Surfcasting means getting wet and beaten up by powerful surf, it’s one of the hardest challenges in fishing but also the most rewarding. It is a simple form of fishing that doesn’t require a lot of specialist tackle, but there are several key things to consider before packing up the 4×4 to head down the beach. To help you land more fish from the surf, here are editor Matt Hewetson’s top 10 surfcasting tips:
Firstly, it starts with your surfcaster. The most important consideration for surfcasting is your rod, it’s all about the blank and getting distance is key when casting to put your baits in the zone where the fish are feeding. Too soft or whippy and the blank won’t load up well when cast, a stiffer blank is better, but it still needs some sensitivity in the tip section for feeling bites. The rod doesn’t need to be over 15ft either, as bigger doesn’t mean better. I cast well with a 13-14ft rod and it comes down to each angler’s preference. Try practice casting with different sized surfcasters and see if you can borrow a mates or family members rod to see what suits you before buying a surfcaster straight off the rack. Once you gain experience and hone your casting skills, consider moving up to a longer rod or save up for a more expensive surfcaster as the investment is well worth the reward. Good rods to consider; Kilwell Powerplay 222, Okuma Mad Dog Nano Matrix, Tica Galant and Shizen.
I have used braid as my main surfcasting line for over 10 years and the numerous benefits warrant the change from mono. Lighter and thinner in diameter, it means the line casts better off the spool and offers less drag in the water from the surging waves to keep your breakout sinker in place. This is important as you want your cast staying out in the deeper water where the fish are and not swept up the beach into shallower water. Braid has little stretch so you can feel the smallest of bites, this is important as the constant wave action on your line can trick inexperienced anglers into thinking they are getting bites, but you will instantly recognise the tell-tale tug of a fish when using braid. I prefer to use 30-40lb braid as it means I can crank up the drag on unwanted rays or tope (school sharks) which are commonly encountered when surfcasting off the west coast and I can get them in faster to release and continue fishing for more desirable table fish.
03 TAPERED LEADER
Casting big rods means a great deal of energy is generated from the cast and you don’t want to waste time retying your rigs from breakoffs and losing expensive tackle. The Sunline tapered leaders are great for surfcasting and enable me to tie a tidy knot to the braid mainline by way of the All-Bright Knot. Using the mono tapered leader also acts as a shock absorber when a good fish hits your bait and powers off, you need a bit of give as braid offers no stretch. It also means if you hook a large fish, you can use the heavier mono line once you get a few wraps around the spool to help drag the fish in through the last couple of waves and walk it back safely up onto the beach.
04 LEDGER RIG
Keep it simple. I use a basic ledger rig that helps me achieve a longer cast and weighs less. Use a swivel tied to the end of the tapered leader, with Black Magic 60lb Pink Leader of about 40-50cm in length from the swivel to the breakout sinker. I then tie a shorter 35-40cm length of the pink leader tied off the same swivel for the hook. I have been using the Black Magic KLT 6/0 hooks for the past several months and these recurve hooks have excellent hook-up rates in the surf. A recurve or circle hook means fish will hook themselves and you don’t need to strike, which is harder to do with other non-recurve hooks when your cast baits are around 100m or further out.
05 ELASTIC COTTON
Casting baits with force results in baits flying off the hook, therefore using elastic cotton is a must. This keeps your bait safely in place on the hook and a well-presented bait means more bites. We wrap all baits with several wraps of the cotton around the baits, including tuatua, mullet and bonito. When a fish does take an interest, it is also harder for the fish to remove the bait cleanly and hopefully return if you don’t hook-up on the first hit. Cotton also helps keep the bait on the hook when those pesky paddle crabs turn up and like to nip at your bait.
06 SECRET SAUCE
A popular sauce additive used by many keen softbaiters, Ocean Anglers Secret Sauce is also a good option to add to your bait and breakout sinker. The sticky sauce will surprisingly stay on your sinker when cast and having an extra scent in the water when it lands is another small advantage to help attract nearby fish to your bait. I have tried surfcasting baits with and without the sauce and notice on quieter days, that the baits with sauce get a lot more interest.
07 LURE SKIRT
Add a small lure skirt to your ledger rig to help get more interest from passing fish. Just like the effective jig lures used in boats on snapper, these skirts will grab attention when moving about in the turbulent surf. The skirt’s action can help entice a strike and on occasions, we have had fish strike at the hook when we started to retrieve the gear as the moving skirt produces good action. This does mean you have added a bit more weight to your ledger rig and it can reduce your casting distance, but it is a good option if the fish are feeding in closer or you aren’t getting many bites and want to change things up.
A wetsuit enables me to fish for longer periods in the surf. The constant water and wind can make you cold quickly, so using a long sleeved 3mm steamer is key for staying out in the conditions to fish the change of tides when the fishing comes on. I see many fellow surfcasters on the beach fishing in shorts with heavy jackets, this isn’t the best and is also unsafe when you are wading in surf and a good wave can easily knock you off your feet. A wetsuit offers buoyancy and warmth, a good investment for the keen surfcaster.
09 LOW TIDE BANKS
My favourite time to surfcast is the 2-hour window either side of low tide off a sand bank. This time is your ‘gold mine’, especially out on the west coast of Northland where I spend a lot of time surfcasting. The low tide signals to fish to feed, snapper and trevally will be on the search looking for shellfish and crabs along the sand banks behind the breakers. A big low tide offers you the best banks which are well exposed so you can surfcast from out into deep water. Be careful however, as the banks get pounded by large breakers and you need calmer, safe conditions to fish these. Getting your cast off a sand bank and past the last wave is a prime opportunity to hook a bigger fish. It is where the larger predators are found patrolling the deeper water.
10 TIME YOUR CASTS
When surfcasting on the west coast the fishing is top class and you can expect to get bites quickly. I like to time my throws and if I don’t get a bite within the first five minutes, it usually means this spot won’t produce. I wait another 3-4 minutes and retrieve my gear to check the bait is fine and either re-cast or rebait to cast again, fishing for another five minutes. If I don’t receive any attention on the second cast, I quickly pack up and drive to my next spot where I usually catch fish. Some days the fish just aren’t at your first chosen spot, so it is best to move on sooner to find them as you only have a few hours around the prime tides when they are feeding hard.