Beach Fishing

Put on your wet weather overalls, berley up the water and cast a 70 plus metre line to get past the breakers - this is the typical lifestyle of the dedicated beach angler. With around 7000 beaches to choose from, Australia offers plenty of opportunities to target coastal fish such as tailor, salmon and mulloway. This article discusses how to read the beach, where and when to fish, and provides some tips on beach tackle.

Beach Fishing in Australia

Australia has many beaches - over 7000 in fact, with many revealing white silky sands and turquoise seas. Australians are known to possess a strong beach culture, and this is no surprise - we love our surfing, our beach strolls, and our beach fishing. Now beach fishing may not be as glamorous as say a romantic stroll - after all, you need to drop your first line before the roosters wake; also, you may be up to your knees in cold whitewater. But this is the beach fishing lifestyle and its dedicated followers take great pride in strategically reading the beach, and battling some of our finest ocean species.

Reading the Beach

Before eagerly venturing onto the beach with rod and bucket in hand, it’s wise to check out the surf conditions from a higher vantage point. If you can safely get access to higher spots such as a headland, take a few moments to study the surf. Look at how the waves are breaking, where the whitewash is forming and where the darker blue channels are. Can you see any deep V-shaped gutters or holes, rip areas, drop-offs, and shallow sand banks further out? These beach formations will show you what’s going on in the water and help you work out the areas where fish would probably congregate. For the beginner, this would be a good start, but there are many other factors to consider like tides and the way rough weather can affect beach formations - which incidentally can change without much notice.

Gutters - The Fish Highways

Gutters are the most important surf features to find because it’s where a lot of fish prefer to be in. A gutter is recognised as a channel of deeper waters - usually characterised by dark blue or green colours, and typically running parallel with the beach. It is caused by an outer sand bank behind it which causes waves to break early and whitewash to follow. This whitewash (or ‘white water’ as known by anglers) flows over the gutter, providing cover for fish and stirring up the bottom exposing food. Gutters are variable in length and can have an outlet back to the sea at one or both ends. Fish usually enjoy foraging for food near these outlets since the back and forth motion of water also stirs up food.

Good gutters to target are the ones that are narrow and well within casting distance. An angler can simply cast over the gutter landing on the shallower waters of the sand bank, then slowly retrieve the bait back through the deeper waters of the gutter. This technique is known as bait spinning and is best done with a fish bait with as little lead as possible.


Gutters are one of a number of beach formations that can change during the course of the day or night. You can’t expect to fish the same gutter every time because depending on weather and surf conditions, a nice productive gutter may eventually move or level out and disappear completely.

Are Tides Important?

Tides play an important role in fishing and there are advantages for low and high tides. Low tides allow you to walk along the beach while locating gutters and features in the sand which will be well underwater once the tides comes in. Also, when the tide is out, you may be able to get the casting distance required to fish the deeper waters beyond the edge of sand shelves.

A few hours leading up to the peak of a rising high tide is the most productive surf conditions to fish. As the tide starts rising higher above the sand bars and gutters, the fish happily swim over sampling the fresh smorgasbord of food on offer. The smaller fish chasing smaller morsels will also attract bigger fish like mulloway and sharks. The best scenario for beach fishing occurs by coinciding the rising tide (or one to two hours before) with dawn or dusk. And better still, fishing inside a nice gutter during this time!!

When to Fish?

There are a number of influences that determine when to fish and this includes, weather and surf conditions, time of the day and tidal influences. Dawn and dusk are well known to be the best times to fish, although there can be some good fishing during the day if the surf conditions and gutter formations are perfect.

Fishing at Dawn

When it comes to fishing at ‘dawn’ that pretty much describes dropping a line at first light. If say, the sunrise is at 6.00am in summer, then first light could mean a little past 5.00am. Now during this time when light is rather scarce, it can be a little challenging to read the beach.

Fishing at Dusk

At this time, objects are still distinguishable and some stars and planets are visible to the naked eye. Fishing at dusk gives you the opportunity to read the beach earlier on whilst it’s still light. For example, you could locate a good gutter during the day, and then return to the spot in the evening. But that said, hopefully the surf and weather conditions allow the gutter to still be there.


Wearing Polaroid sunglasses will significantly reduce the glare from the water thus helping you locate gutters and holes easier.

Bait, Lures & Berley

If you are targeting a particular species, you must choose the bait that most appeals to the fish. Pelagic fish like tailor and Australian salmon would prefer fresh pilchards whilst shy scavenger fish like bream enjoy beach worms or pippis. Lures can be quite effective if it looks and swims right - especially when fish have their choppers on. Therefore, it’s always good to have a couple of lures on hand for such productive occasions. Have you have ever used a small berley cage on your rig to help attract fish to your bait? Beach anglers go one better and use big berley bombs anchored near the shoreline to attract fish to a designated area.


