All fishermen must be optimistic about their chances of success but none so much as the surf fisherman. His quarry is unre¬stricted in movement while he must stand his ground on the beach. While freshwater bass or trout anglers know the fish are going to be available whenever they choose to go after them, the surf fisherman may wait months for his fish to show up, only to have a strong storm keep them away from the beach and out of his territory.
The advances in fishing technology that have aided the boat fisher¬man have done little to help the surf caster. He cannot rely on fish finders, radar, or loran to locate productive fishing spots. He must use his own skills and experience to interpret the weather outlook, surf conditions, tide and current direction, and other factors in order to pick a place where he thinks the fish may show up. Unfortunately, the fish do not always interpret these conditions the same way the surf fisher¬man does and they may decide to show up somewhere else or not at all.
Surf fishermen, by necessity, must become more involved in their sport of surf fishing than do most other anglers. The accomplished surf fisherman will know not only when the big channel bass or stripers will move along the coast, but also what they will be feeding on and how to catch or imitate
The correct tackle may not guarantee success but it will make you more comfortable while you wait for the fish. It will also give you a reasonable expectation of catching one when they finally make an appearance.
There are certain physical characteristics of surf that require specific types of tackle. You must be able to cast your bait or lure beyond the breakers, a distance of 50 to 75 yards or more. When the bait must be held in place you will need a heavy sinker to do the job and this type of weight requires a certain type of tackle.
The waves act continually on your line, first pulling down on it, and then releasing it as they break on the beach. The heavier the line and the rougher the sea, the more the waves will pull and the harder it will be to keep your bait secure on the bottom.
Obstructions that will cut or fray your line are found everywhere along the surf. Rocks, mussel beds, sod banks, and even the sand will present a constant hazard. Add to this the sharp teeth, rough hide, and razor-like gill plates and fins found on most saltwater fish and you begin to see why you need sturdy tackle to combat all these obstacles.
Sturdy does not necessarily mean heavy. There will be times and places where light tackle will be not only possible but also desirable. The idea that a 14- or 15-foot rod, 30- or 40-pound line, and 6 ounces of weight must always be used to catch fish in the surf is simply not true. Certain conditions will make this super-heavy tackle necessary but there are also times when a one-handed spinning rod, 10-pound line,
The vast majority of fish caught in the surf, or anywhere else for that matter, are taken on some type of natural bait. Choosing exactly what type of bait to use and when to use it can be as difficult as selecting and presenting the proper artificial lure. You have to pick the right bait and put it in the right place at the right time if you want to catch fish.
Bait should be selected with the same care you would use if you were going to eat it yourself. Look for good color, firm texture, and clean smell. If you are buying baitfish, check the eyes to make sure they are bright and clear.
Live baits should be alive. Look for any injury to the bait that could kill it before you get to the fishing grounds. Look carefully at the other baits in the tank to be sure all of them are in good condition. If many have already died, the others probably won't last very long.
Fishing the surf requires knowledge of tides, currents, moon phases, water temperatures, and bottom structure. You must understand how fish find their food and how all of the above factors affect fish behavior. You don't have to be a fisheries biologist or an oceanographer, but unless you develop a feel for the fish's environ¬ment you will never become a proficient fisherman.
The ocean is a constantly moving body of water. It moves up and down with the tide and in and out with the current while the waves constantly break on the shore. Fish in the ocean must adapt to this movement; they cannot fight it or leave it, so they have evolved into creatures that use the moving water to locate food.
There are two or three factors that control the water in the ocean and also surf fishing. These factors are the sun, moon, and wind. The tides are controlled by the moon and, to a lesser extent, by the sun. Waves are formed by the wind, and wind is created by differences in barometric pressures. These factors can create an infinite variety of sea conditions, some of which improve fishing success, and others of which keep you at home beside a warm fire.