There couldn’t be a better time to be a surf fisherman than now.
What a time to be a fisherman! I say this with such enthusiasm because it’s a true statement. Advances in technology have made whatever we choose to do with fishing easier and simpler. Electronics now have side imaging capabilities showing us picture-perfect views of what’s going on under the water. Small boats and kayaks also can anchor on areas regardless of wind or current by simply plugging in GPS coordinates, and the evolution of underwater cameras show us in full detail what is happening underneath the water’s surface. With all of that combined, it seems as if a good majority of fishermen nowadays are catching on to the trends that technology has offered in making fishing easier for all. To be fair and honest, I too, have come around, but where does that leave the other half? The other half in this case being surfcasters.
Sure the tech world integrated into fishing has coaxed a lot of anglers out of the surf and onto buying either a boat or kayak, but that’s only half the picture. I feel as if there couldn’t be a better time to be a surf fisherman than now. It’s my personal opinion that surf fishermen are among some of the best anglers we have in the Northeast. What isn’t shown to them with technology, is learned through many hours of trial and error and in most cases sleepless nights. What the surf fisherman lacks in terms of fishing access or technology that a boat or kayak can provide, can be made up for by being intimate and thorough with the locations and methods used.
These lessons that are taught by simply being out on the water and seeing Mother Nature unfold before one’s eyes are where the surfcaster has an ultimate advantage over anyone else. If you’ve always thought about giving surfcasting a try but haven’t taken the plunge yet, then look no further, because there are plenty of good reasons to start your fishing journey in the surf. If you still disagree, let’s take a closer look into why pounding the suds is a surefire way to become a much better fisherman.
Pros And Cons
So I think we already began to mention a few pros as to why surfcasting has its benefits but what about the cons? To be perfectly honest in my opinion there really aren’t any! The knowledge you’ll gain will be invaluable. What this process ultimately does is teaches you how to fish on your own. I’m sure everyone has heard of the term “report chaser” in that it essentially speaks to someone following an internet post or word of mouth to find fish without putting in the legwork first. Learning how to effectively fish the surf will eliminate the need for any of that because the angler doing so can make the report rather than chase it.
A savvy surfcaster understands that many things are happening in the water in front of him or her regardless of what seems obvious or not. By understanding the hand of cards they’ve been dealt, they then strategically make calculated decisions on how to fish a given area. It may sound a lot like micro-managing because in reality, it is. I find that good surfcasters pick apart water a lot more thoroughly than boat fishermen because they have no other option. Someone fishing a boat might overlook an area because they can explore miles of shoreline in a single trip, while the surfcaster has to be more precise with their approach. At first glance, this may seem counterproductive. I can assure you it’s not at all. What the surfcaster is learning by doing all of this and committing to staying put in a given location is revealed in the smaller details.
Learning the ins and outs of a spot will speak volumes in terms of valuable information gained by simply learning how to fish any given area of the surf. Bait presence, tide stage, wind direction, and where fish will set up to feed in an area sometimes small enough to only comfortably fit a person or two are just a few examples of possibly hundreds showcasing how surfcasters can methodically pick apart the smaller portions of water they’re fishing. In contrast, I find it harder to be intimate within that same spot from a boat that’s seemingly always in constant motion and not being able to dissect the same area as thoroughly.
Learn Your Spots
So this continues our conversation in the sense that being a surfcaster means that you will be relying heavily on the spots you fish to produce fish. Why is this important you might ask? Well for starters knowing these areas will help you eliminate nonproductive fishing times. Learning the ins and outs of a spot will show you how tide, weather conditions, and moon phases will affect it and how the fish in that area will respond accordingly. What this boils down to is finding a spot and fishing it often. Sure boat fishermen can learn the same information as well, but I’d be willing to make a bet that a good majority of them don’t stay put in one location for very long learning the specifics of that given area. I only make this point because boats have the luxury of leaving a spot when the bite is nonexistent. For that reason alone I find that the surf fishermen have the ultimate edge in learning how to fish specific locations. The point here is to not only fish a spot thoroughly but also under all types of conditions to see what patterns may emerge as a result. The knowledge gained can serve you very well but it takes willpower to stick with it.
Remember how I stated before that technology has made fishing easier? To the surfcaster, most (not all) technology is taken out of the equation and the fisherman must rely on what’s in front of them physically rather than looking at a GPS or fishfinder. What surf fishermen do have in their arsenal in terms of technology is Google earth and phone apps. Smartphones have undoubtedly made finding information easy and gave us access to maps to find fishy-looking areas at the tips of our fingers. How to use that information effectively however still relies on the fisherman to do the work.
The hands-on approach formulates great habits because it forces the fisherman to see for themselves without the heavy reliance on technology alone. I’ve always been an advocate of the theory that if you truly want to master the art of anything, you must learn how to do it the hard way first and this is no different. What you’ll come to realize by doing it this way is many details can and will be overlooked. Take the time, slow down, and learn the water in front of you. The lessons taught here will make you a much better fisherman.
