Before We Get Underway

     This article is centred on a style of fishing I have a fair amount of experience in. That is always a good basis to begin writing from I have found.  The fact I live in picturesque Tasmania may limit the extent to which some of the more detailed information, such as locations and species of fish, can be applied to.  In general the processes and gear requirements will extend across the board to most fishermen.  

     I call this style of angling “Fishing for a Fight”. It’s basically what I do when I haven't the need or desire to fish for a feed and I can’t be bothered fishing for smaller sport. I fish for a fight! 

     These fights involve two main species that are easily accessible to most anglers. Rays and Sharks are the targets in question and certainly both come from the same family of underwater arm exerciser's. These fish are relatively easy to fish for and give you, the angler, plenty of high adrenalin fun and exercise for your money. You are not in need of wallet emptying amounts of gear or tackle to go toe to toe with these brilliantly entertaining and satisfying sub-sea level monsters. It does, however, pay to invest in some reasonable quality basic fishing gear to engage in combat with these high powered creatures of the deep.

     My experience dictates that you can catch a skate, land based, from nearly anywhere there is saltwater in southern Tasmania, I’d hazard a guess that this may ring true for most fisherman around the world. Although my experiences in fishing for these creatures more than 50 miles from my front door amount to zero.

     My personal preference is a nice beach location, hopefully with an offshore breeze or none at all. That is purely for angler comfort. I find it infinitely more pleasant to be fishing without the wind trying to blow you back up the beach to the car park. I'll endure it when the fishing bug has bitten hard enough!

     A beach with long sandy stretches, some structure nearby be it a reef or weed bed will often improve your catch rate. I'll even give up my favourite location. Lauderdale Beach or Roche's Beach are my two favourite spots. Simply because they have nearby shallow reefs and weed beds in them and they are also close to home. Keep in mind that these two locations are smack bang in the middle of a Shark and Ray Refuge/Nursery and all sharks and rays must be returned to the water unharmed, with the exception of elephant fish.

Frederick Henry Bay, Tasmania

While all of Frederick Henry Bay is a Shark and Ray Refuge(All sharks and rays must be returned to the water unharmed)it is a where most of my fishing gets done. It is a very picturesque place and holds a variety of fishing options.
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North Terrace, Lauderdale TAS 7021, Australia

The Tackle And Gear You Will Need

Gear requirements, when fishing from the beach it is prudent to employ the use of a beach rod or the longest rod you have at your disposal.  12 -14ft of large unwavering rod with an almighty thread line reel attached is a good start for many reasons.

     Firstly, you can cast out into water of adequate depth and also past the surf break where the fish are.

     Secondly, the sheer size of the equipment gives you plenty of leverage on the fish, and the larger rods and reels will usually hold up to the punishment these fish can, and will, give your equipment.
     A sixty or seventy dollar beach combo will suffer the pain and suffering able to be dealt out by these creatures over and over again if you keep the maintenance up to them. Clean your rod and reel with fresh water after use, regular oil and greasing of moveable parts is also advisable.

     Thirdly the big reel will hold enough line to play out most of the fish you will encounter. Unless you hook onto an energetic Moby who feels like a five or six hundred foot sprint and empties your spool!

     If you don't have a beach combo a good, stiff 7-9ft multipurpose rod should see you out of trouble on most occasions. Make sure it’s of reasonable quality with a decent drag system. I've caught skate and eagle rays on budget model rods in the past, purely as a by catch from targeting smaller species. 

     Eagle rays or skates in the vicinity of 5 -15kg (10-30lbs), let alone their bigger brothers and sisters will annihilate a budget combo in one foul swoop. I had such an event happen on a cheaper rod and reel combo once before. While the rod survived the reel was good for nothing more than the bin once the ray had finished with it. I barely got the ray to shore for release back into the sea. The bearings had been pulped, and as far as teeth on gears go I reckon you'd of had more teeth left if you went one on one with Mike Tyson. Moral of the story being that a little quality goes a long way when tackling the larger underwater foe. If you can’t afford quality a budget Beach Combo will be the way to go, as the size of the gear will compensate somewhat.

     So you’ve gotten a Beach Rod, afraid you will lose some fight value from having such a large and solid piece of kit? Worry not, with the right line, and a correctly set drag system you will soon be sitting on your fold up chair with 12 foot of fibreglass bent in half in your hand, with line disappearing off your reel faster than you have ever seen before. All the while lactic acid will be building up in your arms and shoulder's giving you a burn only body builder’s can appreciate. You'll be wondering why you came and tried this in the first place. Then you’ll remember, it is fun, lots of fun.

