Salmon Surf Strategies
  |  First Published: April 2005

Surf fishing is the best ways to get yourself into decent fish a limited budget. Australian salmon are the most popular surf species in Victoria and the cooler months ahead will provide the ideal opportunity to tangle with one of these great sportfish.

Salmon caught from Victorian beaches will vary from the size of a pilchard up to 3kg, although the average is between 800g and 1.3kg. There is little doubt that most anglers are pretty happy catching 1kg salmon in the suds.

Finding Fish

Salmon rely on a combination of swimming speed and cover to ambush small fish. They are most often found in deep water gutters that run parallel to the beach. Gutters appear to be calmer areas of darker water, where waves tend to roll through to the beach rather than breaking. Gutters are the prime location to cast your bait because that’s where the small baitfish will be schooling.

Small salmon travel in larger schools. Large fish on the other hand, are rarely caught in great numbers.

Best baits

Salmon can be caught on just about anything. Fish baits such as pilchards, bluebait, whitebait and glassies do very well because of their oily nature. I prefer to use fresh pilchards that still contain a lot of moisture that acts as a berley.

Salted pilchards are a good stand by but they lack a strong smell that can really drives salmon nuts.

Fish can also be taken on squid, pipi, sandworm and bass yabbies. This goes to show that salmon are opportunistic feeders. If they are in the area, you’ll have a good shot at hooking a fish or two.

Lure Fishing

Salmon leap at the chance to engulf a lure. Using lures in the surf can be tiresome because of the long rods used and the number of casts needed to find the fish. I tend to switch to lures when the salmon are really biting well on bait.

The best lures for casting are those that are heavy enough to be cast a long way. Heavy metal slices, often shaped like a small bullet, are often chrome plated to improve their shine underwater. These lures imitate a baitfish when retrieved fast and most salmon find them irresistible.

Another way to use lures for salmon in the surf is to attach saltwater flies, soft plastics or poppers to your paternoster rig. Just let the waves and the moving line provide the action!. This is a very effective way to target salmon if the crabs are stealing your bait.

Surf poppers are a floating cup-faced fly, originally designed to catch North American large mouth bass. They are buoyant and bob about on a paternoster rig with an erratic action that can prove irresistible to Australian salmon. I have only seen poppers in red/white, blue/white and green/white combinations and have caught fish on all three colours.

Good colours for soft plastics or flies are white, chartreuse, blue, silver or a combination of these colours.

Salmon are renowned as great fighters and put on a spectacular aerial show by cart wheeling clear of the water. For this reason, they often throw the hook midway through the fight. The thrill of the chase, however, far outweighs a lost fish here and there when lure casting for these pirates-of-the-foam.

Rigs, Gear and Tackle

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t’ need to toss a set of ganged hooks all the way to Tasmania in order to bag a decent salmon. Ganged hooks are great for holding a full pilchard together in the surf but they’re not very aerodynamic so don’t help much for distance casting.

Don’t get me wrong, whole pilchards are one of my favourite baits, but I’m just saying you can get by with a lot less on your hook if distance is your main aim. However, I still believe a fresh, whole pilchard is your best shot at the bigger fish despite the casting constraints.

Some beaches have gutters that look relatively close, however, they are often a lot further out than they look from the top of the dunes. Best distances are achieved by using minimal bait and terminal tackle, well-tuned reels, matched outfits and fine lines, such as braids.

A simple paternoster rig with a single 1/0 stainless hook is more than adequate to target salmon from the beach. This is also a very good distance casting rig because it has less dangling off it to slow it down when airborne.

Star sinkers are used when there is a bit of drift or current. Bomb styled sinkers are very good for distance but can roll about a lot and are useless if there is any drift or current.

If you are going to attach two leaders to your paternoster rig, your casting distance will suffer and tangles will increase. You need to keep your leader lengths to around 25cm. For single leader rigs, you can extend your leader to around 40cm. I keep a number of different rigs made up in my tackle bag, tied on short sticks of polystyrene to facilitate quick rig changes should conditions change.

