How to

Spin v Bait

Land-based Game

LBG expert MARK WILLIAMS investigates the two main techniques open to keen anglers chasing big fish off the rocks.

THE history of land based game fishing in Australia has been chronicled in the pages of Fishing World over the past 40  ears. All the great captures, new locations and pioneering techniques were revealed through this magazine. Fishing World founder Ron Calcutt was at the forefront of the high speed spinning phenomenon that swept the east coast rock ledges in the late 1960s and this magazine was his means to convert the masses to this exciting new form of fishing.

Since that time LBG has evolved into two distinct genres: lure casting and bait fishing, using both live and dead baits. Both techniques are highly effective when targeting a wide range of hard fighting pelagic gamefish species. The following is a rundown on how and where to employ each of these techniques to best effect and against which species. It’s not about which technique is superior.

I’ve dedicated a fair portion of my fishing life to both live baiting and spinning the stones and know that both require a greater degree of skill and dedication than most other forms of angling. Most keen LBG anglers I’ve fished with over the years have dabbled in both forms of the craft and chosen one to specialise in. This choice usually came down to the area they most regularly fished and whether it was predominantly a spin or bait friendly location. Interestingly, virtually all the gun spinmen I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a rock ledge with over the years have been previously keen live bait anglers. Why that is I don’t know, probably a combination of things such as the desire for a new challenge as well as a degree of burn out from the relentless grind of live baiting the stones. Fishing the rocks is hard yakka and certainly not for everybody, but for the last 40 years the stupendous captures that have been taken by these most dedicated of anglers have been recorded for posterity in the pages of this magazine.

Location, location

As I mentioned earlier, the choice between lure or bait fishing often comes down to the location being fished. The LBG ledges of Queensland and Western Australia are renowned as high speed spin locations of the finest kind. Greater gamefish densities and difficulties procuring live baits ensure these areas remain the most treasured jewels in high speed spinning’s crown. Dead baiting using helium balloons is also highly effective at the legendary WA ledges such as Steep Point and Quobba where the prevailing winds can be used to advantage to get baits out wide.   

The LBG heartland of NSW is where it gets a bit more difficult to ascertain which technique is the way to go. In my opinion, you can successfully fish live baits almost anywhere along the NSW coastline. To get into some consistent big fish action on lures, though, I really think you need to concentrate your efforts from Port Stephens northwards. It wasn’t always that way. When Calcutt first started this magazine in the late 1960s, most of the groundbreaking high speed spinning articles he wrote – which were accompanied by Ossie Emery’s magnificent B&W images – were centred around the phenomenal fishing that he and close friends such as Jack Erskine, Bill Gordon and Lyn Donohue enjoyed spinning the legendary Devils Gorge at Jervis Bay, which is now unfortunately closed to fishing. The same goes for the birthplace of high speed spinning at Avoca on the NSW Central Coast. I grew up hearing about the phenomenal catches of longtail and yellowfin tuna taken there by spin fishing’s earliest pioneers, but by the time I started fishing it regularly in the early 1980s live baiting was definitely the most effective method of connecting with a big fish. So for those anglers with a hankering to hook a big fish on a lure from the stones concentrate your efforts on the NSW mid-north and far north coast regions where in season there’s plenty of line-burning longtail tuna and cobia to accommodate you.


A classic LBG scene. Gamefishing the rocks is a challenging sport but the rewards can be awesome, either when spinning or bait fishing.

Target species

All the most popular target species of land based game anglers such as longtail tuna, yellowfin tuna, black marlin, Spanish mackerel, yellowtail kingfish and cobia can be taken on both live baits and lures. But what is the most effective means of targeting each of them?

Black marlin are the easiest choice, hundreds have been taken off the rocks on live baits – since Tony Axiak’s first documented land based capture from Jervis Bay on the December 30, 1972 – with increasing numbers in recent years weighing in excess of 100kgs – truly amazing captures. On the other hand, there’s only been a handful of juvenile fish taken on lures, so live baiting wins hands down. Live bait fishing allows you to use powerful lever drag game reels and heavy fluorocarbon or hard monofilament leaders, tremendous advantages over star drag casting reels and light casting leaders. If I was specifically chasing a beakie from the stones I’d be using the biggest live slimy mackerel I could get my hands on.