Fish will most likely respond to baits that are fresh, so it’s important to maintain the freshness of your bait by keeping it iced in an esky and cover it from the sun. The way your bait is presented also plays an important factor in enticing a hook up. For example, squid works well when it is cut into thin wedge shaped pieces because it will imitate a swimming bait fish in the current. When attaching whole fish such as pilchards (mulies) or garfish on a ganged hook should be presented in a natural looking way. Using bait fish with tough skin such as striped tuna, frigate mackerel, and bonito help keep the bait on the hook. The strong scent that these baits exude also helps to entice fish. Generally, fish that take fish bait usually have sharp teeth so a thicker monofilament or wire trace is required. These fish include surface feeders (pelagic) such as tailor and Australian salmon. Shy and timid feeders such as bream on the other hand are quite content with taking small baits such as beach worms and pippis.


When fishing for flathead or bream, use fresh beach worms. They can often be collected at low tide in the sand or the receding wash. Use a berley bag and swish it over the sand, wait for the wash to carry the scent back and keep an eye out for any beach worms rising to the surface.


There are stacks of lures available for fishing in general, but which one is good for beach fishing? For starters, consider the species of fish that will likely take a lure from the beach. Tailor, flathead, Australian salmon and even dart and bream will take lures. Tailor which feed a fair way from the shore would need a lure between 25 and 90 grams - having enough weight to carry the distance. Any chrome spoon lure such as the Toby design or any metal slice lure like the Osprey Intruder will do the job nicely. To get the best results when spinning, a fast retrieve is paramount. Look for a large spool size and high gear ratio when selecting your reel. Fish that inhabit the shallower waters such as flathead don’t require a fast retrieve. A steady but irregular retrieval action using a smaller spoon or minnow lure is ideal.

Australian Salmon and tailor tend to school up and feed very aggressively in the surf. Lures can be well responded during these conditions, especially if the lure behaves like an agitated bait fish in distress. Bait fish are quick to swim away from a potential predator so casting lures into the fish schools and quickly retrieving it can be very productive. Some good lures on the market include Gillies and Halco Twisty Lures.

Gillies Pilchard Lures

These saltwater spinning lures come in a variety of sizes - up to 85gms, and are great for a wide range of fish including Australian salmon, tailor, bonito, mackerel and other pelagic fish. These lures have a highly reflective metal body and are great for distance casting. They are available in bait imitation colours such as blue mackerel and silver white bait.

Halco Twisty Lures

The curved-end of the Halco Twisty Lure creates a unique action through the water. Depending on the speed of retrieval, you can acquire a slow wobble to a high speed vigorous splash. Give it a try when targeting Australian salmon, tailor, herring, whiting, garfish and silver trevally. Halco Twisty Lures come in eight sizes up to 70gms and are available in gold and chrome. They also come with a holographic sparkle on one side for extra flash.


Lures are an excellent choice to use when schools of fish are in a feeding frenzy. Carry a few artificial lures and snap swivels in a ‘bum bag’ so if you end up losing a lure, you can quickly attach another and get back into the action.


Berley is used by anglers to lure fish to a designated area. Many beach anglers like to use frozen chopped or minced bait fish such as pilchards, and throw in a handful every now and then. A cheaper alternative to bait fish is to use frozen breadcrumbs soaked in tuna oil. To prolong berley, anglers can use a mesh bag such as an onion bag containing a frozen block of minced pilchards or striped tuna. This bag can be anchored with a stake in a position where the wave action breaks up the berley. The thawing mixture sends out a slick that will attract but not feed the fish. Strong surf currents will take the berley scent a fair way out - and in no time at all.


Some anglers make giant homemade berley cages out of 50 to 150mm wide PVC plumbing pipe. Designs vary, but one incorporates a glued end cap on one end, and a screw cap on the other with an eye bolt to attach a rope or chain. Holes are drilled all around the pipe to allow the berley to slowly release in the water. The rope or chain is then used to secure the cage to an anchored stake in the sand.

Rigging for the Surf

As in most beach fishing situations, the right combination of rod, reel and rig setup will determine the degree of your success. There is a golden rule to fishing and that is - to fish as light as possible. That means; using the lightest line; the lightest tackle; and the most suitable rod/reel combination. For example, when targeting bottom dwelling fish, you may not want to anchor your bait to the bottom with a big heavy sinker. Going with a lighter rig that keeps the bait moving with the wave and tide action will help guide the bait to more fish. Now that said, using light tackle on the beach is not always doable, because surf and weather conditions, including the type of fish targeted will dictate how light you can go. Also, using lighter tackle puts extra strain on larger fish, which may cause it to expend far too much energy to survive the release.


A good beach rod must have an action that lets you cleanly cast a weighted rig up to 100gms when the conditions demand it, but also be versatile to cast lightly-weighted baits. The tip action should be sensitive enough to ‘feel’ the bite and let you play a fish without placing too much pressure on the line. Beach rods use a ‘fast’ action because most of the flex is in the tip section.

