How to

Combine livebait and heavy tackle to target big jew


When targeting big jew, livebaits reign supreme. As DAVID HODGE explains, combining livebait and heavy tackle is a formula for success.

COLLECTING bait and then the long hours sitting focused, preparing for the run from a jewie, can be tedious. However, most fishos who start out pursuing jewies opt for livebait, and if done properly it will put you amongst fish on a regular basis. Beach fishing for jew is an article in itself so in this piece I’m focusing more on inshore, small boat and estuary livebaiting techniques. 

Finding fish

Some of the best holding areas for jewies are the hardest to fish. The first hurdle to overcome is holding bottom in deep, fast water. This can be difficult, especially with big baits. Then there’s the challenge of stopping the fish once hooked, as jewies use the current as an extra turbo boost once pinned. Lying on their side and going across current almost doubles the pressure on rods, reels, rigs – and fishos.   Jewies are an energy conserver and don’t feed much when the current is roaring, unless there is some form of current diversion such as a pinnacle on the bottom to hide behind, or a bunch of snags, pylons, rocks and so on. They often travel during times of fast water movement, but targeting them in fast water is often hit-and-miss – the best option is to wait until they’re holed up in easier, more accessible water.

I regularly fish an area with an incredible tide flow and almost permanent population of fish. On any given day fish could be sitting anywhere in a 500m stretch of water. A sounder with sharp, precise detail and the ability to zoom in on the hollows, gullies and holes makes finding fish easier and faster. Of course, a GPS is indispensable in larger expanses of water. The depressions and holes on the bottom offer the fish a “chill out” area when the tide is roaring, but they will still take a bait if it’s presented close enough. Backwaters, eddies, boil-ups and distinctive current collisions are all areas worth investigating. Apart from the electronic eye (sounder), your visual observations will be just as important in the search for jew spots. Even something as unassuming as a colour change in the water can be a sign too of current junction and buffer zone, and is definitely worth a look. 


Jewies will take just about anything  that fits in their mouth – including bream, whiting, tailor and luderick. Some impressive sized baits can be wolfed down with ease. From about the mid-north coast of NSW, and heading south, live or very fresh dead squid are the gun bait. Then there are those times when herring, small mullet and hardiheads pull medium sized jew of around eight to 15kg more consistently. The hook size for these smaller baits is only about a 2/0 to 4/0 in a heavy gauge, chemically sharpened and forged pattern. Fish this on a 15kg to 20kg leader if using 15kg braid in open water. Remember the golden rule that the leader should not be lighter than the main braid line. When chasing big fish I generally use big baits with big hooks and heavy line. Obviously, the bigger baits reduce the amount of runs you get, but when a bigger fish comes along, he’s sure to chew the bigger bait.  

In my opinion, one of the best live baits, and easiest to gather, is the humble old mullet. But not just any mullet! Go for the big, juicy, just fit your hand type mullet – 250mm or longer. School jew often ignore these hefty baits, but the big fellas love them, hence the nickname “jew lollies”.

The territory you’re fishing dictates the size of line and leader you use. Too light a leader in the sticks will see bust off after bust off and limited stopping power. The next biggest consideration is water flow or current speed – if you’re in an area where it’s ripping hard, heavier, thicker braids can grab too much water and drag the bait up from the bottom and away from the fish, unless very heavy weights are used. 

Rigging big baits

Two hooks are the best option. Apart from the second hook increasing the hook-up ratio on the bigger baits, the nose hook points the fish’s head into the current keeping it alive for longer and reducing the lift and drag on the sinker. The nose hook system also means baits aren’t wound backwards through the water, which kills them.

As with all styles of bait fishing, the least weight possible is the way to go. Sometimes when using a traditional running sinker rig I’ll use a size 10 ball sinker which runs down onto a tiny 00 sinker above the swivel. The reason for the small sinker is to stop the 10 ball jamming on the knot of the swivel. If a sinker gets stuck on the knot and can’t run freely, a tentative jewie will get suspicious and often reject a bait.

