A Complete Guide to Surf Fishing
- 13 Apr, 2017
As the name suggests surf fishing typically takes place on a beach most notably along southern coastlines. In many cases surf fishing provides the best of both worlds a million dollar view, sand between your toes, and a line in the water. For many anglers, surf fishing provides us with the opportunity to catch our own meal while saving money from the expenses associated with renting or owning a boat. If you love fishing and the beach then you’ve got to try surf fishing! Before you head to the beach remember these helpful pointers to improve your chances:
- Scout a location
- Target a species
- Have the right gear
1. Scout a location
Sure you can go throw out into the ocean, but are you in the right place? The first thing you should consider when deciding where to fish is whether or not the beach is known for good fishing. If you can’t find anything on the Internet your next best bet is to do some good old scouting. Go check out a few different locations and locate where the old timers are fishing. One of my best surf fishing spots I learned from an older fishermen one night while I was out walking the beach; think of it as a networking opportunity. If you’re not having any luck in the conversation department, observe what other fishermen are doing. Lets face it many of us go fishing to get away from all of the noise around our daily lives; so observing and listening might just be your best tool. Listen to the Dalai Lama’s advice: when you speak you only repeat what you already know, but when you listen you might just learn something new. The same goes for when you are scouting a fishing spot. Once you’ve located fishermen study their technique, rigs, bait, and how the water is moving. One of the biggest pieces of surf fishing knowledge is to understand the tides. There are high tides (when water levels rise) and low tides (when water levels decrease). When surf fishing I like to fish two hours before high tide and two hours after high tide. High tide is your best bet because this is when the fish come closer to shore to feed. There are also strengths of tides or variations in just how high the water will rise. During the scouting process it would be beneficial to grab a local tide chart to map out when the best time to go fishing is. Of course if you can fish all day on the beach then do it, but if you have limited time fish the high tide. Along with the tides look for breaks in the water as well as any kind of structure such as a down tree or guide marker. Fish may be held up on these structures for cover and or feeding off of the barnacles.
2. Target a species
So now you’ve got your tide chart and have found the perfect spot to surf fish, what’s next? When it comes to fishing the ocean there are many species and different
techniques for each. Try to hone in on one or two species that you think you have the best opportunity at catching. When you narrow your species, you also narrow a lot of other questions down when it comes to bait and gear. Do you want to go after a shark or a smaller fish like a pompano, sheepshead, or redfish? This will drastically alter your strategy and provide you a direction. I typically like to target two or maybe three species when I go; this gives you the chance to catch one species if the other isn’t biting and it makes it fun if you get sick of fishing a certain way.
3. Have the right gear
Now that you have your target species, lets think of the gear and tackle you will need to bring along to be successful. One of the biggest lessons I've learned the hard way is do NOT over pack! It is never any fun walking down the beach with a jumble of items that weigh you down. I’ve found a heavy-duty backpack works well; it allows you to store your lunch, tackle, bait, rods when broken down, and other essentials. Having a cart with sand wheels is also a nice way to go. Primary necessities to always have in your arsenal should include a good pair of pliers, ruler, a mat to lay down on the sand to keep reels free of debris, a stringer or cooler to keep fish fresh, polarized sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, rod holder, and of course bait with a working rod and reel. One of the most frustrating things that can happen to any angler is throwing out that first cast in the morning and having line come off your spool so fast you end up in a squirrels nest before daylight even hits. Whenever you spool up new line I would recommend going out in your yard with a piece of weight tied on and throw it a few times to make sure you’re able to cast well. The next big decision is your rod size.
Rod and Accessories
If you are throwing long distances come with a stiffer 12 to 15 foot rod, that you can put a pyramid sinker on and give a good toss. If you are throwing long distances make sure your sinker is digging into the sand and holding up where you want it. If you plan on letting your rod sit make sure you have the drag set light so the fish can take some line while you are getting up from catching a suntan; and always use a strong rod holder! I lost an entire rig one time because I didn’t use a proper rod holder and by the time I got to where my pole was the ocean had swallowed it up. In terms of a proper rod holder get something that you can drive into the sand well so it is secure. If you are throwing shorter casts at structure use a 7-foot rod with medium light action. This type of rod will give you added accuracy and allow you to feel the bite better. As far as line selection goes try to use a leader suitable to the fish you are after, for example heavier pound test will be required for bigger fish while you will be able to get away with lighter poundage for smaller fish. Monofilament and fluorocarbon are popular leader lines. I prefer fluorocarbon because of the lower visibility it provides, but it can be very challenging to throw so monofilament may be the way to go for longer casts.
Hook & Bait
When it comes to hooks I prefer a circle hook, for two main reasons. The first being it typically sets the perfect lip hook reducing the chances of the fish swallowing the hook, and secondly when a fish bites a circle hook it basically hooks itself meaning there is not a lot of jerking or setting the hook involved. A circle hook tipped with live bait is always a great option for surf fishing anglers. Preferably I like to always use live bait such as shrimp, sand fleas, or pilchards. Once you start getting hits and catching keeper fish it is important to be able to keep them fresh. A cooler full of ice works well but it is also heavy and cumbersome to carry with all of your other gear. A stringer is a great way to go, if you can bury a stake into the sand just a little offshore and string your fish as you catch them. The only thing to be weary of in this scenario is that it may and will attract sharks especially if you have a bleeding fish.
Here is a bull shark coming in to have a look at my stringer!
Last but not least, enjoy the experience! As all of us avid fishermen know a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at wok; add the beach to the fishing and you are in paradise. Surf fishing is the ticket to happiness so scout your next spot, target that species, and bring the right gear to be successful! Happy Fishing.
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