Surf Fishing is Great Springtime Fun
Fishing from shore is cheap and effective.
A lot of our readers spend their entire lives nowhere near the beach, and may never spend a day getting so burned by the sun's harsh rays that locals can almost tell what state you're from by the smell of the meat searing. And they've never spent an hour or a weekend doing something that is very special in the world of angling: Surf Fishing! If you're new to surf fishing, or are thinking about it, you're in the right place. Certain times of the year – particularly in the springtime and early summer – catching fish surf fishing is unique, productive, and more fun than you might ever think until you do it.
It's literally hard to imagine a life growing up in the city. A life without trees; a life without that strange wind you feel – that gentle thing pushing on your skin – when you're in open places. Or the feel of the salt in the air at dawn, when there's no wind, no movement, nothing but that smell and the pressure you feel on your skin from the water in the air. Tiny drops touching the pores. And fish. Fishing in the surf for bluefish and striped bass at the tender age of 10. Or camping with a guy who cared about you. Being told what not to do and when not to do it. Outside. Surf fishing is like that in a lot of ways. Very primal. Very special.
The first and coolest thing about surf fishing – besides the proven fact that you can target, find, and catch as many species, and big versions of those species – is the fact that you can drive there, park a car, and roll, carry, or drag everything you will need for an hour or a week to the edge of the water. It's shore-fishing on steroids. Bridges are cool, and sea walls have their place on our FishySpot fishing maps, but surf fishing is the ultimate in fishing from the shoreline.
Exactly where you choose to stand on the shore is, of course, important. Fish still like structure, and a long strip of clean white sand might look like it is a bee's line from one place to another, but what the eye does not see from above, the fish sees – and feels – from their place in the water column. So there's structure to be found right there where you can't see it.
The first structure is the trough. There is always, always, always a ditch running along the sand you're walking on. It's called "The Long Current".
This long-current drawing shows you that there is always tidal current running what appears to you to be "sideways" on the beach where you're standing. The tide causes the level of the water to "rise" towards your feet or away from the blanket, but it's also running sideways. That movement cause a trough to be cut the same shape as the beach. It's in that trough most of the fish are. Remember, though, that ridges are structure too, and second and even third troughs can run alongside that same beach further away. Conditions call for long casting, so a 10' rod is not at all unusual among avid fans.
The Long Current is always running north, south, east, or west alongside a beach or coast, depending on the direction the beach runs. When the tide's coming in, it isn't only rising along the waterline you see; it's moving from right to left or vice-versa. Knowing that this Long Current cuts a trough along the beach regardless of where you are in the world will teach you that the fish are moving along the beach – and casting as far as you can is not necessarily where you want to cast. Cast alongside the beach in the shape of a fan so your first casts are landing where you're going to be walking, but only a few feet from the splash. The trough is just on the outside of the longest waves the surf produces on a normal – not a stormy – day.
Reading the Water: Invisible Structure is Often Visible on the Surface
Watch the surface of the water. Where there is structure – whether an old refrigerator from 1930 or a ridge of hard limestone (common), it will show itself in the 'shape' of the surface. Watch the wind, and watch the water. The wind does one thing to the surface of the water – bottom structure does a completely different thing. If you're local, go walk the beaches of Indian Rocks. There is bottom structure there going out 300 yards or more. And it shows. The surface of the beach water in certain places looks absolutely flat while water around it tears and wiggles. Think of a stream with rushing water. Where boulders are on the bottom, they force the moving water up and around them. That underwater structure activity happens here just like it does on streams in North Carolina. The water moving is effected by the structure, and the water changes shape on the surface.
What you Need for Surf Fishing Gear
Fishing is Fishing is Fishing, but each kind of fishing – from using a cane pole and a piece of bread dough to catch panfish on a golf course pond to catching tuna using kites near the Gulf of Mexico's oil platforms – comes with its own special needs. And surf fishing is no different.
