It’s easy to get carried away using the latest and greatest lures for surf salmon, given their reckless attacks on artificial presentations and the cool eye-catching designs now on offer. However, it’s not every day that you can step onto a beach and have a red-hot session throwing the fake stuff around. So often bait plays its part with this fishing, and if you’re not in a hurry it remains a deadly way to see the full potential of a location.
There’s something to be said for spending time on a beach parked in front of a likely gutter, berlying up, soaking a bait, and giving an area time to produce that is so relaxing, yet regularly rewarding. Even in the best looking gutter salmon aren’t always present and can take a while to show up, which makes the bait approach a top way to find out when they’re raiding your area, rather than prematurely leaving and moving on as dedicated and more mobile lure fishos may well do. Here’s a few pointers on how to extract that bit more from each surf salmon session drowning the dead stuff.
Whether you prefer bait or lures, being able to spy ‘salmon water’ is a skill you’ll need to have in your weaponry if you want to put greenbacks on the sand. Unlike lure casters, bait fishos are usually putting all their eggs in the one basket when selecting a spot, and tend to bank on a single location firing at one point or another, rather than relying on jumping between hot spots to find fish. This makes your initial area selection all the more crucial.
For bait fishing you want a good depth characteristic to your gutter, and best case scenario a fairly noticeable looking hole or gutter to aim at, that has nice foamy water surrounding it and decent wave activity, and isn’t too calm and sterile looking. The textbook gutter is one that has a clear exit heading to open water, and the gutter could run parallel or at right angles to the beach, or just be a sizable hole, and will stick out like a sore thumb as a calm patch of water flanked by the churning stuff.
These types of obvious features are pretty easy to spot, either from a height before you get to the beach, or at beach level. It’s important you make sure there’s not too much exposed rock in the immediate area you’ll be casting as well, which is a spot killer. Large, noticeable reefs that can be negotiated with casts are fine and will give an area even more fish holding appeal.
TIDE & SWELL
We’ve experienced it so many times, where salmon aren’t always present straight away and can take time to arrive into gutters. Both the tide and swell are factors that seem to heavily influence results when bait fishing. While salmon thrive in washing machine like conditions, the days we seem to have better fishing are when there’s healthy tides and moderate swell conditions. If there’s constant sets of monster swells dumping into your area it can turn the fish off, and make it harder for you to concentrate them with berley.
If you have the luxury to choose when you’re fishing, it’s worth waiting until the swell has lowered after a winter or spring low front. It doesn’t have to be dead-calm, just not a total white out. Offshore winds also aid in reducing conditions to sensible levels.
To see the best of a gutter time your sessions around the high tide and at least a couple of hours either side of it. From experience we find the fish tend to start biting better near the top of the tide and as the tide drops, although usually get a trickle of hits in the lead up to the high tide as well. It can vary day to day, and soak time with baits is always key to getting runs on the board and finding a bite pattern. Outside of this first and last light are usually dependable for at least a few fish hunting in the half-light conditions in your gutter if you’re struggling to find fish on the tide.
BERLYING – EXTRA EFFORT WORTH IT!
One aspect of surf salmon on bait that we take quite seriously, and treat as crucial to having a good day out, is the use of berley.
Our preference is to berley slow to moderately as the tide is building, then as it stops and turns to go out, start stepping up the intensity, with the aim to be berlying fairly hard as the water is dropping. Not only does a dropping tide suck your berley out and seem to bring in fish to its source, but it also has a habit of reducing the swell.
When it comes to berley types we ideally like to cover bases, with bigger chunks, fine chunks and oil all complementing each other. Of course this isn’t always on hand or practical to carry, but it really does seem to get them whipped up when you can get this mix steadily into a gutter. We’ve found throwing old pilchard cubes into the surf every now and then, combined with having a frozen berley log in a mesh sack in the shore break gets them keen.
We berley fairly intensely, with the aim to try and build momentum with the bite rather than settle for little bits and pieces of activity. Some days unfortunately you’ll only get dribs and drabs of salmon action no matter how hard you try, but on others what starts as a slow trickle can turn into a flood of fish.
OUTFITS & RIGGING
Salmon on bait don’t require much tackle or complicated rigs. Paternoster rigs based on 40-60lb trace will suffice in many situations. A nice thick fluorocarbon is fine for leader, with a grapnel sinker on the bottom if there’s a decent swell running, or you can fish running rigs in milder water.
When using set rigs you need to be Johnny-on-the-spot, as salmon hit hard and need to be hooked fairly quick or they’ll usually tear free and escape. Circle hooks can make a difference with this, if you want the extra grace period to get to your rod, otherwise 4/0 to 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks are what we mostly use. A bit bigger hooks aren’t exactly going to deter these fish, and they keep you in the running should a stray gummy or random mulloway come along.
There’s a lot of light yet strong rods on the market for slinging baits around, and you don’t need to fish super heavy these days, just heavy enough to practically cast sinkers and baits the desired distance.
Hopefully if you’ve invested in the time to berley constantly you’ll be using your lightest rod by the end of the session and pulling out all the party tricks to play with the fish you’ve tempted into your gutter. Going back to the smelly stuff (bait) for surf salmon isn’t a copout at all, it’s actually a reliable way to get bent up and have a blast on the beach!