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Surf's Up

Spring brings great oceanside action along southern coasts

Surf's Up
Anglers can expect consistent surf action once the water warms. (David A. Brown photo)

Warming water stimulates angling opportunities allthroughout southern waters, but none present such broad accessibility andlow-impact ease of operation as the activity generally known as surf fishing.The scope of where-to and how-to is as broad as the ocean itself, but here's aquick tutorial to get you started.

What species to expect

Pompano are unquestionably the premier surf species forFlorida's surf fishing scene. They're a highly mobile fish, so consult the areafishing reports and make friends at the local tackle shops to keep up withtheir migratory positioning.

Others to expect include whiting, slot-sized redfish,black drum, sheepshead, spot, flounder and bluefish. Spring and fall see goodruns of jumbo "bull" reds well over the 27-inch maximum length, whilesummer brings lots of sharks – mostly blacktips, spinners, bulls and theoccasional tiger – into the shallow surf.

Click image for surf fishing photo gallery

If you've never fished the surf, it's best to learn a fewbasics from experienced anglers before messing with the sharks. It's a blast whilethe rod's bending, but handling a big, toothy fish in the surf is seriousbusiness – with a very real risk of injury.

Double your chances

For most of the more manageable surf species, asingle-hook fish finder rig will certainly produce. But until you dial in aconcentration of fish, you'll immediately improve your chances of attractingattention by using the double dropper rig. Simple in design, the rig places1/0-3/0 hooks on a fluorocarbon leader with dropper loops and adds float beadsthat keep the baits off the bottom and in the line of sight for fish cruisingthe surf. A sinker of 4-8 ounces anchors the rig.

Sand fleas, shrimp and brined clam strips are well-receivedby most surf species, but dressing up each loop with red, orange, gold or blue beadsand adding a colorful piece of synthetic bait called Fish Bites to the hookhelps close the deal. Savvy anglers bait each hook with a different offeringuntil the fish indicate which one they prefer that day.

Fish your surf rigs on 8- to 12-foot rods that allow youto reach out and over the waves. If you set only one line, you can hold the roduntil a fish bites, but the big outfit will get pretty heavy after a fewminutes, so a sand spike makes a convenient holder to keep the reel well abovesplashing waves. Spikes also enable you to fish multiple rods with ease andsecurity. For optimal convenience, load your gear onto a surf cart withbuilt-in rod holders and wheel everything from one spot to the next.

Site selection

On any decent weather day, you could find fishjust about anywhere along the surf zone, but nature offers clues to help youfind the sweet spots. Some beaches allow vehicular traffic so you can cruiseand look; but where driving is prohibited, you'll want to pay attention to theoften subtle details.


"When I hit the beach I take ascan of the coast and look for something different," Jacksonville anglerDavid Gill said. "Anything will do but I scan for something that justlooks different or catches my eye. This tells me there is a sand bar, orcurrent or piece of structure close by. I also look for different wave actionand direction, or (sign) that something is going on there."

Obvious shell clustering and sharkteeth indicate strong current that's also sufficient to carry the clams, sandfleas and other food the fish are eating. The way the water moves is equallyimportant, so watch the waves roll up and recede. Straight lines mean minimaldynamics, whereas multiple lines of receding water – typically exiting indiagonal angles – indicate the cross currents that really jumble up the surf.Also promising are the runouts which form distinct and narrow funnels in thesand as a wave returns to the ocean. 

With any such beach elements, the more the water stirs, the more thefood becomes vulnerable and available to predators, so look for somethingdifferent.

"Confused or crisscrossing wateris a good sign to fish both sides," Gill said. "I also look for dipsor low spots in the sand – areas that have been washed out by current andindicate a runout."

Lastly, you'll want to note thelocation of sandbars, indicated by breaking waves. These high points offerattractive feeding zones for pompano and whiting, which forage on what thewaves stir up atop these hills. Between the shoreline and the first bar, andthen between successive bars, the lower troughs appeal the feeding habits ofredfish, black drum and sheepshead, while also presenting natural travel lanesfor all surf species.

Hard structure, from random rocks tothe beach side of inlet jetties presents a buffet of baitfish and crustaceans,so expect a concentration of fish in these spots. Similarly, piers will attractfish, while also offering you extended access to the surf zone.

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