Rock & Surf fishing guide for beginners & intermediate anglers

by j.r boonzaier

If you are planning a trip to the coast and you are looking for a basic beginners guide to rock & surf fishing, then let me help you out.

As recreational anglers a trip to the waters should be an experience to remember and therefore it is necessary for us to understand certain aspects of angling, follow them, abide by them and ultimately live by them. The South – African coastlines boast some of the best Rock & Surf fishing spots in the world, and as recreational anglers it is our responsibility to preserve them and look after them for the benefit of everyone including future generations. This should be common practices in any case, but unfortunately this does not always happen.

In this article I will provide beginner & intermediate R&S anglers the information that I believe is necessary to be successful as an angler, however with that being said; I do not in any way deem myself to be an expert R&S angler. I am merely inputting what know and consider being essential knowledge and practices.

1) Common courtesy towards other anglers and beach goers
Be sure to extend common courtesy on the beach as this allows for good fishing and good times for everyone. When setting-up your fishing gear, please avoid setting-up next to someone else when the whole beach is open. All people especially R&S anglers like to have their own space to fish, and unless it is completely unavoidable keep a respectable distance from their lines. Sometimes it does happen that you cut across someone else’s line or have someone walk into your line by accident. DO NOT be uncivil about it, but rather give a friendly word or a bit of advice in order to educate the offender to prevent this from happening again. When fishing at night, do not shine bright lights onto the water, this will annoy other anglers and also scare off fish. Most importantly, when you are done fishing for the day be sure to leave the area where you fished in the same condition or better than what you found it in. Take all of your empty boxes, bottles, wrapper, line cut-offs and anything you might have dropped with you. Respect the area and the environment. (I myself have fished many spots around our beautiful coastline, which has been turned into a rubbish dump by fisherman. This is not a pretty sight and takes away from your fishing experience when you have to endure the smell of rotting bait or dead fish left there by others).

2) Beach Safety while R&S fishing
There are many unforeseen hazards when R&S fishing that can potentially hurt or even kill an unsuspecting angler. Be vigilant about safety and adhere to simple rules and common sense. “Never turn your back on the ocean”. It doesn’t matter whether you are on the beach or on the rocks, it only takes one wave to knock you down and sweep you into the ocean, seriously hurting yourself or drowning. Safety should be your number 1 priority and should never be compromise.

Wading: Waders are designed to keep you warm & dry, but they can become extremely dangerous once filled with water. Once a wader becomes filled with water it is virtually impossible to get out of them or even swim with them, and can lead to drowning. Most new waders do have a wader belt which should be worn tightly around the chest area, preventing huge amounts of water from entering the waders should you happen to slip or a wave breaking over you.
Wading into the surf or out to a sand bar may produce more fish, but the angler need to use extreme caution when moving into the surf wearing a pair of waders. Wade into the surf slowly as a drop-off will occur at some point. This drop-off will be somewhere close to the shoreline and will range anywhere in depth from a couple of feet to a couple of feet overhead. This drop-off can in some cases completely submerge the angler leading to water rushing into the waders. When wading always keep an eye on the stage of the tide. The sand bar that you waded to earlier might end up being a long swim back at higher tide. Also be careful of undertow, which can potentially sweep an angler out to sea. If the surf looks like a river flowing out to sea, then it is best to avoid wading out into the current.

Handling of fish: Even something as simple as handling a fish can pose health hazards to the R&S angler. Aside from the obvious hazards like teeth, fins & gill plates, dangling hooks can also pose a threat to the unsuspecting angler. Although not all species of fish have teeth that could cause damage, use caution until you have learnt which ones has teeth and which ones don’t. When removing hooks from the fish’s mouth, gently pin the fish down with one hand and use a proper hook-removal tool or fishing pliers. Surprisingly the biggest risk to an angler is not the fish but hook in its mouth. Sometimes a fish will shake its head and a hook can become in-bedded into the soft tissue rather easily. Trying to removing this hook from your hand extremely difficult and painful due to the barb.

