An Introduction to Beach Casting.
Uncle Johnny McKenzie, my granny Hayden’s brother was a librarian. Occasionally Johnny would kindly put together and send a parcel of decommissioned books of varying titles to our house. In that way I gratefully received what for me became a game changing book penned by the late great Clive Gammon entitled “Fishing: A Pictorial Guide“. Published in 1967 by Frederick Muller Ltd and open beside me today as I write, to a then fledgling sea angler more used to boat fishing off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, chapters on shore fishing for bass enthralled however it was chapter eight which really caught my eye.
Titled, Cod: Heavy Beach Fishing, the narrative and images described a familiar if as yet unfrequented location. Gammon discussed and illustrated winter beach fishing for cod off Dungeness in Kent however in my minds eye all I saw was a steep to shingle beach which looked and sounded very much like the south beach at Greystones. The tackle discussed was noted however it was the picture reproduced above which sealed the deal placing beach casting firmly at the top of a young anglers “learn how to do” list. Forty years later I’m still learning.
The pursuit of cod drove the upsurge in beach fishing witnessed through the sixties and seventies, tackle design followed suit evolving from the heavy and rudimentary kit available in the early days to the light but strong rods, reels and lines which are in use today. Cod ran the beaches south of Greystones, I knew this because we caught them from my grandfathers boat not two hundred yards off the shore, they had to reside closer?
So my practical and theoretical shore fishing education began. Articles penned by visionaries and entrepreneurs such as Les Moncrieff (who perfected the lay back cast a forerunner of the pendulum), Ian Gillespie & Nigel Forrest (who invented the bead breakaway lead), Terry Carroll (Zziplex rods), Michael McManus & Terry Carroll (Conoflex rods), Paul Kerry & John Holden the doyens of “long distance casting”, John Darling (shore bass and cod fishing press articles) and Alan Yeates (shore match angling) were lapped up and in tandem with forays to Killiney strand, Whiterock and Greystones south and north beaches the mud began to stick.
This article, aimed at novice or would be shore anglers, based on forty productive years swinging a lead off Irish beaches from Co. Wicklow south and west to Co. Kerry hopes to break down the requirements necessary for successful and enjoyable beach fishing into first principles. The narrative will also direct the reader towards informative publications which even if out of print are still available online through second hand angling book sellers. Do not be put off by titles published thirty or even forty years ago as much of the information contained is still relevant, many of the groundbreaking changes in shore fishing tackle and approach already well in place by the late 1980′s.
A primary tip which will help above all else though is get out and meet, chat with and observe beach anglers in action, especially “shore match anglers” as it is within this branch of the sport that shore fishing techniques and tackle are being perfected. No amount of words can describe a well executed pendulum cast, better to see it live and of course the various rods, reels, rigs and bait in the flesh will put substance on the information gleaned from text such as this. So within reason avail of any opportunity to further your knowledge, most sea anglers being approachable.
Relative to the size, weight and strength of most shore caught fish encountered beach casting equipment seems more than a little heavy, apparently outgunning most species ability to fight back. In reality though this is a necessary evil due to the harsh environment one is fishing in and the need to cast a 5 – 6 ounce lead and occasionally heavy baits if necessary over 100 meters. Modern designs and materials have improved this aspect no end especially the new breed of match rods which are extremely light and sensitive, however strength and practicality still out trump finesse.
Beach Rods & Reels
Fishing is about placing the most suitable bait using the correct gear in the right place at the right time, simple, absolutely, only us anglers lose sight of this easy to remember equation more times than a little. What does correct gear mean? Well not necessarily the most expensive on the market, although it could. Rather that the piece(s) of kit actually do what is expected of them. Angling experience has told me that quality mid range rods certainly can achieve this, less so with reels, although I will qualify that statement for I use predominantly multipliers for my beach and rock fishing and these would by necessity be top of the range.
