Waiting-for-a-biteIt's been a few years since my last surf fishing trip to Yalata in South Australia at the top of the western end of the Great Australian Bight.

When it comes to surf fishing for big surf mulloway, sharks, Australian salmon and snapper, this location reins supreme in terms of the quality and quantity of fish on offer seasonally.

Yalata is truly a remote fishing location.  It’s about 980km from Adelaide to the Yalata roadhouse and then it’s about another 50km from the highway to the surf beach via 4WD tracks.


This leads us to the first piece of essential equipment needed for a trip to fish at Yalata – a reliable 4WD. Once you gain access to the 4WD tracks off the highway, tyre pressures need to be reduced to deal with the soft terrain and generally will need to be deflated further once you get close to the surf beach where the 4WD tracks become made up entirely of sand. This means an electric pump will also be needed to reinflate tyres when heading home again. Additional recovery gear for 4WD’s is also recommended including a shovel, snatch strap and or power winch. Ideally, if travelling in a group, it is better to have a second 4WD vehicle travelling with you for safety reasons.


Camping in the sand dunes

Along the coast at Yalata, there is no power supply or fresh water, so a generator and a fridge/freezer unit as well as plenty of fresh water need to be brought in by visitors. In addition you will need to bring with you all other camping gear, food and supplies. There is also no mobile phone reception in the area with the nearest phone about 70km away, so if you want to be able to communicate with the outside world organise to hire a satellite phone. The bottom line is this. You are visiting a very remote location along the middle of the southern Australian coastline with no near by amenities. Anything you may need has to be brought in by you.


Be prepared, you don't want to dehydrate or go hungry!


There is fishing on offer at Yalata all year round, but the best times of the year to plan a visit are probably between October and May when the weather is at its best.  For many years it has been a widely held belief that as the weather warmed up in the area, generally so did the fishing for big mulloway. In January and February, temperatures in the high 40’s are not uncommon and this was the time of year most anglers headed to Yalata for big mulloway. Over the last few years this mind set seems to have changed a little with many keen mulloway anglers now considering November to be the peak time of year for these fish. In the end, Yalata is such a productive fishery any time of the year during the warmer months is capable of producing good mulloway. Day to day variations in barometric pressure, prevailing winds and swell direction tend to play a greater role in success on the surf beach rather than which month of the year it is.

One benefit in planning and earlier trip to Yalata, particularly in October, is the chance of catching other species from the surf including big snapper and Australian salmon. At this time of year snapper can regularly be caught between 6 and 9kg, with larger specimens a distinct possibility. The Australian salmon at this time of year are also big, with most fish being between 4-5kg.


Andrew Clark with a big surf snapper

Different shark species are common at Yalata as well. Gummy sharks and bronze whalers can be caught year round, while school sharks tend to move in close to shore and can be targeted from the surf during January and February.


After arriving at the camp site and setting up, it’s worth taking an hour or two to drive along the beach to asses’ likely areas to fish. As with any style of surf fishing, anglers need to look for deep gutters that run in close and parallel to the shore. The deeper gutters are characterised by darker, bluer water and also by a reduction in white water breaking over the top of it.


XOS sized Australian salmon are also on offer in the gutters

The good thing about surf fishing at Yalata is that often you can fish within a few hundred meters of where you are camping, with many productive surf gutters scattered along the shore line. In addition, the best gutters are often very close to shore, sometimes only 5 to 10 meters out.


As with many surf fishing situations, a rising tide, particularly the last 2 hours of it, is generally more productive at Yalata than a dropping tide. The logic for this is quite simple; when the tide rises there is more water in the gutters; this in turn offers more protection for fish to move in to feed in the turbid water in close to shore.

Time of day doesn’t seem to have an appreciable impact on the best bite times at Yalata, particularly when targeting mulloway. Whether it’s the middle of the day or middle of the night, it seems to make no difference provided the tide is right.


Fishing into the night

Moon phases can have an impact on the fishing here, with the days surrounding the new and full moons being the best. This probably relates back again to the best tides as with the new and full moon phases produce the biggest high tides during the month and therefore the deepest gutters and you guessed it, the best fishing!


One thing about fishing at Yalata is that any of the species you may encounter, whether its mulloway, snapper, salmon or sharks, chances are they’re going to be big, so high quality gear is a must. There is no point spending all the money and going to all the trouble of organising a trip to a place like Yalata only to cut corners on fishing gear. Two surf fishing outfits are needed, one as your main surf fishing outfit and another for catching live bait with. An optional third outfit can be used for lure casting.

