On a recent camping trip, as I watched my boys running riot on the beach, all I could think about was doing this kind of thing more often. There was no TV, Play Station or telephones. We were there solely to relax, fish and play, and that’s exactly what we did – and so can you.
This article is all about taking your kids beach fishing. Other families may do it differently, but these methods certainly work for us. The boys end up wet, plenty of fish get caught and we have plenty of laughs and a great time together.
Teaching kids how to beach fish is simple if you target the hordes of dart, whiting, bream and flathead that can be found right at your feet. Casting pillies out on heavy 13-foot surf rods may be great fun for the grown-ups but it’s a little awkward for seven-year-olds, so stick with the pipi and worm baits on light tackle. My boys were independent at surf fishing by the time they were around six-years-old, and before that they needed me to help bait up and cast out. No matter what the age, however, they can all take care of the fun part of bringing a fish in. My two-year-old already knows how to land a fish.
Be patent enough to let them make mistakes. It has always been hard for me to watch the kids do just about everything wrong but when I let them go, to my amazement, they catch fish. The next huge whiting or big dusky flathead caught by a kid six-foot in from the shore of a beach won’t be the last.
On our last camping and beach fishing trip, we rose at the usual 5am and headed straight for the surf. We had been fishing the previous afternoon and I had also gathered a few beach worms while the kids twisted the sand for pipis so bait wasn’t a problem. My kids may not even know that it’s possible to buy bait. Kids are often happier spending all afternoon collecting bait and if the wind is blowing or the sweep is too strong, an afternoon of bait gathering in preparation for a morning session is the way to go.
The first bait was in the water just minutes after waking up, and not long after that the first fish was flipping on the sand. My oldest lad is now 12 and has no problem casting into the surf, but the middle son, who is seven, walks right out into the waves and manages to cast around 10m or so. He walks out so far that the swell often knocks him clean off his feet and we spend half the morning laughing at Jacob’s casting style.
At this point I should add that Jacob is a Nipper at Broadbeach Surf Life Saving Club and has plenty of experience in the surf. I was also a fishing guide on the surf beach of South Stradbroke Island and can read the water quite well so there’s little danger when Jacob performs his ‘water up to the neck’ style of casting. Even so, I still pick the calm weather and supervise the boys very closely. If you’re ever unsure about the conditions and can’t confidently read a beach, keep the kids on the sand. They will still catch fish.
I keep well away from the edge of the water if I’m fishing in close so I’m always amazed at the quality of fish that Jacob catches after almost standing on top of them when he is casting. After just a couple of casts he is drenched from head to toe and the threadline reel has been dunked in the saltwater at least once. This is why they are kept well clear of my good Team Daiwa reels.
Between the three of us that morning, we managed around 50 fish in just a couple of hours, ranging from little dart to a big flathead that Jacob managed to hook into. All fish were returned to the water and back at camp, a couple of sausages and a can of beans were thrown on the hot plate. This is a good morning of beach fishing but it’s certainly not uncommon for that amount of fish to be landed.
Gutter selection is everything when it comes to fishing the beach. If you want your kids to get into the action you need to look for a gutter that sits hard up against the shore. These gutters can sometimes be a little hard to find so some walking may be involved, but it’s worth the stroll.
What I like to see is waves that have broken over the outer bank, reform in a gutter and break right on the bare sand hard up against the shoreline. If the little ones can cast over where these waves break, I can guarantee there will be some fish there and they will be feeding.
Dart are great for kids to catch. These fish will jump all over a bit of pipi or beachworm, and often the first indication of a bite is a bent rod. Whiting and flathead will also line up in this style of gutter, with the odd monster bream coming along just to test that drag setting.
I have plenty of Alvey reels in my tackle collection. However, after a big fish came close to breaking one of my boy’s knuckles after the reel handle was ripped from his hand and started to spin backwards, I decided to change to a threadline. I know that Alvey has reels that are set up with drags but these reels are too big and heavy for the small, lightweight set-up my kids prefer to use.
I set up a little seven-foot rod with a very cheap threadline (around $40) that can be dunked in the surf, left laying in the sand and basically abused all weekend before being taken home to strip and give a good spraying before the next trip. If these reels last a year, I have done well. The drags of these cheap reels are a little dodgy, especially after they have been dunked a few times, but in open, snag-free surf I keep the drag tight enough to set the hook and loose enough for the kids to have heaps of fun on a big fish. Bust-ups are rare.
The rig I use is a simple running sinker rig with a short trace of about 300mm. The short trace helps with the casting, avoids too many tangles around the rod tip and could also prevent a trip to the emergency room.
A size three-ball sinker is all that’s required. I have always taught the boys to cast and slowly retrieve the line back in. This keeps the bait moving, the line tight and also aids in setting the hook.
Setting up a camp for beach fishing has many benefits. The best thing about it is that you’re able to make the most of the first and last light sessions, as well as enjoying the experience of getting away for a couple of days. We like to make the most of the islands of southern Queensland, from South Stradbroke to Fraser. Northern NSW also has some awesome beach fishing and camping options from Pottsville right through to Brooms Head. Day trips can be plenty of fun but we love a little sand on our sleeping bags.
1. A double hook-up of sand whiting. Whiting are simple to catch, have no spikes and are easy to hold, making them an ideal species for kids.
2. A deep gutter that sees the shore break come crashing down on bare sand is the ideal gutter for kids to fish. Did I mention that the grown ups might learn a trick or two here as well?
3. We all joke about how wet Jacob gets when casting into the surf, but he always seems to get the last laugh.
4. Home base, located just behind the dunes in the shade of an old banksia. Camping allows you to make the best of the first and last light sessions.
5. Dart can be found in the shore break gutters, and with a little whitewater covering them they’ll bite all day.Reads: 1956