Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Surf Fishing Basics : Part 1

In celebration of the recent launch of Surf-Fish.com , I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit some of the basic principles of surf fishing. It is immensely confusing to new fishermen and women , especially if they hit the beach and see 12 foot rods being used. It is possible to ease into the sport , so let's look at some basic gear requirements first.
  • Rods and Reels:

It takes a certain amount of practice to cast a 12 foot rod with accuracy and consistency , so start smaller. You can find smaller surf combos in the 8-9 foot range that will be much easier to cast at first , but will still be able to handle the occasional big fish. Look for a catfish or surf combo , with a bigger reel. These can be found at Wal Mart , BassPro , and most tackle stores. These are mainly Medium Heavy (MH) rods rated for 1-4 ounces of weight , and up to 20 pound line. This setup will become your go to rod for lighter duty surf fishing , so it is worth spending a few more dollars to get a nicer rod and reel. I recommend using a spinning reel unless you have lots of experience with baitcasters , as a 4 ounce sinker will cause backlashes unless you know how to cast. A spinning reel that will hold 150-200 yards of 17 or 20 pound test line is perfect for an 8-9 foot rod.
  • Line:

Fishing line for surf or pier fishing is heavier than what most people are familiar with. It can be either braided line or monofilament , but in certain places braid is frowned upon. On piers and at crowded fishing beaches , high visibility 17 or 20 pound monofilament is probably the most commonly used line here on the East Coast of the U.S. , but you can get by with just about any type of 17-20 pound test line. Anything lighter will necessitate the use of Shock Leaders , and anything heavier will severely limit the line capacity of your reel. Braided line is popular in some places , and most people will use 50 or 60 pound braid. There are drawbacks to using braid , just as there are with mono , but it does have it's advantages. Just make sure braid is acceptable where you plan to fish before you spend the extra money. Mono is welcome everywhere.
  • Rigs:


Rigging is my specialty. I know all manner of rigs for targeting specific fish , and I tie my own in most cases. Different rigs are required if you want to target specific fish , but there is only one that you should concern yourself with when first starting out in the surf. Unless you are good with knots , and have the patience to learn at least one new knot , I recommend that you buy rigs for your first trip. They are usually inexpensive , and they are a staple at every beach tackle shop and pier house I have ever been in.

The most basic rig you will use is a two hook bottom rig. It is without a doubt the best surf rig you can start with , and probably the most commonly used. Every surf fisherman will use this rig , or some variation of it , at some point. They are made by several companies , tons of local businesses , and even at home by frugal fishermen. In the picture below , you'll notice a few things : it's a short piece of wire with two twisted loops for attaching hooks , a swivel or loop to attach your main line to , and a swivel and snap on the end to attach a sinker. Some tackle shops sell these with hooks and sinkers already in place , but bigger stores usually carry them plain to allow you to choose how you want them rigged.

Surf-Fish.com
A Basic 2 Hook Bottom Rig , or Old Dominion Rig
To use this rig , you will need : snelled hooks (size 2 or 3 long shank is a good starter size) , and a sinker. It's best to tie the rig to your main line first using a reliable knot like the Palomar Knot , then add the sinker (2-3 ounces for most situations) , followed by the hooks. If you've bought a rig with the hooks already attached  , I recommend using an Improved Cinch Knot , but use whatever you are comfortable with.

  • Sinkers :


If you are familiar with freshwater fishing , you'll be a little surprised by the large lead weights used in the surf for pan fish. The heavier line , the big rigs , and the waves all make it necessary to beef up your weight. If the ocean is relatively calm , 2-3 ounces is all you should need , but i have used as much as 8-10 ounces when targeting big species with a 12 foot rod. Starting out , all you should need is a handful of 2 , 3 , and 4 ounce sinkers. They come in several different styles , and most anglers will eventually find a favorite. In the picture below , you'll see a sample of 3 common East Coast standbys.




Surf-Fish.com
Pyramid , Flat Spoon , and a No Name?

Different sinkers have different uses , but mainly they have angles or flat spots to keep them from rolling in the surf. Everyone has a personal favorite , so you'll have to experiment until you find what you like.

  • Bait : 


We are going places now! If you've made it this far , you're probably wondering about bait. People can and do use all sorts of crazy things for bait , but the cheapest and easiest are fresh shrimp or squid. For raw shrimp , just peel them and slide them on the hook so that they maintain their natural curve , or you can use small pieces if you're using smaller hooks. For squid , they have to be cleaned and cut into smaller strips (triangular or rectangular). I like to hook squid strips close to one end so that the rest hangs from the hook and moves in the waves. Fish love it!

