How to

Surf & Sand Special – Jewies off the beach

Time, preparation, attention to detail and using the right gear, rigs and baits is the only way to you can expect to catch a big jewie off the beach. There just aren’t any shortcuts with these fish, as mulloway expert PAUL LENNON explains.

EVERY angler has a fishing “bucket list” of must-catch species. If you do a lot of beach fishing then chances are at the very top of that list is a big mulloway. These fish hold an almost mythical status amongst beach anglers and are famous for their elusiveness, especially when it comes to catching your first one. If I was to tell you just how many fishless nights I spent chasing my first beach mulloway then you’d have a good case to have me locked up in some kind of mental facility. Nevertheless, when I did crack that first fish it made all the time and quiet nights worth it.

While jewfish can be caught in all sizes from the beach, it’s the ones over 20kg that surf fishermen think and dream about. Mulloway in this class have long moved on from being a schooling fish and are almost always individuals; however, the right conditions can yield several big fish in the same vicinity.

A common misconception amongst anglers is that catching one of these fish has everything to do with luck and not much else. The truth of the matter is completely the opposite. Heard the old saying that 10 per cent of anglers catch 90 per cent of fish? Well, when it comes to jumbo-sized beach mulloway, that 10 per cent is probably closer to 1 per cent. These fish are rarely caught by fluke or by anglers who are unsure of what they’re doing. It’s almost always by those who have persisted and dedicated themselves to working out just what makes these fish tick. This is a slow process and something you’ve got to stick with if you are to have success.

Just like any sort of fishing, if you’re determined and willing to learn from your experiences, it’s inevitable that you will succeed. Some of the most valuable lessons you will learn are on nights when you come home empty-handed. For example, I remember coming within a whisker of getting spooled one night by a ray which made me think about upsizing my gear. I mean, what if that was a 60lb jew? On another occasion I had a bloke cast a live tailor virtually over the top of my freezer-burnt slab of mullet and was almost instantly rewarded with a 20kg jew.
Lessons like these help you sort out the basics before you start to tackle the nitty-gritty of actually catching these fish.

There’s an absolute myriad of elements that contribute to how jewfish work. Each of these elements has its ideal time or situation and the more of these you can get to align, the greater your chances become. Things like moon phases, tides, swell, beach formation, time of year and water temps are all things that need considering when targeting beach jew. If you can crack this code and then fish the right areas with the right methods, you have the recipe for repeated success.

Place & Time

The best time to target beach jew in NSW is from autumn into early winter. Old pro fishermen call this “the travelling season”; it’s when species like mullet, bream and luderick move out of estuary systems and head north along our coastline and beaches. When you have this much food getting around in the surf you can bet predators like mulloway are not far away. Most of the bigger mulloway caught from the sand are taken during this time and almost always at night.

Getting connected to one of these awesome fish is all about timing. You don’t need to devote any more than an hour or two per session, you just need to do it during the right time. As previously stated, there are many different facets that combine to dictate just when that “prime time” is. It’s often said that the best time to chase a surf jew is around new and full moon phases. Personally, I think this is a misconception and I’ll tell you why. In NSW, these moon cycles always correspond with a high tide falling in convenient fishing times between seven and 10pm. This is no coincidence and in reality the tide is why mulloway get caught at this time, not the moon.

By concentrating your efforts on the high tide rather than moon cycles, you can chase mulloway any day of the week. It just means following the high tide by fishing later at night or in the early hours of the morning. While this may involve setting the old alarm clock and being a zombie at work the next day, the potential reward is worth the effort. Mulloway hunt around the high tide because they instinctively know it’s the best time to produce an easy meal. They also know the best area on a beach to seek out these easy meals is in and along the edges of a nice deep gutter.

