Fishing off of rocks is considered the "backside" end of fishing, as rocks pose as the unknown quantity, and this form of fishing tends to have a bad reputation thoughout Australia. Rock fishing must be approached with respect and caution, as the catches can be extensive as well as varied. As a work collegue said to me recently, never turn your back on the ocean when rock fishing !
Rock fish are more territorial than most other species. The norm with general fishing is that if its easy to get the fish and a lot of people fish there, chances are that the average catches and sizes are poor. The reverse applies to remote locations and many sections of our rocky coastline have scarecely been touched from the shore, if at all.
Rock fishing generally requires clear water, and winter storms are not really a formula for success or comfortable fishing. However, on occasions, rough weather and murky water can drive rock species into relatively shallow guters and holes for protection, where good quantities of fish can be caught at close range.
Time of day is relatively important during the warmer months. Being rigged and ready at first light is a must, as the action is virtually over by 8.30am. As the afternoon tides comes in, the action does as well, for the fish venture in closer to the shoreline rocks. During the cooler months, overcast weather negates the need for early morning fishing. However, tidal movements do play an important role. Night fishing is not recommended, as the local and visual elements would be difficult to contend with - let common sense prevail !
A good pair of sand shoes and a free pair of hands is a must when traversing rocks. The task of travel over rocks is in itself an ardous one, so a back pack and a shoulder bag for the fish is ideal. This just leaves the rods to carry by hand. The ideal rod to use is one between 7 and 11 ft, with about an 8kg braking strain. This should cover most of the reef and rock fish you would find.
Though plenty of fish can be caught on bottom rigs, float fishing is usually the way to go, allowing for the drift and with less chance of becoming snagged on rocky or weedy bottom. A range of hooks, from the humble 10's to the big 4/0's is a must, dependant on the variety of fish around and sought after.
Berleying is a big issue when it comes to rock fishing. An onion bag contaning bread soaked in tuna oil, plus pellets, diced pilchards and other bait leftovers can be lowered on a rope into the water. Once berley has brought the fish into range, cockles are a popular bait to use. A change of bait will often draw a response when the action tapers off, so a variety of bait is definately a must.
Basically, rock fishing can be conducted in two situations, the open sea or in protected channels or gutters. A big issue is safety, and the open sea can be a hostile environment with the wrong weather. Open sea does have advantages though. Larger species are usually found in open water and from time to time you can encounter schools of Aussie salmon. With channel fishing, you can examine an area at low tide and calculate reasonably accurately how much water will cover certain areas on the rising tide.
Always give your chosen area a solid try for at least an hour before moving elsewhere, as it is not uncommon for your first cast or two to go untouched. Once the berley starts to work and the fish tune in, the rate of bites will rapidly increase. Look also for sandy areas in channels, and drift your bait over them. Whiting and flathead will both rise surprising distances for floating baits, particularly on a rising afternoon tide.
Lastly, let common sense prevail. Watch the sea for a while, for its rise and fall, to see its motion around the rocks. Wet rocks are a sign of water frequently surging over them, while dry rocks usually indicate a safe platform for fishing. Watch also for the odd big wave among the sets of smaller ones. Don't turn your back to the sea, and move around the rocks at a sensible pace.
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