Rock fishing safety tips

Fishing off the rocks can be exciting, rewarding and action-packed. But it can also prove deadly. Follow these tips to stay safe on the rocks.

I fell in love with rock fishing many moons ago. It’s an exciting and active way to fish in beautiful surroundings.

But rock fishing also claims a number of lives each year. According to Surf Life Saving NSW statistics, more than 80 rock fishermen have lost their lives in NSW alone over the last decade.

Now I’m a cautious person by nature and have always been aware of the risks associated with rock fishing. Yet after around five years of rock fishing experience, I made an error of judgment that proved to be a painful wake up call. I was fishing on a rock ledge on a rising tide, when a large wave rolled over the ledge and took away my footing. I was pushed back and washed along the ledge for a few metres, shredding my hands and knees on barnacles as I struggled to grab hold. It could have been a lot worse – luckily I was washed backwards rather than being washed in.

Choose your location carefully and always keep an eye on the water.
Choose your location carefully and always keep an eye on the water.

My point is that the ocean is unpredictable, whether you are a novice or experienced rock fisherman. No fish is worth your life, so consider these common sense tips the next time you go for a fish off the rocks:

Check the forecast

We live in a digital world that makes it easy to check forecasts on tides and swell from the comfort of your armchair. Do this before you go fishing.

Tell someone

Let someone know where you are going fishing and when you plan to return.

Never fish alone

Always go rock fishing with a friend so someone is there to watch your back and help if something goes wrong.

Appropriate outfit

Wear light clothing because heavy material will make swimming difficult if you fall in. Consider wearing a personal flotation device as well (PFD) – there are PFDs available on the market that are comfortable to wear and won’t get in the way of your fishing. Wear shoes that grip the rocks and if you’re fishing on slippery, weed covered ledges, wear specialist rock fishing shoes with metal cleats or studs.

Watch before you fish

When you arrive at your rock fishing spot, take the time to observe conditions for 10 minutes. Waves will break in sets that vary in size so you need time to fully appreciate conditions. Taking time to observe the conditions will also allow you to plan escape routes so you know where to retreat in an emergency – you won’t have time to work that out on the spot.

Choose your spot

In my view, the most dangerous place to fish is where you are exposed side-on to the waves. Never stand in a place where a wave can knock you or drag you into the water. Getting knocked back onto the rock platform was a painful experience for me all those years ago, but I wasn’t at risk of being washed in.

Stay switched on

Stay alert on the rocks at all times. Watch the swell so you can spot an approaching wave ahead of time. Never turn your back on the water, particularly when landing fish or collecting bait.

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Float fishing for blackfish is my favourite form of rock fishing.