Reading Water Part 3 - 01 August 2011

 2015-09-02 04:05 PM by

Rocky Shores

Pan Fish Spots

There are many edible species that are caught along the rocky shores of our coast.  Most of very specific in terms of preferred structure or habitat.  The best approach is to have decided what fish you are going to be fishing for, what they feed on and the sort of structure one needs to try to find.  The focus of these articles is on trying to decipher what lies beneath the water with a view to targeting certain fish.

Something one must always keep in mind is the fact that the more of a particular feature there is in an area, the more fish that area will hold that like that feature, but the fewer fish you will find at each one of these features.  If for example there is a long stretch of rocky coast with very few gullys and suddenly one comes across a nice deep gully, that particular gully is likely to hold a lot of gully-favouring fish, whereas if the whole shoreline was a series of deep rocky gullys, each gully would probably not hold as many fish as the “oasis in the desert” type stand-alone gully. The other big factor here is fishing pressure and unfortunately the “oasis in the desert” is most likely to have been severely hammered if it is fairly accessible to most anglers.

Sea state is very important when selecting areas to fish because generally, calm, quiet, backwaters with deep, calm areas are not favoured by most fish.  The calmer the sea, the harder it is to go and find a bit of working water or some white water that is providing cover.  There is nothing better than a moderately strong sea as it starts showing you a lot of what lies beneath, which way the current is going and where fish are most likely to be.  When the sea gets really strong and there is a very strong side-wash, things change quite drastically again.  Those quiet little backwaters in protected little bays suddenly become places that the fish tend to congregate in.  This happens not so much because they can’t manage in the very strong conditions, but more because they can now hunt these areas feeling a little more secure and not so exposed.  In really extreme conditions, these areas become resting or holding areas.


Surging Sea

A strong-ish sea with a bit of a surge in it is something that one should get excited about when fishing these rocky shores as straight away you can start looking for features that are accessible to the fish.  When a set comes through with a surge, it pushes the water level up a couple of feet and then again when the water surge is out, there will be specific areas that the retreating fish will go to.   Most fish that feed on rock organisms like weeds and shells will take advantage of this to reach areas that are not normally accessible and are therefore concentrated in certain places rather than spread out over a large area.  We will cover some of these areas in the next few paragraphs.

It is also very important to remember that most of these fish tend to become a lot more active over spring tide periods and more specifically when the tide starts to push.  The fish are also a little easier to fool or a little greedier because there is fierce competition amongst themselves to get to those organisms that have been out of their reach over the entire low-tide period.  A lot of these organisms such as weed or algae have also grown somewhat over this period due to the warmer condition and more sunlight or in the case of things like shellfish, where one was eaten or vacated a spot on the last high-tide, a new one has probably replaced it.


Rock Gullys

Rock Gullys offer numerous opportunities.  Often you will find that as water enters the gully from the sides where a wave has broken and rolled over the rocks, the gully fills up and needs to empty back into the ocean.  Try to find the place where the water is sucking or being pushed out of the gully.  This is normally identified by fairly turbulent, swirling type water - an ideal place for any ambush predators.  Also at this point you will find any other fish that are entering or leaving the gully during their hunt for foot.  Where this water pours over the surrounding rocks into the gully, you will also see a bit of white turbulent water and those fish that are in the gully will definitely be keeping an eye open along that line waiting for food to be brought to them.  Almost all your gully-dwelling fish look for this kind of overhead white water “table-cloth” type protection.   It is always a good idea to spend some time studying the gully if you do not know it from previous visits.  Normally there will be slack or calmer periods during which white water will dissipate and you can then see how deep the water is and also if there are any beds of weed or hollow ledges that provide cave-type spots, which will most likely hold or attract gully-fish.  The colour of the water is also very important.  One will find that the more colour or the dirtier the water is the more the fish will venture into the calmer parts of the gully.  Thick soupy colour will definitely mean you should fish the calmer parts rather than the very rough or turbulent parts.

Rock Faces

Rock Faces are steep rocks going down into deep water with very little structure to offer other than the wall-type face of the rock.  Whenever you see this sort of structure you must always try to fish as close to the wall as possible.  If the water is clean, try to find the areas that have the most white water covering.  If you are fishing for fish that should be feeding off the side of the wall then you need to do a fair amount of prospecting along it.  Try to find the areas with the most movement in the water.  Also remember that if you can’t see the bottom you are not going to know what is there and quite often these sorts of rock faces have ledges or cave-type formations at their base, especially if there is a fair amount of current in the area and the bottom is sandy.  Once again, one needs to prospect your way along the bottom trying to find a spot where the fish might be lying.  A strong current will be easy to see in a spot like this and generally that is not a good sign.  If the water has a moving river-type look to it, it is generally not worth even trying to fish there.  What the fish really seem to like is a fairly big backward and forward swell type motion on these rock faces.  It probably gets them higher up to areas that are normally that accessible and also means they can use their body weight and the water surge to dislodge whatever they are feeding on. 

