Rock Fishing Tips – Catching and Using Live baits

There’s no doubt that there’s some fantastic fishing to be had from our rocky coastlines. Whether you’re working out how to catch land based kingfish, tuna, mackerel, trevally and a host of tropical species as you travel further north; the options are wide-ranging and exhilarating.

Advancements in tackle technology have set a trend for throwing lures off the rocks. A simple live bait rig, however, remains as one of the most successful ways to connect to big fish cruising by.

Catching live baits requires carrying a bit of extra gear and a bit of patience, but it’s worth the effort.

Gear for Livies

From the ocean rocks, popular live baits include yakkas (yellowtail scad), slimy mackerel, garfish and long-finned pike. Larger fish like tailor and bonito can also be used.

To catch yakkas, slimies and garfish it’s easy enough to use a pre-rigged bait jig with hook sizes of 10 or 12. Use a sinker at the bottom and a suitable float at the top of the jig, and allow wave action to work it. A rod of 9-10ft is best as it allows casting without getting the jig tangled up.

If garfish are swallowing the hooks they might die and if that’s the case it’s best to switch to a single long-shank hook under a bubble float, baited with a small piece of bread moulded over the hook.

Pike, tailor and bonito can be caught with a variety of small lures cast around the rocks on suitable gear.

Try not to handle the baits too much when getting them off the hook – so as to keep them healthy. If you can get the hook out without touching them at all, that’s best.

A sturdy bucket and length of rope is essential. You’ll need it to gather water to keep the fish in.

Some rock platforms have natural rock pools that baits can be stored in. If this is the case, it’s a simple matter to top it up with fresh water before starting.

Where there aren’t rock pools, a kids padding pool is a simple, lightweight alternative. Get that set up and full of water and you’re good to go.

In either case, remember to keep flushing out with fresh water during the session to keep the baits oxygenated.

A small scoop net is another handy item for getting the fish back out of the storage pool. The net reduces handling which might injure the baits and cause them to die.

Berley is Key

Quite often you’ll find baitfish at your fishing location on arrival, but that isn’t always the case.

Using berley to draw bait in and get them worked into a feeding frenzy makes them much easier to catch. In addition to this, it holds them around your location –in turn attracting the predators to you.

The bucket comes in handy again here. A simple berley is a mix of old bread and some water is enough. Mush it up to help it sink so birds won’t get it. Stirring a bit of sand into the mix also helps, breaking up the bread more, weighing it down and dispersing scent through the water.

When you start berleying, throw out a few good handfuls to get some food in the water, then slow down to keep fish close but not fill them up. If possible, have enough to keep this up periodically throughout the entire session – that’ll help keep the bait in your area as long as you’re fishing.

When to Catch Them

Catching live baits is the first task for the rock fisher. They’re easiest caught before the sun gets too high, so have everything ready to set up quickly once you get to the platform. This will make the most of the prime time – before until shortly after sunrise.


Once there are a few livies swimming strongly in a pool next to you, it’s time to send one out after the big fish. A well-presented live bait rig will soon draw interest.

A suitably sized float is the best way to keep track of the bait to ensure it’s not tangling line up among rocks or the bottom. For the smaller species, a cigar float is best because it lies flat on the water surface and is streamlined. This allows the bait to swim out, away from the rocks, without the float being pushed around by wind or waves and exhausting the fish.

Large tailor and bonito require bigger floats and a balloon is commonly put to use for these.

Using the right sized hook for the bait is important, as is putting the hook in the right place. You want to use the smallest hook that you can for the baitfish, with regards to the target you’re after. Sizes from 3/0 to 10/0 will cover all bases.

For most baits, lightly pinning the hook through the ‘shoulder’ region is best. For garfish, a hook behind the anal fin on the underside of the fish does the trick. Don’t damage the spine of lateral line as this’ll quickly kill the bait.  

Live bait for Success

Watching an energetic live bait swim out from your rock platform is one of the most exciting ways to fish. Sooner or later something is likely to grab it, and you never really know what that’s going to be. For kingfish, tuna, Spanish mackerel, cobia an even marlin; it’s a time-proven technique.

Most often, catching the bait is the hardest work for the session, so getting the hang of it will put you in good stead to hooking and landing a real bucket list fish.