Surf’s Up For Fishos

Mulloway are highly-prized amongst anglers beach fishing the back of the Coorong. This average sized fish was caught near the 42mile crossing.

Mulloway are highly-prized amongst anglers beach fishing the back of the Coorong. This average sized fish was caught near the 42mile crossing.

The perfect time for a sea change

Often nocturnal in nature, the sand-trudging surf fisho is a creature of great patience. The ability to stare into the small hours of night as the long rods bob to the rolling swell is compounded by many variables. Some of these steal from the ambience of fishing in a place where salt meets sand and the silence is marked by the pound of rolling surf. Those who know it well will completely understand when I say surf fishing is a road hard travelled. It’s a place where wind, weed and wild seas will often replace expectation. Self doubt might set in followed by the questioning of one’s own fishing sanity. Yet, get it right but once and you are far more hooked than any fish you are likely to drag from the brine. There are many spots to fish the surf along the southern coastline but when it comes to ease of access and regular catches the Young Husband Peninsula in South Australia is our favoured haunt. Situated between Kingston and the mouth of the Murray River the peninsula is part of the Coorong National Park and wetlands system. As a tourist destination, this stretch of coastline has plenty to offer. Kingston is the home of the Big Lobster and, not surprisingly, has a thriving crayfish industry. While I do enjoy the gastronomic delights of fresh crays the real draw card to this stretch of coast is vehicle access to some truly first class beach fishing. Yes you heard right – vehicle access. As you leave Kingston towards Salt Creek, well-marked tracks along the Princes Highway provide four-wheel-drive access to the beach. The 28, 32 and 42-mile crossings are popular entry points as is Tea Tree Crossing at Salt creek. Bait, tackle and other supplies are available at the Salt Creek Roadhouse but for my money I would be well stocked before you arrive. The convenience of on location shopping and the associated price hikes that go with are not lost at this place. It’s a grim collect when the ice costs more than the pre bought slab of amber fluid you’re trying to chill. I won’t even mention the bait other than to say you’d pay less for pilchards in a five star restaurant.
Lost on our northern brethren, sharks are the bread and butter of the southern surf angler. Small bronze whalers are a common catch during the summer months.

Lost on our northern brethren, sharks are the bread and butter of the southern surf angler. Small bronze whalers are a common catch during the summer months.

The roadhouse does however have a catch book jotted with the area’s recent captures. Free to browse, it can provide valuable information as to which direction to travel once you are on the beach. The roadhouse did sell camping permits which are required to stay overnight along the beach but they stopped doing this last season. However the permits that will set you back about eight bucks a night are available at most entry points just before you hit the sand tracks into the beach. The permits work on an honesty system where an envelope-styled form is filled out before being crammed with loot and stuffed in a makeshift safe on a pole. The detachable piece of the form is yours providing information of payment dates and so on should a ranger pay you a visit.
Gareth Lynch with a surf caught banjo shark. You never know what’s coming next when fishing the surf.

Gareth Lynch with a surf caught banjo shark. You never know what’s coming next when fishing the surf.

Year-round angling options

While you can fish this section of coastline year-round, late spring and summer provide a good cross section of different species increasing your chances of coming up tight. Mulloway are the first to show as the weather starts to warm. Big Mulloway are the Everest for beach fishers and the opportunity to catch one can span many years, if not a lifetime. As in all forms of fishing timing and a little luck can have you in the right spot at the right time. On one of our trips last season we just happened to be there, although you wouldn’t have known it at the time. The invited drop in temperature slowly turned to rain, forcing us to take shelter in the car. From here we watched the long rods rock to the ocean swell, baiting them between showers. As we looked on through the windscreen, one of the rods ripped down violently almost laying flat before it popped back up and bounced clear of the rod holder. As we clambered from the car, the irate fish took off again towing the rod, reel and line down the beach towards the sea. Almost there, fishing partner Gus Storer stumbled and nose planted himself in the sand just a few feet short of the rod. Funny as it was the gloss was taken from the moment as the rod went through the waves and into the ocean never to be seen again. The bite and bouncing rod had all the hall marks of a big mulloway. Most years a few mulloway up to the 30kg mark are landed along this stretch of coastline but more often than not a good catch is upwards of 10kg or so. As the weather continues to warm snapper make their presence felt. January is always a great month for these crimson flanked scrappers and amongst the catch some honkers. I know of at least two caught in the past year that bumped the scales past the 10kg mark. These are great fish from a boat let alone off the beach. Other memorable sessions include one of a good run of reds to 8kg – three anglers bagging out in less than an hour. The surf was riddled with snapper that day, each cast was scoffed as soon as the bait hit the water. Next day they were gone but such is the nature of beach fishing and the nomadic feeding style of the fish that cruise its gutters.
Jock Mackenzie with his first beach caught seven gill shark. These are about the only fish that I have ever seen smile for the camera.

