Beach tactics: secrets from the Mulloway Man

The result of the yellowtail bait was this great mulloway.

by Sean Thompson

Considered the holy grail by beach anglers, mulloway (‘jewfish’ or ‘jewies’ as they are affectionately known) are at the top of most beach anglers’ hit or bucket lists.

Many anglers spend long, lonely hours on the beach at night in the pursuit of these beasts. Some fishos might chance upon one or two using baits such as pilchards intended for species such as tailor and salmon. However, the anglers who catch mulloway consistently have their own specialist techniques and tackle. Unfortunately though, many salty old gun mulloway anglers have taken their secrets to the grave rather than share them with even their closest friends, let alone a fishing writer!

Fortunately though, my keen fishing mate Todd was much more generous. Todd the Mulloway Man (as I call him) was not only prepared to share his secrets with me, but also took me out for a couple of sessions near his home at Newcastle. Here we put his techniques into action and he shared many of his secrets with me to pass on to you.

Todd is a wealth of knowledge on mulloway fishing, even though he’s only a relative newcomer, having targeted them over the past three years. In that time he has caught over 80 mulloway, so he is clearly doing something right. Even more interesting is that not all of his tactics are out of the textbook, yet they work and work very well. This article summarises the generous information Todd shared with me.

The very effective mulloway rigs described in the article.
Yet another fish caught using the Mulloway Man’s techniques and tackle.
A solid mulloway caught on a fresh squid bait.
Fresh squid is another of Todd’s favourite baits.
A yellowtail rigged up on a snelled slide bait. Note the top free hook.
Even small jewies take a liking to juicy big beach worms.
Big king worms on twisted dropper rigs are extremely successful in Todd’s local waters.
A drop-off on the sand can be evidence of deep water directly in front. Note the sandbank to the right, also evident at low tide.
A steeply shelving beach with little wave movement around Newcastle. The action slowed once the moon got a bit higher over the horizon.

Different types of structure

Deep holes and gutters

Deep holes with an entry/exit to deeper water are one of the more traditional target locations for mulloway along the NSW coastline. So too are relatively short, deep gutters (up to about 100m long or so) with a north and south entry and exit point. These locations are found along a number of exposed NSW beaches and are worth targeting during the peak times of dusk and into the evening.

Holes that have been channelled out next to structure such as headlands, isolated rocks or even shipwrecks are also very worthy locations. Such formations attract baitfish and in turn the bread and butter fish such as mullet, whiting and bream that these larger predators like to target.

Steeply shelving beaches

Very different, yet arguably more consistent and productive locations are steeply shelving beaches, particularly those located close to river and estuary mouths. It is this type of formation, from Blacksmiths Beach at the mouth of Lake Macquarie to Birubi Beach just south of Nelson Bay, that Todd and other switched-on anglers have found to be so successful.

It’s like a highway for mulloway; anglers who target the right time and tide as well as more defined beach formations along this strip have the most success. One of the key reasons for the success of these beaches is their proximity to the big estuaries along this strip, which act as both a nursery and feeding ground.

Anglers should realise that while steeply shelving beaches give you access to deeper water and thus the chance for fish to ‘turn up’ at your location, there are a few things you can look for to improve your odds even further.

Unlike a lot of anglers who choose high tide so that the water fills deep holes and gutters, Todd prefers to fish the low tide in his local Newcastle beaches. This is because he finds it easier to read the underwater structure along the steeply shelving beaches at this time.

Choosing a location along these steep beaches can be difficult for anglers unfamiliar with the area or how to read the water. Steeply shelving beaches often don’t produce the traditional rolling sets of breaking waves of more regular beaches. Apart from the shore break, they may just have one back break and can be harder to read. For this reason, Todd finds that spotting deeper pockets of water (or holes) and other structure can be easier at low tide.

At this time, he will closely examine the unbroken waves and identify areas where the water is darker and where the waves partly break out further in shallower water, or simply change shape (the waves become higher or lower) indicating a change in bottom structure.

Other things Todd looks for are the steepest decline in the sand from the shore as an indication of deep water close to shore. He adds that there are also some permanent deeper holes along these beaches, which are best spotted from on top of the dunes in the middle of the day.

Tackle and techniques

Set rods

Todd likes to fish with set rods as it allows the fish to run with the baits and if you use the right hooks, the fish will usually hook themselves. That said, once the tip of the rod has buckled over (indicating the fish has turned and run with the bait), Todd will grab the rod, tighten the drag about a quarter to half turn to its normal fishing position, and set the hooks by striking hard.

In terms of positioning his baits, he generally sets his three rods about 10m apart. That means you need to have a few long rod holders that are set firmly in the sand. Todd uses a 1m length PVC pipe that is 50mm in diameter, which he well and truly wedges at a slight angle to the water with a lump of wood (which I liken to a ‘priest’).

Baits and rigs

Todd likes to use a variety of baits to cover his bases on any particular night. His favourite baits include king worms (thick enough to fit over the eye of the hook), fresh squid, whole yellowtail and live whiting.

