Fishing for Mulloway on the Beach
For the surf anglers, there’s nothing rather like that first sight of silver as a defeated mulloway appears from the crashing waves. It’s a spectacle that makes all the lengthy, isolated nights on the sand seem meaningful.
The mulloway is a adaptable fish in many ways. It is similarly at home in the shore, around offshore reefs and ruins, and in the estuary. Nevertheless, catching it in these three locations often demands an assortment of methods and tactics.
The capture of a big specimen from the coastline at night is the definitive desire of most surf anglers, but it doesn’t take long to realise that time, determination and perseverance are essential for that desire to be satisfied. School jews up to 6 kg are often not that hard to come by, but the big fellows, the fish that take strong arms to lift are another story.
Essential to fruitful surf fishing is the skill to select a good beach and to choose the formations on that beach which look to be better than others and that’s not always as simple as it sounds!
Reading a Beach
There is a lot more to choosing the textbook location than simply selecting a deep inshore gutter. The main thing on your list of priorities should be the abundance of natural bait in the direct area.
There is only one reason that mulloway pillage the close in gutters at night, and that is the possibility of an easy banquet. If your chosen location is home to plenty of small tailor, salmon, bream or mullet, you are at least starting off on the right foot. Having deep water in close is certainly a benefit, but not an absolute requirement for night fishing.
The typical inshore gutter is one which runs in through the surf at 90 degrees to the shoreline, then curves to run parallel with the beach. ‘L’ shaped formations allow the mulloway to make their way in through the breakers, then hold the fish within range of casting distance while they search the area for food.
Such formations are not totally essential to bag a big mulloway, but it sure goes a long way in helping the angler’s confidence to know that the nominated zone is one which at least could yield results.
If you are lucky enough to have access to a beach with some inshore reefs close by, your odds of catching a decent fish are multiplied. A low rock or reef running from the shoreline into the surf is an ideal spot for a feeding mulloway to sit in for an ambush, and such a site is one to persevere with, even if it doesn’t produce results first or second time out. Pool a degree of understanding in selecting your fishing spot with plenty of perseverance, and you are halfway there.
Techniques for Surf Fishing
By far the most popular technique of fishing for mulloway from the beach is the use of dead baits, either cut or whole. While this is certainly a fruitful way to go, there are some often unnoticed alternatives.
As the mulloway is a much a hunter as it is a scrounger, live baiting and lure casting are catching on with surf specialists around the country. Both of these methods are possibly more challenging and demanding than fishing anchored dead bait, and both need a substantial amount of consideration and preparation.
If you elect to try a bit of lure angling, victory normally depends on a couple of things. Firstly, it is of minute value throwing a lure indiscriminately from the shoreline in the hope of picking up a stray fish. There are exclusions of course, like the extremely fortunate bloke who catches a decent mulloway while spin fishing for tailor or salmon, but the method really needs to be specialised to catch more frequently. Though you may take the odd fish in an inshore gutter, river mouths are unquestionably the major locations for mulloway spinning. The mouth of the Murray, south west of Adelaide, is perhaps the best know location of its type in the southern part of Australia, while there are several rivers on the north coast of New South Wales which also yield plenty of good mulloway on the artificial lures particularly during flood times.
Feathers, flashers rigs and other more decorative lures seem to do the trick for the northern NSW and southern Queensland fishermen. An ideal time to use flasher rigs for mulloway is directly after there has been a nice down poor of rain and significant backwash has entered into the estuaries or outflows of tidal rivers mouths. These conditions contribute to murky waters and make it ideal for daylight mulloway hunting. Alternatively, big Repala minnows will also work well in these conditions. No doubt that large, brightly coloured soft plastic will also do the trick at the mouth of these rivers too.
Live baiting in the surf can also be very satisfying, but you have to be willing to work at this, rather than just casting bait out and hoping for the best.
Ideal live baits for these conditions include tailor, salmon and bream. Many old-style live baits such as yellowtail can’t cope with the turbulence of the surf and tend to die early. Stick with the bait that occurs naturally in your fishing spot and you will be better prepared.
The best method of fishing live baits in substantial surf is to use as little weight as you can get away with. Anchoring a struggling baitfish with a weighty sinker should be avoided. It is advised to allow it to swim around in an inshore gutter with as little constraint as possible. Of course this means that it is essential that you be prepared to save hold of the rod at all times and shadow the whereabouts of the live bait as it patrols around the surf.
