Picture a perfect, hot, sunny day with blue water lapping gently at the shores of a white-sand surf beach. What could make you feel more like fishing?

So what do you do? You dig out that surfcasting set your daughter bought you for Christmas, whack some old fishing line you found in the garage on the reel and head to the beach via the gas station where you pick up some bait. When you finally get to the beach, chances are you’re positively fizzing with anticipation, but sadly you’ve got it all wrong…

Hot, sunny days do not make for good surfcasting
Crystal-clear water under a blazing sun might make for great sunbathing and swimming, but most fish won’t come within coo-ee of waist-deep water in such conditions. You could spend hours at the beach at not get so much as a nibble.

The best you can probably hope for is a stray kahawai or a ray passing by your bait as it suns itself in the warm shallows. More likely your baits will be left alone completely or mercilessly picked at by paddle crabs and tiny baitfish.

However, try the same beach a few hours later under the cover of darkness and it will be transformed, with fish losing their daytime wariness to enter the shallows in numbers.

Cheap glass surf rods don’t cut it
Bless your loving daughter, but that 12-foot surf rod she gave you for Christmas is incapable of casting more than about 40m. And while you’re not going to catch much under the bright sun anyway, you might just improve your chances if you can land a bait beyond the last breakers and into slightly deeper water. But with that cheap glass rod you can’t even get close to the casting distance required and your baits keep landing in the shallow wash where no sensible fish would spend time on such a bright day.

You can try wading to get the baits a bit further out, but usually it’s impossible to comfortably or safely wade out far enough to beat the bar. To do that, you need a stiffer rod – either a better-quality fibreglass rod, or a rod with graphite in its construction.

A better-quality rod means spending a little bit more money, but these days not a lot more. With a good-quality surfcasting rod you can increase casting distances by at least 50%, which translates into getting amongst the fish more often.

Freezer burned bait is unappetising, even to fish
When you got to the garage all they had left in the bait freezer was some freezer-burned squid bait that looked like it’d been thawed and refrozen half a dozen times. But it’ll be all right mate, won’t it?
No, it won’t be!
Inshore fish species are generally wary feeders and fresh bait and excellent bait presentation are critical to success. Freezer-burned, pink squid – in my experience the most regularly available bait in the country – is about the worst surfcasting bait I can imagine. It NEVER brings home the bacon!

You are far better to use a nice oily bait like pilchards, or buy some fresh, edible quality fish from your local fish store. It really makes a difference!

Heavy mainline is a problem
The old fishing line you found in the garage at home is stiff, wiry 15kg monofilament. Every time you cast it rattles off the spool and through the guides, which sounds great, but is seriously reducing the casting performance of your rod and reel.

What you really need is some lighter mainline – say 6, 8 or 10kg – with a smaller diameter that travels off the spool and through the guides much more quietly and smoothly. That would gain you another 20 metres of distance every cast. You might worry that a big fish could break the line, but this is a fairly low risk because surf rods and long lengths of mono absorb huge amounts of energy. When surfcasting a clean break of the line is extremely rare. I’ve caught fish well over 50kg in weight on 6kg line – all it takes is a bit of patience.

Get your rigs right

Streamlined and subtle surfcasting rigs cast well and are more likely to fool wary fish.
Streamlined and subtle surfcasting rigs cast well and are more likely to fool wary fish.

On the end of your line you’ve tied a three hook ‘bling’ rig with heavy gauge nylon, 5/0 hooks and all sorts of glittering appendages such as beads and skirts. Right on the bottom of this ledger rig is a five-ounce sinker.

When you go to make a cast, all this gear hanging off the rod tip feels very heavy, making your rod bend like tussock in the wind. This is not helping your casting distance either, but even if you do manage to land your gear in reasonably deep, fish-holding water, chances are you won’t get a bite.

In such bright conditions in shallow water fish are going to see every bit of this rig – the thick gauge nylon, the huge hooks and everything else. In all likelihood, they won’t take the bait because, while it smells good, it looks decidedly suspicious.

Slim your rigs back using fine gauge nylon (40lb is a good standard); use a single dropper to increase your casting distance and take the hook size down to 3/0 or even smaller. A slimline rig like this will cast much better and look far less suspicious to fish feeding in daylight– at night the visual aspect doesn’t matter so much, but even then, the extra casting distance you’ll get with this slimmed down rig will likely increase your catch rate.

So now I’ve told you what not to do. Let’s imagine that same scenario again and do it right.

Avoiding the bright light of day pays dividends because fish move into the surf under the cover of darkness.
Avoiding the bright light of day pays dividends because fish move into the surf under the cover of darkness.

For me it would go something like this:
* “Gee, that beach looks fantastic! I think I’ll go home and prepare myself to arrive back at the beach at dusk, just as the fish are moving in and all the beachgoers are heading home.”
* If I didn’t already have a stiff, long-casting surf rod, I’d pop in to the local sports store and get one. An entry level rod of this type costs in the order of $120. I can afford to skimp on other gear (including the reel), but a good rod is essential to achieve decent, fish catching casts.
* I’d visit the local fish shop on the way home and pick up a freshly caught trevally for bait – not only is it fresh, but the trevally’s nice oily flesh should attract plenty of bites.
* I’d spool up the reel my daughter got me for Christmas with 6kg main line that will fly off the spool and through the guides. That way I’ll land my baits in deep, fish holding water beyond the breakers.
* I’d tie up a few streamlined, lightweight single -dropper ledger rigs. These will fly through the air nicely when casting and present a subtle, deceptive bait to any fish in the surf.
Hook up time!