Many newcomers to rock fishing tend to make the same mistake – they fish with tackle that’s too heavy.
All too often I see fishers perch themselves on a ledge and proceed to cast rigs that are weighed down with lead, making them unwieldy and cumbersome.
I grimace because I know what comes next. Inevitably, they spend the rest of the session trying to free themselves from snag after snag.
Typically they have to resort to breaking the line, leaving their rigs wrapped around the rock and weed below.
Not only are they losing tackle at a rate of knots, they’re leaving behind a hazardous tangle of braid, monofilament, hooks and sinkers.
I shudder to think how much line and terminal tackle is gracing the sea floor at some of the popular rock spots I fish.
In the end, nobody wins… and nobody catches any fish, either.
It’s a scenario that plays out every weekend right around the country.
But it’s a particularly common sight during the school holidays, especially over the extended summer break.
If I see a nearby rock fisher struggling with repeated snags, I will walk over and try to steer them in the right direction.
This usually involves suggesting they lighten up by either downsizing their sinker – or removing it altogether.
Some don’t want to be told what to do and they’ll go back to losing gear at an eye-watering pace.
Others try the lighter approach and I’m always pleased when I see them make a succession of snag-free casts.
I’m even happier if they reel in a fish or two, and I know they’ll err on the lighter side the next time they hit the stones.
And when I say “lighter”, I am also referring to every other aspect of tackle you choose for the rocks.
Lighter line, lighter rods, lighter reels and lighter lures can all vastly improve your rock fishing results.
Let’s not forget about the fun factor, either. Fighting and landing a salmon, tailor, trevally or tuna from the rocks on light tackle gets the adrenaline pumping and teaches you a lot about rod work and drag pressure in the process.
I’ll certainly be looking on the lighter side when I take to the rocks over summer. You should give it a try, too.
Lose the lead
Heavy lead sinkers have their place in fishing but there’s rarely an occasion where they’re required from the rocks.
A lump of lead is simply going to take your bait to the bottom. And, when you’re fishing snaggy terrain, that’s going to end in disaster.
Lightly-weighted rigs are paramount around rocky areas for several reasons.
Obviously they help keep your rig off the bottom and away from gnarly snags, kelp, cunje beds and the like. This means way more productive fishing time and far fewer lost hooks and broken line.
Light rigs also allow your bait to naturally waft around mid-water where the most sought after species are feeding – I’m talking bream, salmon, tailor, drummer, trevally, bonito and a host of others.
Heavily weighted baits attract far more hook-ups on less desirable species such as kelp fish, wirrah, wrasse and moray eels.
I’m also absolutely convinced the strike rate on lighter rigs is much higher, with fish more willing to take a bait and run with it when it isn’t obviously anchored down with noticeable weight.
So use the lightest sinker you can practically get away with under the prevailing conditions. If possible, fish with no sinker at all.
Going light also triggers flow-on effects that can vastly improve your fishing experience.
Once you ditch the lead, you’ll find you can get away with much lighter lines and a lighter outfit.
Dropping down to 3-4kg braid and a similarly light leader, you’ll be surprised how far you can flick an unweighted bait on a light, balanced spin outfit – a 2-3kg rod around the 2.2-metre mark and a 3000 sized reel.
This sounds light, I know, but it opens up so many more opportunities. The number of bites you’ll pick up and fish you’ll hook will increase noticeably. You’ll also catch more fish in calm seas and under bright skies – conditions that traditionally put fish off the chew.
It’s worth pointing out that I’m not advocating this approach for species like drummer and groper, which will simply make short work of anything but the sturdiest of tackle.
Fish like salmon, tailor, silver trevally, bonito, frigate mackerel and bream, however, are all manageable on light tackle if you play your cards right.
Best baits for these species are pilchard pieces, half-pilchards, whole whitebait and chunks of striped tuna or slimy mackerel.
A lightweight approach to lure fishing also reaps rewards.
Spinning with tackle more suited to the estuaries than the rocks can be an extremely enjoyable way to connect to a fish or two.
Firstly, you can cast really small metal lures a long way on finesse gear, opening up opportunities when fish are especially picky or homing in on tiny whitebait and the like.
Secondly – and this is the best bit – the sport fishing experienced is enhanced enormously.
Salmon, tailor, bonito, frigates and trevally are serious fun and challenging opponents on medium-to-heavy gear.
But hook one on light spin gear in snaggy country and you’re in for the fight of your life.
Light gear is also easy to handle and allows you to comfortably cast all day. It’s ideal for young and inexperienced anglers, too.
Not every rock fishing location is suited to an ultra-light approach.
Exposed, elevated ledges that jut out into rough, churning water and strong currents are not ideal – set aside the heavier gear for such terrain.
I prefer comparatively sheltered, calm headlands where you can fish close to the water’s edge.
Ledges like this are often shunned by keen rock-hoppers as they’re ‘too calm and sheltered’. But, trust me, they’re not too calm if you’re employing a light approach. You’ll get as many bites as you typically do in the “white water”.
Importantly, hooking, fighting and landing decent fish on gear at the lighter end of the spectrum is much easier if you’re not battling the swell and can get close to the water.
And let’s face it, the ledges I’ve just described are so much safer and enjoyable to fish than the rough, wet, slippery locations that are the setting for so many accidents involving anglers every year.
Keep your cool
Skull-dragging salmon and tailor on heavy surf gear isn’t my idea of fun. I much prefer to tangle with these species – and others – on tackle that turns a potentially one-sided fight into a genuine angling challenge.
The fishing community doesn’t tend to get too excited about the fighting qualities of salmon, choppers, silver trevally, bonito and the like. They’re “fun”, rather than “formidable”.
But hook them on sporting gear and you’ll find your angling abilities tested to the limit.
They key to successfully subduing a hard-fighting fish on light gear is to take your time.
Salmon, tailor and small tuna, like bonito and frigates, are likely to make strong, energetic runs at the start of the fight – so loosen the drag and let them go for it!
By tiring them out in deeper water, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them under control when they get close to the rocks and snags.
Salmon and tailor will jump, too – just keep the line tight to avoid losing them to a thrown hook.
Keep the “gentle” tactics going when the fight is nearing its end. Panicking when a lively fish plays up near sharp rocks and thick kelp will only result in lost fish. Have faith in your gear and your knots, and keep a cool head.
If you can, use any available swell to wash tired fish onto low ledges – lifting them, especially solid specimens, can be risky.
Big silver trevally and trophy bream will go hard and dive for cover, so you’ll have to put the brakes on these fish much earlier in the fight. My advice for these guys is to hold on and hope!
Inevitably, you will lose the odd fish or two when you play the light tackle game, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.