Guide to salmon fishing in the surf with metal lures
Beach fishing is one of Australia's most popular pastimes, with almost 1 in 4 Australians casting a line from the sand annually. With almost 36,000 kilometres of coastline to explore, it is no wonder beach fishing holds a special place in the fishing lives of most Aussies. Like most anglers, I am always looking to simplify my salmon fishing, yet at the same time enhance the enjoyment of our beloved pastime.
Australian salmon are a mainstay along the beaches and rocky headlands around the southern part of the continent. They are a tremendous sports fish, will gladly take baits and lures, and can be caught year-round. Bait fishing is the most common method to catch a brace of salmon from the beach, and although a highly reliable way to catch "sambos", it can be reasonably complex, expensive, and messy.
Multifaceted bait rigs; smelly, slimy bait; and berley preparation all make a bait session complicated and a significant endeavour just to get to the water. Then you have to lug all this gear to the closest well-formed gutter and set everything up in the hope that the salmon will swim into the area you are fishing and stay there long enough for you to hook and land a few fish.
All these factors combined provide a sufficient deterrent for many anglers to avoid a session on the beach. However, over the years we have found a far simpler, more flexible, cheaper, and just as effective way of salmon fishing, and that is by casting and retrieving metal lures into the surf. All that is needed is a small fishing bag, a handful of metal lures, and light to medium spin outfit and you are ready to roll!
Where to target hungry salmon
When it comes to surf fishing, there are two primary factors that make casting metals off the beach a highly effective technique. First, is that the underlying principle for this style of sports fishing is the ability to cover plenty of water relatively quickly. Secondly, and a huge advantage to anglers, is that you can actively prospect and search the length and breadth of a beach with no restrictions. In comparison to bait fishing, where you are waiting for the fish to come to you in a stationary position, lure fishing allows the angler to be highly mobile and flexible in their approach.
With this freedom comes its own challenges and that is where I concentrate my efforts. Obviously, deeper sections of water with less wave and surge action will attract small bait fish which in turn will attract salmon and other larger predators. Gutters, troughs, channels, and holes are all prime areas that larger fish will frequent. These are easily identified by darker coloured water, minimal white water covering the deeper sections, and no breaking waves.
Breaking waves, or the lack thereof, are possibly the easiest way to find a prominent gutter. With a shallow sand bar behind the gutter, waves will break on the sand bar creating plenty of white water and surging current. As the wave moves across the sand bar and into the gutter (with deeper water), the wave will re-form into a swell but will not break until it moves across shallow water again or hits the shore. The section of water with no breaking waves in the gutter and where you should execute plenty of casts.
Longer beaches will often have several gutters and troughs, meaning there are plenty of areas to locate fish. Attaining a high vantage point either on a cliff overlooking the beach or a significant sand dune will help find the features of a beach to fish. If possible, it pays to undertake some planning the day before a trip so that you can pinpoint the key areas to fish.
Our oceanic beaches are a dynamic environment with gutters forming and reforming over short periods of time. During rough weather and big seas, it will often only take a day or two for the gutters to fill with sand and disappear. At other times, normally during stable weather conditions, deep beach features can exist for over a week. One of the ever-present, reliable locations on a stretch of sand are beach corners. This is the end of the beach which juts up tight to a set of rocks.
These corners almost always have pockets of deep water and are havens for a smorgasbord of food morsels for a hungry, marauding school of salmon. Prevailing winds and ocean currents pushing past the rocky headland will combine to gouge out the sand and move it away from the corner of the beach. This creates holes, channels, and gutters which fish will be attracted to. If you only have two or three hours for a quick beach fishing session, then these beach corners would be the area to concentrate.
Fighting and Landing Fish
Pound for pound Australian salmon are exceptional fighters and provide a battle well above their weight. Their elongated, torpedo-shaped body which is propelled by a powerful tail make them a formidable adversary off the beach. Newcomers to beach fishing are often surprised when they land a nice salmon at the actual size of the fish compared to the fight that has just ensued. Salmon are renowned for their ability to jump, flare their gills, and violently shake their head. This aerial display is an attempt to dislodge or throw the hooks, and often fish will be successful.
The most important factor when salmon fishing is to keep your line tight at all times. Any slack line will allow the fish to use the weight of the lure to shake its head violently to dislodge the hooks. Many times I have had hooked fish jump and send the lure hurtling back towards us on the beach. A tight line throughout the entire fight will help keep the hooks embedded solidly in the fish's mouth or scissors of the jaw.
A 4000 sized threadline reel with a high-quality drag and capable of holding 150 to 200 metres of 14lb or 20lb breaking strain line is perfect for beach spinning. Match this with a 2.0 to 2.7 metre rod and you will be able to cast for hours on end with little trouble. Braid style lines are a far better option than monofilament off the beach as the non-stretch characteristics of braid ensure a direct connection to your lure, which in most cases will ensure a solid hook set. I always attach around a rod length of fluorocarbon leader to my braid via an FG or Albright knot. The leader makes it easier to change lures quickly and will not slice your fingers and hands to pieces when landing a fish.
One of the big advantages of this style of fishing is that you can stay mobile and search endless stretches of beach prospecting for salmon. There is no need to load up a big backpack with numerous boxes of lures, leader, spare reels, heavy sinkers and so on. Travelling light with only the essential is yet another appealing aspect of this addictive type of lure fishing. I have found that a small backpack around the 25 to 35 litre range, is not only sufficient to hold all my terminal tackle but also comfortable to wear for long periods without restricting my casting.
A mix of lures in the 25 to 50 gram weight range and with a variety of styles will easily cover several half-day sessions searching for salmon. These should be packed into a small tackle box with multiple compartments to reduce tangling of lures, hooks, and split rings. This will save you time unravelling a tangled mess when you want to make a quick lure change.
Scissors, pliers, and two 30 metre spools of leader line and you have all the tackle you need. My preferred leader size is 20lb breaking strain and depending on the conditions, will carry another spool of either lighter or heavier leader. On clear days with minimal swell, when the fish may be a little more apprehensive, I will add a spool of 14lb leader which allows me to drop down in leader diameter to entice a strike. Although this may only appear a minor reduction in leader size it has proven itself countless times over the years for me on trips when it has been difficult to get a bite. On overcast days or when there is plenty of swell and white water, then 20 or 30lb leader will provide enough confidence and leader strength to hook and land that big fish off the beach.
Casting metal lures off the sand and into the surf is sport fishing in its simplest, yet most rewarding form. With thousands of kilometres of easily accessible water, the frequency in which the humble Aussie Salmon patrol close to shore, and ease of this style of fishing, it is time to load up the pack with a handful of metal lures and hit your nearest stretch of beach!
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