in the surf. One that I’ve enjoyed great success with this year is the Daiwa Switch Hitter 85s. Such lures can be skimmed across the top like a popper, or allowed to sink and then cranked in at a variable pace.

PEAK TIMES

Regardless of the season or location, most fish are more active around sunrise and sunset. This is especially so for predators like tailor and salmon. Although activity levels may not remain as intense, fishing well into the night will still produce tailor, salmon and bream, but it’s often the best way to tangle with the mighty mulloway.

As for tides, a rising tide is generally much better than a falling tide. Quite often, the peak bite will come in the hour leading up to high tide. Anglers trying their luck for mulloway should definitely make sure their best bait is in the water in the final ten minutes leading up to high tide, as the precise moment the tide changes is when mulloway bite best.

So, if winter’s chills are dampening the enthusiasm, consider putting in some more time at the beach over the coming months. It could turn out to be better than expected, and probably a lot warmer than many other locations to fish.

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