Fishing from the beach
Fishermen or Fisherwomen who do not fish from a boat take to the surf for fishing or Piers. Tips and all that goes with this unique form of angling.
Who Surf Fishes
Surf fishermen come in all varieties, but can be just as fanatical as any other fisherman. What some of them lack in the way of a boat they more than make up for in their beach vehicle. Some of these 4WD vehicles are as well equipped as any offshore cruiser when it comes to tackle and fishing equipment. Experienced surf anglers cruise the beach (where allowed, of course) looking for that edie or runoff, looking for birds working a school of baitfish. They will follow a moving school of bait fish for miles waiting for a school of blues, reds or trout to begin feeding through them.
Rod and Reels
Because surf fishing is a very specialized type of fishing it requires some very specialized tackle. Surf rods from 10 to 12 feet long like the St Croix Premier model, capable of slinging 6 ounces of lead weight plus a bait up to 100 yards beyond the breaking surf are seen up and down the beach. A heavy duty spinning reel like the Quantum Boca PT Saltwater model is the usual reel found on these rods. Surf anglers argue regularly as to whether the length of the rod, or the design of the reel, or the size of the rod guides plays the biggest part in achieving long casts.
Sinkers and Weights
The weights used when bottom fishing in the surf vary little, and are usually a multi-ounce pyramid sinker clipped on a drop rig with the bait and leader further up the line. The pyramid sinker shape helps it dig into the bottom and hold the line tight. Other designs are arguably as good, but the pyramid has been the standard sinker for years.
Baits can range from live bait fish of the variety currently running in and beyond the surf, to blood worms, to cut bait, to sand fleas, those relatives of the crab that live in the surf wash just under the surface of the sand. Striper anglers opt for live eels. Artificials work well in schooling fish, once they are feeding. The size of the bait is dependent on the size of the schooling fish, and in general would be some thing that can match the baitfish. Spoons, topwaters, and huge plugs work well. Artificial eels in the surf can be deadly on stipers at certain times.
Where Can I Fish
Surf fishing is possible on any almost any coast worldwide. You may not be fishing from a sandy beach, rather rough ragged rocks, but the baitfish still follow the contour of the shore and the feeding fish will be right in around and under them. Shorelines may vary, but tactics will be the same.
If you don't have a boat, and you want to be exposed to the possibility of some really large fish, try surf fishing. Start up costs are relatively cheap, and fresh fish on the table are hard to beat!
Amelia Island State Park
The state lot that provides parking for the George Crady Bridge,(pier fishings) provides access to the beach on Nassau Sound and the south point of Amelia Island for surf fishing.
The park is open 24 hours a day and the entrance fee is $1.00 per person.
You can walk along the sound with a beach cart to the ocean, or you can drive a four wheel drive vehicle on this section of Amelia Island's beach.
The beach along Nassau Sound is sometimes covered with water at a high flood tide, so pay attention to the tide charts if you plan on driving around the point to the ocean for surf fishing.
This is one of the few areas left on Amelia Island where driving on the beach is allowed. Pay attention to the signs; some areas of the beach are closed to vehicle traffic because of nesting areas for birds.
Tidal movement is one key, moon phase is another, and the time of day is the third. If you catch seatrout on an outgoing tide in the early morning three days before the full moon, you can pretty well be assured that you will catch fish again next month in the same location under the same conditions. If the moon is not the same, the fish may not be there, and if it's afternoon instead of morning, they might not be there!
BASIC TACKLE AND RIGGING
Basic tackle for Anatasia State Park surf fishing consists of an 8-9 foot spinning rod and reel designed for 14 to 20 lb test line. This is the most popular rig. However, a lot of times when the surf is fairly calm, I use the same 10 lb test spinning rod I use in the Lagoon for reds and trout. The basic terminal tackle used is a 1-3 ounce pyramid sinker tied to the end of the line. One or two drop loops tied starting about 12-15 inches above the weight. If bluefish are on the agenda, I simply make smaller drop loops (about 2 inches in diameter) above the sinker and attach wire snelled size 2/O hooks. These are hooks prerigged with nylon coated wire leaders about 8" long with small loops at the other end for attaching to your line. When using my lighter outfit (10 lb. test) the maximum size weight I use is 1 ounce. One of my favorite ways to fish for pompano and whiting is to tie on a 1/4 ounce "pompano jig" in chartreuse using a clinch knot and tipping it with a small piece of cut shrimp. Works great on calm days when the waves are less than 1 or 2 ft.
Lets talk bait. For pompano and whiting, some people go through the hassel of buying clams, opening them and cutting them into strips for bait. If you can get fresh clams this works real good. Unfortunately, many of the bait shops will sell you frozen clams. Trying to keep strips of these on your hook is like trying to keep jello on your hook. They're mushy, don't buy em. The fish can suck them off your hook with a straw before you know what happened. I usually buy a ziploc bag of frozen shrimp from the bait store, and supplement these with sandfleas caught on the beach and have done quite well. When using shrimp, remove the head and the tail, divide the remainder in half and thread the half onto your hook. If your targeting bluefish, use the wire snelled hooks described above, and you can use either cut mullet chunks or whole frozen finger mullet. The only drawback to using the finger mullet is that bluefish will almost always bite the half that the hook is NOT in. I usually cut two cross section chunks out of the middle and use these, discarding the head and tail.
TIMES AND TIDES
I've always found the best fishing at Anatasia State Park to be during the higher phase of the tidal cycle, roughly 2 hours on either side of peak high tide. This is even better when high tide occurs in the early morning. Typically at Anatasia State Park a trough, or deeper area forms just past the shore break and then about thirty yards out, a sandbar forms. As the waves approach the sandbar, they break and then reform a bit over the trough to break again on the shore. As each wave breaks on the shore, it stirs up sand and with it, small invertebrates and a type of crab called a sandflea (cause it looks more like a giant flea than a crab) that grows to about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long. These sandfleas burrow in the sand with just their gills protruding through the sand right at the shoreline. As the wave hits the shore it uproots these crabs and the pompano and whiting cruise just offshore to grab them. As the tide recedes the trough gets too shallow for the fish's liking and they tend to move out past the sandbar. They can still be caught but the action tapers off a bit.
Surf fishing technique is very simple, cast and wait. After casting you line out, hold the rod tip up, reel in the slack line until you feel the weight of the pyramid sinker. These are designed to bury themselves into the sandy bottom so that wave action doesn't push your rig up on the shore. As each wave rolls in you will feel the pressure on your line increase and then subside as the wave passes your line. It's kinda easy when first starting out to mistake this for a strike. What your waiting for is a quick series of hard "taps" or "pulses" that feel distictly different. For a different perspective on pompano and whiting I like to use my lighter rig with a 1/4 ounce jig with a piece of shrimp in the trough. I simply cast the jig into the trough and let the wave action provide most of the action and maybe slightly drag the jig along the bottom. when I feel a take I just continue to drag the jig until the fish is on. Had lots of fun doing this. When the bluefish are running along our coast in numbers, they can be caught by casting floating/diving plugs and silver spoons into the schools of baitfish they are persuing. At times when they are in a feeding frenzy, they will strike almost anything that moves. Use a wire leader when doing this. Blues can bite right through lighter monofilament.