Surfcasting in Rough Seas

Being born and bred in Hawkes Bay, the early part of Bruce Basher’s fishing life was spent mainly on east coast beaches. Steeply shelving shingle beaches were a norm and the water was generally much calmer than that fished by west coast anglers.

This was mainly because the east is protected from the much more violent waters of the Tasman Sea. While the wilder water carved many productive channels and holes out west, it was often too rough to safely fish!

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Even when it could be fished, the water would be far too turbulent or dirty to hold any sort of decent fish in good numbers. It would basically be a case of only catching something when it “stumbled accidentally” onto your bait – or so I thought!

It wasn’t until I became a regular attendee of the annual week-long snapper surfcasting contest at Ninety Mile Beach that I changed my mind – so much so that my wife and I now often drive to the mighty Ninety Mile outside of the contest period!

It wasn’t too long before this fondness of the wilder west coast waters became firmly embedded into my overall enjoyment of the noble art of surfcasting. Coupled with tons of great advice from many locals who quickly became firm friends, I have discovered a lot over the years.

What used to be too rough is now just another day to throw bait into the surf. What used to be too dirty now only increases my expectations of bigger fish. I have found, with help of course, many a way to fish rough waters safely and to actually revel in copping a smack or two from a bigger wave set!

Above all the knowledge I’ve gained, I still place safety first when fishing the rough stuff. Having safely reached “cranky old coot” status, I would like to feel the pull of a big west coast trevally or snapper for quite a few more years to come!

Surfcasting in Rough Seas

Getting toward the higher side of rough and fishable.


If you’re going to fish the rough and therefore more turbulent waters, the safest way to do so is with a mate! If you find yourself in need of help, you certainly won’t get it from the wildlife. Indeed, some of them will actually love you to “kark it” so you can add a bit of variety to their food intake!

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If you need to do a bit of wading to get your bait into productive water, a good mate should be the first thing you take with you. Use your loaf and cast out one at a time. You’ll not be of help to anyone if you’re in strife as well!

Next in line is a good wetsuit! Wearing a full body wetsuit will keep you warm on the cold days and will be a great form of sun block on clear days. Try and get one that has a zip in the groin area so you can “obey the call of nature” without removing the whole suit.

More importantly, it will help keep you afloat if you step into a hole or channel. In rough water I also wear an inflatable PFD (Personal Flotation Device). I have a Sospender unit that has been employed a number of times over the years without fault.

These units don’t inflate until you pull a handle. A gas bottle then inflates the bladder in such a way that keeps you floating upright until rescue arrives or you find your own way out of trouble. I cannot recommend the wetsuit/PFD combo highly enough. Nothing else comes anywhere near it for safety.

Regardless of what safety measures you take, if you have any doubts about your ability to handle the conditions, forget it! You’ll catch no fish while you’re staring at the lid!

From personal experience, I’ve found good fishing can be had a couple of days after the rough stuff when the water is starting to clear as fish feed heartily on food items that have been stirred up by the bigger waves. Look for shellfish and other food items that the rough water has washed up on the beach. If you are lucky enough to find a spot where these are concentrated or piled up, it’s a fair bet that fish will be concentrated here too!

If fishing a beach similar to the mighty Ninety, always look for a “bolt hole” for your vehicle. The occassional huge wave sets on rough days will often sweep right up to the dunes. Find a spot where you can park either in an area back from the dunes or somewhere a little higher up.

Please don’t unnecessarily drive right up on the dunes though. The damage to the vegetation that can be caused by doing so may significantly weaken that portion of the dune system resulting in an escalation of the erosion rate.


It almost goes without saying that all the tackle you use to fish the rough stuff needs to be on the robust side. Rods need to be longer and taller beach spikes are a must. The more line that can be kept up out of the water and any floating weed, the better!

Even with the tallest of beach spikes, water will often be splashed up on your reel. Sometimes it will even be submerged! That fancy plastic and shiny “el cheapo” chrome reel that caught your eye in the tackle shop can quickly become a useless coffee grinder when the salt water reacts to the grease inside it. I have had it happen many times, even with some very expensive reels – at least before I changed over to Alveys.

Try to keep to as thin a line as you can. The extra pressure of turbulent water on thicker lines can pull out even wire grip sinkers time and time again. It’s a matter of finding your own happy medium with line.

Having said this, there are a number of tricky ideas you can do to make sinkers grip better. If you use a top sinker such as one from the BOS (Break Out Sinkers) range, you’ll already have a great head start. You can bend the wires inwards to create more grip yet they will still break out when you wind them in.

For the wilder waters, a few turns of bait elastic around the wires works very well too! Rubber bands do much the same job.

One of the NZ Fishing News surfcasting team members, Steve Bryan, uses a rather different idea and it’s a beauty!

Instead of bait elastic or rubber bands, he rolls on one of those rubber rings that farmers use to turn little boy lambs into “used to be” boy lambs (I wince and cross my legs when I think of this). You lose them when you break the sinker free or a fish takes your bait but they are pretty cheap to buy.

Surfcasting in Rough SeasPlacing small pieces of plastic tube on the wires makes for a better grip too!

BOS also make a light plastic breakout sinker that’s used in tandem with your normal wire grip sinker. They have their own wire grips and provide extra set of wires to hold the sinker in place. Their light weight means they don’t interfere with casting distance.

Because of the extra turbulence created on rough water days, I use shorter traces than normal. This helps prevent the trace from getting wound around the rig backbone or tangling with your sinker. Slightly smaller baits help in this respect too!

Last but certainly not least, the greatest care is needed when landing a fish. In the excitement of seeing a big fish in the wash, safety can sometimes be placed on the back burner.

Before you even cast a bait, you should take a few moments to just watch what is happening as the waves break on the beach. Ask yourself if you have any show at all of landing a decent fish through all that activity. Just maybe the water is trying to tell you something!


August - 2019 - Bruce Basher

New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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