A small canvass bag slung over the shoulder is ideal for keeping bait, pliers and a knife close at hand. Without such a bag, I find myself trudging back up the beach to re-bait each time. Pliers are invaluable for the quick release of unwanted fish. Other items are generally kept well back from the waves as tidal surges can be unpredictable in big surf.

Rod holders are another very handy tool that assist in rigging, baiting or just having a spell. Rods with the old wooden sand spike are uncomfortable to hold and only add weight to your set-up so see if you can buy a rod without one of these.

Reels should be well sealed, of good quality and thoroughly washed down after every trip. Surf fishing is tough on gear. Saltwater and sand are your worst enemies!

Long rods to 16ft are good for distance casting but a little more awkward to handle. Rods around 12ft offer a good compromise between casting capacity and handling.

A backpack loaded with minimal tackle is much easier to carry down the dunes than a fold out style tackle box. Remember, you may be carrying bait, rods, rod holder and waders so keep everything to a minimum for easy travel.

I prefer to put my waders on in the car park. I leave my rods broken down and in long rod socks until I get to the beach. This makes for easier walking down bush tracks.

If you are using monofilament line, 15lb offers a good balance between distance and strength. It also copes well when hauling in those big lengths of kelp.

On the plate

Salmon are a great fighting fish but they lack performance on the plate. Consequently, I release most that I catch. Anything over about 1kg can be quite dry and carries a strong fish flavour. Smoked salmon can be pretty tasty but I can only eat so much of it on biscuits or in risotto.

If you plan on taking a few for the table they should be dispatched humanely and bled immediately upon capture. Standing them upright in the sand will is a good idea but warm weather can see the fish spoil quite quickly. An ice filled eski is the best means of keeping them in top condition for the table.


Kelp dangers!

After big seas, kelp is often dislodged from rocks and washed up on surf beaches. When you hook kelp while surf fishing, several rules should be adhered to avoid damage of your equipment and yourself.

1. Play big kelp like a fish and don’t try to muscle it in at once or you may loose your rig. Try to avoid breaking off rigs in kelp as this poses a real danger to swimmers and wildlife.

2. Take care when grabbing kelp in case it does have hooks and rigs in it.

3. When you get kelp close to the beach, hold your rod on its side parallel to the ground and angle it away from you and others when retrieving. Hooks and rigs can suddenly dislodge and head straight back at the angler or bystanders.

4. When you finally land your monster kelp and are preparing to remove it from your rig, never fully load a vertically standing rod. Expensive rods can snap in an instant!

5. Never try to dislodge your rig with the line under tension. If the rig lets go, you may drive hooks into yourself or get hit by the sinker.



Braided lines are fantastic in the surf. You can add 10 – 15% to you casting distance. Sensitivity and hook setting power are unrivalled.

If you plan on using lures in the surf, always remember to wind the first few wraps of line tightly onto your reel. Failure to do this will result is tangles or the loss of lures when casting. Why? When the lure hits the water, line is often still peeling off the reel, leaving a large amount of slack in the air. As you wind this on, it goes back onto your reel without much tension. As you continue to wind, reducing the amount of slack line, tension increase. This tighter line digs into the looser stuff and can end up lying under it. Next cast, the line can pull off all the loose stuff and you’re left with a bird’s nest!

Overhead reels manage this a little easier because you are able to apply pressure to the spool via your casting thumb to stop the extra slack line. Furthermore, when casting, the line travels off the revolving spool in a straight line rather than in loops.

Extra care is needed when washing down some older overhead reels as there are often gaps between the spool and the reel’s chassis. Saltwater and sand will be the end of a reel in no time if maintenance is poor.


Places to go

Just about all surf beaches in Victoria hold salmon. Some are located close to major towns and have good parking facilities. Others are a little further out but can be well worth a visit when others are crowded.

Beaches with deeper gutters and bigger waves tend to hold the best fish.



Please remember to take ALL of your rubbish home. If you find some fishing line wrapped up in kelp, make an effort to remove it. We don’t want to give any authorities or green lobby groups a single reason to limit fishing access because a few anglers couldn’t be bothered to do the right thing. Even if it’s not your mess, pick it up and take it with you. Members of the public will notice and you’ll be doing our collective reputation the world of good!

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