Author: Team American Yaker - RIZZO
Surf Fishing The Florida Panhandle
Being mainly a kayak fisherman (and having a full time job), weather limits my ability to take the kayak out fishing. On days that are typically too windy to take the kayak out, surf fishing is my way of still being able to put some time in on the water and catch some fish. It has taken a couple of years for me to find my rhythm and learn how to properly read the beach on where I need to put my sets (rods casted out waiting on bites) out. As well as honing in on what baits and tackle work best (at least for me). Now, when I go out surf fishing, I am more confident I will catch something, where as before, I just hoped I would catch at least one fish.
Letâ€™s start with the basics on how to read the beach, I typically look for points along the beach where the sand hits out into the water. These points are called washouts and it is where the water cuts a channel through the first sandbar and splits into the first gut or trough on either side of the point. These are the optimum place to put your sets out. I typically have my furthest casting rods set up on each side of the point to catch the fish that travel the cut from outside the bar to the inside. I cast all of my other sets short into the gut to catch the fish that travel through the cut into the trough inside the sand bar. This covers all the areas where the fish will potentially swim and interact with my bait. I typically have 4-5 sets out, depending on how fast the bite is, as well as the conditions of the weather and surf. Some days the bite is so fast, I canâ€™t have more than two sets out at a time if I am by myself. Another item in addition to reading the beach is checking the tide tables. Best time to surf fish is on a rising tide. The water level rising, in addition to the surf, washes bait off the bar into the gut and this is what cues the fish to feed. Since I only get a couple days a week to fish, I typically go regardless of the tides, but there is a noticeable difference. Best times of day are earning morning and late evening. I will have at least one set in the water before first light and will pack up and leave by 10am because the bite has typically died off. Evening time I will be out no earlier than 3pm and stay till just after it gets dark.
Next up I will go over my rigs, terminal tackle, and bait. This typically varies from fisherman to fisherman, but this is what I have found to work best for me. First up, letâ€™s go over rods and reels. I use a variety of different size rods and reels to cover the different casting ranges I set my baits out at. I will have one 12ft medium to medium heavy rod with a 5000-6000 size spinning reel with at least 40# braid. This set can handle up to 6-8oz of lead so I can hold bait in place in high surf as well as handle any bigger fish I might catch outside the sandbar. Next up I will have a 9-10ft medium rod paired with a 4000-5000 size reel with 20-30# braid. Third set will be an 8ft medium rod paired with a 3000-4000 size reel with 20# braid. The fourth and fifth sets will typically be 7ft medium light to medium rod with a 3000 size reel with 20# braid which I cast short to catch fish the run close to the beach.
For terminal tackle, most tackle shops will sell pre-rigged pompano leaders containing kahle hooks and neon floats. These work very well but I prefer to tie my own leaders because it is cheaper, plus I donâ€™t use the floats. I use 20# bullbuster mono to make my leaders as well as 30# which I pair with my heavier sets. I make a few ahead of time so I donâ€™t have to waste time if the bite is hot and I get broken off. I tie a double dropper rig about 3-4 ft long with a 50# swivel at the tip and a coast lock snap swivel at the bottom to allow for quick weight changes. On the dropper loops, I place a 1/0 Mustad Demon circle hook. These are small enough to catch whiting and pompano, but they are still strong enough to hold up well against 30# redfish and black drum. The weights I use varies depending upon the surf and wind conditions. If the surf and wind are low, I use pyramid weights ranging from 2-4oz, just enough to hold the bait in place. When the surf and wind is kicked up though, i switch to using Sputnik weights ranging from 2-5oz.
Now to the bait. Sandfleas are the supposed king of pompano baits. They can be obtained using a specialized aluminum rake to scoop them up in the surf zone. I have done well using them, but I have found the best bait for myself is fresh frozen shrimp, the ones you buy in cups from bait shops that come from dead ones they skim from the live bait tank. They are easy to obtain unlike live sandfleas and works just as well. I peel and behead them, and then depending on size, will cut them into small pieces. Once again, pompano have small mouths so a small bait is needed. I will however leave the shell on the shrimp if the surf is up to keep the bait from washing off. On the sets I cast out furthest, I pair the shrimp pieces with Fishbites Sandflea bait strips cut into little squares. This allows me to leave the sets out longer on rough days. The shrimp pieces might end up washing off, but the Fishbites will stay on the hook so I am not constantly having to reel in 50-100 yards of line to rebait.
These are just a few things that I have found that have made me successful in surf fishing. So get out there give it a shot and see what you can catch on the surf zone!
-Team American Yakers member Justin Rabon
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