Like all forms of angling, rock fishing isn’t getting any easier. Through the Winter, however, most of the NSW coastline can offer the keen rockhopper a chance to tangle with a number of hard-fighting species.
To get the best out of what’s on offer here are what I believe are the 10 most important keys to success at this time of year. So if you don’t mind a bit of cold weather with your bream, drummer and blackfish, read on and hopefully you’ll be warmed up with all the angling action.
People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. So the very first step towards success is in the planning – what type of fish would you like to catch or what sort of methods would you prefer to use.
By asking yourself a few simple questions you’ll then have set goals in mind and this will help bring all the rest of your rock-fishing plans together.
One of the key preparations you make should be your clothing. Layer-dress to combat the cold and add a windproof, waterproof outer shell jacket or raincoat to shed salt spray and rain. Wear warm headgear because up to 30% of body heat is lost through the head.
Never wear heavy waders on the rocks, they’ll drag you straight down if you’re washed in. If you wear rain pants, make sure they can be slipped off easily if you fall in. Neoprene waders are more buoyant and warmer – if you can afford them.
Once you’ve got an idea of which fish you hope to catch and the types of areas you’ll be fishing, it’s then a matter of assembling the appropriate tackle.
The first piece of advice I can offer is to keep it simple. The next is to keep it light.
If the majority of fish you’ll be catching from the rocks average a kilo or less, there’s no point in using really thick line or giant rods. For the majority of my Winter rock fishing I take one rod which is designed primarily as a blackfish stick but is capable of handling bream, most drummer, can be used for tossing lures at tailor and salmon and if the rocks aren’t producing the goods this rod also works well at the beach.
My rod was built on a Pacific Composites blank but there are a number of multi-purpose rock-fishing rods available these days. When selecting one, go for something around three metres or slightly longer with a nice ‘whippy’ tip and a bit of stiff strength in the lower third of the rod.
A sensitive tip is great for feeling the bites and tossing light baits and the stiffer butt is there to help land stubborn fish like drummer and salmon.
Although sidecast reels are popular and durable, I prefer the versatility of a threadline reel spooled up with 6lb, 8lb or 10 lb Berkley Fireline. If drummer are the main target I may opt for 14lb but if bream or blackfish are more likely I’ll stick with 6lb or 8lb Fireline or sometimes 4kg mono. At the moment I’m using 4 kilo platypus classic for blackfish which seems to work quite well.
If you want to chase big drummer, blue groper or ‘real’ snapper a heavier outfit will be required. In this case a strong sidecast or overhead reel spooled up with 8kg to 15kg mono such as Schneider is appropriate.
The rod must be capable of dealing with big fish and thick line. In this case, the FSU series of rod blanks is ideal but, again, there are plenty of rods to choose from.
Taking the time to learn to read the rocks will help you catch fish and it may save your life.
Keen rockhoppers like me tend to forget that a majority of people don’t truly understand the power of the ocean and when to stay clear of the rocks.
It’s important to check weather and boating forecasts the night before you intend to go fishing. If a swell of two metres or more is predicted it may be wise to reconsider your rock-fishing plans.
If a three- or four-metre swell is predicted, don’t go near the rocks – simple.
Once on the rocks it pays to keep an eye on the water at all times. If at any time you feel that the waves are building or could become dangerous, move to a higher ledge or pack up and leave.
Seas can also become very flat through the cold months, generally after a few days of westerly winds.
When it gets really clear and flat, fishing can be quite difficult because most species become very cautious or move to deeper water to feed.
At such times you may still be able to find a few bream, blackfish or drummer if you present baits right in close to the rocks under any small patches of whitewater.
An alternative is to bring out the heavy gear, find a few crabs and target groper, which often take baits when other species shut down.
Overall, I believe the best fishing is to be had with the swell around a metre. This generally provides enough white wash around points, gutters and ledges to keep the fish happy. A small swell is also safe to fish but still it’s always important to watch the seas while you fish.
Rather than turning up at a spot and hoping for the best, successful rock fishos plan each trip with a specific type of fish in mind. This could mean an individual species such as bream or groper or it may mean a style of fishing like spinning with metal lures for tailor and salmon or soaking green cabbage baits for blackfish and drummer.
Nominating a particular type of fishing allows you to focus more on what you’re doing, bring along the right gear and baits for the job and stick at it until a fish is caught.
If the seas are a bit rough and washy, perhaps drummer are the best bet. If you’ve heard along the grapevine that bream are biting well at a certain spot then maybe you should focus on bream.
If in doubt, I reckon blackfish would be about the most reliable Winter species so grab your floats and gather up some green cabbage baits.
Top-quality baits are a basic requirement if you want good results from the rocks. Frozen baits you buy from the corner store or petrol station are rarely good enough these days.
