Rock Fishing Guide
Rock fishing is a popular pastime Australia-wide, and it seems just about wherever you go, there are local thrill seekers looking to take advantage of any favourable weather conditions to wet a line from the rocks. Rockhoppers young and old will often study weather trends for days leading up to a trip, hoping to find a good spot on their chosen ledge and cross paths with trophy fish.
Rock fishing is far more than just a casual hobby for most who do it; it’s more like an extreme sport. As such, jumping straight into this fast-paced, high-octane and potentially dangerous activity is not recommended without the right knowledge. For anyone wanting to break into the rock hopping world, this blog will look at what rock fishing is, how to prepare for a rock fishing trip, rock fishing safety, rock fishing tackle and rock fishing tips.
What Is Rock Fishing?
Rock fishing is any land-based fishing from rocks, usually in the form of a headland or promontory jutting out into the ocean, a break wall at the mouth of a river, or a rocky outcrop along a beach. Man-made break walls are generally built to shield certain areas from ocean swell, while headlands are formed naturally by constant wave activity over millions of years. In any case, these areas are known for receiving a high volume of sea swell, meaning fishing from them presents certain challenges and dangers.
This turbulent habitat sees bits of growth and crustaceans broken away by the force of the waves, while foraging omnivores and baitfish will tend to hang around these areas to feed, hiding under the white foamy layer that forms close to the ledge. Additionally, these ledges are quite often situated adjacent to deeper water, and can also receive strong current, and this will bring in larger ocean predators looking to feed on the smaller organisms.
The rocks can be something of an oasis for sea life, and it is little wonder that these places make such good fishing spots. Fishing in an area that is so exposed to the elements can be dangerous, however, and there are a few things to think about if you want to execute a rock fishing plan safely.
Rock Fishing Safety
When discussing rock fishing, safety is usually the first point to be brought up. The safety aspect should never be downplayed, as people have lost their lives fishing off the rocks in Australia over the years. Lots of rock deaths and injuries could have been avoided by following basic rock safety and taking certain precautions.
Plenty of older rockhoppers have fished off ledges for years and never had such an incident occur to them, and this is because they never compromise their safety, and prioritise themselves over their quarry.
There are a few non-negotiable rules when venturing out onto the rocks, and following these will go a long way to ensuring your safety and the safety of those with you.
Rule One: Never turn your back on the ocean. Always having an eye on the ocean means you can watch sets forming, and you know when to move off a ledge if a larger set comes through. Only when you are away from the ledge and out of the splash zone should take your eyes off the ocean.
Rule Two: Before your session, always find a high vantage point and observe the ocean for at least 15-20 minutes. It’s so important to stand there and watch at least 3-4 sets and lulls, as from this you can assess the size and direction of the swell, and determine a safe place to stand. Looking at other things, such as rocks that are wet, and determining why they are wet, is important too. If it’s wet because a wave has rolled over it, it’s probably not safe. However if it is only receiving a splash occasionally, it is probably safe, but always be vigilant. Observations like this are important. It also pays to know the tidal movements for that day, as an incoming tide can render previously ‘safe’ spots unsafe in a short time.
What appeared to be a good vantage point to fish from proved hazardous when the set came in. It never pays to rush in.
Rule Three: Fish with a buddy. Many seasoned rock hoppers fish alone, however newcomers are strongly encouraged to have someone with them, not only to keep an extra eye on the ocean (which is helpful if one of you has to take their eye off it momentarily) but also to formulate and execute your plan.
Rule Four: Make sure you have plans in place. You need to plan for how you will move to safety if a large set comes through, for how you will land fish safely, and importantly, what you will do if someone is washed in.
In the event of a wash off, inexperienced rock fishers should never try to climb back up onto the rocks with the next wave, as doing this can cause further injuries. The best bet is to actually swim away from the rocks. If you can, move in the direction of the swell, and make your way around to a sandy area where it’s safe to climb out.
Rock Fishing Equipment and Tackle
When fishing in a potentially hazardous environment, it’s so important to have the right safety gear.
Life jackets or PFDs (personal floatation devices) are mandatory in some states but not in others, however they are strongly recommended anywhere. The Watersnake Life Vest is a high-quality and affordable manually-inflated PFD suitable for rock fishing, and compact enough not to be too cumbersome while fishing. The Watersnake Deluxe Life Vest gives the user the option of manual or automatic inflation. Both have been rigorously tested to meet the latest Australian and New Zealand safety standards. Another option is the ‘bum bag-style’ inflatable life vests that are popular among rock fishers for their compact design, providing enhanced mobility and comfort during activities like rock fishing. Easily worn around the waist, these vests offer convenience and freedom of movement in rocky terrains. Their unobtrusive nature and versatility make them suitable for various water activities, despite their small size, these vests provide ample buoyancy, meeting safety requirements.
