By Jamie Robley.
Australia has no shortage of magnificent headlands, points and rock ledges dotted around the entire country. Not only is it possible to encounter an extraordinary variety of fish from these rocky fringes, many species are aggressive predators that will eagerly pounce on lures.
Whilst distant or exotic locations may raise eyebrows with some mind blowing fishing, the truth is the endless rock fishing venues along the populated east coast provide consistent opportunities to tangle with hard fighting, lure crunching fish throughout the year. Large predators such as Spanish mackerel, yellowfin and bluefin tuna, cobia and mulloway are never out of the question, especially in northern NSW, but smaller targets like tailor, salmon, bonito, frigate mackerel and kingfish are much more accessible to most anglers. They also provide loads of fun on suitably matched lure casting tackle.
Ocean temperatures tend to lag a bit behind our four terrestrial seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring. So when the land starts cooling down in autumn, sea temps along the east coast can still remain relatively warm right up towards the start of winter. Likewise, when spring rolls around and we all welcome the warming weather, the ocean can actually be at its coldest.
So depending on how far to the north or south one lives, we can roughly consider east coast ocean seasons as winter – July, August, September, spring – October, November, December, summer – January, February, March, autumn – April, May, June. Of course, just as on land, some years we may experience warmer or cooler seasons, starting earlier or later than normal. As ocean currents deliver warmer or cooler water, different species arrive or depart, while some simply move closer to shore or further back out to sea.
Our dominant winter species are salmon and tailor. As we move into spring salmon numbers are really peaking, with the odd tailor still about and some years others like striped tuna may also put in an appearance. Towards the tail end of spring kingfish numbers may begin to increase, as salmon start to thin out. When warmer water starts pushing in close, around late January bonito and kingfish become much more common. Through February, March and April bonito, kings, frigate mackerel and mack tuna dominate, but a few tailor and the odd salmon are still possible. As water temps start to fall frigate mackerel stick around, tailor numbers are good and a few more salmon begin making an appearance.
Along the northern NSW coast salmon are much less common, while others such as mack tuna and the colourful Watson’s leaping bonito can be expected well into winter. Once again though, each year is different and it’s not entirely uncommon for salmon to be caught along the Gold Coast or leaping bonito to show up around the Illawarra.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment when lure casting for these aggressive fish is the reel. While it’s not necessary to lash out and buy top of the range, skimping out on reels that may not be up to the task may lead to problems. Spinning from the rocks is a very demanding form of fishing and a big bonito or mack tuna can put a lot of stress on everything, including the angler!
Daiwa is at the very forefront of tackle technology and there are a number of great reels, both threadline and overhead, in the range which are perfect for spinning from the rocks. In most cases a 4000 or 4500 size threadline with a reasonably fast gear ratio is the best choice. If overhead reels are more to your liking then a 30 to 40 size is right on the mark.
If specifically targeting smaller predators like frigate mackerel, leaping bonito or average size tailor then it’s probably worth considering a 3000 or 3500 threadline reel. Sometimes frigates prefer very small lures and to cast these it’s better that the whole outfit be downsized.
As with other styles of rock fishing, a rod around three metres in length is ideal. It also needs to be suited to the lure weights being used, feel balanced with your choice of reel and it certainly helps to have enough strength in the rod to lift fish onto the rocks. Bear in mind, that larger fish should always be ‘washed’ up onto a ledge rather than directly lifted.
This is another department that Daiwa have covered exceptionally well, with several surf rod ranges at different price points to suit the budget. When using lighter lures for smaller species a shorter, lighter action rod may be better. Be sure to check the rod’s recommended lure casting weights and line ratings before committing to a purchase.
A very broad range of lures will interest the variety of predatory species that hunt along the washy rock zone. However, the single most important type of lure to have in the kit is the simple, chrome metal variety, in weights from 15 to 65 grams. Having said that, the more useful weights are in the 20 to 45 gram bracket.
Chrome lures work most of the time, but occasionally a white metal lure can be even better. This is often the case in low light, just before sunrise or towards sunset. Species such as frigate mackerel and kingfish also seem to have a soft spot for white lures.
Surface poppers and ‘walk the dog’ style stickbaits are also worth considering and topwater offerings can be particularly appealing to salmon and tailor around sunrise or sunset and may often stir up kingfish when other lures aren’t doing the job.
The abovementioned lures are your primary rock spinning types, but some others that can draw strikes include diving hardbodies, sinking hardbody stickbaits and soft plastics. Once again, white is a good colour choice, as are natural baitfish colour schemes and sometimes a bright chartreuse, pink or orange may go ok.
If the water is quite clear and plenty of salmon are around it’s hard to go past a slinky sort of soft plastic that mimics a small baitfish. Sometimes it’s hard to match a suitable plastic with a jig head heavy enough to cast, yet not too big for the chosen softie. If that part can be overcome then it’s worth trying very subtle colours, including clear plastics. If these land amongst a mob of aggro salmon then a hook up is pretty much guaranteed.
A reel filled with straight through nylon mono is perfectly fine for this sort of fishing, although many anglers these days are favouring braid, with a suitable length of nylon mono or fluorocarbon leader. From personal experience, I would highly recommend going down the nylon path, rather than fluoro. The simple reason is the extra stretch in nylon provides a better cushioning effect when fighting these stubborn opponents. Acrobats like salmon and head shakers like tailor are very good at dislodging hooks, but with a bit of stretch down at the business end of things there’s a much greater chance of the fish staying connected.
As a starting point, for most species, try six to ten kilo braid (12-20lb) with an eight to twelve kilo leader about the same length as the rod. Go lighter for frigate mackerel and heavier if kingfish or big salmon are likely.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
Most of the time a reasonably fast retrieve is the best approach for small pelagics off the rocks. This is particularly so when bonito, mack tuna and frigate mackerel are around, but it can also stir salmon or kings into chasing down and nailing the lure. On the other hand, tailor respond better to an average or slower retrieve.
It’s not all about speed though. When casting from deeper ledges that have a relatively snag free bottom, allowing the lure to sink right down before commencing the retrieve is a good idea. This means the lure will be ripped back through more of the water column and attract the attention of fish holding closer towards the bottom.
Mixing things up with a few faster rips and several pauses during the retrieve may also encourage fish to hit. Bonito respond particularly well to lures travelling flat out that suddenly stop, but it can also work on other fish.
Pelting out lures from the rocks is a very energetic and exciting form of angling which can be practised at any time of year. These fish rip out line and make the drag scream with much greater intensity than any bream or bass that swims. Get into it!