With the wind by far the angler’s worst enemy over the next few months, standing by a sandy beach gutter with a headland or sand dune behind you to break the gale is a great place to be.
Winter is definitely the best time to be out on the beach and none is better than Stockton Beach, famous for its giant sand dunes and top fishing.
Hunter coast locals and travelling anglers have come to know that fishing ‘the big beach’ in Winter is usually very rewarding. The species that have been taken along the length of Stockton is amazing but I guess it’s not only this beach that fishes at its peak throughout Winter. Beaches all along the coast are at their peak now.
Beach fishing is a lot about preparation. Usually you are putting yourself into the middle of nowhere and that alone can be a problem at times. A very reliable 4WD or beach motorbike (where permitted) is needed.
Beach fishos like solitude when they fish and small groups of anglers will fish a gutter together. Some might think they own it, so find another one or politely ask if you can fish nearby if an area is occupied.
Don’t fish on top of others on the beach. Many people like to have a quiet fish by themselves and they rightly frown on people who have kilometres of beach in front of them but pick the one hole or gutter with an angler on it. At times it can be a bit intrusive so a little thought or courtesy can go along way.
Fishing along a long beach has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the best things is that you can drive its length looking for close channels, gutters and holes. These are the formations you need to take the everyday beach species.
You can also spot and follow schools of fish such as mullet, tailor, salmon and sometimes even bream or blackfish. The beaches with islands, rocks, reefs and headlands close by can hold fish of all sorts and at times odd catches such as pelagic and rock species can be taken. For example, the beaches around Hat Head and South West Rocks can accommodate hundreds of feeding stingrays and occasionally cobia follow the rays and can be caught right on the beach.
Structure, either hard or soft, is as important in beach fishing as it is for any other angling.
The beaches of New South Wales show enormous variety. Many South Coast beaches are made up from shale and a lot of pebbles and are often steep and lead to deep water.
Around Sydney yellow sandy beaches are more prominent, while the Hunter Coast beaches are sand, oyster grit and shale. Up around Old Bar to Nambucca there are a lot of rocks on the beaches, then further north they change again back to mostly long sandy stretches
I know that all the areas aren’t unique as certain parts of the coast hold all this structure, but the beaches with the most formations fish a lot better than long, flat sandy ones as a mixed bag can turn up.
Winter fishing is usually centred around four main species, tailor, bream, jewfish and salmon, with a by-catch of whiting if the water hasn’t cooled off too quickly.
Worms and pilchards are the best two baits along with fresh whole squid for jewfish. Mullet gut is messy but a lot of the older blokes use it for dart and bream,
Flathead are taken on pilchards at times and when sandy channels are formed, lures work well also.
One of the beaches I have taken a lot of good friends to is Hawks Nest Beach, on the Myall Coast. We use 4WDs along this beach about three kilometres from Tea Gardens on the Mungo Brush Road.
this is a soft beach and our tyre pressures have to be around 10psi. After big swells from the south Hawks Nest Beach really gets a lot of good long channel formation, although not overly deep. We like to target jewfish and bream a few nights after a big southerly blow and with the westerly howling above us, we set in three rods each and wait.
At times we build a fire or sleep in the 4WDs waiting for a taker.
We mostly use bait runner-style threadline reels on the beach and put small lightsticks on the rod tips so we can see them.
We use solid rod tubes to hold the rods and keep the reels well away from sand and water. We use an array of bait and have found that on this beach that large, freshly-caught squid are the very best for jewfish. Over about four months we caught 16 jewfish to 15kg – not bad for three blokes considering we were out only once or twice a week. We didn’t get any huge ones but the by-catch was also good. A mate got a 2.5kg bream and we all got bream over a kilo most nights. And a 30kg jewfish was taken just around the headland while we were fishing one night.
Not every spot will produce on a beach and patience pays off almost as much as good bait, much of which is under your feet. Worms and pipis are great fish-takers on a small rod when the heavy gear is set with larger baits for jewfish and greenback tailor.
While you wait for the bigger better eating fish to come along, salmon, rays and sharks will usually keep you from getting bored. Some huge rays haunt the beach around dusk and one of these can test the rod as well as your stamina.
At times you can walk and spin the vast schools of salmon that are really coming back in huge numbers. Ten years ago these fish were lucky to reach Sydney but since the South Coast cannery has closed their numbers are gaining every year and they’re being taken up to Coffs Harbour and even further north.
