MY passion for land-based fishing started by targeting luderick off the headlands of Sydney’s Northern Beaches some years ago. I think for most rock fishos, their start into rock fishing or LBG is something quite similar – basic wash fishing targeting those bread-and-butter species.
Scattered all over the Australian coastline from headlands, rocky beaches, and estuaries, you will very often find an old bloke sporting a shoulder bag and using some variation of a single pin or Alvey set-up with a keep bag full of the iconic striped fish.
I remember my first time targeting them was off the rocks behind an ocean pool. It was a fruitless session and if I remember correctly, so were the following two or three sessions. Understanding what seemed to be a simple float rig system was providing to be quite a headache.
I had originally started on the Avley “blackfish special” which consisted of a 3-5kg 12” rod. The outfit itself didn’t cause the headache, it was the casting that continued to tangle my hook and sinker around the long float, as well as wondering if I was even in the right spot. What once appeared to be a simple way of fishing had proved that it was not. Once I had learned some basic skills from the local rock fishos and the fundamentals, I landed my first luderick. I transitioned to using a similar sized rod but would use a 3000 sized spin reel spooled with 4kg torture mono. After that first fish had landed, I knew that I had found something special.
Throughout this article, I will focus on a slightly different approach to the usual baits, as well as the varied locations that these creatures can be found that you may or may not be aware of.
Personally, my go to weed bait will differ from ledge to ledge, but I will primarily focus on the ocean rocks and ledges rather than still estuary waters. In saying that, my next trial will have to be the arduous river blackfish.
Personally, I am a huge advocate for sustainability in fishing. With this type of fishing, you can in almost always venture down to the corners of the beach and rocks and grab a handful of weed off the rocks to use as bait. With free bait in hand, you can proceed to have a full bag of fish with something that you have just collected off the rocks straight from the fish’s pantry. That for me is something pretty amazing.
I have found over the years that luderick will eat all kinds of weed, I have trialled from the leafy cabbage and string weed to the various brown and black sponge weed you will find across most ledges. Surprisingly, my very first luderick was caught on the brown sponge weed. All of these ocean weeds are the luderick’s main source of food and in my trials, all of these varieties have delivered. However, the fish have favourites, and this is where I started experimenting.
The spots where I fish are primarily cabbage grounds. Cabbage weed is in abundant across most of Sydney ledges and it is easy to source. The iconic light green leafy weed is a very strong bait due to its thickness and somewhat fleshy feel. This will help you when it comes to baiting your hook as you can feed it on your hook multiple times while creating a very tight compact bait and that can often get multiple fish on the same piece of weed.
When fishing for luderick, it’s important to note that their mouths are very small which requires size 8,10 or even 12 hooks. Often, I will find that the cabbage is too thick, and I won’t have enough hook exposed to set the hook. There is a very fine line between too much and simply not enough.
Working in a tackle shop for a few years resulted in hours of discussions about every possible aspect of fishing. An idea that arose from the many conversations, was the use of artificial weed flies for not only fly rods, but my regular luderick spin outfit too.
Weed flies have been around for a while and are not a new concept, but it was something that I thought could play a larger role in my regular sessions. I started by buying the weed flies off the shelves and began using them on my rigs as normal hooks. I even started tying two together to make doubles, a semi paternoster style rig and surprisingly I was having great success. Now when I say success, I wouldn’t say it out-fished regular weed. However, the convenience of not having to re bait was amazing. While on a hot bite and you get a down on your float, and unfortunately strike and miss, you are already able to throw your fly straight back into the mix within a few seconds without double checking it or having to re-bait. This results in a much faster turnaround time in the water which can yield far better results, especially when they are on fire!
The highest success I had with the artificial weed was definitely in washy conditions. Between the shallow bombies and even down in the corners of beaches where the visibility is lower due to sand disturbance and currents, proved to be the best locations. In my opinion, it’s because there is less time for the fish to view and analyse the bait. If you are prepared enough and have a weed/sand burley going as well, that can be a killer approach to get the whole school fired up and keep them nearby.
After a while of fishing with the stock flies, I wanted to develop this new style of fishing; so, a few mates and I started tying our own weed flies with a few changes.