If fish are feeding off the bottom, it is much more effective to present a bait at their level instead of hoping they’ll find your offering on the bottom. One of my favourite rigs is to make a “running Paternoster” rig with a sinker trace up to two metres in length. The running Paternoster is a very straight forward rig which relies on a second swivel or brass ring sliding on the leader above the main swivel. The hook trace from the in-line sinker to hooks is about 1-1.5m. This allows the bait to move freely. It’s important in snaggy areas to make the running sinker trace at least half the breaking strain of the leader and hook trace. If the sinker snags up, the whole rig won’t be lost while trying to extract it. All that’s needed to change sinkers is a simple loop knot through the eye of a snapper lead when big weights are needed.

Another advantage is that a bait can be fed through the junction more freely than with a normal running sinker once the bait hits the bottom. Big baits sometimes take a while getting down and jewies can be slow to act. A big live bait can be fished with a ratchet set in free spool and line paid out to a curious fish. The standard Paternoster rig only allows the sinker trace length to be taken up before the weight of the sinker is felt by the fish.  


Which outfit you choose depends on the country you’re fishing, and how much pressure you put on the tackle. It’s no  use fishing 50lb or 80lb if you don’t have the strength or body weight to fish it to the limit. Using tackle this heavy may sound unsporting and overkill, but many of the places we chase these big buggers is tight into the snags. Even now, when using 80lb gear, we sometimes land only one from three hookups, as the snags on the bottom are covered in barnacles, and sever line when under load. A few trips ago I got smoked nine times in three hours and only landed two fish during one of the hottest sessions I’ve ever experienced. 

Spin or overhead?

Fishing 80lb to its full potential takes a bit of body weight. Lucky for me, I weigh in at 110kg so I have the flab, umm, body weight, to lean back on a red hot drag setting. Drags need to be smooth, especially when cranked up enough to stop these big fish. A sticky drag will often jerk a hook free from its hold or pop the leader. Using the newly available Fin-Nor Offshore overhead over the past 20 or so trips has been a joy. It’s accounted for some nice fish and has unbelievable cranking power. I’ve got it spooled with 80lb Depth Finder braid as it doubles as a jigging rod out wide, and also a trolling outfit for mackerel. The rod is a prototype, but can fish 80 well on a low rod angle, and still manages to be angler friendly without the shotgun effect (or killing both ends). The second, lighter outfit  I’ve spooled with 50lb Rovex Viros. This is a lighter outfit for the snags but still has a heap of grunt. I match this with a Quantum Cabo 30. This suits several styles of livebaiting – it’s light in the hand and has a massive drag pressure for its size. 

There are a few eggbeaters that I like for this type of work, but as with the overheads they need to be strong and smooth. The Fin-Nor Ahab, Penn Spinfisher or 760 Slammer are all tough as nails with “come here” drag capabilities. Actually, the Ahab is an unbelievable reel, and even with cork drag washers, I can fish 50lb and it’s smooth as well. I usually have one of those reels set up on a Penn Powerstick Pro and am waiting on a new graphite rod that will be set to take over from the robust fibreglass. I use the egg- beater option for areas that won’t allow a fish to run with a bait. Shorter, ultra fast tapered rods are best suited to this style of fishing. Long, soft rods just don’t have the balls to stop the brutes. Attempting to steer a decent sized fish towards the surface and away from danger takes a  lot of pressure and requires a smooth, well set drag that will not yield unless absolutely necessary. 

Leaders & hooks

Hooks for this pursuit obviously need to be strong but, even more importantly, very sharp. Hook spacing needs to match bait size. If you’re only able to find 150mm mullet, then the distance between the hooks needs to change. For this, use a smaller hook in the nose of the mullet, usually about a 3/0 to 4/0 with around 100mm to 150mm of trace between the front and rear hook, which is usually an 8/0.  Leaders need to be on the heavy side – I generally use 30kg to 40kg mono, and I specify mono for the following reason. While good for trolling and fishing open waters with lures, fluorocarbon has a very wiry feel about it in the heavier ratings, and will see many baits rejected after the initial bite, as jew have a very sensitive mouth. This seems to happen many more times with fluoro and is the reason for my doubt. Even if you’re a fluoro fan just keep an open mind and try it side-by-side before you condemn my statement.

The by-catch that comes from this style of fishing is fairly diverse with estuary cod, massive flathead and the odd shark getting in on the act. It’s a bit of a lucky dip, but, hey, what style of bait fishing isn’t? You’re sure to have some memorable experiences along the way – that’s for sure. 

David Hodge is sponsored by Jarvis Walker, importers of Fin-Nor and Quantum tackle.

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