How to

Surf fishing rigs

AS the weather cools and westerly winds start blowing along the east coast, the surf conditions settle and beach fishing on a crisp morning or afternoon can be an enjoyable and productive way to beat the winter doldrums. Common species found on our beaches include bream, whiting, tailer, salmon, flathead, and mulloway but to catch a few you will need to better understand the subtleties beach fishing including which rig to use and why. Rigs for beach fishing are not overly complex but require a considered approach to adapt the weight and setup as beaches are dynamic environments with constantly shifting sands and structures. Preserving your bait in the turbulent surf is another key consideration; read on for a few helpful tips for fishing the surf.

Rig considerations

When beach fishing there are several factors to contend with which will point you in the direction of which rig to use. If you are prospecting, then a rig that allows your bait to move around is helpful to cover distance.

Know Where to Fish

Beach fishing relies on finding suitable “structure” on a beach such as a hole, gutter, or sandbank. The wave action on shallower areas generates energy that forces water laterally and towards the shoreline; this repeated action scours out deeper sections of water, holes, and gutters, adjacent to the shallows. The action of waves breaking over the shallows creates aerated white-water which spills over into the deeper periphery creating a natural hiding spot for prey dislodged by the surf action. This in turn attracts predators that cruise in and out of these holes and gutters, scanning the margins in search of an easy meal. It stands to reason that wave action and some type of structure, in the way of a hole or gutter, are the optimal places to fish.

Paternoster rig

If distance is critical to cast beyond a mass of weed that is wallowing in the breakers or if you need to cast beyond the breakers to reach a hole or gutter, then a fixed sinker rig like a paternoster with a heavy weight is required to optimise casting distance. If the current is strong then an anchor style sinker, such as a star or grapnel sinker, will help keep your bait in the one spot. A paternoster rig comprises a sinker on the bottom with three-way swivels or dropper loops attaching hooks above the weight. They are simple to tie and when using a loop to attach the sinker you can quickly and easily change weights and sinker style to best adapt to prevailing conditions.

Running sinker rig

The basic running sinker rig comprises a hook which is tied to a short leader which is then attached to a swivel. A sinker is then threaded onto the main line and the main line is tied to the other end of the swivel. This is a great rig when prospecting light surf conditions or when a long cast is not required. Use the lightest sinker for the conditions but once you find a patch of fish or if you find that the fish are biting but not hooking up you could try increasing the size of the sinker to help keep the bait in front of the fish for longer. A variant of this rig is to limit the running section by incorporating another swivel above the sinker. The advantage of this is that the sinker does not fly up the mainline when casting and improves casting distance. If using a side cast reel, using two swivels also helps combat line twist.

Floats and surf poppers

It seems counter intuitive to use a float on the beach and even more outrageous to use one with a sinker but there is a good reason why. On many beaches, crabs, sea lice and other sand crawling critters like to decimate and bait that sits on the sand so incorporating a fixed float just above the hook helps keep the bait off the bottom and away from annoying bait thieves! Surf poppers also serve the same purpose, but they also look attractive to predators as they waft in the current or when being retrieved often eliciting a strike even when the bait has been picked off the hooks!

Preserving your baits

Distance casting and the incessant action of waves and current against the backdrop of abrasive sand can quickly cause baits to disintegrate. Bait preservation is critical when fishing the beaches as the barrage of waves make it difficult to sense if your bait is still intact. The easiest way to preserve baits is to use multiple hooks like ganged hooks, snell rigs or a rig incorporating a smaller bait keeper. Multiple hooks allow for more than one attachment point to the bait which helps to not only spread the load when casting but also supports the bait in the water. Is stands to reason that fresh baits that are firm and robust will withstand the rigours of the surf better than older baits that have softened. You can prolong the life of your baits and stiffen them by laying baits on a few layers of newspaper and salting them down for at least a day or two before use. Another way to ensure your baits stay on the hook is to use bait keeper style hooks that have slices in the shank which prevent the baits sliding off. You can also wrap larger baits using light white or red cotton to effectively bind the bulk of the bait onto the hook without impacting the appeal of the bait!

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