As the main surf fishing outfit, you’ll need a rod between 10 and 12’ in length, capable of casting 3-7oz sinkers and with have enough grunt to fight a mulloway up to 70 or 80 pounds. Obviously, if you’re expecting to encounter large fish you’ll need a solid reel that is strong, capable of dishing out adequate drag pressure and super reliable. In recent years there have been huge leaps forward in the quality of thread line reels with the purpose built Saltiga surf reels among the best on the market. Either the 4500 or 6000 Saltiga surf thread lines are more than capable of stopping the largest of mulloway encountered on surf beaches anywhere in Australia.

To catch live bait a smaller light outfit is essential, particularly for feeling the small bites.  A 7-9ft light to medium spinning rod with a 3000 sized reel loaded with 15lb braid is perfect for this type of fishing.  Bait jig rigs are ideal and instead of putting a sinker on the bottom of the rig as a casting weight we use a 20g metal slice with a treble hook.  This gives you the flexibility of casting lures or bait fishing and you don’t have to worry about getting snagged in the sand.

Quality surf rod holders are essential to ensure that your reels don’t end up in the sand and they must be durable enough to handle the strike of a large fish taking the bait.  Try and refrain from leaving too much drag on the reel when you are not fishing right next to your rod or a night.  About 1-2kg of drag is more than enough to hook a fish and ensure that you loosen off the drag if you plan to walk away from your rod.


When it all comes together the fishing is insane!


There are two types of rig we commonly use when fishing this area.  The first is a simple 2 hook paternoster rig which is ideal for presenting cut baits.  We prefer using the pre-tied Black Magic ‘snapper snatchers’ for this purpose.  These flasher rigs and are durable, are tied from 80lb Black Magic tough trace and have two droppers with hooks attached.  Each dropper consists of an 8/0 KL circle hook, and glow bead and a fly tied is tied also onto each hook for added attraction.

To bait the circle hook bind up one end of the bait with bait elastic and hook the bait through once leaving plenty of open gape on the hook to enhance the hook up.  These rigs work extremely well fished straight out of a rod holder and 90% of the time the fish is usually hooked before you even pick up the rod, as usually the weight of the sinker grappling into the sand alone is enough to hook the fish.  On our last trip we had great success using this rig on mulloway and on consecutive occasions the mulloway ignored live baits set only metres either side of this rig to take the ;snapper snatcher’ rig baited with squid!

Alternatively the very similar pre-tied Black Magic ‘groper grabber’ rig is made up of heavier components and with two 200lb droppers and a 400lb main leader it is ideal for night fishing. This rig gives you a better chance of holding to toothy critters like school sharks and bronze whalers in the darkness.


A ripper school shark taken at night

The second type of rig we use is single hook paternoster rig, usually with a single 80lb dropper connected to a 2/0-6/0 live bait hook.  Live bait is dynamite in these waters if you can catch them and Tommy ruff, juvenile Australian salmon and yellow eye mullet make excellent baits.

To bait up the live bait take a small soft luminous glow bead and cut it in half.  Thread the flat side onto the hook first then thread the live bait on through the eye socket.  Complete the rig by threading the other half of the glow bead on round side first.  The benefit of this is that is stops the baits sliding back up the line or off the hook in the rough water and secures the bait.  At night the glow beads also provide added attraction.  You can learn more about how to tie a quick and easy paternoster rig here http://www.scottgrayfishing.com.au/tie-your-own-paternoster-rigs

It’s certainly worth the putting in the effort to catch live bait and on our last trip we managed to land a respectable 7kg snapper on a live mullet.  To catch your live bait find a small gutter in close and use berley to draw the fish in.  Multi hook bait jigs are ideal for catching these fish as when a school comes through you usually get multiple hook-ups.  Make the most of your opportunities when you can catch them and don’t expect to be able to get live bait supply every day!


There are many types of baits that work from time to time in the surf at Yalata and due to the remoteness of this location it’s a good idea to take plenty of bait with you, just in case it’s difficult to catch fresh bait on your arrival.  Fresh frozen squid and octopus are ideal baits as they are preferred by many species and they are also tough enough to withstand the smaller pickers.  Both whole dead fish baits and cut fish fillet baits also work well and are most effective when presented as fresh as possible.  A fresh fillet of Australian salmon is an excellent bait for mulloway and snapper.


Getting ready to rig up some octopus baits on a makeshift bait bench


At Yalata the local Aboriginal community owns and manages the land that runs either side of the Eyre Highway from Nullarbor to the Nundroo roadhouse and includes around 100 km of coastline.

To gain access to the surf beaches at Yalata, all visitors need to have permission and obtain a permit from Yalata Community Inc and camping is only permitted in designated areas. Information relating to camping permits and areas can be obtained by visiting the Yalata Land Management website at www.yalata.org

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