Australia’s National Pastime
In a country like Australia that is surrounded by beautiful beaches, it’s no surprise that beach fishing is very popular. Anglers from all around our island nation jump at any opportunity to wet a line in the surf and tangle with iconic species. Popular though it may be, there are still so many beaches that don’t receive a lot of traffic, and finding a stretch of sand to have to yourself for a few hours isn’t hard to do.
There really isn’t a much more peaceful scene than casting a line into the waves as the sun peaks or set over the horizon while white foam washes around your bare feet. There’s something about beach fishing that’s so primal and calming, and it’s no wonder that some anglers choose to only fish off the beach.
Despite being a very specific style of fishing, getting yourself geared up for a day on the sand isn’t going to chew a hole in your pocket. In fact, you can land yourself a reasonably good quality beach kit without spending too much at all! If you have an idea of what you want to target and where, putting together an arsenal couldn’t be simpler, so let’s look at some things you’ll need on the sand.
Beach fishing gear
Your essentials on the beach are very straight forward. You’ll need a rod and reel, somewhere to keep spare terminals and/or lures, and somewhere to keep your bait if you’re bait fishing. A rod tube or spike can also be handy to free your hands for other tasks while keeping your reel out of the sand.
In most beach fishing scenarios, anglers are chasing bread-and-butter species. Swallowtail dart, sand whiting, yellowfin bream, flathead, Australian herring or tommy ruff, tailor and Australian salmon are popular species, and great for anyone cutting their teeth on the sport.
Long and whippy 10-12ft rods with a 3-6kg line rating are the preferred tool for light surf fishing for bream, whiting, dart and small tailor and salmon. Longer rods help to hold your line out of the waves, and help to take up slack quickly on a windy day.
Beach fishing reels are usually of the spin or side-cast variety, and both these reel styles can be rigged comfortably on a spin rod. For side-cast reels, there really is only one brand for the job, and that’s Alvey.
Alvey reels are Australian through and through, with over 100 years of satisfied customers and a brilliant track record of standing up to the harsh sandy and salty environment the surf dishes up. Alvey’s are inexpensive, super tough, and very, very easy to use and will last a long time if looked after, and they are just so good for surf fishing!
Direct wind side-cast reels like these allow anglers to stay in direct contact with their rig at all times, which is invaluable when fishing in a turbulent environment where you’re constantly trying to discern a bite from a wave.
Spin reels are also a useful surf tool, especially if you want something more versatile than a side-cast that you can use for lure fishing as well. Any 3000-4000 size reel will do, what’s important is that you keep the line nice and light. Seasoned surf anglers will tend to use straight monofilament for their mainline. Good quality 3-6kg mono is just fine. When using spin reels on the beach, make sure you keep them out of the sand! That rod tube or spike will come in handy about now!
Braid will also work as mainline, however surfies tend to avoid using braid as it doesn’t allow as much shock absorbance in your system, which is important for keeping small hooks in fish.
For somewhere to store your gear like a wading bag. Everything from terminals, tools and even dispatched fish can be stored inside. The bag is designed to get dirty, and washing it down with freshwater will see it good as new for the next session.
To avoid wandering back and forth to a bucket up the beach, a bait bucket that clips around your waist via a quick release belt will allow you to bait up where you’re standing.
Having your bait and terminals with you like this means you can spend much more time fishing while the bite is hot.
Rigging up for the beach
Rigs for the surf don’t have to be anything complicated, especially if you’re chasing smaller species like bream, whiting, dart, and flathead.
A lot of the time surfies will use a simple sliding sinker rig, either with or without a swivel. Sometimes anglers will also slide a piece of red tube onto the trace so that it sits above the hook as an attractant for whiting.
Others will opt for a paternoster rig, which allows the bait to sit off the bottom and waft around naturally.
Small surf species should be targeted with small, long-shanked hooks, and anything from no. 6 to 1/0 in size will work, it just depends on the size of the fish you’re expecting to catch. No. 2 or 4 is a good size to start with if you’re unsure.
Bait fishing specific hooks such as baitholder or bloodworm hooks are excellent hooks for surf fishing, especially with baits such as beachworms, bloodworms, pipis and yabbies.
Sinkers should be kept as light as you can get away with, although given surf zones can be quite turbulent, you may need to upsize from the regular lightweight sinkers used in the estuaries.
Your rigs should have a trace, and 6-10lb fluorocarbon is the best way to ensure your presentation is as stealthy as it can be. Species such as bream and whiting have good eyes, and bulky rigs tied straight to the mainline may deter them from biting.
Pre-made surf rigs are available too, a great option for those who don’t feel confident tying their own rigs.
Reading the beach
The main challenge of beach fishing is finding suitable areas to do it. Beaches are quite barren places, however between the empty stretches of surf there are little oases that can harbour a lot of life, both big and small. The trick is to find these places, either by walking along the beach, or if you have a suitable 4WD, going for a drive until you find good ground. Don’t think for a second that you need to get to the most remote stretch of beach either, as many popular surf beaches offer good fishing year-round – just be sure not to fish on top of swimmers and surfers!
Amidst the constant rolling and crashing of the waves, there are calmer spots – depressions in the sand and patches of foamy water – that act as hunting grounds for foraging species. When you’re scanning your way along a beach you want to be looking out for any slightly deeper water close to shore, even if it’s only a metre or so deep. If you can see shallow sand banks around these holes (which can range in size from a bathtub to a swimming pool), then this is even better.
The holes are formed when waves continually break over a sand bank out from the shoreline. White, foamy water will roll over these banks and over the hole, creating extra cover for the foraging species. The water then washes back out to one or both sides, and over time will create what’s known as a ‘beach gutter’.
If you ever see a calm area close to shore with white foam across it, it’s always worth a look!
Fish at your feet
One thing newcomers often don’t realise is that gutters can form right on the shoreline, and sometimes right at your feet. At times anglers must walk up the beach a few metres just to make sure they’re not spooking the fish they’re trying to catch!
If you’re not getting bites within a few minutes of casting into a gutter, make sure you try placing your bait in different parts of the hole. If you still haven’t registered any interest within 20 minutes or so of trial and error, moving to another gutter is your best bet.
Of course, there are many ways to fish off the beach, and a variety more species you can target than just the ones mentioned here. If you learn the basics, though, picking up the more advanced techniques will be much easier.
Bait fishing with light gear from the beach is an incredibly relaxing and rewarding pastime. The simplicity of the set up and the technique makes it a very good activity for kids, plus you can enjoy a feed of fish that have come straight from clean ocean water!
How far you go with your beach fishing journey is up to you, but it’s worth remembering that even the veterans of the game still enjoy a chance to soak a bait in a shallow gutter.
Good luck with your beach fishing adventures, and remember to correctly wash down your reels, rods and other gear at the end of the day!
Article by Bob Thornton.