     Line requirements for this type of fishing will have you spool up with a couple of hundred metre's of 15lb monofilament of reputable branding, sometimes 20lb. Anything more is over kill, sure they can get to upwards of 50 kg, but we want a fight not a tug of war.

     Attached to the end of your line you will need a stainless steel surf rig or paternoster rig. This will give you enough lead on the fish to stop a snap off or a bite off. About an ounce or two of lead clipped on two the bottom and two nice sized hooks on the rig, I'm unsure of the correct size but something in the range of 4 - 6cm shank, Ask at your tackle store what sort of hooks would be suitable for what you you intend to catch and they will surely set you up with something in the right size and shape.

Frederick Henry Bay Ray

Time To Bait Up Those Hooks

     As far as bait goes, many things will work. I have found the best and most durable bait to be squid. You will be soaking your bait for a time waiting for a shark or a ray to slide on by and slurp up your bait so it has to be able to withstand the pickers you will get. Whiting, Flathead and assorted others will try their hardest to remove your bait from its hook. I have found squid is the only bait that will take the punishment consistently. One bonus is that sharks and rays are quite partial to a feed of squid.

     Put plenty of bait on your big hooks. If you fish for squid keep the heads and legs specifically as bait for this purpose. Cut a head and leg combo in half and thread it on to the hook, it presents well as the hook will usually only just make it through the head twice and into one leg for support and the rest of the squid trails along looking quite natural in the water. Frozen squid baits are also suitable, although as they are smaller you may need to use one or two to fill the hook. Pilchards and other flesh work as well but they soon succumb to the picker fish or sea lice if they are about.

Eagle Ray
Credit: Image courtesy of laszlo-photo

Ladies and Gentlemen Lets Get Ready To Rumble!

     Now you are ready to fish for a fight. Take a run up and cast that bait out into the deep blue yonder. Time to tighten up your line, wind the drag right down so line can easily be stripped and begin the patient waiting. Berley can be used if you like; personally I don’t for the following reason. It usually encourages species you don't want to come around. Sharks and rays have a good sense of smell and will track down your bait soon enough.

     Ignore the pickers.  It’s a good idea to reel in and check your baits every thirty minutes or so just to make sure they are still there. You will know when one of the big boys or girls has found your offering as the drag will start whining and line will start to move off. It’s strike time! Timing is crucial now; your target species has sniffed out the bait. Checked it out and decided it is good to eat and has now taken it and left the scene of the ambush thinking it just scored a nice, free feed.
     You now need to do a few things quite quickly! Number one on the list is wind up the drag a few turns real quick and lift up the rod to set the hook. Now hold on! If you've set the hook the shark or the ray has just been informed it’s been led down the garden path and is about to go nuts.
     On its first run you need to keep the rod up, applying some pressure, whilst you fine tune the drag for maximum pressure without breaking the line. If the fish breaks left or right from my experience you’ve hooked up a ray or a skate.  This holds true about ninety percent of the time.
     Hold on and enjoy the pain your about to endure for the next 5 minutes or so, or up to an hour if it’s a thumper. Personally, I've fought a skate for forty five minutes once and it weighed about the same in kilos. So expect roughly a minute or so of fight per kilo of skate! No scientific evidence there, just a theory I came up with!

     If it’s a shark you'll find it won't fight as hard as its flatter cousins.  That is unless somehow you have baited a Mako or a Great White, not a common catch from the shore, but they will fight!  Smaller sharks will make a run or two but once they work out they are hooked they usually start death rolling around your rig trying to break you off.

Port Jackson Shark
Credit: Image courtesy of Richard Ling, NSW, Australia

What to do when you get one ashore!

     When you get them ashore keep an eye on the tails of skates, they can whip around nearly 360 degrees and most of the time come equipped with painful spikes and barbs.  Although not usually aggressive you can understand why they might try and get you with them. Since you just pulled them out of their preferred environment without so much as a please or thank you.

     I find it easier to flip them over on their back, unhook them if you can, if not just unclip the hook, Turn them back over and get them back into the sea where they belong. Within a few minutes they'll have regained some energy and will slink back off into the depths.
     Sharks are a bit easier to handle, just watch out for the teeth!  If they have them they will use them. Unhooking and getting them back in the sea as quickly as you can will help to ensure the fish survives to fight another day.

All that's left now is to re-bait, check your line for damage, re rig if necessary and start again. That is if your arms are up to the challenge!

     At the end of the day its economic, easy and very enjoyable fishing that I'm sure will spawn many a conversation amongst mates about the fight had, the size of and of course the one that got away.  That’s my take on one of my favourite forms of quick and easy fishing. If you have the means or inclination get out there and have a go.

     May the Fish be with you!