I spend just as much time rock fishing as beach fishing, but there's something particularly special about fishing the ocean beaches. You're right amongst the waves and wind, up close and personal with nature, and it's a unique, primal feeling.
To be consistently successful on the beaches, you need to know how to 'read' a beach, which means identifying structures like holes, gutters and rips, and why the swell is larger on one side of the beach compared to the other. The importance of tides, the correct gear for the target species, the correct bait and lures and appropriate techniques is a process that will take time, but it's a lot of fun along the way!
For now, let's break it down to basics and take it step by step.
A good place to start is with a stroll down the beach without the fishing gear. Why? Well, if you're just starting to learn about beach structures, it will pay for you big time to check out the difference between a sand bar, a beach hole or gutter, or a rip. You can't just rely on fishing near another angler and hope they know what they're doing. If you can't identify beach structure, you're going to catch far less than you should catch off an ocean beach - even if you're an experienced angler in your own field.
Have a look on Google Maps for a likely beach to check out. Ideally you want a beach that's at least 1.2km, preferably longer. The longer the beach, the more holes gutters and sandbanks of variable depths there will be, and the more fishing possibilities and options that you should avoid.
In the photos hereabouts you will notice a section of water that has less or no wave foam. That is the deeper area of water, or hole, that you should fish. On the left and right of that deeper water is white foam, which is a sign that the water is probably shallow. This shallow water area is called the sand bank.
The beach hole becomes deeper and wider during the high tide period and has a more narrow gutter passage during the low tide period.
Now let's do a basic run-down on bait collecting. The following baits will catch bream, whiting, dart, flathead, trevally, tarwhine and even mulloway. When you're gathering bait, remember to take only what you need.
Beachworms are one of the main baits I use for whiting and even bream off the ocean beaches. Catching your own worms can be challenging at first, but also a lot of fun.
The best locations are the more open larger beaches; small beaches don't usually have good numbers. The best time is low tide, around one hour before to roughly one hour in.
When it comes to bait, I use pilchards, salmon fillet, tailor fillet or any oily fillet salted (salted fish give a long lasting smell). Some wormers use canned kippers, which work well, while others use rotten fish.
I put my bait in a sock or stocking, take a 1.5m cord and half hitch the top section of the sock. I then half hitch the cord around my wrist. Some people use their sock for berley and hold a bait in their other hand, but I just use the sock as both berley and bait. I also take a bait bucket, belt and a small bucket.
When you're on the beach at low tide, look for spots that have a flat area and a longer run-off where the wave reaches its maximum and recedes to its minimum. You can tell where the beach hole is because the waves break less, and don't travel as far up the beach, which isn't ideal for worming.
Go to the flatter section of beach 10-20m away from the minimum of the wave receding. Lower the bag down and have approximately 1m of cord with your sock filled with burley. Wave around your bag of berley/hand bait when the wave is at its maximum and at the beginning of the water receding, and then wave the bag in a fan-like motion. That will send a berley scent towards the waiting worms.
If you see a V in the shallow water (only a couple of centimetres) there's a beach worm there. Worms don't have eyes but they can sense vibrations, so tread lightly towards the worm. When you have reached the worm, wait for another wave and then place the bag near it. The worm should raise its head again. Put the bag within a millimetre of the worm. The worm has two black pincers which will come out and grab the bag. Place your fingers gently into the sand and press onto the worm firmly and turn your wrist which will allow you to get a better hold of the worm. They are slippery buggers so get some sand in between your fingers to give you a better grip.
The medium size worms are easier to catch, so I recommend that you practice on that size. With the big worms you will often lose grip because they are strong and slippery, or you will over grip them and bust off the first few centimetres of the worm. Timing is critical to pull them out without snapping the head section off.
When you have enough worms you can roll them in cool, dry sand or put them in a bucket with an aerator and around 15cm of cool salt water. That will keep them alive for around 2-3 days. Keep a spare bucket so you can change the water, and get rid of any broken worms as they will pollute the water. Whether your worms are in sand or water, be sure to keep them in the coolest storage area possible (e.g. the bathroom). Hot areas will kill your hard-earned worms.
Pipis are a great whiting bait. Harvesting them is great fun, and anyone can do it. It's best done from the half run-out to the half run-in tide. The more open, larger beaches are best.
Find an area similar to where you'd catch beach worms, and get ready to do the 'pipi shuffle'! Stand at a similar distance as beach worming, around 10-15m away from the minimum of the draw back of the wave. With your feet next to each other, weave your feet into the sand as the water is receding. That will help your feet shuffle away sand, and as the wave is receding allow you to bury deeper in the sand. You'll either feel the pipis with your feet, or will see them in the water, and you'll need to quickly grab them before they get washed away. The larger ones are best (around 8cm long by 6cm wide) so you can get enough pipi bait to cover your hook.