By Capt. Josh Olive
When you hear the words “surf fishing,” do you think of 12-foot rods, double-handed casting all the way out past the bar, Van Staal reels or giant popping plugs? You do? OK, cool — forget all those things. This ain’t Cape Hatteras or even Cocoa Beach. Those places might as well be on another planet.
When we surf fish here, we usually fish literally in the surf. As in, just a few feet from the dry sand. It may freak out the bathers, but there are pompano, whiting, flounder and snook swimming among them when they’re out taking a dip. If you make hero casts, all you’ve done is succeed in putting your bait where the fish aren’t — most of the time, anyway.
Instead, wade out to your knees and cast north. Why to your knees? Well, that puts you in the first trough, which is where most fish hang out. Here, they can pick off all sorts of small creatures dazed by the tumbling waves. Why north? Because fish expect to see their prey moving with the current, not against it, and our longshore current runs from north to south.
What are you going to cast? Bucktail jigs, silly jigs and single-hook spoons all work well, and can be fished as they are or tipped with a bit of shrimp or a soft plastic tail. If you’d rather use natural bait, shrimp and sand fleas are top choices. You’ll usually do better keeping your bait near the bottom, as fish here expect to see their food on the sand.
When the mackerel move in, you can use the same lures, but you’ll want to cast them out farther and keep them higher in the water column. Macks tend to avoid the surf zone, preferring to travel 50 to 100 feet off the actual beach. If you have your old surfcasting gear, mackerel season is when you may consider breaking it out.
You could also use it for smaller sharks. Chucking a bait way, way out there is fine for them. The kids chasing big sharks usually have to kayak their baits out — but then again, it’s tough to cast a 10-pound stingray with any tackle. For little guys — say, 10 to 50 pounds — you could throw half a mullet or ladyfish. When a big one takes it, though, you’re going to have to break it off or get spooled.
When the snook show up in summer, you can often see them but they won’t hit anything. Try coming back at first light and throwing a small white jig or spoon. Try to be stealthy. Once the sun rises, the bite is probably done.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.