Pigs might fly
  |  First Published: October 2003

For many anglers, chasing black drummer is a Winter-only ritual. However, pigs are actually a year-round option that many rock fishers focus on only when the pelagics of summer and autumn are gone.

I usually prefer to leave the pigs alone until all the bass, jacks, mackerel and tuna have headed to warmer waters and I can at last turn my attention to one of the true bulldozers of the rock fishing world. This year I’ve decided to break with tradition and fish for pigs until the jacks arrive in late spring. If my results of recent times are anything to go by, I’m in for plenty of backbreaking fishing!

My favourite tackle for pigs alternates between two outfits: a heavy-duty beach fishing set-up of 12ft MT8144, 15kg line and a 650 Alvey, and a heavier but shorter overhead outfit. If I’m fishing a spot where an extra long cast with a lightly weighted bait is needed, my preferred delivery system is always the large loose coils of an Alvey. If, on the other hand, the pigs are big enough and the length of the cast is not as big an issue, I’ll go for the full-on landing power of a 10ft sabre 540 fast taper stick and big Daiwa SL50H overhead loaded with 15kg line. Nowadays I’m a bit lazy in the berleying department and instead of filling the gutter or wash I’m fishing with bread, I prefer to berley as I cast using oversized chunks of cunje cast continuously to the same patch of water. By encouraging my fishing mates to cast likewise, I find that the pigs are easy to bring onto the bite and after half an hour or so of repetitive casting they’re looking up for a feed.

Pig fishing is all about up sizing your tackle to 15kg line without sacrificing castability and bait presentation. When fishing really rugged country there’s even a large dose of un-weighted, loose line stream craft needed. It’s all part of the art of heavy tackle pigging.

Keeping the rigging as simple as possible is the other necessary factor, and simply running a pea sized ball sinker down to a 1/0 or 2/0 double strength hook is the only rig I use. Overall subtlety backed up by sheer power is the balance that newcomers have so much trouble achieving when pigging. One of the greatest ironies is that if you’re getting snagged up regularly the line’s probably too light or the bait too small or the sinker too big. Once properly balanced and in tune with the water and bottom conditions, snags will become a rarity – and when they do occur the heavy tackle and solid hook pattern should pull free from all but the most solid of snags.

The more cunje you can jam onto a hook when pigging the better. It’s bait, berley and an anti-snag system all wrapped into one. Most casts land, sink and get demolished within a few minutes, which makes chasing pigs one of the most active forms of bait fishing you can do – and this is why so many lure anglers also enjoy chasing pigs. The bite of a pig often bears no relation to its size; just recently a series of just average pecks turned into a 5.2kg monster that buried me three times before I luckily wrestled it to the rocks.

The best method for turning bites into hook-ups is to stand with your rod held high at all times, ready to drop the tip and give a little line. I find that after two or three tentative pecks a decent pig will, if given a bit of slack, try to scoff the bait on the third or fourth bite. Pigs only have small mouths and they need to reduce the size of the initial offering before gulping down the loaded remainder. Rarely feeding alone, there are usually more pigs and other species such as bream, wrasse and cockies competing for the bait, so if a pig wants a meal it has to eat quickly. Once you’ve identified the bite of a significant fish, giving line is usually all the encouragement a greedy pig needs before gulping what's left of the bait down on the run.

Once hooked there’s nothing scientific about landing a pig. Keeping the rod held high at all times and not giving an inch is the best way to go. When using an Alvey I wind in reverse at various stages through the fight, but generally I either keep the spool jammed or drag washer screwed close to near lock-up. Pigs fight much like mangrove jacks in that they’ll head under and around any reef outcrops, and broken or extending points. Even on 30lb tackle at some locations I lose about a third of the fish I hook.

At various locations along the NSW coast the average size range of pigs takes on a predictable pattern. At most locations, fish from about 500g to 3kg are the norm. At some of the better or less fished locations on the North Coast I’m finding that most fish are well over 3kg with 4-5kg fish thrown in to spice up the session.

The best locations for pigs are broken reef areas with significant wash action and slightly discoloured water that’s got just enough depth to conceal the presence of feeding fish. Instead of trying to see fish swimming around it’s much better to concentrate on finding feeding chutes where wave action draws back white water from the shallows into a deeper area. Here the fish can gain cover and access the receding wash.

1) Chad Hastings with a solid North Coast pig caught on cunje.

2) An angler fishing a North Coast pig ledge.

3) Dave Rae with a pair of cunje-caught pigs.

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