We would start by adding longer pieces of material and a larger quantity of it, which created a much bigger profile and therefore a more visible target for the luderick to see. This resulted in good results due to the fly material being much thinner than regular cabbage and string weeds. This was followed by countless hours on the fly vice filling my tackle box full of custom coloured and sized flies…
By tying my own flies, I also got to choose my favourite hooks rather than the standard onset stock fly hooks that came with the premade weed flies. A higher quality hook is imperative for getting that set hook in such a tiny mouth.
Location and Timing
When travelling between fishing locations, I usually search neighbouring rocks and pockets of water that could potentially house a new fishing location. I regularly started to notice that the lower ledges and rock platforms would have patches of cabbage weed completely cut back, like a freshly mowed lawn. This meant that on the higher tides when the water was able to come up and cover the platform or rocks, the luderick (and even drummer) work their way up onto the rocks. In most cases, this is no more than one or two feet of water.
From my usual spots where I would be more or less fishing directly at my feet into much deeper water, this now provided a whole new area and technique to target them. I started by waiting for the high tide and returning to the new location to catch a glimpse of the feeding frenzy. With a bait bucket full of cabbage weed and a goal to pluck a few luderick from these super shallow waters, I was excited to see where this would lead.
At the start, I managed the odd fish here and there, but the results were not consistent. The thrill of hooking up to a fish in a foot of water is super fun and exciting, even if it is just a luderick. Watching them cut through the water splashing and racing for the safety of the drop off is unreal.
The change really came when I would get down at the midpoint of an incoming tide. That first push of water up and over the lower platforms and ledges was the time to strike. They were hungry and knew what was just around the corner. Once they started to come up onto the rocks, that’s when I would strike. I would watch them from a distance moving up and down with each surge of water that provided enough water to travel.
The second component was getting an afternoon or morning that timed with a high. The low light and the afternoon shadows that cast from the headlands provide a lot more safety for the schools to move up, as they can be very skittish, so feeding in the shadows gave them a lot more confidence.
I started by using my regular luderick rig, float stopper, float, split shot sinkers to hook etc. I soon found that the longer float was grabbing and snagging a lot in these shallow waters. I then transitioned into using the small clear squeeze floats that some people use for mullet fishing. This smaller float created the perfect weight to cast, allowing less lead to also reduce the number of sinkers used. This float was great as it acted as my cast weight buoyancy and of course strike indicator, all while being no larger than a golf ball. I would still use one or two small split shot sinkers down by the hook, but as you’re not fishing in much water, the weed bait doesn’t need to travel into the water nearly as far down.
This also led to using the artificial flies I had tied. This new approach of fishing ended up changing to a whole new luderick outfit from my standard 12′ 2kg-4kg PHM custom-built rod. I began using a smaller 8 -10′ rod and something slightly stiffer around 3kg-6kg, or even 4kg-8kg, specifically for this approach. The stiffer rod helped get a more accurate cast, as well as fighting a fish and landing it in a foot of water.
Another area that I have started fishing for luderick in is across the sand in the corners of beaches. There is usually a small rip or current between tides that sucks out along the corner of the rocks and beach. Not every rip will hold luderick, but as long as there is enough wash or water to splash over the rocks to break up and take away some seaweed, there are good chances that there will be a school sitting down current with their heads up waiting for weed. This particular fish will be much lighter in colour, boasting silver and light grey features. Even though they might be sitting on the sand only a few feet away, you will definitely not see them until they are hooked.
I found that using your standard luderick float rig system works perfectly well in the conditions, usually getting 3-4 feet of water to fish in most cases. One thing to keep in mind is that in the fast-moving current, it is important that you are using enough split shots or sinkers to have you bait set at your desired depth. The float can’t be laying on its side. If your float is not standing upright, you will not have the best connection to the bait and will miss frequently. When trying to strike in this fast-moving water, the float has to stand up as quickly as possible. Therefore, you have you know you are covering as much ground with the bait in the perfect depth.
These fish tend to fight even harder in the rips and currents compared to off the back of a rock ledges. This is likely due to having the added water movement against them, and consequently, a more active fish. This has quickly become one of my favourite methods of chasing blackfish. The lack of snags and the fast-paced current makes for a completely different style of fight, almost trout-like in a way.