Finding surf spots is not hard, but it does require some hard work.
Surfcasters are creatures of habit, we find spots that produce and we stay on them. But what happens when you are forced to relocate, how do you stay on the fish? How do you find new and productive water?
Too many of us, fall back on social media in an attempt to shorten the learning curve. Scouring the feeds of well-known local surfcasters, looking for recognizable backgrounds, hoping they will drop an ‘in the moment’ report somewhere, so you can go cash in. I’ve got some bad news for you, most of the internet posters have smartened up and photos posted online are usually days or weeks…even months old. If you think you’re going to hop in the car and get in on their bite, 99 times out of 100 you’re going to be late and disappointed. Even on that one in 100 time when it pays off, you’re going to be knocking knees with the 50 other guys who have been trying to tear a shred of meat of that same, tired old bone.
Then there’s the other side, the guys that go into a local tackle shop and ask the famous question, “Where are the fish at?” Tackle shops are a very good source of general knowledge and, most of them, are going to try and send you somewhere that you have good shot at hooking up, but these spots are the places they send everyone that asks this question. Spend a few bucks and they might give you something a little further from the beaten path, but they’re certainly not going to give up their own secret spots.
So what do you do? Where do you start? How do you gain confidence in an area that you know nothing about? In this article I will highlight a three step guide with techniques and strategies for breaking down and conquering new areas while increasing your shot at bigger stripers and more consistent catches from the surf!
Step 1: Identify Potential Spots
There are two main resources I use when looking for new spots or fishy water. The first is some form of satellite image mapping. I use Google Maps on satellite mode, but Bing Maps offers the same feature and many other anglers use Google Earth; make one of these apps your best friend. I will typically identify an area of interest and then zoom out a bit so that I can focus on just the shape of the land. From that distant view, I try to identify the most unusual or out-of-the-ordinary thing on the shoreline. These things can be almost anything; big points of land, jetties, inlets, boulder fields, bridges, narrows, nearshore islands, river mouths, sandbars, any type of structure or anything else that is noticeably different from the rest of the shoreline. These areas are always going to be places worth checking out because most of them will feature some kind of structure or increase in current that will draw in striped bass. Then make a list of these locations, you can never have too many.
The second thing I use is a navigational chart that shows detailed depth changes close to shore. There are several resources online that offer these for free, try the chart viewer at Navionics.com, and set the chart type to ‘sonar’, you will see very minute details that may reveal precise locations where deep water juts in very close to shore. Also take note of channels and ledges that might be nearshore in a spot you might skip over if you were just using the satellite imagery. Most of these spots would be missed if you were just using Google Maps, using these tools together offers a very clear picture of what you’re dealing with in a new area. Add these locations to you list as well and take special note of any that show up as unique using both apps.
Step 2: Daytime Scouting
Now that you have a comprehensive list of locations it’s time to scout them out. If you’re like me, 99 percent of the surfcasting you do is at night. But going into a new location for the first time in the dark is like going in blind, so I try to make a scouting trip to all the spots I can access in daylight – there will always be a few where daytime trips are impossible, in these cases you may find some benefit from full moon scouting, or you might just have to go and try fishing there in the dark. On a scouting mission, I put on more of an investigator’s hat rather than fishing cap. I look for bait and try to identify what it is or at least how big it is. I also look for hovering or diving birds, this will show that bait is in an area, even when it can’t be seen along the shoreline.
Then you should start making note of the water movement and wave action, try to get a feel for how the water moves through the spot. Also keep an eye out for rips, eddies or any obstructions that alter the current – these are spots you will definitely want to focus on after dark, because they will draw in feeding stripers. The next step for me is throwing bucktails and allowing them to sink to the bottom, I want to try to build a mental map of the bottom contours and I’m trying to confirm the locations of any deep spots, ledges, boulders or anything else that might attract fish. The bucktails will also help me get an even clearer picture of how the current moves within the spot and where I need to stand to swing my offerings across key locations. My basic rule of thumb is, ‘find the deep water, find the moving and you will find the fish.’
When I finish a scouting mission, I add notes to my list giving the details of what I observed. These daylight trips really help me build confidence in a new location and, it’s a fact, that confidence is a major key in anything we do, but it’s more than half the battle in having a successful outing in the surf.
Step 3: Fish The Spot
Okay, you’ve identified a list of spots, you’ve scouted them and gained enough confidence in a few of them that you’re ready to fish. When fishing a new location, I like to use what I refer to as a ‘scanner’, something I can cover a lot of water with and that I’m confident most stripers will hit. The goal with the scanner is to find some fish in the spot. For me, this is usually a plastic swimmer like an SP Minnow, Bomber or Yo-Zuri Hydro Minnow. Make sure to be methodical and try to hit all the key locations you noted when you scouted the area – hit all the deep edges, swing the swimmer through the moving water and make a few passes by each key piece of structure. If you were able to identify bait on your day trip, use lures that mimic that bait.
To get a clear picture of the productivity of any spot, you’re going to have to fish it a lot and you’re going to have to fish it at all stages of the tide. Always take notes of what you learned on every trip, you will be able to profile the spot much more quickly this way. If you stick with it, you will have a pretty good idea of how the spot fishes, when it fishes best and what you can expect throughout the season.
Finding surf spots is not difficult, it just requires a lot of preparation, note-taking and legwork. If there was one thing I could say that I believe would make everyone better at surfcasting, it would be to stop relying on other people to find the fish for you. Starting at step one will not only lead you down the path of finding your own spots, but it will also make you much better fisherman in the long run.