If you’ve never fished the beaches before, now’s the time
ILLUSTRATIONS: 3 rigs
Autumn is a perfect time of year for beach fishing along the NSW coastline because every target species is active, so it’s rare to wait for long between bites.
Tailor, jewfish and bream are really peaking right now and there’s still a good chance of tangling with big salmon, whiting, flathead, dart and others.
Depending on which type of fish you want to catch and the nature of your local beach, there are basically three different styles of gear that can be used to good effect.
A light set-up is ideal for bream, whiting and flathead, a mid-weight outfit is for tailor or salmon and the big gear is for jewfish, sharks or bigger tailor (which aren’t uncommon at this time of year).
Suitable lines and rigs for each category of beach fishing may also differ so let’s take a closer look at light, medium and heavy gear for the beach.
For many years I’ve enjoyed using what’s often called a flick stick for the lighter side of beach fishing.
In other words, I take to the beach a small rod and reel combo that most would consider to be right at home in the local estuary for bream.
Although there are small Alvey reels on the market that could be put to use for this side of beach fishing, a small threadline is perhaps easier to use and offers a bit more versatility.
A 2000 to 3000 size threadline spooled up with 3kg to 5kg line can be teamed up with a rod of around 2.2m. Either graphite or glass rods will work but the tip section should be light enough to feel bites in the surf and the rod should be capable of casting out at least a size 5 or 6 ball sinker if need be.
For the most part, though, smaller sinkers like a size 4 ball are right on the mark when tossing small baits just beyond the shore dump – where the fish hang.
This is perhaps the most versatile category which the majority of beach anglers would benefit from using.
Threadline or sidecast reels will do a good job when matched to a 3m to 3.6m rod that can cast out a whole pilchard on ganged hooks along with a size 7 or 8 ball sinker or similar weight.
For many years the standard type of rod for this class of beach fishing has been what’s known as a ‘6144’ or ‘7144’. Without getting right into technicalities, that roughly equates to a 3.6m rod with a light, whippy tip.
These days, however, there are a lot more rods to choose from and all the big brand names have a number of such rods in their ranges. Most of them are quite light and are fitted with quality components.
Suitable sidecast reels would include most of the 600 models and those lighter, graphite-back models like the 600B are right on the mark. Threadline reels in sizes from 4000 up to 6000 are also light and are a joy to use when tangling with tailor and salmon. Lines from 5kg to 8kg cast well and are the way to go in the middleweight category.
Thankfully, when it comes to heavy beach tackle, that doesn’t necessarily mean the gear has to be heavy in the hand. For many years I used to use big gear that was so heavy it would make your arms ache after a while.
Today’s tackle has become much lighter without sacrificing strength or durability.
Once again, those graphite-back Alveys in the 650 size are perfect but if you prefer threadline reels then there are plenty to choose from in 6000 sizes and up. Overhead reels are also popular in southern states and some NSW beach anglers may prefer them over sidecast or threadline tackle, although my preference is for the versatile and easy to use threadline.
Stiffer, more robust rods are required for this side of the game. Rods built by Aussie manufacturers like the FSU4144, FSU5144 or FSU4162 are all good here, as are a number of different models made by the likes of Daiwa, Silstar, Penn, G Loomis or Shimano.
Look at lengths from 3m to 4m that can handle casting large baits weighted with heavy sinkers. Such rods should also be suited to lines from 8kg to 15kg, although 12kg line is about right for most jewfish or other large predators.
There’s nothing too fancy about terminal tackle for beach fishing and it’s cheap compared with most other types of fishing.
I carry a small Plano box or at times a few plastic pill containers are all that’s needed to carry enough hooks, sinkers and swivels for a few hours of beach fishing.
A number of different types of sinkers can be used at the beach.
Although I favour ball sinkers for just about everything, others worth trying at different times include bean, pyramid, star and grapnel sinkers.
Grapnels are the ones with several wire prongs like a tiny boat anchor and they are best when a heavy surf s pounding.
For light beach fishing I like size 2 to 5 ball sinkers; for middle weight stuff sizes 5 to 8 and for the big fish sizes 7 up to 10 ball sinkers are my preference.
I prefer black swivels when beach fishing because they less visible to tailor which can, at times, see the bright flash of a shiny swivel and simply bite it off. Smaller sizes like 8, 10 or 12 are good for light beach fishing, sizes 8 to 6 for middle weight fishing and larger, stronger swivels may be required when fishing for jewfish or sharks.
It should also be noted that smaller swivels are best when using sidecast reels because they get rid of line twist more effectively than big swivels.
A huge range of hooks can be used for beach fishing, although a few basic sizes and types will cover most situations.