Beach rods commonly range in length from 3.5 to 4m long. Generally speaking - the longer the rod, the longer the cast - but that said, a longer rod adds more weight which may tire you sooner. Weight and strength are also key factors when it comes to choosing a good beach rod. Cheap entry level beach rods are typically made from fiberglass, which can weigh as much as twice the amount of a similarly sized graphite rod. Medium priced rods are made from a composite mixture of glass fibre and low density carbon - which is stronger and lighter than fiberglass alone. The higher priced rods are made from either low density carbon blanks - which are stronger and lighter than composite mix, or high density carbon blanks which is the Rolls Royce of beach rods.


Many anglers have considered custom made rods. This may not be a cheap option, but it does offer you the advantages and comforts of having a rod and butt custom designed to suit your height and arm length.

Reels - Sidecast Vs Threadline

When it comes to beach fishing, there are advantages to using both of these reels, so it basically comes down to personal preference. Without getting to deep into which reel is best - below is an outline of some general opinions.


Alvey has been making quality sidecast reels for over 80 years. These reels allow the line to run directly over your index finger even when you are retrieving the line. The one to one ratio makes you appreciate the power of the fish and the reel is robust enough to be dunked into the ocean to wash any beach sand off. Another major advantage is the sidecast design allows the spool to be rotated 90 degrees, therefore allowing the line to flow off the reel almost unimpeded. Jack Alvey had casted a 56 gram weight over 200 metres with this reel and was awarded a gold medal by the International Casting Federation. The only requirement in sidecast beach fishing is that an ordinary small free running swivel be placed above your rig to keep your line free of twist.


A threadline reel, also known as a ‘spinning reel’ or ‘eggbeater’ is what most anglers start out using and is the easiest reel to use. These reels can perform just as well as a sidecast, although they are better suited using light tackle. Some threadline reels are big enough to hold a couple of hundred metres of 7kg line. However, the spools are generally small and using thick line will not only inhibit the reel’s casting ability, but also limit the amount of line you can use. When targeting fast-swimming pelagic species such as Australian salmon using metal lures, the reel must retrieve the lure fast enough to interest the fish. A reel with a 6.3:1 gear ratio for example retrieves much more line than a reel with a 4.7:1 ratio - so for this style of fishing, the higher the gear ratio - the better!!

Threadline Maintenance

With threadline reels, you must look after it and strip it down for maintenance every now and then. When you are beach fishing, you should avoid getting saltwater in the reel and never lay the reel into the sand. After a day’s beach fishing, a gentle freshwater wash down will minimise salt corrosion. It is wise to spray the reel with a moisture displacer such as RP7 or WD40.

Other Beach Accessories

Apart from the standard array of gear you would normally take such as rod, tackle box and bucket, there are a few accessories that you may also want to consider.

Sand Spike

A sand spike is basically a holder for your fishing rod and you can pick one up from a tackle shop. After you have cast, you simply insert the butt of the rod into the sand spike and leave it there while you work another rod or sit and relax. You can even make your own sand spike using a 50mm PVC pipe about a metre long. Just cut one end at a steep angle so it can easily be driven into sand.

Saltwater Landing Nets

These nets are made of rubber or nylon and provide a convenient and safe way to land your catch. Most offer tangle free weighted netting with corrosion resistant handles and teardrop loops.

Fish to Target from the Beach

Australia has some outstanding beaches offering anglers a nice variety of fish species to target. A lot of these species are found in most beach waters right around the country. Some species can be caught fairly close to the shore, whilst others may require a cast of up to a hundred metres to get beyond the offshore gutters.

Bream, Whiting & Sand Flathead

Fish that can be caught on light to medium tackle include bream, whiting and sand flathead. Bream including yellowfin or silver bream, are an incredibly shy scavenger fish that will spook at the slightest movement or noise. They can be found in small gutters and areas of deeper waters where they feed on worms and shellfish disturbed by the wave and surge action. Whiting including sand or beach whiting have a preference for sandy bottoms and are typically targeted on the edge of sand drop-offs where they feed. Sand Flathead are bottom dwellers, normally found in abundant numbers feeding on vast sandy shallows and flats during high tide, and deeper gutters during low tide.

Tailor, Trevally & Australian Salmon

Fish that can be caught on medium tackle include tailor, trevally and Australian salmon. Tailor are found near headlands, bays and surf beaches in holes and gutters predominantly at high tide. They tend to school and feed aggressively, which is characterised by splashing water movement and flocks of seabirds overhead. Tailor is best targeted around dawn and dusk. Trevally usually frequent the deeper waters behind the breakers at the corners of the beach and in the deeper holes. Australian salmon, are a pelagic fish that inhabits the coastline, breakwaters and surf beaches in holes and gutters. Sea birds overhead and vigorous water splashes also reveal Australian salmon schools.

Mulloway & Gummy Shark

Fish that can be caught on medium to heavy tackle include Mulloway and Gummy Shark. Mulloway, also known as the ‘jewie’, are a large shy fish, mainly caught at night where they feed around reefs and in reasonably deep holes and gutters with plenty of white foam flowing over. Gummy shark, also known as ‘flake’, prefer the deeper offshore waters on or near the ocean floor, but occasionally frequent the shallower waters close to land. Gummy sharks are more active at night and are often found in schools.

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Created: July 2008
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