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Saltwater Fishing 101 - All You Need To Know

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When you think of Saltwater fishing, images of speeding fishing boat, amazingly blue waters, diving seagulls and big fish get conjured in your mind. Well, all that is true, as the oceans around the world offer a huge collection of species to be targeted and a deep sea adventure will give an adrenaline rush like never before.

From small coral fish to huge monsters, saltwater fishing/angling in the seas can be very exciting and adventurous and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. First-time anglers should definitely stay away from it. One should have some practice from the inland and shore-based angling before deciding to head out on a boat for some deep-sea adventure. Always remember to start angling under experienced anglers and boat captains.

A variety of techniques and equipment are used to target different species. We will do a quick overview of the most popular types of saltwater fishing techniques which should help you get started.

Spinning (from the Rocks or boat or Jetty )

Spinning from the rocks
Spinning from the rocks ( Image Source )

To master this saltwater fishing technique, all you need here is a spinning rod and spinning reel. A plastic lure is cast out in the sea from a rocky area on the shore or towards some rocks from a boat and then retrieved slowly back. The lure will mimic an action of a fish when being retrieved and will attract predators. The lure type should be decided to target different species at different depths.

different types of lures
Different lures to target different fish at different depth ( Image Source )

You will need the following equipment for spinning – a Spinning rod which is preferably 7ft to 9ft in length as longer rods would, in turn, mean greater casting distance. The Spinning reel with 8 to 12 kg drag and spool size for 200 to 300 yards of 30 to 50lb test braid line. A fluorocarbon leader of 5-6 feet tied to the braid line to provide protection when brushing against rocks.

Terminal tackle can be a snap or clip tied to the end of the leader for easy lure changing. To attract the fish, plastic lures of different sizes with varied lip sizes for reaching different depths having good quality split rings and treble hooks, are required.

A simple thing to remember in saltwater fishing is that small lures mean small catch and vice versa and lures with bigger lip mean greater depth! Do keep in mind that there are more small fish than big fish in the sea so plan your equipment and fishing accordingly.

Target Fish
Mangrove Jacks, Snappers, Groupers, Barramundi (Sea Bass), Striped Bass, Rock cods, Barracudas, Drums, Sheepheads, Seatrouts etc.

Bait fishing (Live or Dead)

Bait Fishing
Properly hooking a live or dead bait is essential to catching a big fish ( Image Source )

Baits are typically smaller fish which are part of the regular diet of the predatory species of that area that are used to lure the bigger ones. Some popular dead baits are – mackerel, sardines, and squids. The hook at the end of the line is passed through a chunk of bait and cast out in the water with the help of weights attached 1-2 feet behind the hook.

In this type of saltwater fishing technique, the angler should lightly hold the line in his fingers and wait till he can feel the nibble of a fish. You need to wait a few more seconds for the fish to take the bait fully in its mouth and then strike hard to set the hook and let the fight begin. The smell of the bait in the water will attract the predators to it.

A variation of this technique is with live baits, and this seems to be more effective as they attract predators faster. The baitfish will appear like a wounded fish struggling to swim and presents an irresistible opportunity for predators lurking around.

The challenge here is to catch a live baitfish and hook it from the mouth and release it back into the water before it dies. Live bait can also be caught in numbers and put in containers with water to keep them alive for a longer time.

A rod-reel setup can be replaced by a handline rigged with weight and bait, cast 5 to 20 meters from the shore by twirling the weight around and releasing it in the desired direction for the momentum to carry it to the required point. This requires some practice before one can land the bait accurately in the desired area.

Bait fishing rigs
Learning various types of bait rigs is essential ( Image Source )

You will need normal spinning rods (7 feet to 9 feet long) and spinning reels in the 4000 to 8000 series range with 300 yards spool size to hold 30-50lb test braid line, that can be rigged with live or dead baits. Handline can also be used which are 50 to 100 lb test mono line. Terminal tackle can be weights half ounces to 2 ounces and hooks size #2 to 2/0 (bigger hooks need bigger bait presentation targeting bigger sized fish)

Target Fish
Groupers, Rock cods, Sting Rays, Barramundi, Travellys, Snappers, Jacks, Seatrouts, Skates, Sharks etc.

Surf Fishing

Surf Fishing
Surf fishing ( Source )

Surf fishing as the name suggests happens from a beach. Wade into waist or thigh deep water and use long rods called Surf rods to achieve maximum casting distance. Dead Bait rigs are made with special weights and are cast 150-200 yards to reach beyond the point where the waves start forming on a beach.

The weights should be in the range 3-5 ounces and with spikes or pyramid shape for it to stay in one place and not be rolled over by the waves. After casting, walk back to the dry area of the beach and place the rod inside a sand spike and wait for the fish bite.

Surf Fishing Rig
Basic Surf Fishing Rig ( Image Source)

You will require Surf Rods which are 10 to 14 feet long, surf reels with 12-25kg drag and 300-500 yards spool to hold braid line of 30-50 lb test. The line should end with a Fluorocarbon shock leader of 80 lb test to withstand the force of casting. Good quality terminal tackle like swivels, pulley snaps, and hooks 3/0 to 8/0 size are required to make the bait rigs.

Target Fish
Bottom feeders like Sting ray, Guitar fish, Bream, small sharks, Sea bass (barramundi), Threadfin Salmon


Popping with Poppers
A Giant Trevally caught using a Popper (Image Source)

Popping is a popular saltwater fishing technique for catching Giant Trevally, popularly called as GT, a species famous for its big fights. This technique uses an artificial lure called popper. Poppers are made of wood in a variety of weight and size. The mouth of the lure is shaped like a cup so as to provide resistance while retrieving.

