Observation can reveal details that might give you an edge in the surf.
Walking back to my truck one late and very cold November morning after fishing the backside of an inlet, I was contemplating the idea of getting a hot cup of coffee before driving home. Snow was slowly falling down and that, coupled with the lackluster action, was definitely swaying me in that direction. I was parked on the access road that ran along the inlet on one side and high dunes with the ocean on the other. I could hear the surf over the dunes but could not see it. Down the road quite a distance away was one other truck parked. I grabbed my binoculars to see if I recognized who it might be.
As I focused in, I noticed a guy slowly walking up to the dunes in his waders without his rod. He was probably thinking like me, and was deciding whether to give it a shot. As he got to the top of the dune, I noticed him stop and, after 5 seconds, he bolted down the dune so fast that he stumbled, fell and preformed an impromptu barrel roll on the sand. He then scrambled to his feet, frantically grabbed his rod and scurried back over that dune and out of my sight in record time!
I don’t think anyone needs a formal education to conclude that, after seeing that, it’s time to grab your gear and GET THE HECK ON THE BEACH!!!
When I got to the top of the dune I was greeted by the sight of gulls and gannets diving in the surf line mixed up in a wild feeding frenzy of bass and herring. That gentleman and myself enjoyed the next two hours working down that beach with mid-20-pound class bass crushing our plugs. I would have never noticed him without the binoculars.
That was one instance when having my binoculars on hand, and observing what was happening at a distance greatly improved the outcome of a fishing trip. Why not take advantage of daylight and expand your line of sight to pick up clues that can spell success? Flocks of feeding birds and schools of fish can be spotted working bait well beyond the naked eye. Seeing good beach structure from a distance, which is constantly changing after storms, is another plus.
Observing the way other anglers are fishing can have advantages also. I recall one day in October when an angler down the beach from me was hooking up every cast, while I was picking one every tenth. Clearly this man had figured something out. After some investigating with my binoculars, his secret was revealed! He was using a plain heavy green bucktail without any trailer. I dug one out of my truck, and it was the key to hooking up that afternoon.
But it’s not just about figuring out what someone else is using, it may just be as simple as observing the technique of that one angler with the hot hand. Is he casting really far or keeping it short? Is he angling his cast to work with or against the sweep or waves? What about retrieve speed, is it faster or slower than yours? Looking out into the water, is there a hole, rip or trough present there that’s not present where you’re casting? Surfcasting is a game of details.
Another time during a great sand eel run, it seemed that every day, all you needed was a tin and tube and you were in. One day on the beach though, that all changed, no one was hooking up using that tried and true method! A caster though, was slaying the bass while the rest of us were cold as ice, after a little spying, I could see he had a small Red Gill teaser attached. Luckily there was one in my bag. It made all the difference that day.
Having binoculars is just another way of gathering information to add to your surf fishing game plan. Don’t think of it as cheating or spying on someone, it’s just another way to gain an advantage. Keep a pair in your truck, or a smaller compact model can be worn around your neck or tucked in your surf bag. Surf fishing is often hard enough all by itself, gain an edge any way you can.