Rocky Ledges

The types of ledges that we are referring to here are generally fairly small, perhaps 200mm to 2 metres.  Normally where you start seeing ledges running into the water, there can be quite a few depending on the formation of the rock.  Ledges that run almost parallel to the beach or at a 45-degree angle to the beach tend to be very productive in the right conditions.  If the ledges run straight out to sea from the shore then they do tend to work a little better when there is a bit of current or if the sea is coming at an angle so that there is movement over the top of the ledge rather than from the deep side to the shallow.   The side of the ledge offers protection from predators.  It is also a great spot to launch an ambush from.  If you spend a bit of time in the water you will notice that any crack or ledge is like a mini highway.  There is a continual stream of all sorts of animals moving up and down it. 

The trick to fishing ledges like this is to make sure that your bait or lure gets to be in the right place for as long as possible.   One can often do a very accurate prediction of exactly where the drop-off or edge of the face will be much further out in the water from where you are standing, merely by following the angle that the ledge is taking from the exposed part on the shore.  Any lures should be cast parallel to the ledge into this area and retrieved along.  Any bait fishing that is done, one should try to place the bait as close to the inside of the ledge as possible.  Always try to work out where this is by watching the water moving over the ledges in front of you.  Once again, a surge or a big set is a great help when trying to identify the hot spot.  As the water pulls back, the water will often pore over the side of the ledge creating a fairly smooth surface moving in one direction and where it goes over the ledge you will see a boiling or far more turbulent look in the water.  If the water is moving fast and the top of the ledge is quite deep you are going to have to throw your sinker well into the current to get it to fall just over the lip.  If you are unsure then rather wind out and throw again.  It is not worth sitting with the bait in the wrong spot.

Flat Rocky Areas

Any shallow, flat, rocky area is like a magnet to most rock feeding fish when the tide starts to push.  There is always fierce competition to get to the new growth before anybody else.  When faced with a large expanse of fairly shallow flat rock, it is very important to try to identify the slightly deeper areas.  It is not always necessary that these deeper areas are accessed from the outside or behind the backline area, because very often the fish will move to the deeper depressions even if they are isolated whenever the water draws back a little, but as soon as the next surge or rise in water comes, they will all move out to feed.  If you can identify this area, you’ve found the hot spot.  Any gully or deeper depression will show itself as the water takes on more of a swell-type look than that of a rolling broken wave.  As the tide comes in and the water gets deeper, keep following the breaking water and make sure that you are always fishing in areas that have just become accessible to the fish.  As soon as waves break and roll in fairly large expanses of shallower area, the water needs to go somewhere.  It will always flow toward the easiest return to the deep water.  These deeper depressions might even form large gullys and as soon as there is a bit of water pulling out of one of these, there is definitely going to be some fish waiting at the edge of it for prey or food to come out to them.

Shallow Broken Rock Areas

Broken Rock Areas are generally gently sloping shorelines made up of broken rock and sand or flattish rocks with shallow gullys.  These areas are generally quite large and because of the shallow gradient, extend well out to sea.  In a big sea the surf will roll from a long way off.  In a nice short chop “fishy” type water there will be broken water all over the place.  It is fairly simple to decide where to fish in this type of area.  If the sea is quite rough and there is lots of white water, then you should be focusing most of your effort on the deeper, stiller areas, but if the sea is still or calm, then your focus should be on the working water or the rougher breaking water.   You will also find here that the colour issue applies as we spoke of earlier in a gully. The dirtier the water, the calmer the area you should be looking for.  The cleaner the water, the rougher the area you should be looking for.  This also holds true with day and night.  The calmer the water the more you should be fishing at night, the rougher the water the more you should be fishing in the daytime.  These shallow, broken rock areas are generally very productive and in a short, choppy sea.


Kelp only grows in cold water and generally in the calmer water, as strong seas often uproot the kelp.  It can grow to great lengths and if it is really dense it can appear as if it covers entire areas.  More often than not though, there are paths or gaps and holes all over in kelp beds.  Fish use these like mini highways and it is also fair to say that there is generally a current that travels down these pathways.  With this in mind, it is very important to identify these areas.  It is a lot easier in cleaner, calm conditions, but if one watches the water for a while you should soon see if there are any of these features.  The kelp provides a lot of cover and a lot of food in the form of organisms growing on the kelp and the surrounding rock.  Wherever you can see a hole or channel in the kelp it is definitely worth throwing a bait, especially a bait with a bit of smell on as it will drift off into the kelp and attract those fish that are in the cover of the kelp.