ESSENTIAL ROCKS By Jamie Robley
Although we see a lot of hi-tech lure flicking in the mainstream fishing media and various websites these days, the truth is many Aussies still love getting back to basics and trying their luck with more traditional or old school angling. Rock fishing, particularly along the eastern seaboard is steeped in history and still practised by thousands each year. Why? Not only are the rocks a very reliable arena, the sport can be pretty exciting at times and a wide variety of species are available.
Another good aspect of rock fishing is that it can be done through any month of the year and if it’s not the right season for one species, then something else is sure to be biting. For pure reliability though, it’s hard to beat the cooler months, from late autumn through to early spring. The main fish on offer are bream, luderick, drummer, salmon and tailor, but there are plenty of others ranging from snapper to trevally that may also get in on the act.
Unfortunately, rock fishing tragedies do occur and we often here of ‘freak waves’ washing anglers from their footing. The truth is, this can be easily avoided simply by following a few basic guidelines. So firstly let’s take a look at how to stay safe on the rocks and then we’ll get into the fishing.
Long before even heading out to the rocks it’s important to check weather and sea forecasts, via TV, websites, phone aps or newspapers. The main thing to find out is what the swell and sea heights are predicted to be at the time you plan to go fishing.
A one metre swell is normally quite safe to fish, but a two or three metre swell should definitely be avoided. If the seas are calm when you start fishing, but the swell is building, be sure to check just how big it’s supposed to get by the end of the day. Calm conditions, with only small waves rolling in can be deceptive if the swell is beginning to increase and if the tide is also rising it’s likely to become hazardous.
Before walking down to the ledge or platform you intend to fish, stop and take a few minutes to observe the sea and how the waves are rolling in. If they’re crashing hard on the rocks and whitewash is spilling over the ledge then look around for a higher, drier spot to fish. If it looks a bit too rough then play it safe and come back another day.
Suitable foot wear is also essential. Special rock fishing booties or sandals can be purchased from most good fishing tackle shops or another alternative are inexpensive Dunlop Volleys, which are quite grippy on most rocks, except those extra slippery, weedy ledges.
Appropriate rock fishing tackle is very important in this game. Perhaps the main thing to consider is rod length. If the rod is too short then line is likely to catch around any kelp, cunje or barnacles in front of you, so a longer rod is often required and this also helps with casting distance and landing fish. So lengths from 2.7 right up to 3.6 metres or more are suitable, with a three metre rod quite good for most applications.
Although a variety of different reels may work well for rock fishing, it really is hard to beat the sheer ease and versatility of a threadline or spinning reel. Of course, there are plenty to choose from in the Daiwa range, but sizes from 3000 up to 4500 are the best bet, with a 4000 size reel being a good all-rounder.
Despite the popularity of braid or PE lines, nylon mono remains the first choice of many experienced rock hoppers. Sure it’s not ideal for every situation, but it works well when casting out baits for bream, luderick, drummer and the like. Four or five kilo mono is a good starting point, but it’s definitely worth going up to ten kilo or more if the target species are groper, big salmon, snapper, kings or jewfish.
With more experience, you may wish to spool up with braid and similar breaking strains are also recommended. However, it’s vital to tie on a nylon mono or fluorocarbon leader, around the same length as the rod. This will help score more bites and provide some cushioning when trying to land hard fighting rock fish.
A small selection of hooks, sinkers, swivels, floats and perhaps a few metal lures is all that’s required to target a range of different fish. Hook sizes from 6 to a 1/0 can be used for bream, luderick, drummer, trevally and small snapper. For groper, larger drummer or snapper try hooks from 2 up to 4/0. When it comes to using baits like a whole pilchard then ganged hooks in sizes 4/0 or 5/0 are a good choice.
Some other handy items include rubber float stops, small rubber lumo beads and a spool of thicker line to be used for traces or leader. Remember though, to stick to finer line when it comes to trickier species like bream or luderick. A sharp knife, decent pair of pliers, small mesh keeper net to hold your catch and a rag or towel to keep your hands clean are other things you may need to bring along.
BAITS AND LURES
Plenty of different baits will interest fish around the rocks, but some are better than others. Blue pilchards, either whole or cut into smaller sections are excellent for bream, salmon, tailor, trevally and snapper.
Other top baits include prawns, crabs, strips of fresh fish flesh, cunje, green sea lettuce or cabbage and plain white bread. Some of these are available around the rocks were you’re fishing, while others obviously need to be purchased.
If you’re keen to try lures off the rocks, the first choice are simple chrome metals between 20 and 45 grams. Common predators like tailor, salmon and bonito will rarely refuse chrome, but surface poppers or ‘walk the dog’ style stickbaits can also make for some entertaining fishing.
As previously mentioned, safety is a priority, so look for dry ledges rather than those with much water spilling over them. Always look for points, outcrops or cutaways with some constant whitewash around them, as most fish like to feed under the suds.
Depth isn’t important and some excellent fishing can be had in relatively shallow spots, especially if there is a sandy bottom next to the rocks. Some adjacent scattered reef or boulders can also help attract fish.
Early mornings or later in the afternoon are often more productive than through the middle of the day. It’s also important to factor in the tides, as a low to rising tide is when most fish actively look for food, rather than a falling tide.
If however, it’s quite dull or overcast, fish like bream or luderick may freely bite right through the day. It may take some experimentation to find out when your local rocks fire, but that’s like any form of fishing. Keep at it and you’ll get better over time.
Part 2 coming soon.