Anyone who knows me takes the mickey at some of the tackle I present with, it is ancient they say, it does the job, I retort and pop the bait out 100 meters to the deep water beyond the furthest sand bar. This narrative will not advocate tackle manufacturers or what is “best”, any advice offered is experiential, in other words “what has worked for me”. I employ mid range Daiwa rods and reels for my beach and rock fishing and have done so since 1984 primarily because they do what they say on the tin. The longest official cast that I have put down using a five ounce lead was 188 meters on Sandymount strand employing an old 12′ Paul Kerry Supercast and an original converted Daiwa Millionaire, both set up for standard fishing. I am confident based on that one cast that I can reach any fish going that swims close to Ireland’s coastline.
Today my beach and rock fishing is conducted with a 12′ Paul Kerry Daiwa Supercast of 1990 vintage and a 13′ Team Daiwa S133PM, matched with twin Daiwa Millionaire reels (the original design, in my opinion any new features on more recent versions are just cosmetic changes) and for rock or shore tope fishing a Daiwa Slosh 30. The kit mentioned is balanced, ie, the rods and reels work well together and utilising a good technique cast as far or near as any shore angling situation requires.
That is the key, developing a smooth casting technique and perfecting it by regular fishing in all sorts of weather and sea conditions during the day and night, especially at night, so that one can perform the action asleep if necessary. What that means is reading a book like John Holden’s Long Distance Casting, joining a tournament casting club, or approaching a competent surf caster that you know, observing and picking their brains before heading off to a local field or strand armed with your chosen kit and a five ounce lead to practice, practice, practice until a smooth casting execution becomes second nature. In my opinion better a long field because each cast can be measured and as they lengthen, which they will, confidence increases and confidence is key.
Traces or end rigs have over the years become more sophisticated, mainly due to tackle innovations such as breakaway leads, bait clips, oval split rings, narrow gauge crimps, micro beads, super glue and technological improvement of line and amnesia type snood material. Another key factor primarily driven by reductions in fish stocks is the fining down of end rigs coarse fishing style which as has been mentioned earlier is a feature of the match fishing circuit.
One, two or three hook paternosters, wishbone rigs, pulley rigs, running ledgers, ledger paternosters, sliding rigs are all variations on a theme that can be utilised relative to a given situation. This article will not delve into their construction and knots used as there is enough readily available information out there in books, magazines and on the internet. That said most of my general shore fishing is conducted with a two hook paternoster incorporating 18” amnesia snoods to 2/0 fine wire round bend Aberdeen hooks.
Traces or rigs will vary in accordance with the species one is targeting, the tactics used, ground one is fishing into, tidal and weather conditions. Essentially how fine or heavy the trace is will be determined by the size and type of fish being sought after, an extreme example being tope where one would incorporate a single “running or pulley” wire hook link and strong rubbing leaders to counteract the fishes sharp teeth and very rough skin. On the other hand if targeting estuary flounder, two or three hook flowing (long snood) traces built with finer materials and using fine wire size 1 or 1/0 hooks would be ideal.
Always remember though to build in safety elements as a snapped off lead, whether it be one or six ounces is as dangerous as a bullet. With out fail incorporate a shock leader of 50 – 60 lb breaking strain line between trace and mainline. Make sure when connected to your trace that after running through your rod rings there are at least four turns of leader line around your reel spool. Also, make sure that the trace body is made with the same breaking strain leader line. Finally, rigs can be stored for re-use in a rig wallet or box (see image above). Always check previously used traces for strength, wear or damage and if a fault is detected remove any elements that are sound for re -use before discarding the trace.
In terms of line: weight, breaking strain, diameter, UV resistance, limpness, abrasion resistance, visibility and knot strength are the terms most used to describe their quality and function. When I started fishing in the early seventies nylon monofilament (single strand) was and still today is used. Subsequently lines have been manufactured from copolymers which are more dense (heavier and finer) such as fluorocarbon which also has a refractive index similar to water so making these lines less visible to fish.
