Holiday rock-fishing basics
  |  First Published: December 2003

SUMMER is a great time of year to fish the east coast rocks. Keen anglers can look forward to warm-water pelagic species like bonito, frigate mackerel, longtail tuna and kingfish.

A few tailor, bream and salmon are always possible and even traditional Winter targets like blackfish, drummer and groper are still active right through the warmer months.

Each season tends to be a bit different, but along most of the NSW coastline the weather warms up much earlier than the water. So through November, December and early January, it’s often a good idea to target fish like drummer, blackfish, and groper rather than the warm-water pelagics. South of Newcastle, salmon are another species to keep an eye out for.

January can be quite a mixed month as far as rock fishing goes. One day the water may be warm and full of kings and bonito, the next it’s cold and lifeless. So it can pay to hit the rocks with an open attitude and gear that could suit the conditions or available species.

I couldn’t count how many times I’ve taken just my spinning gear with a handful of lures down to the rocks, only to find cold water that’s just not worth casting a lure into. At such times, another rod rigged up for blackfish can be a big saviour.

Even during February and March, when the water is supposed to be teeming with bonito, small tuna and kings, these fish don’t always show up so an open-minded attitude can lead to a good catch of bream or blackfish instead.

If you’re new to rock fishing, there are a few things you’ll need to know before buying some new gear and heading off for your holiday. Obviously, the most important thing is to be aware of the potential dangers. Experienced rockhoppers read the sea and can usually tell if the ocean conditions will remain calm or perhaps build up into a swell that shouldn’t be fished. Different headlands are affected in different ways by the wind and swell. While some may be perfectly safe, others can be quite treacherous during the same sea conditions.

There are two things you can check prior to heading out for a fishing session. The first is to take a look at a few different spots and pick one or two that look the safest. The next step is to watch the evening TV weather forecast. If there is any mention of strong winds hitting the coast overnight or the swell starting to rise, it could be an idea to postpone the outing or fish the beaches or a river instead.

I can clearly remember a morning a few years ago that really emphasises what I’m outlining here. After getting out of bed super-early and driving over 10km to a favourite rock ledge, I was disappointed to be greeted by big seas – conditions clearly unsafe for rock fishing. I stood there trying to think of a safe spot to fish, but soon realised that the best thing to do was drive straight back home and forget about the whole idea.

Around midday, I switched on the radio to catch the local news and the first item was a rock-fishing tragedy at the same spot I had planned to fish. Three people were swept to their deaths, simply because they were keen to have a fish and didn’t comprehend the dangers they were placing themselves in.

So check the weather or boating forecasts, take a good, hard look at a spot before fishing and make alternate plans if you’re not sure that it looks safe enough to fish.

Suitable footwear, like soft-soled joggers or cleated sandals, is certainly a good idea and never, ever, wear thongs – they are bad news on the rocks. Keep your clothing warm, but light. Shorts are much more practical than long pants, and a wind-proof spray jacket will help keep you warm and dry.

Always keep an eye on the water, fish near or with other people and stay alert at all times. Something that I absolutely hate seeing at the rocks is people drinking beer while they fish – don’t do it – save the drinks for when you get back home or to the camp site. Like driving a car, rock fishing isn’t dangerous, but add some alcohol and things could turn nasty.


Let’s take a look at some pointers that will help you score a few fish from the stones. As previously mentioned, it makes a lot of sense to fish the rocks with an open mind and gear that may suit a few different applications. Having said that, the best results will come if you target the more likely species, rather than just chuck out a bait and hope for the best.

When fishing for bream, drummer or blackfish, one of the main things to remember is not to cast out too far. In most cases these fish will be found right in close, under some foamy whitewater. Small hooks, light line and minimal sinker weight also add up to better results.

Most of these fish are less than a kilo so there’s not much point in using 10kg line, big hooks and a heavy rod. Hook sizes from No 10 to No 6 are fine for blackfish, while sizes No 4 to 1/0 are about right for bream and drummer.


Bread makes excellent bait for these species and trevally love the stuff, too. Simply mix up a couple of loaves with some seawater until it’s fine and pulpy. A few handfuls thrown in close to the rocks every 10 minutes or so will soon attract any fish if they are in the area. A small piece of bread firmly pinched around the hook should last for a couple of casts or until a fish finds it. Bread may not be as tough on a hook as cunjevoi, squid or pilchard, but it’s more than effective and seems to attract less in the way of rubbish fish like toads or mados.

Bonito or kings respond really well to high-speed spinning with heavy metal lures. A quality reel with a gear ratio of about 6:1 is essential if bonito are the main target, although kingfish, salmon and tailor can be caught if you’re using a slower reel. Two of the best lures are Raiders and ‘half by quarters’.

If you want to try soft plastics I recommend the AusSpin range of jig heads combined with almost any type of rubber shad, grub or stickbait. The big Storm plastics are pretty enticing on kingfish as well. The high-speed technique isn’t so suitable for the plastics. Just cast the lure out and allow it to sink a bit before jigging it back in a series of drops, stops and fast rips.

Other lures, like floating divers or poppers, will catch a few fish here and there but they certainly aren’t always as effective as metal lures or soft plastics.


Nine times out of 10, a rising tide will yield much better results than a falling tide. I generally try to time my outings so that I start three or four hours after low water and fish right up to high tide. I prefer an early morning session rather than afternoons for two reasons. Firstly, there is usually little or no wind in the mornings and, secondly, pelagics like bonito, kings or tailor seem to be most active right on sunrise.

One more thing I want to mention is about rock-fishing etiquette. Be aware that the rocks are there for all of us to enjoy, so try not to push into other people’s fishing spaces or cast over other lines.

When using a float, try to prevent it from drifting out where people may be casting baits or lures. By using a little commonsense and courtesy, you’re far more likely to enjoy the experience.

Oh, and don’t forget to take any rubbish with you. There’s nothing worse than turning up to a spot to see old bait packets, beer bottles and other rubbish scattered across the rocks. Let’s keep our rock-fishing spots clean this Summer. Enjoy your fishing.

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