by Jamie Robley •
Aussie anglers are lucky to have an enormous variety of fish to target right around the country, from small freshwater streams, through to the wide blue yonder. Some of our fish are brutally tough fighters that can rip out hundreds of metres of line in a single blistering run, while others have a habit of making a complete mockery of supposedly heavy tackle.
Among the top ten hardest fighting fish in our waters is the black drummer, also known as pigs, for good reason. A big black drummer can be almost unbeatable on any sort of tackle and even the smaller to average-sized models have a bad attitude once hooked. They rarely muck around, tending to dive straight for any nearby kelp, cave or crevice as soon as they feel the sting of a hook. If the tackle used is light and intended for luderick or bream than chances are most decent pigs will win the battle in quick time.
There are however, times when a drummer hooked in more open water may be easier to land or an angler using light tackle simply gets lucky. I’ve seen a few big pigs landed on flimsy gear that certainly wasn’t suitable for this style of fishing, but I’ve never been that lucky.
A variety of different tackle can be put to use to catch drummer, but the standard outfit is generally a sturdy sort of rod around 3-3.6m matched to a 5-6” Alvey sidecast or a medium-sized threadline reel. Despite the popularity of sidecast reels for bread and butter rock fishing like this, I’ve always been more comfortable with threadlines and over the years have mainly used 3000 and 4000 size Diawas like the Freams, Certate, Caldia and Sol.
While rods need to be strong, it’s beneficial for them to have a lighter tip, which is better when casting very light or unweighted baits. Longer is better when fishing in spots where there are a lot of rocks or cunjevoi covered ledges in front of you, as the extra length helps keep the line clear and avoids snags, which makes it a touch easier when landing fish. However, shorter rods can make it easier to fight and land fish. So if your local rock ledges drop straight down into the water it’s probably not necessary to go longer than 3m.
A braid mainline, with a fluorocarbon leader has become the regular outfit for many styles of fishing and yes, this popular concept can also work with drummer fishing. However, a tough wearing old school mono line straight through to the hook, with no extra leader is the best way to go if you’re serious about drummer.
Straight through nylon mono means that there will be no leader knot, a common weak point in the system. The less weak points the better. I also believe that knot strength at the hook is greater when using mono, than fluorocarbon line, regardless of the fact that a good fluorocarbon can be extremely abrasion-resistant. Lastly, because snags and bust-ups are so common when chasing pigs, there is simply less mucking around when a new rig needs to be tied up.
Of course, we’re not always going to have a dedicated drummer fishing reel spooled up with mono. So when a braid or PE mainline is used, I recommend either nylon mono or a good fluorocarbon leader, around the same length as the rod, running down to the hook. Either system works, but it’s definitely worth considering old-fashioned mono. It still has a place in fishing, particularly with this rough and tumble sort of rock fishing.
As for specific breaking strains, 6-10kg is about right for most situations. If the water is calm and extra clear, drummer can become just as wary and timid as a brown trout or bream. If this is the case, then lighter line from 4-6kg is more suitable. At the other end of the spectrum, in places where XOS drummer are expected then it may be necessary to go up to 12-15kg line.
Drummer have a relatively small mouth, so hook sizes from 1/0 down to a 6 should be considered. Older patterns like octopus (suicide) and those based around the Mustad 540 or 542 models work well, as long as they’re not too bendy. There are also some newer ISO style hooks getting around, which are small, sharp and exceptionally strong. I secured some of these made by Gamakatsu for the Japanese domestic market, but it may take some scouting around the internet to find them. Typing ‘ISO drummer hook’ into Google is a good starting point when trying to find such hooks.
Aside from that, a small selection of tiny ball sinkers, some split shot and a few little bobby floats and float stoppers form the basics of a drummer fishing kit. Float fishing is a good idea when the bottom is particularly snaggy and the spot being fished isn’t too turbulent. Apart from that, it’s often best to just rig up with a hook tied straight to the end of the line, slide a small ball sinker on as well if an unweighted bait is getting tossed around too much by wave action.
Drummer are very common around nearly all rocky outcrops and headlands along the entire NSW coastline. They will also venture further out and are occasionally caught over reef in depths up to 50m or so.
Drummer favour spots around coastal rocks with a lot of structure like kelp, caves, cracks and cunjevoi growth that cop the full force of wave action. Depth is not important at all and it’s not uncommon to see or catch pigs in places where water barely covers their backs. They also have a habit of swimming up, over a ledge with a wave and swim back down to safety as the wave recedes, leaving the ledge dry again.
Perhaps the first few things to look for when deciding where to fish are the presence of consistent whitewash, clumps of cunjevoi growing around the lower ledges and some green cabbage growth. If these three things are present then drummer should be there. Throw in a few extras like some gnarly looking boulders, broken reef and some shade from direct sunlight, and it then adds up to a definite drummer spot.
Of course, safety is always a must when it comes to rock fishing, so regardless of how good a spot looks for the fish, it also needs to be safe for the angler. In other words, not too exposed to the full force of waves crashing onto the rocks and preferably with some higher rock or quick escape route within a few steps of the main ledge fished.
Drummer can be caught through the day and night in some cases, however the early morning and late afternoon periods tend to be more productive. If skies are dull and miserable looking then drummer may be more inclined to take baits right through the middle of the day as well. The clearer the skies and calmer the seas are, the more crucial it is to fish early and late periods.
Overall a rising tide is generally better than a falling tide, but this isn’t a definite rule that must be followed. My preference is to start fishing around low tide, up to about halfway or three-quarters of the way to the top of the tide. Over the years I’ve often found drummer to be most active in the first half of a rising tide and that their bite tapers right off towards high tide. This sort of thing may vary from place to place though.
Average, safe seas and swell of around 1-1.5m is normally fine, although drummer will bite well in rougher conditions. It’s always a priority to make sure the spot is safe, especially if swell height is more than 1.5m or predicted to build, so keep an eye on sea conditions when fishing.
BAIT AND BERLEY
I’m a big fan of bread baits and some bread based berley carefully thrown in the spot being fished. I say carefully, as a common mistake is to hurl in too much berley, thinking more berley will attract more fish. It can work that way, but it’s more likely to attract pickers like toads or yakkas, as well as plenty of annoying seagulls.
A simple and very effective way to berley is with a couple of loaves of white bread, mashed to a soupy pulp in a plastic bucket. The more mashed up it is, with minimal chunks, the better. This way is will entice fish without actually feeding them. That’s what the bait is for!
Small white bread baits wrapped around a hook, with the hook point exposed, are normally the best things to cast into a spot that’s been peppered with a bread based berley mix. However, some experienced pig specialists may prefer other baits like cooked or green prawns, cunjevoi or green cabbage. In the areas I fish, white bread and green cabbage tend to be the better baits.
Sometimes hordes of pickers will move in, while other times only drummer will attack the bait. Decent drummer don’t muck around too much, but in very calm or clear water they may be a bit pickier. Just let them take a few small bites and when they grab the whole bait or the line simply goes tighter, slam back hard and crank the reel as fast as possible. There is simply no room at all for taking your time once a drummer is hooked. Just go hard and try to land the fish. As long as it’s still in the water a pig will take every opportunity to win its freedom. That’s why pig fishing can be so exciting. Either you win or the fish wins!