All modern lines whether monofilament or fluorocarbon are weakened by exposure to sunlight so filled reels and spare spools should be stored in a dark cupboard when not in use. Needless to say lines on reels should be checked regularly. The main difference in my opinion between “mono” lines and fluorocarbon equivalents is that “mono” is more stretchy, in other words bites can be transmitted better through “fluoro” lines and one also has more contact with any fish encountered. Both in my opinion do the job well but in my experience, especially regarding main lines, “mono” lasts longer, “fluoro” lines becoming brittle and degrading quite rapidly though a season. It’s your choice.
On a final note, I use 18.lb breaking strain mainline in tandem with a 60.lb shock leader for my general shore fishing over clean and mixed ground, stepping up to 30.lb straight through for heavy rock fishing into rough ground.
For general shore fishing the main baits to concentrate on are lugworm and its derivatives such as black wraps, ragworm in its many forms such as king rag and maddies, fish baits such as mackerel, shellfish such as mussel and crustaceans to include hermit and peeler crab. Please check out this site link: Bait Collecting.
Lugworm, fresh mackerel and peeler crab, alone or in combination, are the baits which I use the most. Competition anglers targeting small inshore species such as dab, flounder and rockling use black wraps and maddies a lot on very long, fine, flowing rigs incorporating plain “watch type” leads which gives life and movement to the baits while allowing the rig to move slowly and search ground.
An article which will help the reader can be accessed here: Lugworm, a Versatile Bait.
Casting and Fishing
The most important aspect of casting for the angler is to remember that it is just a skill which when mastered will enable you to place a bait or lure where a fish is most likely to find or observe it. Again this article will not teach but direct the reader towards required knowledge. For a shore angler the ability to cast long distances will add an important string to the bow, in principal the skill opens up more productive avenues relative to a fishing venue, species sought and prevailing conditions. My tip, join an angling club, find a competent friendly shore angler willing to teach you and read John Holden’s long distance casting. Having mastered the skill always remember that fish could be present 10 yards out, so learn to read the conditions and adjust accordingly.
For shore casting the “full pendulum” and or the “fishing pendulum” sometimes called the “half pendulum” are the techniques to master, get these right and you will be fully equipped. The most important factor to remember is that the rod is a spring and you are the fulcrum, shore casting is not about “muscular effort” but instead “technique”. Once mastered the action is effortless and the lead will soar skywards and outwards in a very pleasing arc. Just remember, at the risk of repeating myself, you are fishing not casting. Learn the skill and know how and when to apply it.
As for the fishing, having purchased suitable tackle and mastered the basics of casting, bait collecting, presentation and rig design it’s off to a chosen venue ideally with a particular species or two in mind. Back in the day one could arrive at a venue like the “South Beach” at Greystones with a variety of baits and just cast towards a range of fish present, from various flat fish to codling, pollack, coalfish, conger and bass. What I would call now “Forrest Gump” fishing, “you never knew what you were going to get”. Today due to poor fisheries management and commercial over fishing shore anglers have to be more selective and target fish.
Sport fish such as bass, smooth hound, pollack, wrasse, conger, tope and mullet still abound in reasonable numbers and grow to a large average size. Local concentrations of flounder, ray (thornback, small eyed, undulate, stingray) and codling in season also exist so there is plenty of good sport still available, one just has to be selective while putting in a little extra thought, time and effort into what approach, method, end rigs and bait to use. To help your decision making listed below are links to a number of specific articles relating to available Irish species, their respective shore fishing venues and the respective approach, methods and baits that I use.
Click on: Winter Codling the Shore Angler’s Favourite.
Click on: Ray, a Shore Thing.
Click on: Bruising Ballan’s.
Click on: Floundering Around in Co. Wexford.
Click on: Bass Fishing.
Power Point Presentation: Sea Angling in South East Ireland.