For whiting or dart try sizes 2 to 6 in long-shank patterns; for bream the octopus, suicide or baitholder patterns are good in sizes 1/0 down to a 4, although a size 2 will be best for most bream baits. Larger hooks are required for fish like jewfish and I prefer to use a size 10/0 Ichiban or Gamakatsu octopus.
Ganged hooks are a must when casting whole pilchards for tailor or salmon. It’s important to match the size of the hooks to the size of the pillies, which can vary. In most cases size 4/0 gangs are suitable but it can pay to have some 3/0 and 5/0 gangs hooks in the tackle box.
Another handy item is the running boom or Ezi Rig, which simply slides along the line and has a clip on it so that sinkers can be changed without having to cut the line. They are really only suitable when using sinkers like a pyramid which have a small swivel imbedded in them.
A range of different items will help make beach fishing more productive and enjoyable. Polarised sunnies are very helpful when ‘reading’ a beach (refer to the ’09 Catch annual ) and of course when fishing through daylight hours a hat and sunscreen are essential.
On the other hand, nocturnal beach fishos will require a decent torch or head lamp.
A shoulder bag certainly comes in handy so that you don’t have to run back up the beach to grab a drink, change baits or re-rig.
A small plastic bait container worn on a belt, a small cutting board, PVC rod holder and a rain jacket will also make life easier.
Two other things I carry are plastic bags to carry any rubbish (never, ever leave rubbish on the beach) and I leave a plastic sheet or tarp in the boot of the car should I be lucky and have a nice big jewfish to take home. Jewfish slime and scales make quite a mess, so that will save the car boot.
Braid or nylon mono line can be used for beach fishing, although mono is generally easier to use for most types of beach fishing.
Braid does, however, cast further and it’s more sensitive so bites are easier to feel through the rod. Because braid is thinner, you’ll also pack more of it on the reel’s spool.
But mono is much more forgiving and that means it’s good when a big fish shakes, jumps or makes powerful lunges in a pounding surf.
Big tailor, salmon and jewfish, especially when they reach the shore dump, can put dramatic stress on knots and hooks. Mono soaks up these forces but braid doesn’t and that can mean bust-ups or pulled hooks.
One way to combat this when using braid is to fish with a lighter drag setting and simply take it easy when beaching a big fish.
When using braid always use a shock leader of mono or fluorocarbon about the same length as the rod – this will act as a shock absorber.
When using sidecast reels mono is the only way to go, as braided lines can results in massive tangles and cut fingers!
ROD BLANKS EXPLAINED
Most Aussie-made surf rods are coded according to their length, action and thickness of the blank wall. Typical examples of popular rods are the MT7144, FSU4144 and FS5120.
The letters MT stand for multi-taper, which means that the rod should bend easily towards the tip but be stiffer towards butt section. The letters FSU or FS stand for ‘fast surf’ or, in other words, the rod tapers quickly over its entire length.
The numbers stand for the length of the rod in inches and how many wraps of glass the rod is made up with. So an MT7144 will be a multi-taper blank built of seven wraps of glass and 144 inches (12’ or 3.6m).
MT rods are constructed differently from FS or FSU rods and are thinner in diameter, so a seven-wrap MT may be similar in strength to a larger diameter five-wrap FSU blank. Fewer wraps means less weight and so I favour the lighter FS or FSU rods and also prefer their action over MT-style rods.
If you see the letter G at the end of a rod’s number that generally means it has a high graphite content so it will be lighter, but also more expensive.
Tailor are among the more common yet sought-after beach species. Middleweight threadline or Alvey gear with 5kg to 8kg line is right on the mark for these aggressive fish.
When it comes to whiting, light tackle is the way to go.
Although it’s possible to beach a big jewie on light gear, if you intend to specifically target them, a heavier outfit with 8kg to 15kg line is more appropriate.
Hard-fighting salmon are great fun to catch on middleweight threadline tackle, although some may prefer to use sidecast reels at the beach. Whole pilchards on ganged hooks are by far the most effective items to throw at beach sambos.
The author caught this flathead on a large threadline outfit and 10kg braid, although much lighter gear is a lot more practical and enjoyable to use for flathead like this.
It doesn’t hurt to pack a few metal lures in the tackle box and they can come in handy when tailor are about. The lure pictured here is a 40g Surecatch Knight, is a perfect tailor lure.
A 4000-size threadline spooled up with 5kg to 8kg line is right on the mark for average salmon like this.
A small tackle box is all that’s required for beach fishing. However, if you need to bring along only a small selection of hooks, sinkers and swivels, an old plastic film container or pill bottle makes a compact and very convenient alternative.