You may need to retrieve the bait and recast numerous times, predominantly if there is plenty of surge or drift, which can also lead to a high death rate among your baits. Bigger live baits seem to endure this type of handling better than small ones. A salmon or tailor of about 1 kg is perfect for a big mulloway, though baits of these magnitudes need heavy tackle and plenty of energy on the part of the angler to fish for lengthy periods. It’s reasonable to say that you have to be committed to stick at live baiting in the surf for hour after hour. But it’s one of the best approaches of scoring a prize size mulloway from the beach.
If you choose to use dead baits, it still pays to keep on the move and make certain that your bait is in first class condition at all times. There will almost always be pickers zeroing in on your bait immediately as it settles to the bottom and those fishermen who pay specific consideration to maintaining attractive baits will score more often than the fisho that refuses to put the time into the presentation of his or her bait. If you are chasing a big mulloway it is best to use large thick slabs of oily-fleshed fish like tailor or pike.
Stingrays love this sort of oily bait too, and the regular beach fisho will become tired of busting off giant stingers while waiting for that elusive mulloway. Nevertheless, it doesn’t pay to be too early about intentionally snapping these fish off, as the first run of a big mulloway and a ray can be misleadingly comparable at times.
6/0 octopus beak hooks sit pleasantly in a big fillet bait, and nylon leader of around 30-60kg breaking strain is ideal. There is no need to use wire, except if you wish to stay hooked up to the odd school shark that may snatch bait from time to time.
Tackle for the Beach
Perhaps the most handy outfit for mulloway in the surf consists of a Shimano Saragosa SW 10000 which can handle the rigours of continually retrieving baits in a harsh salt drenched environment, on a 3.5 meter medium to quick taper rod. You want a reel that will work well if you choose to cast heavy slugs into those gutters. 25 pound line will suffice in the majority of situations but some brands of nylon lend themselves better to surf fishing than others. Make sure that the line you buy for tackling a jew from the beach is one with a tougher than normal outer coating. Just remember to ensure that your leader is strong.
Abrasion resistance is the name of the game here and it pays to choose a line which isn’t ultra-thin for its breaking strain. You will certainly get more thin style mono on your reel, but it may not stand up to the grazes and nicks from sand as well as somewhat larger rubble in the water.
A small handled gaff is useful for pulling mulloway from the waves, and one of the better class folding gaffs which can be attached on a belt is practical. Hauling a decent mulloway from the surf with your hand jammed into the gills is risky, not the least of which are the extremely sharp gill raker edges.
As for rigs, I like to use the Twisted Paternoster double dropper rig. For those really big jews I like to use the 8/0 loaded on 80lb leader. When it comes to the slightly smaller ones I like to also have a smaller bait out utilising the 6/0.
When to Fish
Early evening is perhaps the most prolific time to visit your favourite surf beach. It is best to get there prior to sunset; to allow you to choice the best looking spot while there is still adequate light to see. If you are planning on catching your bait in the area, allow some time prior to dark for this, as well. The Great Australian Blight probably yields more monster mulloway than any other single area in the country, some of the best fishing occurs during the middle of the day. It’s an impressive sight to witness a 35 kg mulloway being pulled up to the sand in broad daylight!
Tides are also important. Some inshore gutters may only have adequate water to hold mulloway when the tidies well up, the higher tide can often hold more water in those fringing gutters. Mulloway don’t mind shallow water but they don’t really like dirty water stirred up by sand which is often associated with shallow water. Commonly, the slack water period around the high tide is often a prime time. Ultimately fishing the building tide is the preferred window, with the last 2 or so house in the lead up to the high tide a really good time to get your bait in the water. As widely documented the night time house can encourage big mulloway to feed in closer proximity to the shoreline.
Playing a big Mulloway
Mulloway are tough fish, predominantly when they are helped by tidal rip, but they can be worn down fairly quickly. Once a decent sized mulloway senses the hook, it will typically dash seaward for a while, then either stops briefly for a rest, or change course and run parallel to the beach. The angler should try to retain the distance of line out in the surf to a minimum by following the hooked fish down the beach after the opening panic stricken run has decreased. While tracking the fish in this way you can maintain the force and pump line steadily back on to the reel. As previously stated, big rays are often part of the surf mulloway scene and it’s often problematic to be sure whether it is one of these or the real thing. The first few minutes should tell the story, because if your opponent is still taking line in long continuous runs after this time, it’s a fair bet that it is big, flat and black, rather than big long and silver.
You can lose hours on big rays and once you are sure that you are hooked up to one of these the best alternative is to lock up the drag and bust it off. Your shoulders, arms and back will thank you for it afterwards.
In part 2 of catching mulloway we will cover the following:
- Fishing for mulloway in the estuaries
- Fishing for mulloway from boats over offshore reefs
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