Rock fishing bait and tactics - The Ultimate Guide

Rock fishing bait and tactics - The Ultimate Guide

Written by Graham Wadelin, this is an in-depth review of the methods he uses to reliably have very productive fishing sessions while on holiday, rock fishing with the Rigged and Ready S Max. First, take a look at this excellent diagram showing simply a very effective rig you can use when you're sea fishing. it's tried and tested in places like Fuerteventura and Madeira, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work anywhere. Including the UK!

Tackle and setup

The main line used is double strength mono of around 12kg breaking strain and 7.5 kg for the terminal tackle. While these strengths may seem extreme, the lines take a battering from the rocks and barnacles and are prone to failure, often well below their nominal breaking strains. In any event, the thickness of the line appears to have little effect on catch rates.  While 12kg main line is certainly not essential, it does provide the option to try for larger species with the SMax’s stronger tip, should the opportunity arise. 

The terminal tackle is the main difference with this style of float fishing. The float is 43g self-cocking variety called Sea Monster, a good all rounder weight, which can be purchased online.  The plug in the top of the float is pushed down till tight and then sliced off to minimise casting tangles. A fiberglass rod is used to remove the float plug and has a split in the narrow end to make line threading easy.


The next requirement is a plastic ‘fork’ like those produced by Shanghai Sanxin Fishing Tackle Company, although currently out of production. These forks could also be made at home, using very stiff nylon. Whether homemade or purchased, I recommend a drop of super glue on the red binding by each loop, to ensure the binding doesn’t come loose over time. As the swivel on the fork is not essential, it is personal preference whether it remains or is removed. If you can’t find or make a nylon fork swivel, a three way swivel will suffice. 

Two strands of nylon are attached to the fork, with a length you can comfortably manage. With the S Max, I use nylon lengths off-set at about 10ft and 10.5ft. The favoured all round hook size is the No.4 baitholder (freshwater) tied to each nylon strand with Palomar knots, a simple and strong knot used throughout the rig. The fork with its lines is wound onto an EVA rig winder, starting with the fork and securing with the hooks. Make up a number of these rigs, mainly with No.4 hooks and a couple of boxes full of loaded EVA rig winders should last the whole holiday.

The idea behind the rig is that once connected to the float and cast out the usual bait of prawn, chicken or squid sinks slowly without weight, attracting fish feeding at all levels, from close to the surface to deep down. When casting out try to feather the cast, so the baits are ahead of the float when the rig enters the water, which is not easy without weight on the lines.  

It takes time to become adept at handling this two hook rig. When reaching out to the hooks for rebaiting the float will often wrap round the rod, so make sure you clear it before recasting or you will end up in a mighty tangle. Should you get into a tangle don’t waste precious time trying to sort it out, just cut-off and select a new rig from your box of EVA winders. Try to keep the hooks off the floor when rebaiting as they will lodge in crevices or get caught up in your shoe laces (slip-ons recommended).   

If you find using two hooks too difficult to master don’t hesitate to reduce to one, like some of my fishing friends. However, once proficient with two hooks it will definitely improve catch rates and, occasionally, you will experience a ‘happy hour’ with a good fish on each hook!

Bait and preperation

All bait and tackle should be prepared in advance, don’t waste time doing this at the water’s edge, particularly when you have freely feeding fish in front of you!

Prawns (gambas)

The most effective bait by far is prawn. Spar shops sell 2kg boxes of frozen raw (crudo) langoustines while Mercadona has loose large frozen raw prawns. Value for money I wouldn’t advise buying anything smaller than the large prawns because of the amount of wastage during peeling. Approximately, ¾ kg of prawns will be required for a 2/3 hour session.  Once peeled, cut the large prawns and langoustines into 4 or 5 pieces, respectively. A piece should fit nicely onto a No.4 hook. Chop up the prawn heads and together with the peelings place in a sealed bag, to be added to the ground bait later.

Don’t use cooked as this will make it even easier to remove from the hook. Counterintuitively, pieces of prawn will stay on the hook longer if they are slightly crushed between the fingers prior to impaling. Treated this way, retrieved hooks will often have bits of prawn still attached.

