Surf fishing isn't meant for improvisation

rodcrafter@islc.netDecember 2, 2012 

Catches along the beach recently have provided a few calls wanting to share the time. As inviting as it might appear, I had reservations. The last trip I made did not go well.

A year ago, Jerry Nelson and I ended up along Trenchards Inlet. I say "ended" because it was not planned.

We had boat trouble and beached until help could be contacted. Our cell phones failed, but the service promised so we waited. It was late when we started, so we had doubts to any passing boats in the vicinity. Jerry filed a float plan -- unfortunately, it was still filed in his pocket, as we discovered later.

That was one of the coldest nights I spent outdoors -- no food, no lights, no phone, no friends. (Jerry had found the float plan and shared this information with me).

This time I will not repeat my past oversight; Things could have turned out differently.

When planning a trip, it is important to read the water to familiarize yourself on current strength and/or bottom structure. It is easier to do so at a low tide but this is not always possible in unfamiliar waters.

Items such as sandbars, inlets, drops and tapered bottom affect how fish move in the surf. For example, as tides pass over sandbars, water flow is stronger along the edges or in a cut. Swift water carries baitfish and shell food along that remain suspended -- an easy target for game fish.

Another aid is to locate surf parallel to a jetty or groin. Water is funneled into these areas on the opposing tide, which forms eddies. These spots have less-disturbed water, which contains baitfish. Water color indicates depth -- dark blue or green means deep, while shallow water is light tan or sandy. This occurs around sloughs, water between sandbars or between the bar and beach.

Sloughs are easily located by observing wave action. Look for a wave to crest, then level and crest again.

These spots predict where fish are feeding, which is often referred to as reading the surf. In essence, you are discerning relative changes that influence wave action.

Many beaches are barren and have few sandbars or rises to influence wave activity. This causes powerful waves, which literally force baitfish along at will. Game fish often follow the breaks for disoriented or stunned baitfish.

The bottom structure along beaches is constantly changing. A spot that held fish one season may be different the next. Storms also make rapid changes to shorelines. As offshore waters move towards the beach, violent surges and wave action will disrupt normal patterns and changes are inevitable.

We are fortunate that Pritchard's Island and Trenchards seem to have developed patterns over the years that remain more stable. Anglers return to these spots at each opportunity and the results are usually rewarding.


The world is three quarters covered by water. So why do anglers have trouble catching fish?

Charles Waterman said it best: "A fisherman's job is simple: Pick out the best parts."

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