The Paternoster Rig – How to get the best out of using it

Two of my favourite things while fishing off the off the beach are beach worms and the paternoster rig. Learn how to do both & beach fishing will be much easier and less tangles
Gary Brown
Many years ago as a teenager I would often hear Rex Hunt say that a bloke by the name of Ernie Paternoster invented this rig. Well I don’t know who came up with the idea and really who cares. This rig is used just about everywhere from the estuaries, to the beach, off the rocks, freshwater and out to sea. I have found that its main claims to fame are that it can be an easy rig to make up and it is designed not to get snagged as much when drifting over rough terrain.

Over the years I have seen so many different versions of this rig that you could nearly write a book on it. One that I have seen used has one swivel, two three way swivels, two hooks and a sinker. This would mean you would have to tie ten knots. What I prefer to do is keep this rig nice and simple. So simple that I will only have to tie four knots and make three loops.

For a number of years I lived and worked down the south coast at a place called Gerroa and it is here my dad, uncle and some of their mates started the Gerroa Boat Fishermans Club. A club that I was the first junior member of, and every month the club would hold a comp over the weekend. Many of us that fished in these comps would have to brave to beach launching to get to the flathead grounds and the reefs that would hold snapper, morwong, trevally, jewfish and many other fish species. It was during these comps that I learnt how to modify the bottom bouncing rig or paternoster rig to suit my needs.

My first outfit was a ten inch Alvey reel mounted onto what I use to call a broom stick. The breaking strain of the line was around 25 to 30 kilos. It was just a matter of lining up the two pine trees over Ned’s Hill and Black Head over the tower at Cleary’s farm (no depth sounders or GPS back then), let the rig go to the bottom and then wait for something to grab hold of the bait.

Snapper of this quality can be caught while using the paternoster rig offshore
Gary Brown

Now days I will still use the paternoster rig offshore, but I will also use it off the beach and rocks and also in estuaries and bays to chase bream, whiting, flathead, flounder, luderick, snapper, trevally and leatherjackets.

Three examples of the paternoster rig. This diagram was use in How to catch Australia's Saltwater fish by the author
Gary Brown

To help you out I will give you a couple of examples of where and how I use the paternoster rig.

Morwong are a common fish species that are caught by the offshore bottom bouncers using the paternoster rig
Gary Brown

Example 1: When chasing leatherjackets in the estuaries the main thing I found when using this rig is that you need to keep the overall length of the rig to about half the length of the rod you are using and that the distance that the hook (number 8 to 12 long shanked hook) is away from the main line is no more than 12cm. Having it short will allow you to feel the bites much more easily and if I am fishing offshore and targeting chinaman, six spine and reef leatherjackets I will still only use a paternoster rig of the same length, but my hook size will vary from No 1 to 3/0 long shanks.

One of Scotty Lyons happy customer with a pig fish caught while bottom bouncing off Coogee
Gary Brown

When I am anchored up and targeting leatherjackets in either fast or slow running water I will use berley to attract them too directly under the boat. To do this I will cut up pilchards, squid, prawn heads and shells into very small pieces. I will then mix this up with damp sand and make them into a ball (somewhere between a golf and tennis ball). If the tide is slow I will just drop them at the front of the boat, but if the tide is moving fast I will throw the ball about 3 metres in front of the anchored boat. This will allow the berley to get to the bottom underneath your boat and to where your rig will be.

Leatherjackets will eat just about everything, even one of their own kind. I was fishing with a group of mates off Sydney chasing a feed of chinaman leatherjackets and to the amazement of a couple of my mates I cut the head off one of the leatherjackets and dropped it over the side of the boat. As they watched it sink into the water a swam of other chinaman leatherjacket came out of nowhere and ate every part of the head. Including the bones.
When targeting leatherjackets in the estuaries you could try using pieces of prawns, squid, pilchards, octopus legs, yellowtail, tailor, tuna, chopped up leftover pink nippers, pipis, mussels, cunje, mackerel and tube, beach and squirt worms. Off shore it doesn’t seem to matter what you put on for bait, but it does have to be tough enough to stay on the hook. So the next time that you have some fillets of bait left over try salting it down for next time.
Example 2.

This golden trevally was caught while using a paternoster rig while fishing off Snake Island near Townsville
Gary Brown

When chasing whiting, bream, dart and trevally off the beach I prefer to use the paternoster rig over the running sinker down onto a swivel with a long leader to the hook. The main reasons behind this that I tend to get no list twist and I can use two baits at the same time.

I have also found that if you keep your rod tip up at about seventy degrees to the waters surface while waiting for the bite it will keep the top bait off the bottom giving you a good chance of catching a tailor or a salmon.

Example 1 of the paternoster rig
Gary Brown