Surf fishing around Tasmania
by Ron McBain
I regard myself as an all round angler, fishing for trout in small mountain streams right through to fishing for marlin, tuna and other game fish in our deep waters. But without doubt, one of my favourite forms of fishing is surf fishing - fishing off our beaches for a variety of species that one can catch.
It's a form of fishing that can involve the whole family. While some family members may not enjoy fishing, most will enjoy a swim, sunbake or playing in the sand while Dad can throw out a line and hopefully catch a fish or two. Surf fishing - like other forms of fishing - can be very productive. One may fill up the bucket in no time at all, or one may patiently fish all day and not get a bit. That's fishing isn't it!
Species of Fish
Salmon (cocky, colonial or black back) would be the most popular and sought after fish off our beaches here. Flathead are also a common fish caught, as are mullet, gummy sharks (and other species of sharks) are often caught at night, as are cod and various types of rays and skates. One may occasionally catch whiting, trevally, couta, garfish and tailor, although the latter are not very common in Tasmanian waters. You never know what you are going to catch next. Species that normally aren't regarded as a "˜surf"fish are sometimes caught in places one wouldn't expect. Tuna have been caught off the beach.
Generally - surf fishing can be done anywhere where there is a beach. The north east and east coast beaches are probably the most popular, but the west coast often produces good catches of salmon, and some rather large sharks. The north coast beaches can be productive at times, but generally they don't contain the "˜surf conditions"that a lot of surf fishermen look for. What I mean by that is that it can make a big difference between a good catch and a bad one if one reads the beach properly. I prefer a beach with a few good waves coming in (not too rough) and some deeper channels and gutters to fish in. These are deeper water areas of some length that may run parallel to the beach or at right angles. As it is in these deeper parts that many fish are caught. Sometimes it's hard to pick these areas from where you are fishing on the beach, but if you can get onto a higher point - e.g., a sand dune - you will find them by looking for darker coloured water or by the waves. Many people think that the further you cast, the more you'll catch, but this is not always the case. Many will cast too far and cast over schools of fish, into shallower water.
A lot of east coast and west coast beaches will contain a number of gutters, but most of our north coast beaches are a lot shallower than others, and therefore aren't as popular as such beaches as Swimcart, Wrinklers, Four Mile Creek and the Friendly Beaches.
Most popular length is a rod around the 3.5 to 4m. There are quite a range on the market beginning at around $60.00. Most will break down into two or three pieces for easier transportation. Some still prefer the one-piece Rangoon cane, which are still available if one desires one. The most popular price range is about the $80.00 - $100.00 rod, but more expensive carbon fibre lightweight type are on the market as well.
A large thread line (Egg Beater) reel is the most popular type of reel used for surf fishing in Tassie. Some prefer to use an Alvey side cast type, on an overhead reel, but whatever type of reel you choose, make sure that it's going to hold at least a couple hundred metres of about 10-kg line. The most popular lines used are those with a breaking strain of 7-10kg. A heavier line of about 12-15 kg may be an advantage for fishing for something larger like a shark or skate, but remember the heavier the line, the less distance you will get. Prices from $60.00 - $300.00, with a reel about $100.00 being the most popular.
Tackle and Rigs
One of the best parts about surf fishing is that fishing on a sandy bottom you generally don't lose a lot of gear. Star sinkers of around 3 or 4 oz. are a good surf sinker, but there is a surf sinker available in most tackle shops that has four wire prongs which may be bent back to hold better in the sand. Hook sizes vary depending on what species one is fishing for. Sizes 2/0 - 4/0 are a good all round size for most fish, while smaller sizes such as a 4 or 6 for mullet, whiting and other fish with smaller mouths. If you wanted to target a gummy shark, then try a larger hook around a 6/0 - 8/0. The most common all round rig is a sinker on the bottom with 2 or 3 hooks attached above.
As with most forms of fishing, the lighter the sinker you can use, the better. As already mentioned, distance isn't always important. For good blackback I often use a couple of ganged gooks with a pilchard and a ball running sinker coming down to a swivel.
Blue bait and pilchards are the most popular baits, but most types of fish flesh usually produce fish. Squid, pipis and prawns are good as well, but make sure it's a type of bait that will stay on the hook well. The fresher the bait the better.
One essential item for surf fishing are popping bugs. These are a type of lure made of cork and feathers. Deer hair ones work just as well. These move around in the water with the wave movement. To use these just substitute one of the hooks in Diagram 1 with one of these. Flathead and salmon will readily go for these. It's not uncommon to catch more fish in a day's fishing on one of these than on bait. They're not expensive - around $2.50 each.
So far we've only discussed bait fishing off the beach, but spinning with silver metal lures, or other lures resembling small fish, can give rewarding results. The smaller the lure the better, but you want it heavy enough to cast out a bit. I personally use my surf rod for bait fishing., but use my trout spinning gear for spinning amongst the beakers. A 3 kg blackback on a 2 kg line - try it!
While beach fishing is usually regarded as a safe form of fishing, it's important to watch out for that extra large wave, especially if you are fishing where the sand is on a steep slope, and a strong undertow could make things difficult. Keep your bait and gear well up the beach, especially with an incoming tide. A heap of salt water and sand over your tackle box is not desired.
Finally, look after your gear, especially your reel. Try not to get sand in it, or salt water. It's hard not to, but after every trip wash the reel under fresh water and give it a few drops of oil. If you suspect sand inside, take the side plate off and check it over.