The secrets to catching fish in the surf

With thousands of miles of coastline available it offers a great opportunity for anglers to catch fish, but surf fishing can be a difficult activity for first timers. In this article we will discuss how to identify areas to fish and what techniques can be used for surf fishing, including rigs and tides.

The first thing any great surf fisherman will know is how to read the surf. Unlike reefs or rivers, the surf is mostly made up of sand banks and gutters that are constantly changing and moving location with the change in tides, swells and weather events. Being able to identify sandbanks and gutters will allow you to pick your fishing locations for great chances of catching fish. When waves break on the shore the water needs to escape back out to the ocean. It does this via what is called rips, or gutters. The depth in these gutters can be quite deep, and this is exactly where fish will be hiding and using it as a pathway into the shallow areas close to the beach where they can find bait fish, worms and other food.

Gutters are most commonly identified by the darker water where there is less or limited wave activity. Due to the deeper water, waves tend to not break in the gutters. You may have been at the beach and seen surfers paddling out in certain areas, these areas are the gutters and surfers use these due to less waves and the outgoing current or flow which makes reaching the outer surf breaks easier. It is best to visit your local surf beach at low tide and identify where these gutters are before returning at hightide.

What equipment is required?

To catch fish in the surf you don’t always have to cast out hundreds or metres. Smaller fish such as whiting, bream and flathead will often lie in the shallows chasing worms. At night large fish such as Mulloway or Jew fish will move into these inshore gutters chasing bait and with a bit of patience you can. Depending on the swell, tide and winds, it is recommended that a large surf rod around 10ft + is used. The longer length rod with a whippy tip will allow you to cast further into the surf to target large fish. A large rod along with suitable heavy sinker will allow you to get out beyond the first initial break and into the gutters, it will also provide sufficient strength when you hook up to a large Tailor or Mulloway. The most common reel used in Australia for surf fishing is an Alvey reel. This is an open face reel with the spool running inline with the rod. As the line is fed onto the spool inline, it allows the angler to keep a finger on the line feeling for any bites. Other than a large surf rod, suitable weight sinker and hook there isn’t too much more that is required, it’s more about technique. Surf fishing can be a quite a waiting game, so a little handy tool is a piece of long pvc pipe that can be stuck in the sand to hold the rod while you wait for a bite.

Best baits for surf fishing

With a wide variety of fish to be caught in the surf, your bait selection will play a major part in what you can target. A popular bait is the live beach worm which lives in the sand in the shallows of the beach. There is quite an art to catching live beach worms and once perfected, they provide a great source of free bait perfect for catching bream, dart, tarwhine, flathead and whiting. To catch live beach worms you first need bait to attract them. This can be old fish frames, chicken frames, pilchards or pippies. Anything with a strong smell will attract the worms to the surface of the beach and you will be able to see their small heads protrude from the sand as the outgoing water washes across the sand. It is paramount that you be very still and approach the worms quietly as to not spook them. Hold a small piece of bait in one hand and present it front of the worm. The worm will try to eat the bait by first gripping it with its strong jaws before arching its neck in an attempt to pull the bait into the sand. It is at this point you use your index finger and thumb of your spare hand to reach behind the worm and pinch it between your fingers and then pulling it from the sand. It might sound easy, but trust me, it can take some time to get the hang of and can be very frustrating.

Other baits such as pilchards and mullet filet work great for jew fish and tailor. Many anglers will use ganged hooks with full pilchards or a side of mullet when chasing larger fish. The baits will float and swim around in the swell ready to be consumed by a passing fish. Serious anglers will often catch whiting or small tailor and then use these as bait for large pelagics such as mackeral and bigger tailor, or large jew fish. Fishing with large baits will require heavier rigs and line in order to handle such large baits and the hopefully a large catch. If all this sounds too much then you can always use the humble frozen prawn from the local fish shop or servo which are great for bream and flathead.