For as long as I can remember I have found peace and inspiration from the being in, on or around the water in one way or another but every year I look forward to the tailor run along the SE Qld coastline and the opportunity to get my feet in the sand and these days for me that means casting fast moving lures for fast moving predatory fish. I love the constant activity and the hunt that fishing with lures offers, long gone are my days of soaking a bait but that doesn’t mean that bait fishing hasn’t played a significant part of my fishing life.
From my early teenage years I spent 14 awesome summer holidays watching my father Terry and my uncle Henry and a few other old boys soak pillies on the beach and on the rocky headlands around Broken Head, Northern NSW. On a hot bite they constantly bagged out on big tailor that we would fillet and eat hours later for dinner. Tailor does not freeze well but it’s bloody hard to beat as a freshly filleted fish meal.
These were strong men that could cast a large sinker and pillie rig out to the back breakers and fight a hard pulling green back tailor on a 650 Alvey and sturdy 13ft long heavy Wilson surf rod. Eventually I got to join them but I could not cast as far or as straight (my uncle Henry was a stickler for a straight cast and would not hesitate to cut your line as soon as it drifted over his, a lesson learnt quickly) but eventually I could put together a constant catch of dart and tailor but I was not really sold on the whole slow turn of the handle waiting game that is bait fishing.
I understand that there is a big place for bait fishing amongst our vast fishing community and you can’t get a better start on a beach or a more reliable reel than the Alvey (it’s where most of us began and many appear to specialise better than me) and I regularly revisit my early years as a novice fisherman as I teach my boys to feed a worm or a prawn onto a hook themselves but even as they are growing they are hinting that they want to cast and retrieve a lure just like their dad does, how can I say no.
I still consider myself to be a novice in the greater scheme of lure fishing with only 10 years under my belt, but I love it and I can’t get enough of the learning curve that it offers me and I want more. Sports fishing has captured me hook, lure and leader. My fishing has evolved quickly I believe predominantly as a result of my love for getting out on the blue water and sight fishing tuna and mackerel on light fast moving lures.
I feel the need, the need for sports fishing speed. Both forms of fishing display so many similarities that given the right part of the season and location you will often get tailor as a by catch whilst chasing tuna and mackerel so it seemed like a natural progression for me to take what I had learnt and apply it to my approach to beach fishing.
I love beach fishing and the pinnacle for me is our annual week long beach fishing trip with at least 17 blokes up to Orchid Beach on Fraser Island to target the post spawning congregations of Tailor at Waddy Point and the Sandy Cape in October. Fraser Island has everything a beach fisherman wants, surf beaches with great gutters and sandbars, rocky headlands, coffee rock outcrops, even tidal flats up on the Cape. With the help of the crystal clear water of Fraser Island I was able to enhance my ability to distinguish schools of tailor in the surf that I could now sight cast to, I was starting to notice more often small groups of birds at a distance and even single birds working bait that was being rounded up by tailor. This sports fishing approach was quite different to what I had been taught as a kid up here on Fraser in the land of the Alvey. And as my beach lure fishing techniques developed so too did my awareness of the emerging rod and reel technology and how beneficial a powerful light weight high speed spin combo could be as I stalked up and down the Islands shoreline looking for the next fish to cast at. In essence it’s pretty simple fishing (you are looking for the reaction bite of a predator), you pick the spot, you punch out a cast as far as possible and if you’re using a slug/slice of some kind you jam that rod butt tight up under your armpit and you crank that bugger in as fast as you can. If you are using a popper, a stick bait or a waxwing you might want to slow it down a little depending on the mood of the fish. As a method of beach fishing it’s easy to pick up and keeps you active and as we have found out in the last 5 years up at Fraser Island it’s catching on big time. When they strike a lure they strike hard, it’s addictive fishing.
When & Where
We are spoilt for choice here in SE Qld as there are heaps of locations accessible by foot and 4WD where you can lure fish. Starting local to me is as simple as walking down the end of my street to the Sandgate/Brighton foreshore a couple of hours either side of high tide and if I feel like a quick drive I can head South to the Shorncliffe headlands, down to Nudgee Beach or maybe North over the bridge to one of many groins and rocky outcrops along the stretch from Woody Point to Scarborough (keeping in mind the green zone South of Scott’s Point). If you feel like jumping in the car you can be within an hour of Brisbane on one of many great sandy beaches/ headlands up and down the Gold and Sunshine Coast (even just across the border you will find some awesome beachside locations) or if you have access to a 4WD you can take a day trip/weekend getaway (maybe even a sneaky week away) to some of our more unique stunning beaches like Teerwah & Double Island point or Bribie, Moreton, Stradbroke & Fraser Islands.