Chicken breast (pollo)

While some people are put off using raw chicken breast, due to salmonella concern, it is good bait taken by most fish. However, it is recommended you keep hands away from the mouth and use antibacterial wipes after handling, as gloves are impractical.

Purchase a pack of small chicken breasts. You will require only one breast for a session and it should be cut up into approx ¾” cubes.

Squid (calamari)

Look in the frozen foods section in the supermarket for a small packet of prepared squid. Cut the bodies of three or four into 2” x 1” strips that can be threaded onto the hook. The tentacles can be cut up and presented like maggots or threaded on like worms.

Stiff bread paste (pan)

While prawn is the best bait and chicken or squid offer options, bread is a good ‘go-to’ bait when all else fails or under certain circumstances that will be discussed later. Bread pressed onto the hook will only stay on for seconds before being nibbled off by small fish. What is required is a very stiff paste that can’t be easily removed from the hook. Take one small sliced loaf of white bread that has been decrusted and lightly wet one slice. Slowly fold all the remaining loaf into this wet slice, to provide the necessary stiffness.  Don’t be tempted to add more water or the paste will become sticky and too soft. Once satisfied with the paste, split into a couple of balls and placed into a sealable sandwich bag.

Ground bait

Don’t go rock fishing without ground bait. With such short sessions you need to get the fish in a feeding mood as quickly as possible. You will need to buy some sort of bucket, and a 25L flexible laundry tub with handles is ideal. These can be purchased in the local Chinese bazaar cheaply, while brittle plastic buckets might not last a week on the rocks.   

You will require 4/5 family size sliced loaves of white bread. Lookout for the supermarket essentials loaves or lose leaders, as these are significantly cheaper. Don’t attempt to make up the ground bait in your hotel or apartment and carry it to your chosen spot. 5 loaves of mashed up ground bait is particularly heavy but, with prawn heads and peelings mixed in, the consequence of spillage inside a hire car are dire.


This is a good time to introduce some additional pieces of equipment, also useful for rock fishing. They are not essential but do make life easier and can also assist with tactics. The photograph shows an 8 section 3m telescopic handle with 26” folding spoon net, a baiting spoon with 35cm handle and polarised sunglasses.

When rock fishing you’re often perched a few metres above the water that means hooked fish have to be lifted. There will be times when you don’t want to risk lifting a good fish and long reach net is particularly useful on such occasions. It also offers a further advantage that if you can’t get to the water’s edge and there is no other source of water around, like rock pools, then the net can be filled with half a loaf at a time and the bread dunked in the sea. However, when lifting the net pull it vertically upwards or the fibreglass handle will snap.

Mash up the bread with the prawn heads and peelings and use the baiting spoon to throw the ground bait out in front of you, as far as possible. The polariod glasses will allow you to see far down into the water, observe feeding fish and the species present.  The glasses will also prevent a bad headache, caused by the sun’s glare reflected off rippling water.

When selecting the ideal fishing location it is most comfortable to be as close to the water’s edge as possible but remembering safety at all times. A shear rock face is best, with a good depth of water close in.   If there is wind, try to select a position that puts it to your back. If this is not possible then any direction other than a headwind is preferable, otherwise the ground bait will end up beneath your feet.

Before starting to fish, throw out three generous scoops of ground bait, as far as possible from the rock face, and then feed in helpings periodically.  The mashed bread will sink immediately and the remaining crust will start to float away, hopefully out to sea.  With polarised glasses you will see small fish coming from all directions to intercept sinking bread and eventually they will form a large black cloud in the water. Amongst these fish will be larger species like galana, sargo and salema that will also take any remaining crust on the surface that has not dispersed.  In doing so, these fish will cause a small splash on the surface, indicative of their presence.

As time goes by, it is likely mullet (lisa) will also be attracted by the ground bait and there could be one or two very large specimens amongst them. Whether mullet are small or large they suck in the crust from the surface with little disturbance of the water, just like carp. While the mullet appear to be avidly feeding on the crust they are extremely wary and, in very quick time, a hooked piece of crust will be the only food left visible on the surface.  For this reason and the limited time available, I ignore mullet and target other species.