Really, the only bait that I actually buy for rock fishing is white bread. It works very well on bream and drummer and at times it’s also great for blackfish and silver trevally.
The other baits can be found at most rock ledges and low tide is the best time to find them. They are green cabbage, cunje and crabs.
A few different types of brown and green weed also work well for blackfish and as for crabs, the best are the larger red crabs found close to the water – by far the most effective groper bait.
You must check at your rock location to see whether it comes within any marine park, protected area or other conservation zoning before harvesting any bait from the rocks.
And always take only enough bait to suit your immediate needs, there’s nothing worse than wasting a heap of fresh bait and finding there’s none there next time.
Nine times out of 10 the use of berley will make a difference to your catch rate. Nine times out of 10 the best berley is white bread soaked in some seawater and mashed to a fine pulp.
This works best on drummer but also helps attract bream, blackfish, sweep, silver drummer, trevally and mullet. The addition of some green cabbage, prawn shells or products like Ultrabite can only enhance the berley mix.
A golden rule when using berley on the rocks is to throw in small amounts at regular intervals, rather than a heap all at once. Too much berley may only feed the fish and then drift away, taking them with it.
But a handful here and there puts a food aroma into the water and teases the fish into looking for your bait.
Although it’s possible to catch fish at any time from the rocks, some species are easier to catch during what are often referred to as ‘peak periods’.
Early morning from half an hour before sunrise through to about two hours after sunrise is one of the most productive times to be on the rocks. Yes, it’s cold during Winter, but do you really want to catch fish?
Perhaps a more pleasurable time to fish is in the afternoon from about 3 pm up to sunset, when temperatures aren’t so hostile. I rate the mornings as better but I also prefer to avoid the cold if possible.
These low-light periods are best for tailor, salmon, bream and mulloway and these fish tend to go off the bite as the sun gains enough strength to warm your body and return to feed as the afternoon shadows creep across the water.
Two species that bite more freely through the middle of the day are blackfish and groper, particularly if the sky is overcast.
As for night time, I really don’t see a need to fish after dark although I have had some excellent catches of bream and tailor once the sun sets.
In most cases a rising tide produces better results than a falling tide. When fishing for drummer, bream or blackfish I like to start fishing about two hours after dead low tide and fish up to an hour before the tide peaks.
At most of the spots I’ve fished on the Central Coast these species seem to become less active towards the top of the tide, although this pattern may vary from place to place.
What I mean by finesse fishing is to use sly techniques to fool wary fish.
The first step here is to downsize the terminal tackle. Smaller, sharper hooks, light line, small sinkers and floats and even smaller swivels help overcome a fish’s shyness.
Bait fishing techniques used in many parts of Europe and Asia are a lot more refined than in Australia and I think we can learn from them.
When it comes to rock fishing there has long been a tendency to use big baits on big hooks and hurl the lot out with the aid of a big fat sinker. That’s a good way not to catch fish!
Buy some ultra sharp Gamakatsu Panfish and Baitholder patterns in sizes 4, 6 and 10. These hooks are an excellent starting point for average blackfish and drummer. Should bream or trevally get in on the act, stick to the No 4s and you’ll catch them.
If it’s bigger drummer or groper you’re after, try a larger Gamakatsu Octopus pattern in sizes 2 to 2/0 for the drummer and 2/0 to 7/0 for groper.
If you can’t get hold of these, you’re sure to find equivalent hooks made by Mustad, which are another fine brand. Another hook worth considering is the Mustad Aberdeen pattern, the type often used when rigging up soft plastic lures. These are very nice hooks which are particularly suited to bread baits.
If you must use lead, keep it to a minimum – just enough to cast out and sink the bait down a little. Sinkers that are too big will have you snagged up on rocks or kelp in no time and make the bait appear unnatural to the fish.
Floats are another thing to look at. Generally a small float is better than a big float, although it should be able to support enough lead to hold the bait down where a fish may find it.
Overall, keep everything light and don’t worry about losing the odd fish; it’s better to hook more fish in the first place and then deal with them on the end of your line than to not catch any.
While it’s all well and good to be specific, things don’t always go to plan.
When your desired target species doesn’t come out to play, having a back-up plan may just save the day.
Some simple, yet reliable back-ups are to always carry a few small metal lures and a few tiny hooks and floats. With these you can spin for tailor or salmon should these fish suddenly show up or swap over to trying for the ever-reliable blackfish.
This is one of the first major steps I made to improve my rock-fishing results.
If you’re not having any luck by casting your bait in the same spot, simply try another spot.
This could just mean casting in a different direction or walking to another rock ledge, point or gutter. If you keep placing your bait in different spots you’re bound to run into a few fish eventually. It’s a good line of thought – try it!Reads: 30768