If we are talking tailor in SE Qld then the colder months are the go for higher catch rates on the beaches but using various lures I have caught many species off the beach, rocky headlands and man-made groins all year round. For Southern states have a look at the Surf Salmon article by Brett Mensforth on the Shimano Fishing website. Of course the age old theory of the best hot bite time is during sunrise and sunset also works with lure fishing but I have had some great hot bites right throughout daylight hours depending upon how the tides influence a location. As the sun gets higher in the sky this is when the bait fisherman usually packs up his kit and goes home and that’s when I start thinking thanks for putting all that burley in the water now it’s my time to shine. At my pinnacle of daytime beach fishing using lures (so far) are two memorable moments, the first was weighing a 13.5kg wading bag of tailor made up of only 5 fish with the biggest going 87cm and the second highlight is sight casting to a small black marlin whilst wading the high tide flats on the back of the Sandy Cape up at Fraser Island at about 10am. On the flip side I have even used lures during the night for some great catches but for this I tend to go for a lure that instead of using the reflection of sunlight and movement to get a predators attention I’ll go for a lure that uses sound to attract attention like a popper or surface stick bait or maybe even a glow in the dark lure like a slug that’s been painted with a stripe of fluorescent paint and charged up using a LED UV torch.
Jetties & piers are a great place to start as they will often have a good depth of water at high tide, they are easier to read with regard to water movement as it is usually moving past you either in or out, you are at a height above the water level that will help you get in a longer cast and with the right pair of polarised sunglasses the elevation will also help you see how your lure is working through or on the water. It’s pretty simple fishing on a jetty, if there are no signs of surface activity or bird action to cast at you just start casting at a spot and then slowly fan out the casts to cover as much area as possible.
Beaches are my favourite as I love being in the water but they do require a bit more knowledge with regards to features where the fish are usually found. Much has been written about fishing beaches (please see Rob Duncans article on Beach Fishing Tips by Alvey Reels Australia) and the significance of formations such as sand bars and gutters so I won’t delve too much into detail but I will say that casting lures into the deeper open sections of a well-established gutter will usually get you a fish and of most importance to me is having the ability to cast lures out past the breakers on the back of a sand bar will tend to get you to a bigger and better quality of fish. In saying that, if you are casting small poppers for whiting then a long cast out the back will be wasted as they will usually be feeding at your feet. I love sight casting on the beach and that usually means wading out waist deep along a sand bar and using a quality pair of polarised sunglasses to sight a dark patch of schooling tailor (or baitfish) to cast at and punching a lure out past them and dragging it back as fast as I can over or through them to create that reaction bite. On occasions I will blindly cast a section of beach if the conditions aren’t right for sight fishing but this will take it out of you over hours of constant casting but just like tuna and mackerel fishing the old saying goes “do the miles, get the smiles”.
Rocky headlands & rock walls/groins are awesome to fish if you feel comfortable fishing these locations and are aware of their inherent dangers but the rewards (experiences) can be unforgettable. Not only the fishing but the wildlife/marine life present far outweighs what can be found on a beach. In the right conditions you can see the fish you are targeting and if they are onto your lure you can even alter your retrieve to almost pick and choose which fish will be successful in chasing down your lure. On the other hand they are a mixing pot of visiting and permanent fish so you never really know what is going to end up taking your lure. I have seen all kinds of fish hooked and landed around rocky headlands and rock walls and it was only during the last lot of school holidays I had a quick flick around the North rock wall of the Tweed Seaway only to see two very large Queenfish free jumping along the Southern wall (of course they were just out of my casting distance) but I never thought I’d see them that far South. I know where I’ll be casting next time, always learning.