Another important piece of kit is your footwear, which should preferably be steel-spiked boots. There are a few available on the market, however you can’t go wrong with Fish-O-Rock Spike Boots from Adrenalin. These heavy-duty double neoprene shoes have hardened steel spikes, and will ensure you can tread around safely on the rocks, as a lot of rock fishing injuries occur from people simply slipping over!
Some rock fishers opt for an alternative approach and choose footwear with felt soles. The pliable nature of felt allows it to conform to irregular surfaces, offering reliable traction. While felt soles can absorb water, potentially leading to heavier and slower-drying footwear, they remain a popular choice among those who prioritize secure footing in specific fishing environments.
Ultimately, the choice between felt and steel-spiked soles often depends on personal preferences and the specific characteristics of the rock fishing environment.
Tackle selection depends on the species you wish to target. Rod and reel setups for the rocks are usually long rods and tough spin reels, with some anglers preferring large side-cast or centrepin reels for bait fishing.
Those wishing to target ocean speedsters from the stones such as Australian salmon, tailor, bonito, kingfish, trevally and so on will benefit from a long spin set-up at least 10 ft long. These same rods can also be used for ledge dwellers such as groper, rock blackfish (black drummer), snapper and more. Daiwa’s Over There, Shimano’s Aerowave Graphite Surf, and Samaki’s Zing Gen 3 Surf Rod are rod series that are perfect for someone wanting a versatile stick for the stones.
Spinning reels between 3000-5000 sizes will sit on these rods nicely, and lend themselves to a mixture of bait and lure fishing. For affordable, hard-wearing and high quality spin reels, Shimano’s Aerlex XSB, Daiwa’s Saltist MQ and Okuma’s Rockaway are ideal for the beginner.
Your local Tackle World store will be able to provide you with additional recommendations if needed.
Deploying burley bags or cubing bait can help to increase your chances. Affixing a burley bag or cage, filled with a blend of fish bits and breadcrumbs to the rocky outcrop allows for the gradual release of enticing scents into the water. This method effectively capitalizes on the dynamic nature of rock fishing and the challenging coastal currents, enticing fish to navigate closer to your chosen spot.
Rock Fishing Tips
Bait anglers will often put straight monofilament on their reels, which helps with abrasion resistance. While bait fishing your line will tend to brush the rocks more often than if you are lure fishing.
Lure anglers looking to cast soft plastics, metal slugs, shore jigs and topwater lures will prefer to use braided lines. Braid allows you to stack more line on your reel and send out longer casts, however it is far less abrasion-resistant, especially when under strain. Longer rods will allow you to keep the braid clear of the rock ledge when a fish is brought in close during the fight… hopefully!
When it comes to landing fish on the rocks, most rockhoppers try to use the action of the waves to wash fish up onto the ledge, rather than going down and lingering in the impact zone. Having a buddy with you is very handy in this situation, as they can have a second set of eyes on the ocean while you prepare to land the fish. Once a fish is landed, it’s very important to get yourself and your catch up onto higher ground where it is safe to deal with the fish.
Rock fishers often equip themselves with slide-down gaffs and extended nets for efficient fish handling. Slide-down gaffs, with telescopic features, aid in securing and lifting fish, while extended nets offer a safer alternative for netting catches without the need for gaffing. When using these tools, caution is paramount, especially on the unpredictable and slippery rock surfaces. Maintaining balance during the landing process is crucial for safety, and having a buddy present provides an extra set of eyes on both the ocean conditions and the angler's well-being.
No fish is worth your life, so if landing a fish looks too dicey, there’s no shame in sacrificing a fish to save yourself the risk of a wash off.
If it wasn’t clear already, rock fishing is an incredibly exciting, challenging and potentially dangerous pastime, and not something to be taken up lightly. By looking out for yourself and others before and during your trip, and not letting yourself get complacent around the ocean, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of this worthwhile labour.
Many who start rock fishing become lifelong addicts, and gradually meld into the many local rockhopper communities that exist all around our country. These anglers look out for each other and have incredible amounts of rock fishing knowledge to share.
If you’re looking for your next adventure as a boatless angler, this scene might just be for you!
Looking for additional rock fishing tips for your area? Pop into your local Tackle World and have a chat with your local independent fishing experts.