There are a lot more options for bait , but a few other things for your bottom rig would be : Bloodworms (real or artificial) , clams , sand fleas , small pieces of fish (my favorite for bigger fish) , and just about anything else that you think a fish might find appetizing! It helps if it is something they are used to seeing or smelling in their natural environment , but most species in the surf aren't picky.

  • Casting :


You don't have to cast half way across the Atlantic to catch fish! Some of the biggest fish I've seen were caught just behind the breaking waves , and some impressive smaller species right in the break. From a pier , you can drop your rig straight down or just use an underhanded toss. From the surf , I recommend an overhand cast straight out , but everyone casts differently so use what works for you , just be sure to check your surroundings so no one gets hurt. A trip to the ER to have a fish hook removed is a bad start to any fishing trip.

  • Other Basics : 


Here are a few things I would recommend : 

  • Sunscreen (especially if you have little fishermen with you)
  • A good pair of Needle Nosed Pliers with a side cutter (for unhooking fish and cutting line or wire)
  • A good knife or two (a clam knife for cutting bait , and a filet knife if you want to clean fish!)
  • A Towel for messy hands and/or holding a slippery fish ( Golf Towels work great)
  • A Medium sized cooler (bait and fish will keep better on ice , as will your drinks and snacks )
  • Plenty of cold water and snacks (especially if you have young fishermen !)

Having a rain jacket has saved a lot of trips for me , but they aren't really necessary. It's also worth noting that lots of anglers will take two coolers to the beach. A big one for fish and bait , and a smaller soft sided cooler for snacks/drinks.

There you have it - a basic surf fishing guide to get you started. Welcome to Surf-Fish.com ! Check back next week for a bigger rig for bigger fish and more in depth instructions for line , rigs and bait!







Tight Lines!

20 comments :

  1. i Surf fished for the very first time last weekend....just me, wify and the dogs. Iwas the only one who did any fishing...er..throw bait in the water. but, no pun intended...i'm hooked bad. I have found something to do outside..other than my job..that is a blast!! finding your part 1 with me this early in the game is a blessing....keep the knowledge commin...i'm gonna need it lol

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    1. Thanks , and I sincerely hope it helps you out! There's a ton of info in the archives at right that goes into different rigs and bait , or if you have a specific question , I can always be reached via the "Contact Us" Page above! Best of luck to you , and tight lines!

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  2. Hey Josh,

    Great write up. Don't you guys use "Spider" weights to keep the bait in one spot? Here is Cali we have some pretty strong tugs and it can push it right back in our South in a few minutes. Anyway thanks for site and time.

    Plasticman
    http://www.socalsurfrats.com

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    1. Hey Ron ,

      Thanks for the kind words! I really need to get back to work on this site , and words of encouragement are a good reminder!

      As for the Spider weights (We've always called them Sputnik Sinkers or Storm Sinkers) , some people like them and some don't. They save about an ounce of weight in rough water , but in my experience cause more tangles than they are worth. We do use big , heavy Spider-type sinkers for anchors when we are live baiting for King Mackerel and Cobia , but those are 10-12 ounces and usually sit at the end of a long cast for hours on end. It's complicated to explain ,but I have heard a few people talk about a similar style of fishing in So Cal. I'd love to talk fishing with a LeftCoaster , so give me a shout via the contact form above!

      Tight Lines!

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  3. thanks for the tips! I have recently decided to start fishing so that my husband and I can do something outside together(I won't hunt with him lol) this article was great at explaining the equipment! I will be checking the rest of the site out to see how much more I can learn before our afternoon fishing trip!

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    1. Have fun and catch a bunch! I'm glad you found some helpful info here :-)

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  4. I'm big into bass fishing here in Austin, TX but I have some friends coming in from Germany and we are going to hit up Mustang Island this coming april/may. I see saltwater fishing is a lot different than fishing for bass at the lake. Thank you for this guide, it really helps me nail down some of the gear I need to pick up. Since I probably wont go more than once a year, I appreciate the honesty in going a little bit smaller. So I don't need a 10ft rig? I could do alright with a 8' or 9' to save a few bucks? or is the 10' a better option for redfish/shark/whatever else decides to eat my bait?

