Long before I ever picked up a fly rod, I was, and continue to be, a beach fisherman. I spend most of my time with a fly rod now, in salt and fresh water, but I still like to dust off my old spinning gear and go out in search of bluefish, striped bass, and the smaller fish, spot, croaker and kings. I did just that on Friday, and I struck out without a catch, but that’s probably because I used one lure, didn’t try very hard and only stayed a short time, most of which was spent taking pictures. One can say a lot or a little about fishing the beach, but I imagine that most will agree it’s among the most beautiful places to stand a wave a stick.
A guest post over at The Functioning Fishaholics, written by Josh Mann of Something’s Fishy, attempts to take some of the mystery and intimidation out of surf fishing by correctly pointing out the path of least resistance for the newcomer: Simple bait rigs and smaller fish. Josh writes of catching spot and croaker from piers and beaches, and I’m happy to find a fisherman who enjoys that, because more often than not, I hear fisherman talk about catching these fish as if it wasn’t worth the bother. One guy in a bait shop, upon hearing me recount my morning spent catching croaker and spot so frequently that I never put the rod in it’s sand spike, actually looked at me, shook his head, and said “Well, I guess that’s cool if you like catching bait”.
I feel bad for that guy. He’s missing all the fun, and it’s a pretty safe bet he doesn’t like fishing very much anymore. But he’s not alone. There are many like him, all casting 4oz sinkers and bleeding meat into the deep and then staring at the rod tip for hours. When they catch skates and small sharks, they curse them for not being a trophy bluefish or striper. Josh points out that this should be part of the fun; never knowing whats on the end of the line, but knowing the possibilities are not limited to the two or three species you know are there. It strikes me as a sort of arrogance; throwing bait into a pond the size of the Atlantic and then being upset that what bit it wasn’t what you wanted to bite it. It would be like sticking your hand into a sack of M&M’s and being pissed off because you came out with a yellow one.
When I purchased my first surf rod, I just assumed I needed a behemoth 11 foot rod like everyone else, and so I have one. It’s in my garage, collecting dust. I hardly ever use it. I think it made three
trips to the surf this year. These rods work fine further south where there is an outer sand bar and bait casters need to get the bait into it’s vicinity, but on my local beaches, where there is no outer bar and the waves break right onto the beach, it’s simply overkill. This makes complete sense to me, but I still almost never see anyone else using anything less than ten feet of surf rod. Then, most people on the beach wind up and cast so hard and far that you’d think they were told that, in order to catch a fish, you have to get the bait beyond the three mile limit and into international waters. The truth is, the fish are usually hanging out just beyond the breakers, where the food is being kicked up and swirled around and funneled to waiting fish. On my beaches, that means they are very close to the beach. It does not compute, at first, that the fish are actually swimming in the smae places you do when you go swimming.
Time on the water and the catching lots of fish taught me exactly what I’d need to fish my beach. My surf equipment today consists of three rods. Two are identical 7-1/2′ medium/heavy action surf rods, the third an 8′ heavy action surf rod capable of throwing up to 4oz of lure or sinker. On a brief outing like the most recent, I’ll take one of my identical rods, tie on a Hopkins lure, and walk the beach, as Josh describes, looking for breaking bluefish to cast to. If I’m spending considerably more time, I’ll take all three rods. One will be rigged with the Hopkins. It’s twin will be rigged with a top-and-bottom rig with floating hooks. I’ll tip these hooks with an artificial bloodworm called Fishbites, and cast just beyond the breakers. This rod and bait will catch all kinds of fish. using this system I’ve reeled in striped bass, bluefish, kingfish, croaker and spot, just to name a few. It’s a system I’ve tested again and again against many others, and it works very well.
The eight foot rod will hold one of two things, depending on the day, and my mood. I’ll either construct a fish-finder rig tipped with some form of cut bait like bunker, herring or mullet; or I will use it’s strong backbone to cast heavier lures, such as a 3oz bucktail, a simple, yet very effective lure I love so much I learned to paint, and tie them myself, which ultimately led me to the conclusion that I’d like to tie flies, and learn to fly fish.
With this simple setup I have all my bases covered. While bait rods rest in sand spikes, I can watch them from nearby as I cast a lure into the sea. I can catch
little fish and big fish, and it’s actually easier to pack, transport, and fish these three rods than it is to use a lone eleven or twelve foot rod. Most importantly, while the big rod guys are not catching fish because nothing the size of compact car swam by and ate an entire bunker fish bait, I’m catching fish frequently, because I’m willing, and happy, to go after smaller fish. Theres a a lesson to be learned there, I think.
Thanks to Josh and the Fishaholics for a good read and the sound advice to the novice. I’m glad to see a fellow surf fisherman that appreciates the little fish, and knows they helped him land those big stripers he catches today. For more, check out Josh’s blog for the beginning surf fisherman.