How to

Options From The Sand

Casting a line into the surf is a relaxing and productive way to spend a warm summer’s day. JAMIE CRAWFORD outlines a few basic strategies to help make your beach fishing more successful.

I’VE always found beach fishing to be something pretty special. Standing alone on a long, windswept ocean beach with the rhythmic movement of swell lines breaking along an outer bar is one of my “happy places” in fishing. The setting is serene, often captivating, and offers fishing in its raw simplicity. Pulling a chromed surf-run jewie from the suds, or fighting a tail-walking salmon in the surf, are speccy beach fishing moments.

We’re pretty lucky in Australia to have a magnificent coast dotted with clean stretches of sand. We can broadly categorise these beaches into two classes: high energy and low energy coastlines. These two varieties of beach are vastly different in terms of general topography, preferred fishing conditions, species encountered, and fishing approaches. Below I’ll detail the two different beach categories, and offer some basic advice to help improve your beach fishing output in your local area.

High Energy Beaches                        

High energy surf beaches are stretches of sand that are exposed to ocean swell. These beaches are the traditional “surf beach”, with classic gutters or troughs of deeper water surrounded by shallower sand bars and breaking surf. Fishing these beaches is often fraught with challenges including heavy shore breaks, strong rips and currents, floating weed and the need to cast long distances. However, the rewards can be great.

In this environment, species like mulloway, salmon, tailor, gummy sharks, school sharks, flathead and bream can be caught, with the occasional surf-run snapper also pulled from choice surf locations in the southern half of the country, especially western SA. The preferred conditions vary slightly according to the target species, but in general we try to fish these surf beach locations when there is a mid-sized swell running, and concentrate fishing around the high-water periods of the day.

When the swell is on the small side or the tide is low, the inshore water is often shallow and the gutters are less defined. The near shore troughs begin to look uninspiring, and generally don’t provide the classic thoroughfare entrance to deeper water. Salmon, for example, generally loathe these shallow conditions; when the swell is low and the beach is shallow, the bigger salmon rarely venture too close to shore. However, small swell combined with a night time high tide suits beach fishing for gummy sharks, so it comes down to identifying the conditions and choosing the target species accordingly.

When the swell is too big, however, it often brings with it stronger rips and currents with pockets of floating weed. We try to avoid beach fishing for the couple of days following a big blow due to the weed aspect. It is possible to soldier on through the weed – we’ve caught some great jew from around clumps of weed – but it makes for much harder fishing.

We’ve found the better conditions for general surf fishing to be a mid size swell, around the 1.5 to 2m range, together with good tidal movement, and preferably late in the afternoon. This combination provides a good balance of white water fringing the inshore gutters, enough water movement through the deeper troughs to encourage feeding yet not ripping too strong as to hamper fishing.

We will try to arrive at our chosen location early in the afternoon to give us time to find a good pocket of water. We look for a nice, deep bodied gutter within casting distance from shore. We will try to pick a gutter with a defined drop-off bank, with no white water pushing over the gutter if possible – even when a set rolls through. Preferably the gutter will be open ended, providing an entry and exit point leading to deeper water.

If we’re specifically targeting mulloway, then we’d choose more of an isolated hole close to shore rather than a large gutter, with some good white water surrounding the hole. We don’t really want a ripping cross current, nor do we want stirred up loose sand. To have a good patch of reef nearby running into the surf would complement the scene.

Occasionally while we’re scouring the beach for likely water from a high vantage point we’ll spot a school of salmon. A salmon school will have a defined edge, and will be quite dark and uniform in colour. Wait for the face of a wave to move through and look for the obvious silver-flickering, or look at the shape of the school and wait and see if it changes form.

Salmon schools don’t hold in the one possie for too long, so you’ll see the dark mass slowly change shape or be on the move. Sometimes they’re a small patch the size of a dinner table, other times they can be a massive school. If a school is holding within casting range, the fishing is generally hot. We target these schools with 50-80g metal slugs, or with soft plastic stickbaits if the school is holding close enough to shore.

