How to

Surf & Sand Special – Beach Fishing

Being able to walk down to the surf and catch a feed of fish on a regular basis is not rocket science. Rather, it’s simply knowing what species to target, when to fish for them and how to go about it. DAVE RAE explains. Images by SHANE CHALKER.

WHY go beach fishing? Good question. The joy of it is in feeling the sand between your toes and water on your feet. It’s uncomplicated and safe. It’s peace in a hectic world. It’s the rhythm of swells unfolding against the sand, the foamy water running up the beach in ripples and then drawing back. Add a dose of solitude, some neat fish and I’m sure you can appreciate the overall appeal of surf fishing.

All that said, you need to put things into perspective before you rush off down to your local beach. It’s unusual for fish to be lined up waiting to be caught. You do need to know the whens and hows in order to succeed.
Take big mulloway for instance. If these guys are your personal dream catch, then you’d be wasting your time chasing them mid-morning on a calm, blue skyed summer day. The only positive here is that you’d have the beach to yourself. All the other mulloway chasers will be catching up on lost sleep or accumulating hard-earned brownie points in readiness for the coming evening’s fishing.

Mulloway anglers are nocturnal creatures. They avoid full sun, preferring low light and the dark. Dirty water or stormy conditions are other preferences.

You’ll hear of the local legend catching double-figure scores over the previous season, and most say, “How lucky is that guy”! Know now that luck is not a factor. Knowledge, “doing it right” and persistence are the keys. There are countless fishless nights between captures, cold wet nights spent out of doors and possibly hours spent chasing bait. It’s the same deal with all forms of fishing and beach fishing is no different!

Know the Seasons

Fish move around at given times of the year or as a result of specific weather and environmental factors. By becoming aware of these behaviours you will be well on the way to success.

Firstly, fish are programmed to breed and because the fertilisation of eggs occurs outside the female, it makes biological sense that the girls congregate (or school), with the boys, and that eggs and milt (the male’s sex cells) are released together. It’s about bang for bucks and schooling fish get it.

Now I’m not suggesting that the slaughter of breeding aggregations of fish is the angler’s aim, far from it. What I am pointing out is that fish spawn according to a pattern, and by knowing the pattern, the angler can catch a feed.

No matter where you live or where you plan to fish, the beaches of that area will have seasons and environmental patterns that influence fish. Your job is to find out about them. Talk to the old guys; they’ll fill you in if you’re patient.

Beaches Features

Beaches are living ecosystems; apart from fish they are home for healthy populations of worms, crabs and small fish, not to mention all the things that live above the high tide mark.

Water depth varies because sand moves around. Areas of deep water have had sand removed; they are fish highways known as holes and gutters. Shallow areas called “banks” and “rips” are deeper channels for water moving back out to sea after being brought onto the beach by wave action.

In general, smaller fish will feed on the banks, under the cover of white water, whilst larger fish move through deeper areas. High tide is always prime time on a beach.
Sometimes rocks will be exposed from under the sand; solid brown lumps amidst a canvas of yellow. Always put in a cast or two close to these fish magnets.
Travelling Light

Avoid lugging a load of gear up and down a beach. If you’re on foot, which most Beach Boofheads will be, then a kilometre long walk, in order to reach a good hole, is normal.

A backpack or shoulder bag holds your gear: spare hooks, swivels and sinkers; a sheathed knife; headlamp; snacks; and a bottle of water. Polarised sunnies allow you to “spot” fish in the waves i.e. look into the face of unbroken swells for the best view. If it’s cold, throw in a beanie and a light spray jacket.

Bait for Beginners

Given that catching your own beach worms is art form in itself, and often more difficult than catching the fish themselves, let’s just say they are a fantastic bait and if you can buy some, do it. Otherwise, we’ll stick with pipis and saltwater yabbies (pink nippers) for the hunter/gatherers and WA pilchards, whitebait and mullet or bonito fillets for those who are willing to open a bait freezer in the local servo.

Simple Rigs & Gear

Alvey sidecasts and long rods have been the most common go-to outfits for beach fishing. They remain popular because they are virtually indestructible. These days, however, threadline outfits are gaining in popularity. They are super light and, when teamed with a good rod and braided line, are a joy to fish with. Every bite is clearly felt and the braid gives an extremely positive connection between the angler and the fish.

