While generally quite productive, the winter months can present some problems for those who are planning to fish the rocks. Aside from wind and the usual obstacles thrown at us, perhaps the most important issue facing rock hoppers is the ocean swell.
At this time of year it’s common to encounter extremely calm, flat seas one week, then massive and very dangerous swell the next. It’s a result of the type of weather patterns we get during winter, especially along the east coast, where rock fishing is so popular.
Flat seas are mainly caused by extended periods of strong westerly winds and large high pressure systems slowly making their way across the country. There’s nothing to stir the seas up and the westerlies blow offshore rather than onshore, meaning they flatten out a lot of wave action.
Big seas are mainly caused by low pressure systems. Some of these, like the notoriously destructive east coast lows, whip up exceptionally wild seas in very quick time, while other lows much further out in the Tasman or Coral Seas gradually generate what’s known as ‘ground swell’, which can be more dangerous, as conditions often look much safer and pleasant than they really are. At least when an east coast low smashes us, it’s plain to see that the ocean rocks are no place to be.
Big, powerful surf conditions mean we should either stay right away from the rocks or perhaps scout around for smaller bays or inlets that may be protected from the force of the ocean by large bommies, reef systems or major headlands. These smaller protected spots often fire up at this time, as fish move in and take shelter from the chaotic open ocean as well as feed on items like crabs or cunje that’s been washed away from more exposed ledges or points.
When it’s dead flat though, rock fishing may be quite safe. However, common favourites like bream, drummer, luderick, salmon and tailor become much more wary and harder to catch under such conditions. What we then need to do is seek out any small amount of whitewash close in around the rocks and present baits or lure right under that wash. Fish feel a touch safer here and more inclined to feed.
Lighter line, longer and finer leaders, the very best bait we can find and careful use of berley are other things that can help catch fish when the seas are dead flat. Fishing earlier in the morning, later of an afternoon or when skies are overcast can also be a lot better than trying when the sun is shining brightly through the middle of the day.
Regardless of catching fish or not, safety when rock fishing is critical. To avoid big seas in the first place keep a close eye on weather and swell forecasts on the TV news or via the many different websites and apps available to us these days. Generally, a swell height of one metre is pretty safe and up to two metres could be fine for some spots. Anything over two metres could mean it’s not safe enough to fish at all. If in doubt it’s just better to stay away from the rocks altogether. After all, we’re lucky to have so many other angling options in this great country that we can afford to be choosy!