There are no universal rules in surfcasting.
In the information age, many new surfcasters seem to want to force their learning process to fit the molds of more conventional sports, like golf or tennis. There are hard and fast rules in these games; simple thumb adjustments, for example, really can fix your slice or hook on the links. But surfcasting isn’t like that, in spite of the fact that you can find many YouTube videos that will sell you hard and fast rules, our issues in the surf are rarely mechanical and, instead, revolve around an adversary that we really don’t know all that much about and logic that can really only be learned by doing.
The inspiration for this column came when I drove up to a popular inlet where fish had been showing for days. The tide was still very high, but the inlet was already spewing water, and closer inspection revealed that it was practically solid silver, bursting with peanuts. There were three vehicles in the lot, each with rods protruding from a window or truck bed. I couldn’t figure out why they were just sitting there, casual inquires revealed that they were waiting for the tide to come down. The accepted rule of thumb is that the last few hours of a dropping tide are best in most inlets, but that’s going to vary depending on the size of the estuary, depth of the inlet and width of the opening. This particular inlet turns quickly and the fish respond accordingly, as they did on this day when I magically opened three car doors simultaneously simply by bending a rod. If the water is moving, your plug should be swimming.
Baby Got Back?
Another supposed rule that pops up time and time again is the notion that big striped bass don’t enter backwater estuaries in the fall. The same anglers that spend every second in the ‘back’ for the spring run scoff at the very idea that anything larger than a schoolie striper or cocktail blue might be running the estuaries in the fall. I can’t say exactly why this myth is so widely accepted, but maybe it stems from the thought that these fish are migrating with urgency and trying to beat cold back home? I don’t know. But putting some time in on the back rivers in the fall has been responsible for putting countless 20-pounders on the bank for me and a few reaching into the 30-pound class. And while I have not landed a 40 myself in these waters, I know fish up into the 50s can and have been taken in the ‘back’ during the fall.
Perhaps one of my favorite myths is that the end of the striper run is not worth it unless you just want to catch schoolies. First of all, putting a couple schoolies on the beach, before Old Man Winter swoops in and ends it, feels good and can make the cold, dark months pass a little more easily. But what I think is probably the more likely culprit is that cold nights knock a lot of anglers out of the after-dark game and they resign themselves to fishing with tins and topwaters in daylight with the attitude of ‘It’s late in the year, I’ll take what I can get!” My experience suggests that nighttime fishing can produce quality fish right up the final pushes of fish, the numbers of fish over 25 pounds are definitely low, but 15- to 20-pound fish are a lot more common than you might think—and larger fish show every year. Don’t give up on the nights until you’re ready to give up on stripers altogether.
Myths are a fun subject maybe I’ll have to write one about plug myths next? All of these myths and the many others I didn’t have room to cover can be debunked by using a little logic. Basically, if you decide that you’re going to let your experiences dictate the ‘rules’ that you will follow, you’re going to be a lot better off. There is nothing mechanical about the ‘catching’ part of fishing, and that means there are no secrets that are guaranteed to improve your results. Only follow the rules that you have proven true through experience, and even when you think you have them nailed, keep your spots honest by breaking your own rules once in a while.