Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak
It’s getting to be that time of the year again—the dog days of summer are beginning to wane (even here in Florida), and there’s a cool breeze in the air. Pretty soon the water temperatures will begin to drop, and that means different fish species start to pop up on the radar for fall. If you’re lucky enough to live near the coast, you may find yourself in the perfect position to do one of my favorite types of fall fishing: surf fishing.
I’m asked fairly regularly by friends of mine to take them fishing when they haven’t actually been before. When it comes to taking someone fishing for their first time, it’s generally best to pick something low-key. I’m not exactly about to go pole the tarpon flats with the fly rod with someone who has never even caught a fish before. So when I introduce someone to fishing for the first time, it’s almost always surf fishing.
Surf fishing combines two of the greatest things around: fishing and sitting on the beach. And honestly, it’s generally fairly action-packed. But before you go running off to cast some lines out into the water, take the time to plan properly to maximize your enjoyment and success.
Generally speaking, the name of the game with surf fishing is long distance casting—you want to be able to get the bait out past the breakers and into deeper water. At least one long surf casting rod is a must with line and leader weight depending on the species you’re targeting. For species like pompano and whiting, I generally stick with 10-12 lb test. With other species, like redfish, it might be wise to step up the game a little. Fall (particularly down here in Florida) is when the big bull reds come in to spawn. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least to hook a 40+ inch fish from the beach, so plan accordingly.
When it comes to leaders and bait, I almost always use a double or triple dropper rig with a pyramid weight. The pyramid weight will help keep the bait from rolling around in the surf, and the multiple hooks allow for more bait. And everyone knows there’s no such thing as too much bait.
Rod holders (a.k.a Sand Spikes)! These are pretty much a requirement. No one really wants to hold onto their rod the entire time as sometimes it takes a while for the bite to pick up. Bury the sand spike into the sand, and make sure it’s secure before putting a baited line in it. The simple fact that you don’t have to hold onto your rod now opens you up to use multiple rods, which increases the amount of bait out in the water (yes, lots of bait is important). This also means you can cover more water, which is important because sometimes fish aren’t always present in every part of a hole.
Coolers and carts are also fairly important in my book. Coolers for the obvious reasons of keeping fish and drinks cold, but the cart for its simple ease factor. Drop the cooler in a cart, put the rods inside of it, and suddenly you’re only making one trip from the truck instead of five. I’m also a HUGE fan of using folding chairs once I’m set up on the beach. I generally place the chair right in the middle of my setup so that I’m equidistant from my two rods farthest away from me, and then I sit back and enjoy a cold drink without sitting in the sand. Don’t get too comfortable, though; it’s not uncommon for three or four of your rods to get strikes at once, so you might not be doing too much sitting.
The final and probably most important part of surf fishing are the actual tactics involved. They aren’t particularly complex, but you must always remember that not all parts of the beach are created equal. There are good spots and bad spots; holes that produce fish, and holes that just waste time. Look for areas of deeper water where the breakers aren’t, well, breaking. Deeper water closer to shore tends to hold fish. Also keep track of which direction your current is moving parallel to the beach. I like to set up on the down current side of certain holes to catch anything that may be chasing bait as it’s pushed along by the current.
Remember how I mentioned a longer rod is nice to have? Well it isn’t just nice because you can cast further. It’s important to try and place your sand spike as high as you can above the water line, because once you’ve cast out, the line is now at a downward slope toward the water. The longer the rod, the higher that point of entry is into the water, and the line doesn’t drag in the water as much. This is important because incoming waves tend to pull on the line, and it’s often easy to mistake a wave as a fish strike.
So if you find yourself with the chance to hit the beach this fall, consider giving surf fishing a try. If you’re also ever looking to take someone fishing for the first time, always give this type of fishing a go. It’s extremely low-key with easy clean up and is often times quite action-packed. Worst case scenario, their first time fishing includes siting on the beach and catching a good tan all morning, and that’s still pretty hard to beat. The only thing to make it better is a cooler full of pompano.