Gutters are basically a deeper section of water in the middle of two sand bars. Some can run parallel to the beach while others funnel out to sea. The deeper water provides shelter from the pounding surf but, more importantly, plenty of food. When a wave crashes onto a sandbar it will often dislodge and wash crabs, worms and pippis into an adjacent gutter. This, in turn, attracts species like bream, whiting and mullet and sets in place a large food chain. Small predators like tailor and salmon cruise in to pick off any juveniles, while shovel-nose sharks and rays vacuum-clean the bottom for scraps. All this action attracts the attention of bigger predators like sharks and, of course, our target species, the mulloway. Gutters are easiest to spot from a high viewpoint at low tide during the day. The easiest ways to identify one is by looking for the darker coloured water and for areas where the waves aren’t breaking.

Top Gear!

One thing about fishing the beach is that in most cases you don’t need to worry about a good fish trying to bury you in any sort of structure. So you don’t need to fish heavy when chasing surf jewies. Lines as light as six and 8kg will eventually stop the biggest of jew as long as you have the line capacity. Personally I use 12kg and find that to be pretty spot-on, giving me a good cast and able to put the brakes on a big mulloway in reasonable time. What reel you should be using really depends on what you’re comfortable with. Alveys, overheads and spin reels will all do the job. The most important thing is having enough line on them. For 6-8kg you need the reel to hold more than 300m; for 12kg and up, I’d suggest at least 200m. If you are spin reel inclined then a baitrunner style is definitely the way to go as it allows you to disengage your drag and set the reel into free-spool without adjusting the main drag. This is handy, allowing you to catch bait, change the water in the livies, make up a few rigs and still have a rod left if you get a run while it’s in the holder.

Because the bait we use is often quite large, the right rod is really important. Slow and some medium tapered rods will struggle under the sort of load that a 600g tailor and sinker produces and tend to just flop your cast out. At the same time you don’t want anything too stiff as you will rip hooks out of baits while casting and potentially pull hooks on fish. This is why I like the FSU 5144g blank from Pacific Composites as it provides plenty of stiffness in the rear end but a more forgiving fibreglass tip, ideal for those large baits. Other items you shouldn’t be without include a PVC or metal rod holder to keep your reels out of the sand and an aerator pump to keep those livebaits going. Torches are useless when they are still in your bag and you’re 100m down the beach fighting a fish. This is why headlamps are the way to go as they’re always on you and free up both hands.

Baits & Rigs

After everything you go through to work these fish out, it’s crazy how some anglers will still skimp on their bait. Jewfish are tremendous hunters; they don’t need to eat a frozen old mullet slab when they can quite easily grab a live meal. This is why getting your hands on the best bait possible is absolutely vital for success. I spend a lot of time before mulloway sessions chasing squid. These, freshly caught, are about the best dead bait you can use. Fresh tailor or mullet fillets also make a decent jew bait, however, they don’t hold up getting bashed around in the surf like squid do.

While dead baits have caught plenty of big jew over the years they still don’t come close to being as effective as livebait. Live baiting also gets your bait up off the bottom, away from shovel-nose sharks and rays (at least for a little while). Species like whiting, tailor and mullet make the best livies, however, they can often be hard to reliably source before each session. This is why I set up a fish tank in my garage that I keep topped up with mullet, allowing me to have live bait just about every time I go.

The way I rig up when chasing mulloway is by connecting a 2-4 oz star sinker to an Ezi Rig clip that slides up and down the mainline to a swivel. This allows livebaits and, to a lesser extent, dead baits to move around in the surf. It also lets a fish move off with a bait without feeling the unnatural weight of a sinker that’s fixed to the rig. From the swivel I attach a 60cm length of 50lb fluorocarbon trace to a 7-10/0 suicide hook. For livebaits I tend to only use a single hook as I find baits last longer and swim more freely. When I do use dead baits they are rigged in the same manner but I use two hooks snelled together.

Well, that about wraps it up. You now know the fundamentals of what it takes to catch one of these awesome fish. The only thing left for you to do now is get out there and put it all into practice. One final piece of advice is to enjoy the journey that comes with targeting these fish. Never give up and don’t get frustrated if you’re not getting results. The longer it takes, the more special the moment when it finally does happen.

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