What you catch will vary
with location, season, surf conditions, the bait or lure
you are using, the stage of the tide, and other
environmental conditions. However, a few general rules
and basic bait are enough to get you "hooked"
on surf fishing.
find a five-gallon plastic bucket. It is a handy
container in which to carry iced drinks, and fish and it
makes a great seat when you get tired of walking on the
sand and want to sit for a while. Second, find a
backpack. You will probably do a lot of walking while you
fish, and the backpack will enable you to carry a variety
of items and keep your hands free. Besides your tackle
box, carry sun screen to prevent burning, sharp knife to
cut bait, and a couple of sandwiches. Be sure to include
polarized sunglasses; not only will they protect your
eyes, they will give you a big advantage over the fish.
The polarized lenses will help you see into the water,
where you can sometimes spot schools of fish near
You will need two
categories of tackle rigs for live or cut bait and
artificial lures. An abundance of both are available. As
you get into surf fishing, you will soon learn what
experienced fishermen in your area are using, but a
little basic equipment will get you started. To fish live
or cut bait on the bottom, you will need pyramid or
barrel sinkers, swivels, and hooks.
One advantage of a pyramid weight is that it digs into
the sand, and is less likely to roll around than the
barrel weight. For 12-pound line, use one-ounce sinkers
and 1/0 to 3/0 saltwater hook. Match other line, sinker,
and hook combinations accordingly. You can tie bait rigs
One common method is to thread the line from your rod
through theweight, and then attach a swivel. By doing
this, you permit the line to pass freely through the
weight and still avoid getting the bait tangled up with
the sinker. On the other end on the swivel, attach a
monofilament leader 18 to 20 inches long. Attach a hook
to the end of the leader. One variation on this theme is
to put the bait between you and the sinker. Tie the
swivel to the line coming from your rod without first
threading the line though a weight. Then attach the
leader to the same ring of the swivel. On the remaining
ring, tie a line to which you attach the weight.
Alternatively, use a three-way swivel. This swivel has
three rings, so you can tie your rod line on one, your
leader on one and your weight on one. Much bait will work
with these rigs. You can use strips or chunks of mullet
and squid, and live or frozen shrimp. At the edge of the
water, you can find sand fleas--pale tan arthropods that
resemble cat and dog fleas but are about the size of the
last joint of your thumb. If you pass through a salt
marsh on your way to the coast, you can scoop up fiddler
crabs. If you are fishing in an area with a lot of
current, say on an outgoing tide, you can
"freeline" live shrimp or finger mullet.
Just hook the bait through the back and allow it to swim
free. Do not put a sinker or cork on the line, just let
the current and the wind float the bait at will. If you
have trouble with the bait wrapping itself around rocks
or pier pilings, though, you may want to put a cork on
the line hold the bait off the bottom.
Also if the current is moving the bait so fast it is not
reaching the bottom, try putting a little split-shot just
above the hook. Another good bait for free lining is live
pinfish. These little silver fish, which you will often
catch on bottom rigs, look like pompano in miniature.
They are terrific bait for trout, redfish. Another way to
fish live shrimp is under a "popping" cork.
Thiscone-shaped foam float is a slit on one side and has
a plastic pin through the center. You can fasten the
float to your line by removing the pin, inserting the
line into the slit, and replacing the pin. When you jerk
or twitch the line, the float emits a loud
"pop," therefore the name. Once you have cast
your rig out, you can do one of two things. If you want
to stand and hold the rod and reel, you can feel your
quarry when it picks up the bait.
However, if you are the lie-on-the-beach type of
fisherman, put the rod in a rod holder, lie back, and
relax a while. To make a rod holder, get a length of PVC
pipe two inches or so in diameter from your local
hardware store, and cut it into two-foot lengths with a
hacksaw. To form the bottom of the holder, cut the pipe
at a sharp angle to form a point. You can drive the
pointed end into the sand, and stick the rod butt into
For saltwater lures, go to
your bass-fishing tackle. Do you have spoons? Top water
plugs? They will work in saltwater, too. Both gold and
silver spoons will catch tarpon, redfish, and trout. Just
cast the spoon out and bring it to you with a steady
retrieve, so that it looks like a bait fish. Avoid
lightweight spoons stamped from thin metal. Go instead
with heavier spoons, such as Krocodile lures, which are
designed, for casting. In addition, many top water plugs
will catch everything from tarpons, trout to
redfish, and occasionally bluefish, and croaker. Try
plugs such as the Devil's Horse, Zara Spook, or
Mirrolure. In addition, do not forget that old standby,
spinner baits. Try them for redfish. One widely used type
of lure is jigs, which you can tip with shrimp or other
cut bait. Bump them along the bottom to imitate shrimp.
Pompano, especially, may hit yellow-colored jigs.
Standard jig heads from one-eighth ounce up to one-half
ounce and even larger will make for easy casting. If your
backpack has straps on the outside, you can carry a
second rod with you as you walk the beach. Tie a lure on
one rod and a bait rig on the other, and you will have
both handy, even if you wade out into the water. Lean the
extra rod away from the side you cast on, though, or you
will wind up tangled in a mess of line, leaders, and
Since saltwater is
corrosive, you should give your gear a little extra care
when you get home from your outing to the beach. Wash
everything including lures with plenty of fresh water.
Otherwise, the next time you pull out your gear, you may
find your tackle has rusted.
One word of caution:
before you wet a line, check with local authorities
about bag limits and license requirements. Some species
of special concern, particularly flounder, are
catch-and-release only under some conditions. Other bag
limits change frequently.
So, if the beach is on
your agenda this spring and summer, do not leave your
fishing gear at home. Just modify your techniques a
little, and you will enjoy some of the most engaging
fishing you have ever experienced.