Night moves
  |  First Published: November 2005

I’ll admit to being just a little scared of fishing the beach at night and can trace this fear back to a surf fishing incident in my childhood.

As a young lad, I would often hit the beach after dark for tailor. Back in those days, tailor in the gutters also meant jewies in the gutters so we would cast out a chopper on a big hook for half an hour or so before heading home.

More often than not we would hook a jewie and most of the time, with our dragless Alvey reels and three-year-old mono line, we would lose it.

One night my close friend Bill hooked a beauty and managed to stay connected for around half an hour. As the fish started to come closer to shore, I wandered out in the shallow shore break, waiting for one of the prettiest sights in beach fishing – the big silver flash as an exhausted jewie rolls in a wave and drops at your feet.

Unfortunately, on this night there was no silver flash. Instead I was confronted by a shark, jaws open, surfing on a wave and heading right towards me. I have no idea how big or what type of shark it was; I just knew that it wasn’t happy and was looking right at me. To make the situation even scarier, the hit movie of the day was Jaws!

Night fishing in the surf has never been quite the same after this.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it and have had some great tailor sessions in the surf since then but I would never walk out into the water again. And as far as I am concerned, until proven otherwise everything I hook into after dark is a shark.

Night basics

Setting up for a night fish can be a little tricky but I have never had real dramas finding gutters, even on moonless nights, because the white water stands out no matter how dark it is. After giving your eyes a few minutes to adjust you should soon be able to see where the waves form, break and re-form in the gutters.

Some anglers I know shoot down to the beach before dark, mark a spot and then return later that night. Early in the evening I have often walked up to a gutter that has a big stick or some other form of mark in front of it and, sure enough, a couple of hours later I will be joined by the angler who placed it there earlier.

Until you are confident in locating gutters, marking them during the day is a great idea but you need to account for tidal fluctuations. It will be fine if you mark your gutter 12 hours before you start fishing as the tide will be similar but if you finish work at 4pm, check out the beach on your way home and start fishing at 10pm, there will be a huge difference in the amount of water that made up that gutter six hours earlier.

With a little practice you can soon work out what the gutter will be like at the time you plan to fish. A good example is to look for a steep beach at low tide or a gutter without a shallow back bank at high tide. The steep incline of the sand will see that section of the beach getting very deep as it starts to be flooded and you can even look for cut away sections of sand that were gutters on the previous high tide.

If you are there at high tide, look for a gutter that isn’t going to shallow out as the tide drops. Some great water at high tide can be framed by sand bars that are much too shallow to allow fish to move over them as the tide drops, making them unfishable at low tide.


Your equipment needs to change slightly when fishing in the dark. The most obvious change is that you will need a reliable torch or a good quality head lantern. I also see a lot of anglers placing camping lanterns or similar next to the tackle and bait they’ve left high up on the beach.

Unless you are fishing next to a major road or buildings, the beach can be a very dark place, especially around the new moon, so make sure that the light you bring is reliable.

During the day you can often get away with having some gear nearby that you can keep an eye on, especially if the tide is falling. At night it is much better to keep all the gear up high on the beach and have a bait bucket and wading bag to limit the amount of time you need to trek back up the beach to the gear.

During Winter you should consider a pair of waders unless you belong to the Bondi Icebergs.

Rods and reels should be the same as for beach fishing during daylight. If you are chasing tailor, whether at night or during the day, use a rod suitable for the weights you will be casting and the fish you will be catching.

If you’re chasing bream, dart and whiting a light rod will be fine, even after dark. Tackle choice changes dramatically if you are targeting big fish.

Chasing mulloway or sharks comes with its own tackle requirements – heavy rods and strong reels coupled with pre-rigged terminal tackle are a must. And always be aware of the potential for a big shark to come barrelling down the waves at you while your mate stands well up the beach and tells you what to do to land the monster!

If you have driven a 4WD to your spot, remember where the track going down to the beach is. It may even pay to mark it because wind or waves sometimes cover the tyre tracks and you can have a hard time finding the exit. This has happened to me a few times and is quite frustrating. On busy beaches there are so many tracks that it is a good idea to find a landmark that distinguishes yours from the rest.

The basics of beach fishing are the same whether it is night or day. Work the gutters, use the best baits possible and pick your nights.

If the weather isn’t perfect, I usually postpone my trip. In my experience, good weather is the most important factor required for a successful night of beach fishing. Good weather means a high barometer, little or no wind (a little westerly for tailor) and small swell.

You’ll do better when there is a small amount of swell instead of none but if the swell is generating a decent sweep, the fishing starts to resemble hard work rather than fun.

Beach fishing at night is relatively easy and very enjoyable, especially when good weather is matched by healthy catches.

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