Late Summer is perhaps the best time of year to cast lures from our rocks and beaches.
The weather and water temperatures are right up there and so to are the fish. Various bonito and small tuna species mix it with tailor, salmon, dart and rat kingfish.
A lure that sinks to the bottom may also attract flathead, bream or snapper and exotics like rainbow runner, samson fish, GTs and amberjack can also get in on the act.
My first taste of spinning from the stones was at the big South Avoca platform on the Central Coast with my mate Phil Bennett. Back then it was heavy overhead gear or our big Mitchell 499s spooled up with 10kg line, pelting out half-by-quarter lures, and if they didn’t get snagged we cranked them back in to hook up big bonito or rat kings.
Wybung Head was the next stop and we certainly enjoyed some memorable spinning there with the same gear and species.
Casting and retrieving big lumps of metal from the rocks can be exhausting. If you have a good day and do battle with a swag of bonnies and kings, it certainly takes it out of you.
You can also do well casting metal lures from the beaches, where tailor and salmon are the main targets but this can also be demanding, especially when using big beach rods and hurling out lures from 35g to 60g. A long walk along soft sand with a few fish in the bag can be just as physically taxing as a climb out from a major headland.
Exercise is good for the body and mind and so is catching fish, so there’s no way I’m about to suggest that heavy spinning tactics should be totally wiped from one’s angling agenda.
I still occasionally throw a big lump of metal into the surf with my jewfish gear, mainly to catch a fresh tailor for bait before settling down to the real business of jew fishing. I don’t see the point in taking another lighter rod with me when fishing the beach into the night, I’ve already got enough to carry!
These days we are lucky to have a large range of lighter rock and beach tackle so if you want to get into the thrills of light-tackle spinning, now’s the best time to have a go. If you’re not already equipped for this type of fishing, here’s a run through the rods, reels, lures and line best suited to the task and then some tactics to help hook some fun fighting fish.
Threadline and overhead gear can be used from the rocks and beaches. I reckon threadlines are best for beach spinning while overheads may at times have the edge when casting from the stones. Before going buying a new spinning outfit, take some time to think about what sort of locations you’ll be fishing and which species are most likely there.
If big salmon, mack tuna or rat kings are common around your local headlands then sturdy overhead tackle may be the best option. There are a few small overhead reels on the market that can handle the rigours of repetitive casting and can handle powerful fish with no dramas.
My reel of choice for this class of spinning is a Daiwa SLH20SH spooled with 7kg mono. This is a miniature version of the larger high-speed overheads that have traditionally been used at places like Avoca for many years, but it’s much nicer to use.
Reels like this can be matched up to a lightweight rod of around 2.7 metres suited to casting weights between 18g and 30g. The rod should be purpose-built for an overhead reel, have a whippy yet slightly stiff tip section and plenty of power in the lower third of the to help control and lift bigger fish.
You may have noticed that I mention mono line rather than GSP line for the small overhead reel. Although I spool most of my small threadlines and baitcasters with GSP lines I believe that there are many situations where conventional nylon mono makes a better choice.
I stick with mono for the small overhead spinning outfit because it is much more forgiving when fighting fast and powerful fish from the rocks or beaches. There is also the wave action to factor into the fight and a wave drawing back can actually have more pulling power than a fish. This can easily snap a line or simply rip the hook out of a fish when using GSP line that has little or no stretch.
Even experienced casters still get a few birds’ nests now and then when casting with overheads. A bad bird’s nest can mean having to cut it out, losing a heap of expensive GSP line in the process. So I reckon mono is the best way to go for overhead casting tackle other than lighter baitcasters or for lure casting for big jewfish or barra in calmer waters.
For threadline gear choose a light ‘flick stick’-style combo that would also be at home with estuary bream or flathead or a mid-weight spinning outfit comprising a 3000- to 4000-size reel matched to a 2.6- to 3-metre rod.
The flick stick is fine for smaller fish like frigate mackerel, tailor, pike, flathead or dart in semi-protected waters, although there’s no denying that you can still catch bonito, salmon or even rat kings with such gear if you take your time to land them and wave action isn’t a problem.
For threadline reels in this category I would recommend GSP line like Berkley Fireline as its fine diameter means you can pack a lot more on the little spool and obtain a greater casting distance than with mono. The lighter drag settings required on baby threadline reels virtually negate the non-stretch problem and you’ll probably be fishing in more sheltered waters where wave action isn’t likely to cause a problem.
A classic spot where such gear makes a top choice is at the Terrigal Haven on the Central Coast, where frigate mackerel are popular with young anglers through the warmer months.
