Holiday beach basics
  |  First Published: December 2004

Spending time on the sand can result in some wonderful vacation meals

SECTION: features




It’s that time of year again when we can get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Sun, surf and sand are part of our culture and along with swimming and surfing, beach fishing is one of our more popular warm weather pastimes.

There is, however, a difference between fishing a beach and actually catching fish from it. So after reading this article you’ll hopefully be catching fish at the beach rather than just casting out and hoping for the best.

There are basically three categories of beach fishing available to NSW anglers: Light tackle, medium tackle and heavy tackle. Light tackle is best suited to the middle of the day and the main fish you’ll run into are whiting along with bream, dart, flathead and maybe a stray tailor or salmon. Suitable tackle is a light two- to three-metre rod matched to a small threadline or sidecast reel spooled with 3kg or 4kg line. I recommend 3kg Schneider or Maxima for the task although 6lb Fireline also works well if you prefer to use braid.

A small tackle box with a few hooks, sinkers, swivels and maybe a lure or two can be thrown in a bucket or shoulder bag along with some pliers, bait knife, rag for wiping smelly hands and, of course, some bait (we’ll get to bait in a minute ). Hat, polarised sunnies and sunscreen complete the kit.

I also like to bring along a plastic bag to put any rubbish in, which can be thrown in a bin on the way home.

For the medium class we’re mainly talking about fishing early in the morning or late afternoon when species like tailor, salmon and bream are more active. Flathead, trevally and maybe even jewfish could also get in on the act so obviously you want a reasonable chance of landing a jewie should you be lucky enough to hook one.

A rod of between 3.0 and 3.6 metres with a light tip, coupled with a medium-sized threadline or sidecast spooled up with 6kg mono or 10lb braid is the type of gear to go for. When referring to mid-sized threadline reels I mean a 4000 size or equivalent. Reels that fit the bill include the Okuma AV-40, Okuma EFS 40, Diawa CP4000, Surecatch SAF1040 and Shimano Aernos 4000. These are all good reels but you must keep the sand off them!

Other items you can add to your fishing kit for this type of beach fishing are some larger sinkers, ganged hooks and some trace line to help guard against tailor bite-offs. Suitable trace line can be some old Schneider or Maxima from about 8kg to 12kg. A torch and some warm clothing will also help the cause if you stay out late or start very early.

At the heavier end of things, we can fish into the night when bigger tailor, salmon and jewfish are likely to show up. For this I recommend a 3.6-metre rod that’s strong but not too heavy. There are some excellent Wilson rods on the market for the task but other brands to look at include Silstar and Pacific Composites. Reels to handle jewies need to be sturdy and although 6” Alveys are well suited, I like big threadlines. Some to consider include the Okuma AV80, Shimano TSS4 and Penn 8500SS spooled with 8kg to 12kg line.

Bring along some bigger hooks and sinkers, some 12kg to 20kg trace line, a strong head lamp and a rain jacket.

Even in Summer it can get cold on the beach at night. If you don’t intend on walking far along the sand I would also consider wearing waders. Waders in Summer? Bluebottles often get washed in on the high tides through the warmer months and a sting can certainly stuff up your night’s fishing.


It seems like every article on beach fishing includes a bit about reading the beach. This time I want to keep it very simple and straightforward: Look for darker, unbroken water next to consistently foamy water.

This generally means a deeper gutter right next to a shallow sand bank and this is a pretty reliable area to fish. Another quite reliable spot is at the end of a beach close to rocks or a patch of reef.

You can also try rips, which are generally indicated by a long patch of foamy water running at right-angles to the sand. Another good spot is just beyond the shore dump, where the waves stir up the sand.

If you can try one or two of these types of spots during your fishing session you could be in business. In most cases a rising tide is the best time so grab yourself a tide chart and aim to time your outing sometime between low and high (not between high and low, when fish tend to move farther from shore and out of range).


Quite a variety of baits will interest fish in the surf but there sure are some that have a proven track record.

