Matching the hatch is a consistently important fishing fundamental. Whether fishing with fresh bait, lures or flies, you’ll almost always enjoy more success if your bait or imitation mimics a local food source.
Which brings me to my favourite beach-fishing bait: fresh nippers. It’s no secret these are a dynamite land-based bait in our estuaries and along sandflats, but over the past few years my family and I have been using them almost exclusively on our beach-fishing sojourns. I’m not talking about waveless, shallow bays and inlets, either. Our beach spots generally feature standard long stretches of white sand, crunching shore-breaks and deep green gutters.
Once upon a time we would spend hours almost spraining our ankles in search of pipis, basically breaking our backs bending over for beach worms and sending ourselves broke lobbing fresh WA pilchards beyond the breakers. All work well, and match the food sources of our favourite beach targets like bream, dart, luderick, flathead, tailor, salmon and whiting very well, but nippers have blown both of these baits away lately in terms of effectiveness from the beach and the stones.
The nipper ground we source our beach bait from is a good hour away from the nearest beach/rock spot, and the beach couldn’t be further removed from the type of environment nippers are able to survive in, but the fish go nuts for them.
I find nippers easier to gather than both of the standard fresh surf baits, too. Once you’ve mastered the art of pumping nippers, with the aid of a companion you can gather enough baits for a long session in less than half an hour... and believe me, you will need a few nippers!
There are drawbacks to nipper fishing off the beach, but these are countered with a bit of careful consideration. Unlike beach worms, which are relatively tough and surf-friendly, nippers are frail and not suited to being battered and nibbled in the surf – part of the reason they don’t live there!
We naturally love lobbing a bait directly into a bit of churning wash, which is where the nippers will cop the greatest battering.
You must be as quick as lightning on the strike. Nippers on the beach are a one bite, one bait affair. The tiniest nibble will remove the bait, especially if it’s been soaked a while. Keeping in contact with your bait – whether fishing sidecast or spin – and smartly pinning fish in often tough circumstances are therefore crucial.
Rigging it up
The long casts required are often enough to dislodge the nipper before the fish have even had a chance to. The half-hitch around the tail of the nipper and the eye of the long-shank hook becomes even more crucial because of the bait’s frailty.
Keeping the weight of your rig to a minimum is important. I run a small ball sinker to a brass swivel with about 40cm of monofilament running from the swivel to a 2/0 long-shank hook. The bait is threaded through the tail as per normal, with the hook point exiting through the body so the bait lies straight, as normal. Wrap the half hitch and cast away. Be ready!
Getting nippers from locations often far away from your local surf beach can take some doing, but it is worth the effort. You will need to time your trips to coincide with nipper-gathering tides, and be able to keep the bait alive while waiting for the right time to hit the surf. The guarantee is that you will get more strikes than you ever thought possible – even in comparison with locally gathered beach baits.