Big yellowtail kingfish are an awesome challenge off the rocks. Once again live baiting is the preferred option to land a trophy specimen for exactly the same reasons as previously described for black marlin, namely the ability to fish heavy line and leader combos over a powerful lever drag game outfit. If you want a big hoodlum on a lure, good luck – you’ll need it! They love taking expensive surface poppers and minnow lures back to their deepwater lairs. Your best chance of success is to find a location which has a relatively clean bottom. An old mate of mine, Daryl McNaught, landed an Australian ANSA 24kg LBG record yellowtail kingfish from a breakwall in Swansea Channel  back in the late 80s. This was the ideal location to fish as it was surrounded by sand, nowhere for the big hoodlums to bury you. Maritime then stuffed the spot by anchoring a marker buoy right in front of it.

inline_233_ LBG kingies don’t get much bigger than this 30kg+ model. A big livie fished on heavy gear will give you the best chance of catching these brutes.

Longtail and yellowfin tuna can be successfully targeted using either lures or live baits. A healthy live slimy mackerel or a fast cranked chrome slice is seldom refused by either of the tuna twins. I’d say in recent years that more yellowfin tuna have been landed on lures from the east coast rocks than baits, but this is more due to the size range of the fish being 20kgs or under. If the big 50kg plus barrels with those beautiful long yellow sickles ever return then live baiting with the heavy lever drag game outfits is the way to go. Longtail tuna really are the east coast LBG anglers go to species. When they’re really on the chew they can be quite easy to hook on live baits, so much so that many experienced anglers switch over to targeting them with lures for a new challenge. My good mate Eugene Partridge loves catching longtails on Pencil Poppers so he intentionally only fishes big baits such as bonito when live baiting, ensuring his target species are big cobia, Spanish mackerel or black marlin.

inline_981_ This fantastic 20kg+ longtail tuna caught on spin gear by well-known LBGer Steve Craine is about as good as it gets.

Cobia are another species that can be successfully chased using either lures or baits. Catching cobia on lures is great fun, particularly if you are sight casting at them swimming with rays. Getting a big one to take a lure can at times be an exercise in frustration though, especially if it’s a lone fish. Cobia are certainly a lot easier to target with lures when they’re schooling. A bit of competition makes all the difference. The biggest one that’s been caught on a lure amongst the guys I’ve fished with is Phil Saul’s 24kg fish taken two years ago, a great capture on a star drag casting outfit from the rocks. If you really want that 30kg plus trophy cobe, then live or dead baits such as slimy mackerel, yellowtail, mullet, frigate mackerel or bonito are the way to go.    

Spanish mackerel are renowned for slashing baits or slamming lures with equal gusto. The banana benders I’ve fished with off the stones have specialised in throwing lures such as 85 gram Raiders at them, although I know that over in WA they have a lot of success on Spaniards skipping dead baits such as garfish beneath helium filled balloons. The strikes are truly spectacular stuff, from all accounts. Unfortunately a land based Spaniard capture in NSW waters these days is the piscatorial equivalent of winning Lotto. The only confirmed NSW LBG Spaniard capture that I heard of last year was Mick Del olmo’s 16kg fish which was taken on a live yellowtail on the Far North Coast. Be prepared to travel if you really crave an LBG Spaniard these days.

You would have to say that if your mindset is to specifically chase the largest gamefish you can off the rocks then heavy live baiting tackle is the way to go. However, with the advent of the new incredibly strong high performance spin reels and the increased line capacities offered through the use of gelspun the gap is closing and today’s lure fishing gear is very capable of taking on serious gamefish. In the end, though, the choice of using lure or live bait tackle is still largely dictated by the locations fished and the species being pursued. I suppose the best idea is to have both lure fishing and live baiting gear in your LBG tackle arsenal. That way you have all the options covered for any gamefish you want to chase, wherever you have to travel to do it.

inline_110_ Spinning the rocks can produce some interesting captures, like this solid GT caught on a Pencil Popper.


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