If we don’t spy any obvious schools of fish, we’ll move to our chosen gutter and base ourselves there. We’ll spread some loose berley in the shallows, or if the swell is running a bit hard, we set up an oyster-mesh cage on a length of rope, and have this filled with berley and let it roll in the shallows. Berley can be super effective in the surf if it’s done efficiently. There’s no point in dumping a heap of good berley loosely in the shallows if the current is going to drag all your berley several hundred metres down the beach – consider the local conditions first.

I will often fish two outfits in the surf; one slightly heavier than the other to cover a couple of scenarios. On the heavier outfit I’ll use a larger bait, generally a fillet of salmon, fillet of snook, whole mullet, whole herring or pilchard set on snelled 8/0 hooks. I run this off a medium to heavy surf outfit, something in the 10-12kg category. Sinker size and pattern will vary depending on local conditions, but a 5oz star sinker is standard.

The second setup is a light to medium surf outfit at around 6-8kg. We maintain a bit of length at 9’0” to suit the surf conditions, propping the mainline above any shore break. On this outfit I use a paternoster rig with two 3/0 hooks on respective droppers. Sinker size will be lighter for this outfit, with a 3oz star the norm. The baits used on this outfit are much smaller, and include cubes of pilchard, strips of squid, cockles (aka pipis) and beach worms.

With the above two outfits we are covering mulloway, large salmon, tailor, gummy shark, school shark (if they don’t bite through the mono trace) and the occasional snapper on the heavier outfit, with smaller salmon, mullet, herring, flathead, bream, whiting and trevally on the light outfit.

Low Energy Beaches

Low energy coastlines can be categorised as protected or semi-protected, calm, shallow beaches. They are user friendly, often easily accessible, and regularly visited by swimmers and beach goers. These beaches lack formation when compared to surf beaches, but can still return reasonable fish. Common species on these beaches include whiting, flathead, bream, mullet, small salmon, and herring. With little or no swell, low currents and minimal floating weed,  beaches provide easy conditions to fish in, but due to their shallow nature and often frequented location, a bit more nous is required to bag quality fish. In these calm conditions, scaling down in the tackle department is important, so too is identifying the peak conditions and times, and understanding your target species. For this shallow water beach fishing, we use light threadline outfits in the 3-5kg category.

For the bulk of our calm water beach fishing, we concentrate fishing times around first light, or late afternoon. As there aren’t any deeper gutters as such along the majority of these beaches, we  look for a subtle depth change, for scattered reef or for weed beds within a short distance from shore – anything out of the ordinary that may provide structure for smaller species. A pair of polarised sunglasses is invaluable in this situation.

When targeting yellowfin whiting, we don waders and polarised sunnies and walk along the shallow shoreline around high tide, looking for either flickering whiting or churned feeding holes. At low tide along these beaches you can spy worm and nipper holes (especially in the corners of the beaches or around creek/river mouths), and on an incoming tide whiting use their down-turned mouths to feed into the sand. Areas of freshly-exposed grey sand usually indicates feeding whiting. We will try to target whiting late in the afternoon in my local area in SA’s Gulf region when the sun is behind our back to aid in spotting feeding whiting – then it’s a case of sight casting to feeding schools of fish.

Where there’s a deeper pocket of water along the beach, we would look to scatter some berley and fish this area on high tide, targeting bream, mullet, small salmon, herring and a few whiting. It’s low stress fishing and the kids love it. We use paternoster rigs and cockle (pipi) or slithers of pilchard.

As I’m based in SA, we target flathead and King George whiting along sheltered beaches which feature scattered reef. These same sort of locations in the eastern states will produce bream, blackfish and even drummer. We fish these areas on a building tide late in the afternoon for best results. We use a paternoster rig with either cockles (pipis) or pieces of squid for the whiting, or soft plastics such as Squidgy 70mm Stealth Prawns or 85mm Flick Baits for the flathead. We aim to present our baits or plastics in the pockets of sand bordering the scattered reef.

For these two species, knowing what time of year they frequent your local area will obviously help improve your results. Along my local beaches, both flathead and KG whiting are at their peak in May and June.

The above offers just a snippet of info that will hopefully encourage you to explore your local beach fishery, regardless of whether it’s a thumping surf beach or a secluded stretch of sand tucked inside a bay. Beach fishing can be as relaxing or as involved as you want it to be; the options and potential in beach fishing is boundless.

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