By far his most successful and favourite rig is thick beach worms on a dual dropper rig using relatively small 2/0 red Mustad Baitholder hooks. In terms of bait presentation, he threads the worm up and over the eye of the hook and right up the 15cm dropper to the green lumo bead. He prefers to use 30lb monofilament for these twisted dropper rigs simply because he finds fluorocarbon much more difficult to get a tight twist. I tend to agree, as I’ve tried a few different brands of fluorocarbon but am yet to achieve the perfect twists that Todd does with his mono leader.

A couple of important additions to this rig are green lumo glow beads, which you should charge up with your LED headlamp (facing away from the water) to help the fish spot the bait at night. While this rig might not always catch the biggest fish, it continues to produce even when the other baits aren’t touched.

Todd will also run another rig with the same twisted dropper rig but replace the hooks with 8/0 Octopus circle hooks. On these hooks he rigs a whole medium-size fresh loligo squid, or strip if the squid are too big.

A third successful rig is a slider rig with two snelled 8/0 octopus circle hooks baited with either a whole large squid, yellowtail (live if possible) or a live whiting. He uses heavier line (50lb) for this rig and given the bigger baits and deeper water this rig is usually in, it tends to catch larger mulloway or the occasional shark. Interestingly, he leaves the top hook of the snell free or loose for better hook-ups and so the fish swims or sits more naturally.

Other Tackle

Like all anglers, Todd has his personal preferences when it comes to rods, reels and lines. In general he prefers 13’6 to 14’ rods with a fast action. In terms of reel choice, he loves Alveys, although his dodgy wrist mostly restricts him to spinning and overhead reels these days. For anglers like me who love their Alveys, my 650E rock fishing reel with the handles attached gives me maximum power with the 1:1 wind.

In terms of spinning reels, Todd prefers the Daiwa Saltist 6500 high-speed reel and the Saltist Nero 4500 high-speed reel. He also uses a Fin-Nor overhead reel for his slide baiting. On his reels he likes to use 20-30lb braid, topped up with a rod length of 30lb fluorocarbon.

Best times

As noted earlier, Todd prefers to fish around the low tide. If he has a choice, he’ll time the tides so that he fishes the last hour of the falling and the first 1 1/2 hours of the rising tide at and after dusk into the night.

In terms of moons, surprisingly Todd is less fussed about the four days either side of the full moon. In fact, on full moon nights, he finds the fish will only bite before the moon gets too high above the horizon and we certainly found that to be the case on the two nights around the full moon that we fished. His theory is the full moon up high reflects off the mulloway’s big shiny scales and makes them too much of a target for sharks. It’s hard to argue with his results, as he has caught the great majority of his fish outside the key full moon period.

Biggest mistakes?

Some of the biggest mistakes anglers make are the ones they are not even aware of. As a regular mulloway angler Todd indicates that the biggest mistakes he sees include bait presentation, impatience and anglers not covering enough bases.

Bait presentation is probably one of the key points of difference between very good anglers and the rest of the pack in all forms of fishing. This applies just as much to mulloway fishing, if not more. Baits need to be as fresh as possible, or live and presented in a way that not only looks natural (not twisted or clumped up) but has the hook point exposed. That’s right, the need to hide the hook point from the fish is a myth and doing so will lead to lots of missed hook-ups, as the hook point needs to be unimpeded making its way into the tough mouth of the mulloway.

Patience is another virtue when mulloway fishing. On some nights the fish might be there just on dusk, on others it can be a wait for several hours or they might not turn up at all. While this isn’t unusual for mulloway fishing, Todd is pretty confident most nights that the fish will eventually make their way along these steeply shelving highways and stop and feed in the areas with more defined structure.

This was certainly my experience with Todd on my trips with him. On the first night I caught four soapies (or small mulloway) within the first hour or so around dusk, while on the second night we waited nearly four hours before three fish struck in the space of five minutes!

Variety in terms of bait choice and casting distance is something else that anglers chasing mulloway can’t give enough attention to. Todd normally has a smorgasbord of bait choices as noted above. Having 3-4 different baits out there helps to cover all bases for those times that the fish might choose one bait over the other. Once again this happened with us. On the first night, all fish were taken on big, long king beachworms. The second night, the worms weren’t touched, but rather the fish took fresh squid and yellowtail!

Likewise, some anglers can think that it’s essential to cast all your baits out as far as possible. More important is having your baits in the right place in the structure of the gutters you are fishing. This might mean a long, short and medium size cast with three rods in three different areas (e.g. at the edge of the back bank, in a deeper hole close to shore and a slider rig out the back of the back bank) to cover your bases.

Conclusion

So there are some very detailed tips from a very generous man – the Mulloway Man. I hope these tips allow you to catch a mulloway or two in your local area. If not, plan a trip to the ‘Jew Coast’ around Newcastle in the not too distant future!

For more tips and tricks, giveaways and fishing reports, jump on my Facebook page, Ontour Fishing Australia.

Until then, bag your mates – not your limit!

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