Equipment & lures
Rods & reels
Originally I started by taking my pillie rig off my 12ft Wilson rod and Alvey 6500 combo and simply tying on a 65gram raider and punched it out in a school of feeding tailor but the weight of this outfit and the low reel mount was not made for constant cast and retrieve so that setup was short lived for lure fishing. My greatest investment in a step towards a dedicated beach spin combo was purchasing a Shimano T-SS4 high speed spin reel, they were almost as indestructible as an Alvey but it allowed me to crank in a steel slug at high speed and the tailor loved it. It soon found its way to the front of my tackle collection and even onto my boat to be used for chasing mackerel and tuna, even though it was purchased well over ten years ago it still to this day travels with me up to Fraser Island each year. Although it’s a great reel there are heaps of lighter purpose built surf fishing spin reels available on the market now, I have used a few different brands over the last 10 years but for the price and versatility it is hard to go past a Shimano Baitrunner as this can also be used for night time bait fishing for jewfish and snapper on a boat. I am currently using a few of Shimano’s dedicated surf fishing reels like the Speedcast and the Ultegra XTC and am keen to grab the new Ultegra Ci4+ to lighten my combo up even more. Just remember the quickest way to ruin any spin reel is to dip it in the surf or drop it in the sand, so as soon as possible always wind your drag up tight and give it a good flush with fresh water even if it’s out of a bottle you carry with you in the car or wading bag. High volume low pressure warm water works best for me and those who know me know that this happens as soon as I hop out of the car at home.
My second step forward was to change my heavy glass rods for the new generation of carbon fibre rods that are heaps lighter which enable me to cast for longer periods of time and they also load up more efficiently allowing me to cast my lures out further with less effort. To that point on a personal level I discovered the catapult “lever action” effect I began to use where the longer distance between the butt section and the fore grip allowed me to use much less effort in rolling the rod over my shoulder when casting. Previously it seemed like I was using my whole body whilst making a cast but now I simply drag the butt section down whilst pushing out on the fore grip and I manage to cast further with less effort for a longer period of time, thankyou carbon fibre rods you are saving my dodgy shoulder.
I also started to reduce the length of the rods and still get the same distance if not further, I dropped as low as 2.4m (8ft) but I would recommend 2.7m (9ft) to 3.35m (11ft) with my favourite being my Shimano T-Curve Revolution Inshore 4-8kg 3.2m (10.6ft) for casting 35-55gram lures, There seems to be quite a few weight options in this size range from the various brands, The Shimano Catana Nano XG is a budget conscious version in the Shimano range but just as capable as the T-Curve. I use a 3-6kg rod for casting 15-25gram lures for dart & smaller beach species and a Shimano TCurve Revolution Coastal 2.8m (10ft) 8-15kg for windy days casting 60-80gram lures and big poppers and stick baits.
I choose to use braid due to its light weight and minimal diameter which reduces drag allowing me to cast lures further and its increased strength for small diameter allows me to fill the spool with much more line than mono. On my lighter outfits I tend to use 20lb Power Pro and on the heavier outfits I use 40-50lb Power Pro, most of the braid I use is high visibility yellow which allows me to see this fine string like material cutting through the waves. Most of the time I use 20-60lb fluorocarbon leader depending upon the outfit I’m using, the size of the lure I’m casting and where I’m going to fish. On the beach you can go on the lighter end of the scale as there are fewer obstacles to cut your line but I will up the leader when fishing around rocky shorelines. I will also use a monofilament leader when using poppers, sliders and stick baits as the buoyant property helps keep the lure on the surface and working properly.
Tackle Set Up
When fishing a jetty or a groin it’s possible to take most of the gear with you and set it down somewhere safe but when fishing the beach or rocky shoreline a tackle bag is essential and the best I’ve found is made by Bassaction, it has heaps of velcro sealed free draining mesh pockets which hold tackle in safely whilst wading the surf or scrambling over the rocks and make it easy to hang up and rinse out at the end of the day. It even has a measure on the top flap which comes in handy when in the middle of a hot bite and you want to decide whether to keep a fish or throw it back and get the lure back out there as fast as possible.
Two other key features on the Bassaction wading bag are the hook on the adjustable shoulder strap which allows you to hook on a rod eyelet so as to keep the reel out of the sand/water and free up an extra hand when unhooking fish or tying knots, the other feature I like is the large mesh panel down each side of the main compartment which allows instant free draining of excess water and blood from a bled keeper.
I like to keep my lures in the new Plano Hydro-Flo tackle trays as they make it easy to rinse off the saltwater and dry out the tray full of lures after a surf wading session. Other essentials in my wading bag are braid scissors, pliers, split ring pliers, knife and a few spools of leader.
