Before I bought a boat, all of my coastal saltwater fishing was done from shore, mostly from beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and on adjoining bays. Even though I’m a boat owner now, I still fish from shore quite a bit.
I will drive the boat out to barrier islands, spits and points, park it on the bayside and walk to the Gulf side to pick on pompano, flounder, whiting and reds in the surf. There is nothing quite like standing knee deep in teal tidewaters while a pompano is peeling your drag.
If you are shore bound and looking to do some fishing by foot along the Gulf of Mexico, here are a few simple things to keep in mind.
Put spring and fall migrations in your favor
March, April, May in the spring, and September, October, November in the fall are the best times to sample the Gulf Coast beaches. This is when spring and fall migrations of all types of fish are the strongest. Since being shore bound means sitting in one spot, you put the odds in your favor when the fish are moving the most.
Bay to ocean transitions are prime
Always try to apply your shore fishing efforts somewhere near passes, cuts, tips, points or capes that transition from the ocean into bays, estuaries or lagoons. Obviously, fishing the jetties or “the rocks” inside passes and cuts that connect the ocean to bays is prime, but it can get crowded.
Don’t overlook the beach stretches a half a mile on either side of the passes. Yes, the cut or pass is the primary funnel for bait and fish, but there are a lot of fish that like to hang out on either side of the passes, too.
The points of peninsulas and barrier islands are premium hot spots for shore fishing as well. Many state parks along the Gulf of Mexico are positioned at the ends of these points allowing public access to the best fishing spots.
Early and late is best
This old adage applies to saltwater shore fishing as well, especially when beaches are crowded, like during spring break. Get to a good spot at first light before all the beach activity starts and you can have a nice red or a few pompano in the bucket before the first umbrella pops up on the beach.
Evening time also works well, especially if a big thundershower runs everyone off the beach late in the afternoon. Once the storm passes in the evening, the beaches are usually quiet and it’s a great window to take advantage of some shore sitting with a rod or two.
Real bait is better
I am an artificial lure devotee, but shore fishing is one time I’ll make an exception. When fishing from shore you are primarily sitting still and waiting on fish to come to you. Casting and reeling artificials like you’re in a bass tournament is just not the right vibe.
I’ve tried just about every kind of bait when shore fishing and fresh shrimp is hard to beat. Simply stop at a local seafood market and buy a half a pound of fresh shrimp. It stays on a hook better than frozen shrimp and you don’t have to fret about keeping it alive.
Heavy rigs not needed
So many times I see shore anglers bring giant surf rods rigged with heavy weights and line to the beach. They hook whole dead mullet or squid on a giant hook, heave it out there a country mile and what they mostly catch are big stingrays, sharks and bull reds over the slot limit. If you want to take something tasty home for the grill like pompano, redfish or flounder, a simple Carolina rig with a 1- to 2-ounce weight sweetened with a half to whole fresh shrimp on it is about as deadly as it gets.
If you’re beach savvy enough to spot sand fleas (a.k.a mole crabs) in the wet sand and can dig some up, by all means, sand fleas make excellent bait. But I can assure you, if a swarm of pompano or a school of slot reds comes by, they are not going to turn their nose up at fresh shrimp. Also, there is no need to always hurl it way out there “past the sandbar.” Fishing inside the first trough between the beach and the sandbar is perfect for these species.
Troughs of travel
Speaking of troughs, when fishing on a beach, keep your eyes peeled for darker troughs, back flows and holes. Fish use the troughs and bars to migrate along like highways. When doing so, they feed in the longshore currents flowing down the troughs. In this way, these troughs become just like a river with current and you should fish them as such, keying in on eddies, cuts or any irregularities along the trough.
Somewhere along the beach you will also notice “backwashes” or “returns” where the water flushed up on the beach by a wave returns or washes back into the ocean. These little places where the water flushes back in are the feeding points for pompano and redfish foraging along the trough for small crabs and sand fleas.
One thing I relish about shore fishing is its simplicity. All you need are a couple of 7- to 8-foot spinning rods with about 15-pound-test braid, a small tackle bag/box with extra Carolina rig tackle (weights/beads/hooks), a spool of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon for leader and some pliers. Don’t forget the pliers! There are indispensable when trying to get hooks out of deep-hooked fish.
My carryall is simply a 5-gallon bucket. I put a bag of ice in the bottom of the bucket, throw in my bag of fresh shrimp and a bottled water. If you want to settle in for a while, bring a chair.
Once you catch a few fish, ice them down in the bucket and you’re living large knowing you got fresh seafood for the grill.