The technique involves casting these heavy poppers out in the sea and then retrieving it with long fast retrieves so that the mouth of the popper creates a loud pop while spraying water in the front. The loud popping and spraying commotion attracts the big fish in the deep and they come up to either attack it for intrusion in their territory or to eat it.

A variation in this technique also uses Stick Baits instead of poppers. The stick baits are reeled in fast just under the surface of the water and their side movements attract a hungry predatory, looking for some escaping bait fish.

Casting a Popper
Casting the heavy Popper from a boat ( Image Source )
Popping technique
The Pop and the Spray in Popping is crucial for attracting GTs ( Image Source )

You will need Popping Rods which are 7.6 to 8.4 feet long; Spinning reel with a high gear ratio for faster retrieval and high drag – 12 to 20 kg and spool size to hold 300 yards of 65 to 80lb test braid line. A fluorocarbon shock leader 150-200lb test is required at the end of the braid line to ensure casting the heavy Poppers (120 to 180 gms in weight and 160 to 200 mm in length), without breaking the line.

Terminal tackle required is heavy duty split rings, swivel to attach the leader to the poppers and super strong hooks – treble or singles.

Target Fish
Giant Trevally. Other possible catches include more varieties in the Trevally family (Bluefin, Yellowfin, Gold Spotted, Diamond), Dogtooth tunas, Sharks, Yellow Fin Tunas, Red Bass, Coral Trouts and even big Groupers.

Jigging: Micro Jigging, Vertical Jigging, Bottom Jigging

Deep sea Fishing with Jigs
A Wahoo caught with jigging ( Image Source )

Fish shaped lures made of metal are dropped straight down (and not cast) from the side of a boat or jetty in 10 to 100 meters of water. The objective of this saltwater fishing technique is to reach to the bottom and then bring up the lure in a jigging motion, mimicking a wounded baitfish trying to surface. This presentation is attractive to any predators, small or big.

Micro-jigging uses a light setup with a focus to catch a variety of small fish in depths of 10 to 20 meters. Metal lures weighing 7 gms to 50 gms are typically used on a 10-30lb test line.

Vertical jigging is for depths 40 to 100 meters and where there is high current. In this technique, Heavier jigs 150 gms to 300 gms are attached to 50-65 lbs test braid line which can reach the bottom faster without getting carried by the current. Once the jig hits the bottom, it is brought up nearly all the way to the surface in a high-speed jigging action. This attracts big predators that follow and attack it.

Bottom jigging is a variation where the jig is brought up just 5-6 meters from the seabed before being dropped again.

Different Jigging techniques
Jigging Techniques ( Image Source )

You will need Jigging Rods 5-6 feet in length, spinning or overhead reels with slower gear ratio, braid lines 30 to 50 lb test and fluorocarbon leaders – 60lb to 150 lb test. Light or heavy-duty terminal tackle will be required as per jigging type micro or vertical – split rings and assist hooks on solid rings.

Target Fish
Micro/Bottom jigging can be used to catch reef/coral fish like different species of grouper, cods, warsse etc. Vertical jigging is for catching big fish like Tunas (Dog-tooth and Yellow fin), Trevally family and big groupers.


Deep sea trolling
Equipment used for Trolling ( Image Source )

This is a popular saltwater fishing technique for catching some of the biggest game fish in the ocean like Marlins. Short heavy trolling rods with big overhead reels are used with lines cast out 50-100 meters behind a moving boat. Single or multiple rod setups can be cast out with either live or dead full-size baitfish or even big artificial skirts mimicking squids.

The boat makes rounds of large areas in the sea, where the big fish are found, maintaining speeds between 3knots to 10 knots depending on the fish being targeted. Bigger fish like Marlins and Sailfish require higher speeds. The noise of the boat attracts the big fish and on seeing the bait swimming behind the boat, they chase and bite it thinking it to be live.

A successful hook-up with a big fish, which can weigh anywhere from 100 to 1000 kg, starts the long fight which can sometimes last a few hours.

Trolling technique
Trolling Fishing Spread ( Source )

You will need Fishing Rods and reels specially designed for trolling, along with Braid line 100 pounds with fluorocarbon leader 200-400 pounds, and terminal tackle like – heavy swivels, split rings, size 8/0 to 12/0 hooks.

For bait, freshly caught bait fish like bonitos, small tunas and mackerel can be used, or artificial lures like big squid skirts attached to teasers.

Target Fish
Marlin (Blue, black, striped), Sail Fish, Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Tunas (Yellow Fin, Dog-Tooth) and Sharks.

Quick Tips

  • It's best to start from shore-based techniques like spinning, bait fishing, and surf fishing. Even popping and jigging can be tried from the shore/jetty. Once you have mastered these from the shore, only then venture out in a boat.
  • Finding a local charter service and talking to the boat captain will also give you an understanding what is possible in your area. Usually, good boat captains assess your fishing capabilities and experience before suggesting what is right for you.
  • Some of these techniques like popping and vertical jigging require you to be in peak physical condition as casting and retrieving heavy poppers, stick baits and jigs continuously for hours require both strength and stamina, not to mention the fight after hooking an angry monster fish will test your back, arms and willpower.
  • Do note that, as you target bigger fish the sport becomes more and more expensive, so keep your budget in mind for these techniques.

Well, now you know the basics, so go ahead and try one of the techniques. If you already follow any specific saltwater fishing style, please comment below and do mention why is it your favorite.

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