For whiting the best baits are beach worms and live bloodworms. Second-best for beach whiting are fresh pipis, fresh peeled prawns and pink nippers.

Bream respond well to all of these baits along with fresh pieces of tailor and good-quality blue pilchards, ones that aren’t soft and mushy and certainly not imported pilchards.

Flathead, tailor and salmon are the gobbleguts of the beach and will rarely refuse a bait if it’s cast close to where they may be feeding. The better baits for these fish are whole blue pilchards on ganged hooks around size 3/0 to 4/0, smaller whitebait on a single long-shank hook or set of mini ganged hooks (No 3 tarpon pattern ) and thin strips of fresh mullet or tailor fished on ganged hooks or a single long-shank hook.

The list of best jewfish baits are squid (that you’ve caught yourself, not frozen and bought from a shop), fresh slabs of mullet, fresh tailor or big beach worms piled up on the hook.

Other baits that are local favourites in some areas include whole fresh garfish, whole pike and the heads of tailor, mullet, blackfish and squid.

Although jewfish have been caught on quite a few other baits, including pilchards, if you really want to catch one it’s a good idea to get the freshest bait you can. Put in a bit of effort to catch or buy good bait in the afternoon before heading off to the beach and you may be rewarded with a nice big chrome jewie.


You’ll probably catch a lot more fish at the beach overall by using fresh bait but it certainly pays to keep a few metal lures in your tackle box. Tailor and salmon are the main fish that will take a lure in the surf, although there are times when flathead, silver trevally, dart and some other fish will readily take lures.

One of the main advantages of a metal lure over bait is that it can be cast greater distances. Patches of feeding tailor or salmon often move along a bit farther out beyond the inshore gutters and when you see birds diving over these aggro fish, it’s time to cut your bait rig off and cast a lure out to the action.

Do soft plastics catch fish at the beach ? They certainly do. Main species are flathead, when the lure is very slowly jigged in fairly calm surf. Dart, silver trevally and whiting will also hit the very small plastics worked through the gutters slowly. If

Big plastics, such as the 6” Storm or Atomic shads, have taken quite a few jewies along our beaches but you may need to be persistent and don’t expect miracles straight away.

Really, though, I reckon you just can’t go past metal lures at the beach. Some of my favourites include Raiders, Maniacs, ABU Tobys and half-by-quarters. Be sure to use a 40cm length of trace around 10kg to help guard against a tailor biting your whole lure off. It does happen if the fish is extra hungry.

Beach fishing really is a simple game and compared with other types of fishing it is pretty consistent when it comes to bringing home a feed of fresh fish. Bream, whiting and flathead from the clean ocean surf are particularly tasty.

So if you use the right sort of gear and some top quality bait as the tide is rising you will be in with a very good chance of catching a feed.


Light tackle: No 4 Mustad bloodworm hooks; No 2 Mustad 4200 hooks; No 10 and No 12 swivels; No 3, 4 and 5 ball sinkers; 6kg line for trace material; 15g to 21g metal lures.

Medium tackle: No 2 Mustad 4200 hooks; 1/0 Mustad 92608 beak hooks; 3/0 ganged hooks; No 8 and No 10 swivels; No 5, 6 and 7 ball sinkers; 8kg to 12kg line for trace material; 18g to 35g metal lures.

Heavy tackle: 2/0 Mustad Big Red or Gamakatsu Octopus hooks; 3/0 ganged hooks; 8/0 Mustad Big Red or Gamakatsu Octopus hooks; No 6 and No 8 swivels; No 6, 7 and 8 ball sinkers; 12kg to 20kg line for trace material; 25g to 60g metal lures.

Salmon are one of the favourite beach species. Fish close to rocky areas and keep the bait under the foamy water for a good chance of one like Allen Bennett is holding here.

Bream are generally more active as the tide is rising around dawn or dusk. Use good quality bait and sharp hooks for success on beach bream.

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