Salmon are not the greatest fish to eat but for sport on light gear they are a lot of fun. The kids love them and they make a nice slab bait for jewfish and sharks on the heavy overnight gear.
I like to fish the over the third quarter of the moon, from the half-moon up to full moon night. At times when it’s windy, two or three nights past the full moon can be worthwhile.
Bream prefer the darker nights when the prawns are about, but a full moon is a good time during Winter because then bream seem to lurk at any time.
A head light and warm jacket are musts on the Winter beach. A lot of guys wear waders but they are dangerous if you fall in the surf because they can fill with water. But as long as you’re careful and aware of the waves waders are great for warmth and comfort.
Gear and tackle is pretty simple for beach fishing. A range of suicide hooks from a 1/0 to 8/0 is all that most of us carry. Rods are usually three to four metres and a rod tube or spike hold the set rods off the sand. Most of us like bait runner-type reels such as the large Shimanos and Okumas. Both are robust and large enough for the biggest of fish and have good line capacity and sensitive drag systems.
I have seen a friend fight a stingray of more than 50kg and near the size of a dinner table on a big BaitRunner and he needed every millimetre of line to land it. At times big jewfish and sharks do the same, so the more line capacity the better.
You could also take an old fish frame and keeper net along with some worm pliers. Collecting worms isn’t easy but with a little practice you can get enough to fish an evening.
I also take some music to help me do the pipi shuffle as I dig in the sand for these baits.
A lot of anglers also use lures. If you find a feeding mass of tailor and salmon, flicking heavy chrome lures into the mayhem will usually result in a hook-up.
A friend recently took me to a spit of sand west of Broughton Island on the Myall Coast. A small bay ran around to a headland and the shifting sand had made a small spit jut into the ocean. He took a tiny 1.6-metre rod and a range of Storm soft plastics and flicked them around as if he were in the estuary looking for flathead.
It worked a treat. He caught flathead and two large whiting on red soft plastics.
I was on the bandwagon with him in a shot but we spooked a lot of the fish into deeper water as we walked through the shallows. That was a mistake but I was thinking like many beach fishermen and lobbing the lures straight off the end of the spit. A lot of the whiting were sitting in water that barely covered their backs.
Many beach fishos like to throw out as far as possible but a rig out wide and one in close is by far a better option when using bait. Sometimes whiting and bream can hold quite close to the dumping wave breaks where channels and holes have formed.
Don’t just throw everything a mile out over the back breakers, have a large set rod for that job.
With the westerly being the main enemy and the cold being the second, once you’ve worked how to combat these two things you can have quite a successful fishing trip on the beach away from it all.
Below a sand dune of some height is a great place to be when a Winter westerly is howling overhead. And when the fish start biting, there’s nothing better.
FOLLOW THE RULES
Follow the rules if you fish in a national park or State recreation area. Some places won’t allow a fire or access into certain areas, mostly due to dune stabilisation or breeding birds.
Check to see if you need a permit to drive on the beach. Here on the Hunter we must have a pass for each different area and most regions are the same. Check in advance if you’re planning a trip by contacting the local council in the area you plan to fish. It’s a pity we can’t just buy a general permit but that’s the way it goes – the cost can be large you travel and fish everywhere in the State.
With Broughton Island as a backdrop, the Myall coastal fringe has a lot to offer the beach angler. And in Wintery offshore weather the shelter is at the foot of the dunes,.
Where the beach meets rock a variety of fish can be caught, and at times fish school for a period in these places.
Batemans Bay on the South Coast has a variety of rocky outcrops and Islands, some so close you can spin the fringes of them for tailor and salmon while standing on the beach.
Monster fish such as this 28kg Stockton Beach jewfish roam the gutters and channels. They love a bit of moon and large baits.
Sensible driving and learning to watch shadows that could be huge sandy drop-offs is essential when navigating across dunes. Check with local councils for beach vehicle rules.
Several beaches around Forster and a little way north have rocky outcrops where fish love to hunt. Heavy gear is a must as the fish will cut you off very quickly.
Two bream just over a kilo taken on pipis and worms rigged on 1/0 VMC hooks.
A 7kg jewfish that took an amazing amount of line. Large bait runner-style reels from Shimano and Okuma are built for this kind of fishing.
A school jewfish that hit exactly five minutes before the high tide under a half moon. A fresh squid did the trick and the strong 8/0 suicide hook was taken well down.