Surf Fishing Tackle
The basics apply here, but distance is an issue regardless of our commentary about troughs. There are times – a lot of them – when ridges exist a hundred-or-more yards. So you want a rather long rod. You can use either conventional reels (use a level-wind) or spinning rods about 8' long. Avid surf fishing fans often have spinning rods 10' long, so go to a local tackle shop and talk to the pros, and get on the forums here for lots of advice from experienced surf anglers.
Surf Fishing Rigs
The wonderful and effective FishFinder rig is – without question – the best rig you can use on the beach. The second-best is a "Drop" rig, which allows you to tie the bait-leader above the line to the lead, and thereby keep the bait a predetermined distance off the bottom. There are also corks you can use to run the bait-leader through so as to keep it above the sand, too. Experiment all you want, but start with a FishFinder and work your way up (or down) from there.
Lures and Bait for Surf Fishing
Jigs work anywhere, and an old-fashioned bucktail jig with a white head and white hair will produce fish in the surf as well as anywhere. You can spend the extra 400-600% for flavored special soft baits, and many people swear by them, but a bucktail jig or a regular jig with a regular (cheap) soft tail works just fine. It's about fishing where the fish are.
Bait is either going to be dead or alive. There are sand fleas in most beaches that you can dig up if you know how, and we will be writing a story about how to do just that, but in the beginning use cut-strips of squid for fishfinder rigs. It lasts a long time and will lure anything that eats to pick it up. We've caught snook on them and we've caught tuna on them. We have not tried them on Bluegill, but why bother? You can just fry the bait and stay warm and dry. After strips of squid on a fishfinder comes live sardines and threadfin. Best fished on longer leaders. Live shrimp are, of course, great, but an abundance of pinfish in the surf often lead to crunches, taps, and no shrimp left after the two-dozen casts it takes to feed the two dozen shrimp to eight million pinfish. If you're gonna fish live shrimp on the surf, try using a popping cork, and casting the baits close to shore in the direction you're walking. There are often huge speckled trout in the trough.
Another bait to think about using if you're thinking of surf fishing are crabs. Crabs are something natural on the beaches, and because they live there naturally fish eat them naturally. Cobia, in particular, will crush a crab as soon as it sees it (They used to be called Crab Eaters). A blue crab is either hard-shelled or soft shelled. Soft shells are best, but try using a half- or even a quarter-crab. Remove the claws even if you're using a quarter – they seem to scare fish even if they're dead and hanging in the tide-breeze.
Dead bait – like dead mullet or even a cut half of a big stinky jack – can be very very productive when you're surf fishing. Remember that movie "Jaws"? The chick that starred in the movie for the first three minutes walked into the surf. As in walked into the water. The monster who took her place as lead in the movie was swimming within sixty yards. Here they swim within 20. It's said that if you have ever swam in the Gulf of Mexico you've been within 100 yards of one. Dead bloody bait can hook things you would not want to release with a pair of needle-nose pliers. In coming months local shark legend Keith Knecht is going to be offering classes in how to catch monster shark on our local beaches.
If you are going fishing alone, tell somebody. Never go fishing alone without somebody knowing when they need to call the cops. The sun will kill you slowly, but it will kill you. If you're fishing in the surf, use sunscreen and plenty of it. And wear a hat, for heaven's sake.
People are swimming on our beaches. Find a place they're not swimming. If you do share the beach, remember you're sharing the beach. If you're wading, you have to swing-cast sideways to get distance. Don't do it when there are three young kids in the water splashing their little shark-float. And don't hook them. They stop fighting after the first run anyway, and their parents are waiting there with their lawyers. There's no better way to ruin your day than litigation, right?
Species you can catch surf fishing
We're going to be talking about each of these, but as far as species you can catch just about anything surf fishing. If you are able to fish in the surf on the Gulf Coast from April through June, you are likely to catch a ton of snook, big redfish, and cobia. Oh boy, the cobia. They run big and they run right inside that trough, often pushing snook out of the way. It is cobia time!
The tips below on 'not losing bait' from Captain David will easily enhance your surf-fishing experience!
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