Working the winter surf
  |  First Published: June 2016

Tackling the surf beaches in Victoria usually kicks off in May and runs right through until August. Although some species of fish can be caught year round, including gummy sharks, silver trevally and yellow eye mullet, it is the Australian salmon that is the highest prized of all.

When the southerlies begin to blow around April and May, cold water currents push up from the south. School of baitfish follow the current and large schools of Australian salmon are right on their tails working their way along the surf zones up and down the coast.

Although salmon are in abundance throughout the winter months, they’re not always caught from every beach. Frequently moving along the coast, different beaches will fire on different days throughout the season, knowing which beach to try will result in fishing different beaches right throughout the season.


Surf outfits can vary greatly from heavy to ultra light, and the outfit you use will all depend on where you’re going fishing, the conditions and the species you’re targeting.

Heavily weeded beaches and a strong side wash, which is a common factor after heavy storms, will warrant the use of a heavy outfit in the 8-15kg range. This is due to the sinker weight required to hold bottom and enough strength in the rod to be able to pull in the huge clumps of weed up the beach that you may encounter.

On the flip side, no side wash, low surf conditions and no weed can have you fishing a 4-6kg outfit or even a 902 shore spin rod to cast metal lures to fish in the gutters.

I tend to opt for two specific outfits; the first is a Wilson Blue Steel 8-20lb rod matched to Shimano Stradic 6000 that is loaded with Mustad Thor 15lb braid. This is quite versatile allowing me to cast up to an 80g weight in rough conditions right down to a 20g weight in calm conditions. My second outfit is another Wilson Blue Steel but an 8’6” shore spin version used for throwing lures when conditions allow. This rod is matched to a Shimano 4000 Stradic, which is also loaded with Mustad Thor 15lb braid.

Gummy sharks on the other hand also need a mention and while caught from many of our beaches at night during the lead up to the full moons, they require heavier tackle again. In my case, I prefer to use a Snyder 8144 Fish Striker, which can not just handle big game like a gummy shark but also the sinker weight required to be thrown and enough mid strength to cope with bringing such a big fish through the shore break and up the beach.


Surf fishing techniques vary considerably between anglers, but as long as you have a line in the water, you’re in with a fair chance.

Pre-tied or pre-purchased rigs from your local tackle store work very well and despite the theory that they are cheap and worthless, are in fact tied under strict quality control measures making them quite high quality. Obviously, there are some that aren’t, but well-known brands such as Mustad, Black Magic and Icon Takeshi will serve you well.

These brands all have a surf style model in their range specifically designed for catching salmon off the surf, gummy rigs and those suitable for both silver trevally and yellow eye mullet.

If you enjoy tying your own rigs, especially for mullet, salmon and trevally, I’d suggest tying them from 15lb fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon leader has a more abrasion resistant coating than conventional nylon leader, which will withstand rubbing on and being tangled up amongst any clumps of seaweed that typically bust off standard rigs and leaders.

A paternoster rig is the typical rig style used in the surf and while you can make them with one or two droppers, a two dropper paternoster is most commonly used.

Deciding on hooks is also just as important as tying the rig itself. Due to sand crabs always stealing baits, instead of putting a hook with bait on the bottom dropper tie on a surf popper or something similar with a 2” grub style soft plastic. This will keep the crabs away, allowing you to be able to still possibly catch two fish on your rig. The top dropper won’t see any crab action, so tie on a 1/0 hook that will hold your bait well without having them slip off the hook during a cast or while being smashed around in the surf.


Salmon aren’t particularly fussy in what baits they’ll take, however soft baits that are easy to swallow are recommended. Of all the baits available, whole blue bait, white bait and pipi are the most popular.

Placing baits onto the hook should be done with care. There is no point covering up the hook’s barb and point as you won’t get a solid hook set when the fish takes the bait. When you are placing the bait onto the hook, expose the hook point as much as possible and if you’re finding the bait’s not firm on the hook, grab some elastic and tie the bait to the hook. This will also ensure the bait doesn’t come off the hook with the surf surges and when small fish pick at the bait.

Berley is also essential in being successful on salmon and can really make the difference between not catching a fish and catching your bag’s worth.

When you hit the beach and cast out one piece of bait, the smell isn’t really going to attract a great deal of fish. When you use berley, a top blend is to mix around a kilo of pilchards with a bag of chook pellets and tuna oil. Chuck this into an onion bag and secure it to a rod holder. The bag can sit just out of the wash zone so each wave washes up the sand and over the bag. If you put it too far in the pressure of the waves can suck the entire bag out to sea.

If you set up the berley before rigging your rods, by the time you’re ready to make the first cast, the fish will already be in your berley trail.


Although berleying will bring the fish to your area, you still need to locate a deep gutter. Locating a gutter is quite easy if you know what to look for but more times than not, I continually see anglers fishing over the sand bars and having no success.

Regardless of which beach, they are all set out the same. On walking down to the sand, stop at a high vantage point and scour an eye over the layout of the beach and sand. You’ll notice the sand isn’t quite flat, rather it runs in corrugations along its length. Within each trough of each corrugation, a gutter will be present extending out into the surf.

Looking at the water, you can also pick a gutter by the colour of the water. It’s shallow where the waves break, but where the water is blue or green in colour, this is the gutter or rip.

Once you know what to look for, you’ll notice that not all gutters are vertical to the beach. Some are horizontal, diagonal or even just a hole with no exit point.

When you are looking for a gutter, the one mostly likely to have fish in it is a gutter that begins on the shore break and extends past the breakers back out into the ocean. This will have the most current of all and really suck your berley back out to sea, giving it a higher chance of attracting schools of fish.


As the crow flies, Victoria’s coastline spans some 800km, all of which have beaches worth fishing throughout winter. Even with so many beaches to fish from, there are a select few that standout season after season.

Of course, you can always try your luck at any beach, just toss some berley in the mix and something will come your way. If you are looking to strike it rich and really cut your teeth on quality fish, then your best bet is to concentrate on those beaches that continually produce solid salmon year after year.

Of all the beaches around the state, the following at some of the best performers: Apollo Bay, Moggs Creek, Jan Juc, Portsea, St Andrews, Gunnamatta, Anzacs Beach, Cape Woolamai, Kilcunda, Cemetery Beach, Powlett River Mouth, Williamsons Beach, Baxters Beach, Andersons Inlet, Venus Bay, McLoughlins Beach, Woodside Beach and the rest of the Ninety Mile.

Fishing throughout winter on Victoria’s coastal beaches is very productive, especially when you combine bait, berley and the right location. Despite the cold mornings and southerlies sea breezes, catching salmon from the surf is a lot of fun, all it takes is a warm morning coffee and a passion to hit the sand.

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