The downside is sand and salt. If you take a threadline/graphite combo onto the beach, be careful!
Running sinker rigs are the way to go. Check out the diagram on page 54 the next article : ball sinker onto a swivel, with a 30cm mono trace below, ending in a hook.
One rod’s length of mono above the swivel adds stretch when using a braid mainline and also protects your fingers from the braid when casting.
Use the same rig in all conditions, varying hook size for species being targeted and sinker size to suit conditions. The correct sinker will allow slow movement with the current.


If you live in northern NSW or Queensland, swallowtail dart are a great species to start on. They are easy to find and straight forward to catch. On light line they put up an honest fight. They love pippis, so you might like to do the “pippi-twist” before fishing – just be aware of state regulations before you collect too many or, in the case of NSW, move more than 50m from the water.
Dart are not known as a great eating fish, but if bled upon capture and then filleted and skinned, taking care to remove the stomach lining prior to cooking, they are fine.

Bream & Whiting

Bream and whiting forage in the sand for shellfish, worms and other invertebrates. They respond to berley and will come right up to your feet as the sun drops. Light line and smaller hooks are required and beach worms are the No.1 bait. Pink nippers, pippis and fish bait also work well.

A whiting bites with a series of sharp taps, while a bream bite is more solid. In both cases, drop the rod tip and wait before striking. A three count usually does the trick, but be ready to adjust if need be.
Whiting have small mouths and will be best hooked with a smaller sized hook, say, size 6 to 8. Use a long-shanked hook with worms and add a short length of red plastic tubing or red beads above the hook. Whiting love the colour red – kind of like bright red lipstick to a guy, I guess!

Bream have larger mouths and if the whiting hook is missing the bream, and there aren’t heaps of whiting around, go up to a No.1.

The colder months see large schools of bream moving along the coast, so this is a great time to fish. All the better if you can find a small school that is not a viable target for the commercial beach haulers; when they hit a school it’s almost sure to be decimated.
A productive method of bringing a few winter bream home, without being constantly bitten off by tailor, is to use whitebait on a gang of size No.1 hooks. You’ll also catch flathead as well as tailor and salmon – which, incidentally, are great fun on 3kg braid!
Tailor & Salmon

These hugely popular species are most commonly targeted with 7kg line and a pilchard secured by a set of gang hooks.
They bite best at dawn or just on dark and prefer a rising tide. The period just prior to the full moon is optimum, but new moon high tides also coincide with the start and end of the day. If the high tide is after dark, then fishing around moonrise is also worthwhile.

Use as little lead as possible and hook your bait securely to avoid casting it off the gang. Tailor usually chop along the bait from the tail, so start a slow wind when you feel the bite and keep it going until the rod bows over. Then, and only then, do you set the hook. A hooked fish shakes its head side to side, regurgitating the bait and whatever else is in its stomach; so each fish hooked adds berley to the area. Multiplying the effect with a few anglers can get the fish eating the pilchard as soon as it hits the water.
Salmon are more reserved than tailor, but the technique is similar. The difference comes with the salmon’s ability to put up a stronger and more aerial fight. They pull really hard and can surprise the most seasoned angler at times. My feeling is that salmon like smaller baits and they will often respond to half pilchards when whole pilchards are drawing a blank.

In terms of eating quality, tailor are far better than salmon; particularly when bled and cooled upon capture. Treat tailor like the bananas of the fishing world because they bruise easily. Set a reasonable numbers limit before you start, stick to it and be sure to get the fish on ice as soon as possible. Placing them in a bucket of fresh salt water and then on ice in the icebox that’s in your vehicle is a wise move.
Remembering that you’ll be carrying every fish back to the vehicle makes a limit of 10 fish look good.

Mulloway Magic

Every angler should catch at least one big fish in their angling lives and mulloway are on the top of many an angler’s list.
The introduction sets out the plan. Ten to 15kg line with an 8/0–10/0 hook and fresh, as in non-frozen, or still-kicking bait is how you go about it. Mullet, squid or beach worms all work.
When you get a big bite let the fish take line and don’t strike until you are sure it’s moving away from you. Then hit hard, and I reckon two or three times. The fish will take off, but not too far and with constant but not overly heavy pressure, can be led back to the edge of the surf. Be patient at this point because they can be difficult to wash up.

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