Jock Mackenzie with his first beach caught seven gill shark. These are about the only fish that I have ever seen smile for the camera.

Sharks off the beach

Fortunately from a southern surf fishos perspective wherever there are schools of fish, sharks are close in tow. Gummy and school sharks are ever-present and provide not only great sport but a fresh feed of flake for your efforts. While northern anglers are amiss at our affinity with sharks the truth is they are the bread and butter species of the surf angler and a welcome catch for most. Bronze whalers are common as the temperature climbs and the occasional seven gill shark will also munch in on the action. Then there are the unstoppable subs that keep you guessing on what might have been. You can’t land them all and every season we have our pants pulled down by much larger toothies. South Australia has a different size and bag limit on many of its fish species to Victorian waters so it pays to get up to speed on local regulations. The state also has a closed season on snapper so be sure and check all these rules before you hit the suds. Other available fish from the beach include mullet, flathead and whiting to name but a few.
Make no mistake beach fishing is hard work but it does have its special moments like this sensational sunset.

Make no mistake beach fishing is hard work but it does have its special moments like this sensational sunset.

Suggested tackle for ‘the suds’

Suitable tackle for beach fishing begins with a rod approximately 3-4 meters in length. A good thread-line reel capable of holding around 300 meters of 15-25kg braid will see you able to control most larger species you may encounter. Hook and bait size will depend on what species it is you intend to target. For example, if its snapper or mulloway use a 4/0-6/0 with a large bait of fresh squid or fish fillet is best. Fish this on a heavy nylon leader in a paternoster or running rig. For sharks the same rig will work exchanging the nylon leader material for wire trace. Grappling sinkers are best suited to hold larger baits in the strong side drift often found in the surf. For smaller fish like mullet or salmon also run a nylon paternoster rig but make sure you scale down your hook size to around 1-1/0 to suit the smaller baits. Pilchard, small pieces of squid and pipis all work well on these smaller fish. When salmon are about in numbers, small metal lures cast and retrieved at high speed will also produce fish. Best times to target the beach are during periods of low light and into the darkness. In saying that we have also had some excellent catches in the middle of the day – simply having a rod in the water gives you half a chance.
Fighting and landing a giant smooth ray from the surf is nothing short of hard work. This one only took about 20 minutes but we have wrestled some small trailer sized models to the break, a task that involves a slug-fest of an hour or more.

Fighting and landing a giant smooth ray from the surf is nothing short of hard work. This one only took about 20 minutes but we have wrestled some small trailer sized models to the break, a task that involves a slug-fest of an hour or more.

A veritable who’s who of species

One of the great things about fishing the beach is that you can never be sure of what’s coming next. The ocean has a huge variety of fish and a good number of them visit the back of the breakers at one time or another. I remember a run of trips where several good sharks were landed expecting more of the same we returned confident as it would only be a matter of time before some fresh flake was dragged kicking from the ocean. It didn’t take long and the first of the long rods lay over. A bit of a tussle and into the breakers rolled 6 kilos of snapper. Over the course of the afternoon six more of these glamour fish would be landed, the smallest a modest 4kg. The open beach is a harsh environment that has very little shade other than that you make yourself. Sun block is mandatory as is a buff a hat and a good pair of sunnies.  Hot days can quickly turn cold as the sun slips bellow the horizon; warm clothes are essential if you are to fish on in any comfort. Headlamps are handy for night fishing, providing free hands for baiting hooks or fighting fish. A length of PVC pipe makes an excellent rod holder and a deckchair a great vantage point to survey the rods from. Other essentials include a sharp knife and don’t forget the gaff. Surf fishing provides land lovers the opportunity to mix it up with some of the larger, more glamorous species that our boat fishing brethren regularly encounter. I am totally hooked and yearn the feel of sand under my feet as the sun slips towards the horizon.  Bring on the summer surf fishing action and the expectation of what’s to come along the rugged beaches of the Young Husband Peninsula.    
Rod MacKenzie

About Rod MacKenzie

One of the most passionate anglers you will meet, Rod simply loves his fishing and is eager to share the wealth of knowledge and experience he has picked up over the years.

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