Adding ‘bling’ – beads, floats, skirts etc – to surfcasting rigs is the done thing these days. No doubt this change is a natural progression, with recent fishing innovations such as soft-baits and slow-jigs using all sorts of colours and materials that appeal to the visual feeding instincts of fish.
The basic surfcasting technique (baits set on the bottom with a heavy sinker) doesn’t involve imparting direct action to your bait in the way that straylining does, for example, so bling innovations for surfcasting relate to visual appeal (various colours and night-glow) and buoyancy, with the latter lifting baits off the bottom where they’re easier for fish to see and are moved about a bit by the current.
Over time I’ve become quite specific about my surfcasting rigs. I tie all my own and have about half a dozen basic patterns that I use depending on the species I’m after and the fishing conditions. Around 90% of these are ‘blinged up’ rigs, with the remaining being 10% ‘nude’ rigs (lightweight rigs with small hooks and light trace used to target fussy feeding fish in crystal-clear water where natural presentation is essential). In every other fishing scenario I use bling of some description above my baited hook, including: saltwater flies; lumo beads; lumo skirts; Polystyrene float beads; and combinations of the above. (A recent innovation some surfcasters swear by – but I have yet to try – involves the use of bubble floats traditionally used by trout fishermen, which lift rigs up off the bottom so they waft around in the current.)
I use these appendages in three basic scenarios: large, colourful float beads for aggressive daytime feeders such as kahawai and gurnard; smaller more subtle beads for wary daytime feeders like trevally and moki; and luminous beads and skirts for night-time feeding fish such as snapper, moki and spotty sharks.
Water conditions should be central to your thinking when deciding to use a lot of bling, a little bling, or none at all. In clean water and bright conditions, fish won’t generally have too much difficulty spotting your bait, and in fact may be able to see too much too clearly (hooks, swivels, trace material etc). Excessive bling may mean your bait looks so unnatural it actually discourages fish from biting.
Conversely, murky water and dimmer light can hide your baits, so plenty of bling provides your bait with the qualities it needs to attract bites. At night I am a huge fan of lumo beads and skirts (shine your headlamp on them for a good 30 seconds to get them properly glowing) because they glow spectacularly and mean you’re not solely reliant on scent to attract bites. I’m positive that lumo beads greatly increase catch rates after the sun goes down.
Gurnard and kahawai are two daytime species attracted by movement and colour, which is why coloured polystyrene float beads are a key part of my arsenal. Right now, late spring, in Wellington sees these species arrive in numbers, so my rig wallet is full of bright-orange and green float beads. These have done the damage for me on these species for many years. I believe it’s the combination of colour and buoyancy that makes the difference, appealing to the aggressive, instinctive habit of both species to snap at movement.
The length of your trace and size of your bait makes a big difference as to how the float beads act in current. Long, single-strand traces promote slow, wafting-type movements, whereas short double-strand traces promote faster, flickering movements. Each can be attractive to fish; have a combination of rigs on hand so you can respond to the feeding behaviour on the day. If keen to see what this actually looks like, run the bath or fill up a bucket of water and give it a bash. This is particularly useful for getting a feel for how much buoyancy (size and number of float beads) is required to properly lift baits of different sizes off the bottom.
I am a fan of having my bling sitting directly on top of my bait. I generally don’t use stoppers or joining knots to prevent my bling from riding up the dropper, but you could do this if you wanted to. Some people actually prefer to fix their bling as much as a few inches away from the eye of the hook. I presume their theory is that colour and buoyancy is just as useful there as anywhere, and I can’t say they’re wrong because plenty of fish get caught this way. It seems there is no right or wrong way, so experiment with your own rigs and form your own preferences.
Saltwater flies can also be very effective, and many surfcasters use white flies in the belief that these imitate whitebait, a key food source for some of our key surf species, notably kahawai and trevally. Many tackle stores have impressive saltwater fly selections, so you can buy these ready-tied on a hook size of your choice or tie your own. I don’t, but I have a couple of good mates who do and are happy to supply me with some splendid patterns in exchange for a beer or two. I’ve found these to be deadly, on kahawai especially.
These same mates are also prolific users of surfcasting bling and have their own preferences in terms of the size, colour and type of bling. Fishing beside them, I’ve learnt that on any given day a particular type of bling (it might a large, green polystyrene float bead, for example) does the business better than any other. When this happens we’re happy to share our rigs to make sure we make the most of the bite. The next day it is often something completely different that works. My theory on this is that the fish are attracted to the bling that best imitates what they’re feeding on – as trout fishermen say, “Match the hatch!”
If you were to take a random sample of surfcasting rigs from 20 years ago, I’m sure you’d find them much more boring and ‘nude’ than a sample of today’s rigs. Even surfcasters of the hard-bitten, salty sea-dog variety who have ‘caught more fish than you and I have had hot dinners’ are converts to bling. Nude is out and bling is in.nz
A selection of bling from the writer’s own tackle box –
each has its place in the surfcaster’s arsenal.
It wasn’t that long ago that hooks hung limply, alone and ‘nude’
on the end of surfcasting rigs. Andy MacLeod offers suggestions as to how we can ‘dress them up’.
The rewards of bling are obvious: more fish. Cliff Deighton with a blue moki fooled by bling.
‘…murky water and dimmer light can hide your baits, so plenty of bling brings your bait the attention it needs to attract bites’
‘I’m positive that lumo beads greatly increase catch rates after the
sun goes down’