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Surf Fishing for Beginners.


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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.

First, 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 sandbars.

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 several ways.
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 the pipe.

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 terminal tackle.

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.

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