I don’t have the patience to be a successful dangler, I’m more of an active hunting angler so casting metal slugs & slices and cranking them back in to hunt down the fish is the sort of activity that keeps me going. I have used Spanyid Raiders for many years and they are my go to lure in any beach or rock fishing situation. They cast well, they retrieve straight with a great action and fish just love them. I have used heaps of other metal slices and will continue to try out different styles that come along as there are heaps out there both big name brands and local suppliers but in my opinion nothing performs as well a 45-65gram Raider on most beach sports fishing species. This season I will also be adding a few more Spanyid metal slices to the tackle tray, such as the Raider HP, the Strike it, the Bite It and the Thunder Flash. So many lures! When the tailor, salmon, queenies, trevally and kingies aren’t biting, grab a light weight surf combo, toss on a 25gram Raider, find a full gutter or a beach break and you’ll have heaps of fun on dart. They are a favourite of mine as they go hard for a smaller fish and at the end of the day they taste great (they are a bit bony but smoke up well whole).
Three years ago I decided to add a bit more visual excitement to my beach fishing so I shopped around for an assortment of poppers, sliders and stick baits that I could find in the 30-50gram weight range. The results were awesome, there’s nothing like watching your lure get hunted down by your target fish and smashed on the surface, more often than not it resulted in a fish or a lure (or a fish stuck to a lure) flying out of the water. My favourite poppers are the Halco Rooster Popper and the Cotton Cordel Pencil Popper, the Halco is traditionally popped and the Cotton Cordel is a fast paced retrieve across the surface. I also like the Shimano Orca Pencil Bait especially if the water is smoother and you can walk it back a bit slower, this is a great surface lure to use if targeting small black marlin or long tail tuna on the flats.
Shimano Waxwings deserve a special mention in my books, they are not the most traditional looking beach or rock fishing lure but they have caught me heaps of fish, big fish. I used them on my boat for mackerel and tuna to great success, they just look so good darting back and forth as they swim. The larger 45gram model in black/chrome or blue sardine have been my most successful and when used in low wind conditions I can cast it nearly as far as a metal slice. I work the waxwings slow and steady and I seem to pick up bigger fish cruising lower in the water column, my best tailor so far at 87cm has come on a waxwing. I maxed out my shoulder with 5 fish for 13.5kg, there were a few tails poking out the top of the Bassaction tailor wading bag which drew a fair bit of attention as I walked up the beach back to the car, nearly all the bait fishermen had given up and started drinking not able to turn a bite. As I’m never short of a word, I’m always more than happy to share what ideas I have kicking around in my head, so I showed an inquisitive stranger all the gear I was using and how I approached my style of beach fishing and he went straight back out with one of my waxwings and hooked an absolute stonker, he walked straight back in and handed me the fish and said “thanks heaps for sharing, this one’s yours, the next ones mine”. He told me the next day that he ended up catching enough that session to feed the three families they were away with, that’s fishing gold.
The last thing I would like to mention about using lures is that where possible replace the trebles with singles as it helps protect the condition of undersized fish or fish that are to be released. In my experience singles often result in less fish jumping out of the water and shaking the hook and just in case you do find yourself on the sharp end of a wayward hook set they are heaps easier to get out than multiple hooks pulling in different directions through your skin.
When travelling I always have my lures bound up in Shimano rod wraps so that they are rigged and ready to go when I need them whilst at the same time they are safely secured so that they can’t fling free causing damage to my rods or vehicle on rough tracks. I also use the Shimano reel covers to protect my reels during travel as salt spray and sand can be quite abrasive and not all rod racks have protective egdes. My mates will tell you that no matter what age my gear is it looks brand new, if you look after it, it should look after you and when it comes time to upgrade you should get the best price possible.
Whilst wading waist deep on sandbars I really don’t like landing thrashing fish with hooks flying around right next to me so I trialled a shorter handled Bassaction net to land some fish in the surf, although it tested my hand eye coordination at first it secured the fish well and kept the hooks safely away from me.
Lastly, I’d like to say take the time to sit back and appreciate where you are fishing as many hidden secrets can be found whilst relaxing and watching you surroundings, with a refreshment of course.
Enjoy your fishing, respect the environment and leave only footprints. Catch ya, Matt
Tackle Land would like to thank Matt Armistead for putting his years knowledge and experiences together and presenting them for us to learn from.
Matt has spent a lot of time on the water and on the beaches perfecting his skills and getting his gear right.
We hope that you are able to take away even a small piece of information to help you during your next quest on the beach chasing Tailor, Dart or Mackerel or whichever species you to want to target!
Thanks again Matt and we look forward to your next awesome article!
Maintain the Passion!!