3) Conservation
It is our responsibility as recreational anglers to help conserve our natural resources, and therefore it is very important for you as R&S angler to familiarize yourself with conservation ethics. Before leaving on your fishing excursion always find out which fish species are in-season and which are out-of-season. Familiarize yourself with bag-limits as well as minimum and maximum size. Like any sport or activity the rules and regulations should be researched and adhered to for the benefit of the species. Many anglers are under the misconception that you can catch 10 fish from a specific specie to be on bag-limits. In fact for many species the actual bag-limit per day is sometimes as low as 2 or 3 fish per person, and even if you have caught multiple different species the legal limit as a whole is only 10 fish. By maritime conservation law a person may only be in possession of 10 fish; whether at the beach or even in your fridge. Adhere to size-limits also; always return a fish when it is under-size, whether it’s 10 cm under or 1 cm under. It’s the right thing to do! On the opposite side is over-size fish. These are the breeding stock, and in many species of fish it can take many years for them to reach sexual maturity, therefore it is vital for an angler to return these fish in order to help ensure the long term survival of the species. Rather keep the medium size fish; these are better eating fish also. Only keep what you are planning to eat that night or weekend. DO NOT go out there to catch the bag-limit, rather enjoy the experience and only take what you need.
“Limit your catch; don’t catch your limit”

4) Necessary tackle
Rods: Graphite: Lightweight, powerful material, but susceptible to breakage with misuse. Graphite used in higher performance rods, as less material is necessary to create a rod with similar “strength” when compared to other rod blank materials.
Glass: Heavy material, with slower blank tapers (softer rod), less power compared to graphite. Handles misuse better than other rod materials.
Composite: Varying blend of graphite and glass fiber, offering a balanced compromise of performance and durability. Lighter than glass, but handles misuse better than graphite. It also performs (casts) better than glass fiber but not as well as graphite.

Reels: Spinning Reels: Spinning reels offer a fixed spool requiring the rotor and line roller (bail) to wind line around the stationary spool. Spinning reels are much easier to cast due to the lack of need to control a revolving spool. This is an excellent choice for both beginners and more advanced surf anglers that desire a simple functioning reel.
Conventional Reels: Conventional reels, also known as Bait-casting reels, feature a spool that revolves as line is gathered on or removed from the spool. This is somewhat difficult to cast, as the revolving spool can create an over-spin, more commonly known as the bird’s nest (Crow’s nest). With practice, most anglers can master the conventional reel, minimizing most occurrences of over-spins. Conventional reels typically offer greater casting distance and greater drag control than spinning reels.

Basic Surf Casting Technique
Overhead/Sidearm Cast (Spinning & Conventional) is an effective cast that lobs bait into surf. Punch/Pull Movement with hands. Punch with “top” hand and pull with “bottom” hand. More force translates into increased distance; however “overpowering” casts without correct technique will prove frustrating. Technique is crucial for greatly improved casting distance. The key to casting is proper loading of the rod blank, enabling the rod to perform at its maximum performance level.
*Practice practice practice.

Knowing Which Type to Use
Anchoring Type Sinkers : Following styles of sinkers designed to dig into the sand,
holding your bait in place. If these sinkers are moving due to rough surf or strong tide, then a heavier weight is necessary.
Pyramid Sinkers : Most common sinker used in the surf, used in conjunction with
chunking rigs, clam & worm rigs, and some strip baits.
Storm Sinkers : Also known as Hatteras Sinkers, this style of sinker gives more
holding power per ounce than a pyramid sinker.
Grapnel Sinkers : More intricate sinker, that has 4-arms originating from the
teardrop shaped lead. These arms are movable, and will lock in place. This style of
sinker has much greater holding power than either pyramid or storm sinkers of
comparable weights.
Bank Sinkers : Most commonly used bottom sinker, Bank sinkers have rounded
edges. This style of sinker can be used for fishing near rocks, or dragging rigs along
the bottom .
Drail Weights: More commonly referred to as trolling sinkers, Drail Weights are an
inline sinker that connects to leader and line by means of bead chain or swivel. These
are easiest sinkers to use when casting and retrieving strips of bait.
Egg Sinkers : Shaped like an egg with a hole through the center to allow the line to
pass through so as to keep the weight in-line with leader and fishing line. Sometimes
difficult to cast with distance due to the sinker riding up the main line, these sinkers
allow bait to “roll” in the surf. More commonly used for live-lining, egg sinkers
may also be used to rig plastic baits via the “Carolina-Rig” method.

Hooks & Swivels
Depending on what you are targeting, it is always good to carry a wide variety of hooks & swivels in all different sizes.