Become A Weatherman
This next point can be applied to all hardcore fishermen and not just the surf guys in that we tend to be glued to weather forecasts for obvious reasons as anglers. Weather can dictate current speeds, water clarity, bait movement, and feeding times for the gamefish we pursue so I’d consider weather to be a big part of our fishing formula. This is especially true for surfcasters because the weather can have complete control over how well you may or may not do in the surf on any given day or night.
Like I stated before boat and kayak fishermen have the option of moving around at ease if weather conditions are not very favorable at a specific spot, but to the surfcaster who more often than not has to “commit” his or her outing at a specific spot, learning weather patterns can be crucial in determining that session’s success rate. This is also why knowing the spot well that you intend to fish is important.
Knowing how and why different weather conditions will affect any given area will eliminate a lot of the guesswork when you’re looking to fish. I put a lot of emphasis on the weather because, for example, there are spots I know to be very productive on a strong north wind but I’d never fish that same spot if the wind has any south in it. Again reasons for this vary from place to place (which is why keeping a detailed fishing log is also a great idea) but the point here is that knowing how weather affects an area can dictate where you choose to go.
Bait And Structure
Ok so we’ve talked a little bit about spots and how weather conditions affect them but what about the actual physical composition of the spot and understanding why the fish will be there? Well for starters we’ll take a look at the composition or “structure” of a spot you intend to fish first and then work our way out from there.
I bring up the concept of structure because it’s what I look for 100% of the time when searching for new spots to fish. Luckily we can use a bit of technology to help us with this. Pull up Google Earth and zoom into an area you feel like you’d be willing to explore. After doing that, start to look for structure that a lot of the fish we pursue from the surf (stripers, bluefish, fluke, etc.) are attracted to. But what is structure and how can you notice it?
Structure can be many different things but to the beginner, look for points that may stick out further from the mainland, visible sandbars that run parallel to a beach with cuts and channels within them, or possibly large boulders or rocks that may be within casting distance from the shoreline. Again I use the term structure loosely because it can mean a million different things including the underwater layout as well. The key here however is that fish are attracted to it because it offers a spot to ambush prey, aka bait.
This brings us to our next important item to check off of our list which of course would be bait. What is the one thing that structure will always attract no matter where you are and no matter what spot you ultimately choose to fish? The answer lies in bait and let’s face it, why would gamefish be present at any given spot if they didn’t have anything to eat right? I’m not going to get into specific types of bait and how they apply to structure because I’d need to write a novel to cover that. What I will say however is that bait is very important to structure. Structure both above and below the water will always act as a bait magnet so getting to know the different types of structures there are and what bait they attract will tell you how to fish them properly.
Successful surf fishermen become very keen on understanding what types of bait are present at locations they choose to fish and why it’s there. By understanding the physical mechanics of a spot we can eliminate a lot of guesswork and then really start honing in on how to effectively fish it. This method also gives us clues to what types of lures we should fish, productive colors, as well as size and profile of them. Again this is where surfcasters have mastered the hands-on approach because consistently catching fish relies heavily on understanding the water in front of them. Taking the high route isn’t always easy, but it’s often the path that leads to the most success in our case.
Anyone Can Do It
Do you want to know why to this day even after purchasing a small boat of my own I still love surf fishing? It’s the simple fact that anyone can do it. Anyone can find some accessible water to fish from the shoreline here on Long Island. In the past, the majority of surfcasting was restricted to those who had 4×4 vehicles. There’s still a bit of truth to that but not so much nowadays. Great surf fishing spots with good fish-catching prospects are available to anyone regardless of whether or not they have access to a 4×4 truck. This can be experienced by driving to a beach parking lot or even biking to a spot. To further that point I’ve even seen bike manufacturers recently begin catering to the surfcaster’s needs with the creation of sand tires for bicycles to ride on sand beaches. I can attest to these bikes being amazing after having tried one myself (check out fattirebikes.com). There really are no more excuses not to get out and explore some of Long Island’s shorelines and beaches.
Let’s say you do take up surfcasting and get good at it—that information will serve you extremely well if you do someday decide to upgrade to a fishing kayak or boat. Yes I know I’ve been a little hard on the boat scene within this article but I still stand by the points I was making. Even more so, some of the best boat fishermen I know to this day all started their journey in the surf. If that isn’t a telling sign of the benefits gained from becoming a true surf rat I’m not sure what is.
I can guarantee you there will be plenty of days this season where my boat will be parked in the driveway as I opt out for the surf rod. Maybe it’s just me, but fishing a beach on a cool, dark night under a sea of stars only to have the poetic scenery interrupted by a striper that just slammed my bucktail right as I started daydreaming well…nothing can compare.