The mid-weight category is perhaps the most versatile option for most anglers. A 4000-size threadline will hold plenty of line and although I would normally go for about 4kg or 5kg GSP line for a spinning reel of this size you can certainly catch a lot of fish with conventional mono of 4kg to 6kg.
Providing the reel has strong gearing, at least four ball bearings and a smooth drag, you should be able to handle most fish. Successfully dealing with hard-fighting fish also depends on the condition of the line, how well you’ve tied your knots, the condition of the rod and your drag setting. So it pays to look after your gear and keep checking the line, rod guides and drag during each spinning session.
I set the drag around one-third of the breaking strain of the line, so when using 6kg line the spool will start to yield line at 2kg of pressure. You can check with a small set of accurate scales by threading the line through the rod and loading the rod and reel drag settings. It’s also a good way to test knot strength.
When using ultra light gear lower the drag setting to less than one-quarter of the line strength which will be much more forgiving when hooked up to a decent salmon or bonito, especially with GSP lines.
There are so many different lures to choose from and most will catch fish at some time. There is, however, a difference between catching the odd fish and consistently catching fish.
Simple metal lures between 10g and 35g that are set up with quality hooks and split rings are the way to go. In my neck of the woods there are a number of locally made ‘no-name’ metal lures available through the tackle shops but I’ve always got a few more well-known types in my tackle box.
One of my all time favourites is the old ABU Toby metal spoon. I still have a few originals but there are a number of copies which are just about as good. Perhaps the modern equivalent to the Toby is the Spanyid Maniac and I’ve a permanent stockpile of those. These lures don’t cast as well as solid metal slugs and slices but they do have a nice fluttering action that tailor and salmon find irresistible.
Fish like bonito, mack tuna and rat kings respond better to lures retrieved fast so heavier metal slugs and slices work much better than the thin spoons. My favourite high-speed lure used to be the half-by-quarter but most are too heavy to be cast on light tackle.
Those ‘no-name’ metals are generally small but quite heavy for their size, cast like bullets and go flat-out through the water without planing to the surface too early on in the retrieve.
Have a look around the tackle shop and see what you can find. In most cases, if it’s small, nice and shiny and looks to be well made then it should be a fish-catcher.
Other lure types that make for some fun times on the rocks or beaches are surface poppers, soft plastics and thin-profile floating divers. Two that I’ve have good success with over recent times are the Viking Lancaster minnow lures and the 4” Berkley minnow.
These lighter stickbait-style lures are best fished off the mid-weight threadline gear and will interest most species when retrieved in a series of short bursts and pauses. Be sure to match your plastics with suitable jig heads. I choose AusSpin jig heads because they are designed for our local inshore species, which means they are strong. The size 2 in 1/8oz works particularly well with the 4” Berkley plastics.
Those who get out of bed nice and early will catch the most fish. By that I certainly don’t mean a 5am wake-up and be fishing half an hour after sunrise. Come on, put some effort into it and be fishing while you can still see stars in the sky!
I know there will always be the odd day when the fish don’t become really active until later in the morning but nine times out of ten the best spinning results will be had 20 minutes either side of sunrise.
Afternoon spin sessions can also produce the goods, with tailor and salmon generally active along the Central Coast from about two hours prior to sunset. Afternoon sea breezes can make light-tackle spinning difficult so you may want to work out a few semi-sheltered options before heading out.
The week leading up to the full or new moon often sees pelagics quite active. Although I generally don’t like the full moon for most types of fishing I’ve enjoyed some excellent spinning around high tide the morning after the full moon on more than one occasion.
Like other types of fishing, finding suitable fish-attracting structure is important.
At the beach most fish like to cruise the deeper sections but in particular they will patrol the edges of gutters looking for a meal. This means the areas where foamy whitewash meets clearer, deeper water. Think edges and you’ll do well at the beach.
Rocks and reef tend to attract baitfish which attract predators. Well-placed casts adjacent to semi-submerged rocks and bommies are generally in with a better chance than casts made out into clear open water.
It’s worth experimenting, though, as the target species we’re talking about do move around a lot. All in all, you’ve just got to get out there and keep casting. Just remember the earlybirds catch the most.
Tailor are the No 1 lure-takers along most NSW rocks and beaches.
Frigate mackerel are looked upon as nothing more than snapper or marlin bait by many but the author rates them as one of our most entertaining light-tackle sport fish. Small lures work best on these little speedsters.
A selection of metal lures in the 10g to 28g range and a small high-speed Daiwa SLH20SH – the weapons of choice for light high-speed spinning from the rocks.Reads: 7557