Start fishing with crushed prawn on the hooks. Cast the float beyond where the ground bait entered the water, feathering the line so the baits land beyond the float. Reel in so the float is roughly in the centre of the disturbance caused by the groundbait.  It should not be long before the float is twitching or bobbing but ignore this movement; the bites desired are those when the float suddenly and completely disappears.

If, after a time, all movement of the float ceases then the bait has gone and a recast is required.   Should no movement of the float be detected a short time after casting in, it is also likely the hooks are bare.  These small fish are masters of removing bait from the hook, without registering on the float, much like crucian carp. However, don’t consider making your rig more sensitive, as these are not the bites you wish to be striking at.

Keep an eye on the crusts that are floating away and, hopefully, they will be seen taken at distance. If these takes are accompanied by large splashes and surface disturbance then you can be confident the fish involved are palometa, a large surface feeding fish. These predators hit the crust hard, as if it were a living fish, giving their presence away.  A bonus is that the demolished crust leaves particles in the water for sea bream and other good sized fish that will start feeding amongst the palometa. By continually throwing in a small stream of ground bait the palometa should start to follow the bait trail towards its source, bring the fish within easier casting range. If this happens the target should be switch to the palometa and the fish feeding amongst them.

Increase the bait size if necessary and alternate between prawn, chicken and squid. Cast your float beyond the surface feeders and quickly reel in, pulling the baits into the centre of the activity. Be ready, palometa bites can occur as soon as the bait hits the water or before it has a chance to sink any distance.  These bites are easily recognisable, as the float does not go down deep but shoots away just beneath the surface of the water. The fight with the fish will be played out on or near the surface. The float being pulled at speed just beneath the surface makes it an attractive proposition for barracuda, as can be seen in the photograph. For bite recognition purposes sargo, galana, salema and other sizeable fish pull the float smoothly and rapidly to the depths, while boga give jerky bites that pull the float sideways.

On days when you can’t keep fish or meat baits on the hook due to small fish, this is when stiff bread paste comes into its own. Cover the hooks in balls of paste about ¾” in diameter that will descend quickly, unlike the other baits that sink slowly and attract more attention at the different feeding levels. The idea is that the paste will remain on the hook for long enough that a large fish will find it. In these circumstances there will be no warning movement on the float; it will suddenly just disappear. When rebaiting the hooks you will notice that the surface of any residual paste is like a golf ball from the nibbles of small fish. As the light fades the small fish start to disappear for the night, allowing you to switch back to the preferred baits and fishing closer in. This often results in a bonus fish or two, at the end of what might otherwise have been a frustrating session.

Lead shot may be necessary when strong winds bow the line from the rod to the float. This action drags the float, bringing lighter baits to the surface. It can be countered by a BB shot placed a couple of feet from each hook. Alternatively, bread paste can be used for weight but the preference would be to relocate, if at all possible. The only other time lead might be required is when the target fish is vieja (parrot fish) as it’s necessary to fish close to the rock face. Fish and meat baits will receive immediate attention from the many small fish species living in this location, so rapidly descending weighted baits will be less noticeable.  Locals avoid all fish except the vieja by the using dried, salted, whole crab as bait.

Having concentrated on sea bream and palometa there are other species that come along regularly such as gar, another surface feeding fish that can be caught employing palometa tactics. Mackerel, sardine, dorada, pargo, amberjack, trigger fish, moray eel, etc can also been caught with the same rig, bait and tactics described for sea bream.     

As there are limited opportunities to fish on family holidays we will sometimes have to make the most of unfavourable conditions, while keeping safety in mind.  Conditions maybe unpleasant but it doesn’t mean the fish aren’t feeding or can’t be caught.  Heavy rain carries food from the land to the sea and stormy conditions loosen food from the rocks.  Predatory fish are strong swimmers and are also on the prowl when seas are rough and foamy, using the conditions to lay ambush.  I have caught one of my best palometa on a large piece of squid, with nothing but crashing waves and white water in front of me.