Other necessities (Here is your basic “rock & surf fishing for beginners” supply list)
Fishing License & Bait Collecting License: Always ensure that you are in possession of a valid fishing license and a valid bait collecting license should you want to collect live baits.
Rod-Holders: Prevent the rod & reel from being placed into the sand.
Tackle Box: A carry-all for bait, additional rigs, sinkers & in addition to doubling as a seat on the beach.
Bait-Knife : To cut bait with, and please do not use the good knife from the kitchen. Use an inexpensive bait knife rather than one from the kitchen. This will prevent more than one argument.
Flashlight & Rod-Tip Lights: A must for night fishing, but avoid making shadow puppets on the water with a flashlight. Fish spook easily at night by lights shined onto water. Using rod-tip lights can help prevent the need to shine the flashlight onto the rod tip. Lights and night time fishing are not conducive to catching. Flashlights can be used to tie knots or re-bait, but shield the light by turning your back to the water. Your neighboring fishermen will appreciate it. Popular rod-tip lights choices are glow-sticks.
Lure bags: Lure Bags are convenient for anglers plugging the beach. Allows you to keep extra plugs by your side if you need to change lures.
Waders: Depending on time of year, waders may be crucial to fishing the beach. Waders keep you both warm and dry when fishing during the colder months, very important when the water temperature drops below 20C degrees.
Pliers : A good pair of pliers facilitates removing hooks from fish. Long nosed pliers can be convenient for deep hooked fish.
Extra rigs and sinkers : You are bound to lose a few whether from cast off or losing fish due to broken knots or line. Not having extra rigs and sinkers can make bait fishing very difficult.
Hook sharpener: If fishing with commercially made fishing rigs, hooks are not sharp. They may have a point, but it will have difficulty going through the tough jaw of some fish. Premium hooks are available, but not usually incorporated into commercial rigs due to the cost.
Gloves: Whether for warmth in the early spring or during the colder months of late autumn and winter, gloves can be crucial for fishing the beach. Good choices include high quality neoprene gloves with liner or fleece gloves.
Nail clippers : Nail clippers are probably the easiest and most effective way to cut fishing line. Any pair will perform the job, but the easiest to use are the larger toenail clippers with a straight cutter. Sunscreen: Always carry a quality sunscreen with you for much needed skin protection. UVB rays reflect off of the water, making direct exposure to them more concentrated. Snacks & Water: Have snacks and water handy in order to keep energy levels up and more importantly to keep the body well hydrated.
When rock & surf fishing there are many different types of bait that an angler can make use of. *Live baits *Chokka or Squid *Fish fillets or Cutlet Baits *Worms *Prawns (Pink – Sand - Mud) *White mussels *Crustaceans *Artificial baits *You can also ask the locals what to use

Problems Associated with Surf Fishing

Line-twists and wind knots: (the effect of line-twists) is a predominant problem with spinning reels. Cause of these headaches is due to the nature of the spinning reels and that the spool is stationary while line is encircled onto spool by the bail. Some practices accentuate the problem of line-twists and the accompanying wind knot.

Reeling against the drag: As a fish is taking drag, line is coming off the spool as it would during a cast. Turning the handle as line is stripped from the reel causes the
bail to revolve. Since line is not being gathered onto the spool, the revolution of the
bail transfers the revolving motion to the line. Results are line-twist and wind knot
one or two casts later. Reeling against the drag can also prematurely burn drag
washers, making the drag feel sticky.

Retrieving Line with Little or No Tension: The lack of tension on the line as it is
gathered onto the reel results in a loose pack of line on the spool. This loose pack
allows the revolving bail to transfer twist to the line.

Broken Rods due to High-Sticking

High-Sticking occurs when a force (tight fishing line) acts at an angle less than 90° to the perpendicular of the rod tip. Such forces occur primarily in two instances when fishing; lifting fish with the rod, or using the rod, rather than reel, to free from a snag. Either practice will result in a horseshoe bend in the rod blank, and take the rod beyond its intended design load. Rod blanks were not designed for this type of dynamic force and will reach failure at some point. When they reach failure, rods snap, typically between the second and third guide.

Reel Dropping into Sand/Saltwater

Saltwater and sand tend to destroy fishing tackle, especially fishing reels. Once dropped into the sand or surf, fishing reels have an uncanny knack for seizing. Perhaps not immediately, but if left unattended reels will seize and fail to perform. Once dropped into the water or sand, fishing reels need to be completely stripped down, cleaned, re-greased, and put back together properly.

Tight lines to all & be safe out there.
*Conservation should always be Nr.1 priority.