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    1. The 10' rod is generally for casting farther with heavier weights, and better for putting pressure on reds, sharks, and other bigger fish. You can certainly get by with 8 & 9 foot rods until you get used to everything. I usually take a 10 , 2 9's and a couple of heavy bass rods to toss lures with. The 10 gets a fish finder rig, the 9's get 2 hook bottom rigs, and I usually put a big bucktail on one lure rod and a spoon or gotcha lure on the other. You'll be surprised by how affordable surf rods are for their size, but just like bass rods, spending more usually gets you a better rod. Some of the 8-9 foot catfish combos are very serviceable at the beach! I'll be happy to help steer you in the right direction if you have any more questions! Just post them here, or use the contact form. Tight lines!

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  5. I am doing my first shore fishing in a couple weeks on the pacific in Nicaragua. I can only transport a short rod and being in the prairies the only choices I have locally are a 3 piece 7' medium heavy or telescopic 7'. Do you think this will do and what do you suggest for a corresponding line and weight?

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    1. I would go with the medium heavy and lighter line, say 10-12? I know in California they use 6 pound line and 1/4 ounce weights in the surf for fish like Corbina , but I have very limited experience with Pacific fishing. The North Atlantic where I fish is far rougher and calls for heavier line and weights for even small fish. Sorry I can't offer more assistance!

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  6. I need very specific advice...I've spent hours combing every surf fishing post under AL Gores world wide Web and there is so much information I'm lost.
    But I'm low maintenance. I'm planning on surf fishing off Dauphin Island, the Katrina Cut and other drop-offs are locally well known. Just tell me what to buy so I don't break my rod or line. We are coming from the great Lakes and I know pulling in a saltwater catch is way different from a Gar. A rod reel setup, something long enough to cast over the breakers amd line strong enough to pull in the occasional big fish. What's my go to?

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  7. I need very specific advice...I've spent hours combing every surf fishing post under AL Gores world wide Web and there is so much information I'm lost.
    But I'm low maintenance. I'm planning on surf fishing off Dauphin Island, the Katrina Cut and other drop-offs are locally well known. Just tell me what to buy so I don't break my rod or line. We are coming from the great Lakes and I know pulling in a saltwater catch is way different from a Gar. A rod reel setup, something long enough to cast over the breakers amd line strong enough to pull in the occasional big fish. What's my go to? If I'm gonna throw my money at something tomorrow what would u recommend?

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    1. Angela, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! If I had to make do with just one rod, I'd get something like a Berkeley big game catfish combo or an ugly stick combo, they come in 8-9 ft, with a decent reel and 20 lb. test pre spooled. They are a MH rod rated for 2-4 ounces, and the longer rods will get you those longer casts. They are just a good all purpose rod, capable of tossing bottom rigs and fish finders, and even a big spoon or jig in a pinch. I would recommend a 40-50 pound shock leader twice the length of the rod and 3-4 wraps around the spool hitched to the main line with an Albright knot above your rigs. That'll keep the heavier weights from breaking the 17-20lb main line during casts, and will double as a bite leader if you decide to throw that big spoon. Tight lines! Give us a report after your trip!

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  8. Thanks for the advice! We aren't going until Spring break (April 1St) but I like to plan ahead. Sorry my comment posted twice *womp*

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    1. Glad I could help! You can email me through the contact page if you have any specific questions! It's always good to plan ahead, and at least you'll be prepared. One of the best things about the catfish combos is that you can use them for freshwater cats, Stripers, maybe even gar or lake trout.

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    2. Glad I could help! You can email me through the contact page if you have any specific questions! It's always good to plan ahead, and at least you'll be prepared. One of the best things about the catfish combos is that you can use them for freshwater cats, Stripers, maybe even gar or lake trout.

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    3. Angela,
      How'd your fishing go? Our family is making the same trip in October and I'm really looking forward to some surf fishing. I'm also from the mid west. Do you have any specific pointers?

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  9. Josh,
    Can explain the material and details like the length to tie the hooks to the metal double bottom rig?
    Thanks.

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    1. If you're using a ready made bottom rig, most people will use hooks snelled on 20# test, and I think those are usually 6 inches or so. I've just always had much better luck tying my own using 40# fluorocarbon line, leaving a 4 inch loop for each hook

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  10. Finally a non commercial article on what gear we'll need to get started. My husband and I are finally retired at the shore and want to start surf casting. Looking fwd. to days of wet feet, fish and fun. Thanks so much for sharing.

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