Early in the morning, before the hordes arrive on the beaches to take in the sun and surf, others enjoy the surf in a different way. Surf fishing tackles the little fish that like to feed in the shallow waters of the ocean, before they are scared off by beachgoers.
Before fishing, one needs the proper equipment to be successful. This includes a rod and reel, bait, tackle, cutting board, a knife, some fishing line and a sand spike.
Clark Evans and Jim Ruback, who offer surf-fishing lessons at Old Inlet Bait and Tackle near the Indian River Inlet, recommend a 9- to 10-foot rod and 17- to 20-pound test line. Ruback said that, most likely, all that a fisherman will really need will be that one rod and reel combination, and a 5-gallon bucket to put all the other gear into.
“Some people like bigger rods. But for this area, a 9- or 10-foot rod is sufficient,” Evans said. “You don’t want to throw out too far.”
In fact, all that is needed to cast out is to get the line and rig past the first set of breakers. All of the fish will be gathered in the shallow waters — especially if the bigger fish are preying on the smaller fish.
Old Inlet began its surf-fishing program after Seacoast Realty wanted to offer such a program to their rental clients. The shop now does both surf-fishing lessons and charter-boat opportunities. Evans said both have taken off rather quickly. The lessons are scheduled now through the end of the month.
After getting the equipment ready, anglers have two options: walking or driving onto the beach.
Driving onto the beach — in designated areas only — requires a permit and a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Fishermen taking their vehicles onto the sand let some are out of their tires before they leave the tackle shop, to comply with regulations.
Once on the beach, they rig up the line, getting it ready to be tossed into the ocean. Evans and Ruback offered a number of different rigs and baits to use. The most basic rig is a “cherry ball” rig. It contains two hooks, each with a float attached. Also used is a 3-ounce weight. On a day with heavier surf, fishermen use more weight, but Evans recommends not exceeding 6 ounces.
“If you are using 6 or more, you shouldn’t be out,” he said.
The bait of choice is bunker. Ruback likes to scale the bunker before using it as bait, but it doesn’t have to be scaled first. After scaling (or not), it can be filleted, just like a regular fish.
After filleting the fish, cut a small chunk in a triangular shape to put on the hook. On the first pass, put the hook all the way through and once it’s through, turn the bait and put the hook through again. Ruback places a peeler crab on the second hook, piercing it through one of the leg sockets and leaving part of the hook exposed.
For kingfish, bloodworms are a good bait to use, though they can run $10 per dozen. Ruback uses imitation bloodworms made out of cloth. They are more cost effective to use and can be threaded like a “worm” onto the hook.
For stripers, use a whole fish head, such as that of the bunker that previously was filleted. As general rule of thumb, Evans said, “Big bait equals big fish.”
After all the rigging and baiting, it’s time to fish. Cast out into the ocean overhand and get enough distance to get over that first set of breakers. If it gets too close to the wash, then baits can be stripped off the hook and the rigs will need re-baited.
Then it becomes a waiting game, as most fishing is.
The key to surf fishing is finding the right location at the right time.
Looking for trough-like shapes on the beach can indicate a pocket of deep water just offshore and often marks good fishing.
Fishing is good at high tide or low tide, as long as the water is moving. If the water is still, then chances are the fish won’t be biting. When dolphins are in the area, they can often show anglers where the fishing will be plentiful.
To get started on surf fishing can cost as much as one would like.
“You can keep it under $100,” Ruback said. “Once you have the rod/reel, most of the money will be spent on tackle and bait.”
Every once in a while, check the rod for tension, as the fish hook themselves in surf fishing. If there is steady resistance, odds are that some sea creature has taken the bait.
On July 4, in about an hour of fishing, the catch totaled two spot, one perch and a skate.
Ruback said that in the summer the best option is to use the kingfish rigs. During the spring of this year there was a nice run of bluefish.
“The goal of our class is to get new anglers into the sport,” Evans said.