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FINESSING THE ROCKS

Angus Gorrie

Most of the time when we see anglers down on the rocks of SE QLD they consist, for the most part, of your typical 'old school' rock fishermen. Armed with 12+ foot surf rods, Alvey reels and the quintessential Alvey shoulder bag, these anglers are chasing bream and dart on pipis, or throwing large chrome or gang hooked pilchards for tailor. There is a reason this style of angling has endured the generations and that is quite simply... it works! However the rocks have so much more to offer the sports angler and many already have the arsenal but do not realize it. For the past 6 or 7 years finesse fishing on the rocks has become a passion for me and although my tactics and approach have evolved and been refined, one thing remains the same. This is the use of light gear that one would normally expect to see in an estuary or canal fishing application. Light gear opens up so many options and I will cover the key benefits in this article.

Soft Plastics: The first and foremost benefit of light gear off the rocks in the surf is the ability to use soft plastics. The question I hear raised time and time again on forums and social media is "do plastics work in the surf?" Of course soft plastics, being a lure designed to imitate various natural bait, work wherever predatory fish reside. The problem in the surf is working them effectively, something rendered almost impossible immediately with cumbersome set ups designed to throw heavily weighted bait rigs over great distances. In comparison, set ups such as 2000-2500 sized reels and 7' to 7'3" rods can still flick a reasonably light jig head (something in the 1/6oz to 1/12oz range) a considerable distance. There are several successful ways to work a plastic through the surf and practice and experimentation is king as each day can vary significantly in regards to current, surge and tidal movement.

Using the surge: Learning to use the water's own surge is crucial when first trying your hand at finesse gear on the rocks and different soft plastic choices can make all the difference. For example, when the surge is light and the conditions very calm I love using ZMan 3.75" StreakZ and between a 1/6oz and 1/12oz weighted jig head. Calmer conditions demand a little bit more action imparted by the angler and the StreakZ do this admirably with a variety of weight options. On that note, when fishing finesse, a 1/6oz jig head weight might seem extreme, however in the surf, even on a calm day, you have a lot more leeway with both jig head weight and leader class. It actually pays to up the ante for both as light lead can just get dominated by the conditions. As for leader, as well as being far less visible in white water conditions in comparison to estuary waters, you can just never tell when a larger surf bound predator will pounce.

On rough days I love a paddle tail. As clich├ęd as it sounds I strongly recommend using the 'match the hatch' approach in this regard. Many maintain the mentality that big baits/lures equal big fish, however this is proved time and again to be false if the fish are feeding small. If the seas are up and the bait in the water is large pilchards, by all means larger plastic are the go and my preference is the ZMan 4" DieZel MinnowZ or ZMan 4" SwimmerZ. However, often when the surf is up, smaller bait hug eddies and the protected sides of rocky outcrops and headlands in an attempt to escape the larger water movement. It has taken me years to discover that the predators are well aware of this fact. In these conditions ZMan 2.5" Slim SwimZ are gold. As small as these might seem they perfectly represent the bait on offer and everything from bream and dart to tailor and kingies will happily smash them. Regardless of size, the advantage of the paddle tail is the ability to let it rest in the water, having to give the plastic little added action. The pulsing, surging movement of the ocean is more than enough to make the tail do exactly what it is meant to. As little retrieve is required, this also allows the angler the ability to cover a lot more ground and more time in the strike zone as the plastic actively wafts through the white water.

Connectivity: As opposed to a standard bait rig, when using a jig head and plastic, the angler remains more directly connected and can respond to a hit much faster. This connection can prove critical when chasing toothy fish such as tailor on light gear as the strike must be applied rapidly to set the hook in the lip, before the fish has a chance to swallow the whole offering and snip your leader clean through. On a recent foray to Stradbroke Island this theory was proven again and again as a fellow angler was constantly losing good fish on 20lb leader (bait rig), whereas using only 12lb myself and a friend were landing the vast majority. Braid to leader also helps here as the sensation of fish mouthing or fully engulfing the plastic is more rapidly detected.

Versatility: I have mentioned a reasonable range a couple of times with regard to jig head weight and the decision is made on a day by day basis, depending on the conditions. Usually between 1/6oz and 1/12oz covers all bases. However, even with a 3.75" plastic, I have used up to 1/4oz and down to as light as 1/20oz in both extreme and calm weather respectively. Some anglers seem reluctant to change it up, but if you're not catching mix and match until you find something that works! While most jig heads suffice I prefer to use the HeadlockZ HD range. When fishing the white water off rocks the hits fish make are often clumsy and if they miss hit and the plastic becomes poorly presented or half pulled off as a result, they rarely hit again. The extra traction given by the HeadlockZ grub keeper usually ensures the plastics remains well presented and more than often the fish (or one of his buddies) comes back for a second go.

Distance doesn't matter: One of the key learning experiences I have had while experimenting with light gear on the rocks is knowing how far to cast. To a novice angler the desire to fling it out as far as possible is irresistible but not always ideal. When rock fishing, in many cases, the fish you want can be swimming quite literally right at your feet, under the ledge you are standing on. This is where a combination (and understanding) of our previous subheadings, 'Using the Surge', 'Connectivity' and 'Versatility' come into play. By refining your skills in all these areas you can work your plastics mere metres from the rocks to great benefit. Often large fish are either patrolling the ledge for scared bait schools or waiting for prey such as crabs or cunjevoi to come loose from the rocks. Either way the need to cast far is negated by the fact that the fish you want to catch are only a couple of metres in front of you.

Micro Jigs: Only recently I have also been dabbling in micro jigs on the rocks and in the surf. Micro jigs were once reserved in my mind for boat based fishing where the action and retrieve is vertical. However, after some experimenting (and inspiration by TT sponsored angler Bryce Francis) I decided to give the TT Vector micro jigs a go, with great success. Using light gear it is possible to flick even the smallest model Vectors great distances. The jigs can then be cranked like a chrome slug for dart, tailor and even kingies, or hopped like a plastic for bream and other fish sitting a bit deeper. The effect of the wash and surge on the jig's design ensures that you get heaps of action on the drop, which is irresistible to many fish. Micro jigs are ideal for those days when distance is required, but the conditions are making it tough to get a plastic out far.

Overall light tackle in the surf and off the rocks is not for everyone, but if you want a challenge, one that ensures each and every fish is sporting and fun, give it a crack!

Angus

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017