Fishing the ocean rocks for rock blackfish or pigs is one of my greatest pleasures living on the mid-north coast of NSW. The distribution range of the species provides many Australians the opportunity from Victoria (north east tip of Tasmania) to southern Queensland to target the fish but it is the NSW anglers that are central to the best pig fishing available. The broken rocky coastline provides an abundance of habitat and food that encourages healthy populations of the species. The average sized and best eating fish are in the 1.5 to 2kg range though their maximum growth is somewhere in the 7 kg range and certainly a handful on conventional tackle.
Past trends for targeting pigs have been to pick a spot, generally a wash of white water, then prepare and deliver a cocktail of berley that always included bread. Bait was collected at low tide and consisted of cunjevoi and green cabbage and on heavily fished areas the bait gathering of anglers quickly denuded areas of growth. Fishing the rising tide during daylight hours was comfortable and productive and helped hold the berley in the target area. Tackle was generally a 4m (12ft) glass rod and a 650 or 700 (7in) sized Alvey sidecast loaded with 30lb nylon line. I know years ago that was how I’d manage to catch them and as I’ve aged I have found ways to ease the fatigue of heavy tackle.
Like tackle, techniques, locations and attitudes change and are refined to suit the situation at hand. These days, light graphite rods and well engineered threadline reels loaded with braid line are first choice tackle and add an exciting bare knuckle element to the hook up and fight. The sensitivity of the rods and low stretch of the braid line allows anglers to detect the often subtle bites of the pigs as the baits surge with waves in the wash. There is also less drag on the lighter braid line, than the heavy diameter nylon, allowing the angler to stay in touch with their bait without the usual belly as it enters the water.
The most important factor, I believe, in fishing the ocean rocks for pigs is to stay mobile. Like other forms of fishing you need to have a game plan and a few locations in mind if your first choice doesn’t fire. That means carrying all your gear in a pack with a bait bucket on your belt so you can spot hop without having to go back and pick up gear to move on. A shoulder bag for your fish and hooks in packets and a few sinkers and leader material in your pockets for quick rigging and you are ready.
I tend not to use berley these days due to the mobile searching we do. Apart from attracting a lot of rubbish fish and the risk of the berley drifting away, it doesn’t work with the mobile fishing practice. It tends to limit your range and frankly I would rather pick washes and undercuts and present the baits directly to where the fish are likely to be.
Rocky shorelines with scattered rubble and outcrops will hold fish at various stages of the tide. A rising tide will encourage the fish to move in closer and take up position in deeper water or under overhanging structure so look for white water or darker patches of water that indicate depth.
One thing the pigs don’t particularly like is sand being churned up so avoid it if you can. Check the area for weed growth and cunje, too. Areas that have little or no growth may be sparse for fish too. Kelp beds are a good sign and will hold plenty of groper.
Don’t think for a minute the pigs are merely daylight feeders, either. Off the rocks on a rising tide around the dark of the moon, when the travelling blackfish are at their most vulnerable, the pigs can and will feed freely. The fish are opportune feeders and if they can get to the food source with the tidal movement they will, regardless of the light conditions. But always pick a spot you know well or you know is safe. Check it out during daylight.
With all the talk these days of global warming, conserving resources and environmental awareness, it makes sense to avoid natural baits in the intertidal zones if you can. Some would argue that there is no bait better than a lump of cunje but there is one – the cooked prawn. At around $14 a kilo from Coles or Woolies they are cheaper than bait prawns and with a loaf of fresh bread in your pack (for bait as well) it’s a great to be able to have a prawn sandwich for lunch if the fishing is a little slow. You will get some funny looks, as I did, the first time someone sees you eating out of your bait bucket but the general rule I apply is one prawn for bait, one prawn for me!
I always peel the prawns, tossing the heads and shells in the water where I’m fishing. Often the heads will float and distract the seemingly endless toads and other rubbish species that often get to baits first and it just adds a little scent and berley to the water.
NEVER use imported green prawns as bait. There is a viral threat they can carry which could pose a problem to our native prawn population.
Fresh bread is another sustainable bait and the soft centre of a slice moulded around the hook is irresistible to the pigs. The crusts can be torn up and thrown in the water or soaked at your feet in a rock pool for use as a mini-berley trail while you target a particular area before moving on.
You need to fish as light as possible and maintain the bait wafting around the crevices and undercuts of the broken rocks and gutters the fish travel along with each surge or wave. Often the weedy fringes that are almost drained of water as the waves recede are where the fish will be as the next wave fills the area.
I will start fishing at my feet in a channel in the rocks if I think there is sufficient water in it with a making wave and then cast further out to other likely spots.
The pigs move in and out with the surging water and are designed with sufficient power to avoid being smashed on the rock. If they do misjudge and hit the rocks they have an incredible crumple zone, if you like. The pig’s scales are loosely attached and slide away easily from the body should they hit something, reducing the friction and potential damage to their body. Their teeth, too, are expendable and often pulled out crunching on the hard rocky terrain. They grow back to replace gaps and are in a constant state of growth.
Often, if the sea is calm enough, no sinker is needed and the weight of the hook and bait is sufficient but generally an 0 or 00 ball sinker is all that is required and enough to stay in contact with your bait through the line. A No 1 or 1/0 hook attached to a 30lb quality fluorocarbon leader of about 1m to 1.5m long and tied to the 20lb braid main line and you are in business for some white-knuckle, knock-’em-down-pull-’em-out fun.
For anyone who hasn’t used braid and graphite rods on pigs before, there is one piece of advice I would like to share. Don’t strike like you needed to with nylon line or you risk losing the fish on hook-up. With the low-stretch braid you merely need to lift the rod in combination to winding the reel handle, then hang on!
The fantastic thing about fishing the ocean rocks during the Winter months is that you really never know what you will catch.
The colder months mean that the Winter runs of blackfish and bream are in full swing and the hungry hordes will often provide the opportunity to gather a mixed bag. Deep holes with a good cover of wash and white water will have the bream stacked up while the blackfish are more an evening event as they swarm the shallow potholes to graze on the weed growth. Groper, too, are on the cards with small to extra large fish always a chance and often the fish are uncontrollable if you’re taken by surprise.
Rods:G-Loomis SUR1266 – 2
G-Loomis SUR1264 – 2
Both G-Loomis SUR rods are a two piece graphite construction and suitable to handle bream to rock blackfish and when combined with a braid line provide a sensitive bite indicator. I know I shouldn’t but I do lift fish with the rods, too, haven’t broken one yet, fingers crossed.
The Daiwa Sol 4000 and Daiwa Advantage are rugged threadline reels that are just as capable of jigging snapper from a boat as they are fishing the rocky fringes.
Braid lines like PowerStrike (Todd Fishing Solutions) in the 20lb class are ideal and will handle pretty much all the fish you are likely to encounter without sacrificing the suppleness of the line.
A good 20lb to 30lb fluorocarbon leader is Rock FC or FC Basic.
Hook sizes need only be in the No 1 to 1/0 range with the Mustad 542 (1/0) for heavy pig or groper work. I have tended to use the Gamakatsu red Baitkeeper hooks in No 1 and 1/0 and have found them to be strong, reliable and sharp.
Sinkers need to be as light as possible 00 and 0 size balls are all you should need unless a heavy surge is working, then doubling up sinkers is fine.
Advice from Biosecurity Australia confirms that cooked imported prawns are safe to use as bait, however, green (uncooked) prawns that have been imported are not. Due to the potential viral threat to local prawns green, uncooked prawns should NEVER be used as bait or in berley.