So, you've made it to the beach. What now? You need to work your way up the food chain. After I have set up my fishing rod and rod holders, I throw out The Bait Rig leader with some Fishbites or FishGum on it. The Bait Rig has three hooks on it and I like using a different flavors of Fishbites or FishGum to see what the fish are biting on that day. It really doesn't matter how far you cast out The Bait Rig. I cast it into the wade gut but some of the guys I fish with like casting it out over the 1st bar. It shouldn't take too long before I catch some fish. I am looking for whiting, croaker or hardheads. If I can see mullet running in close in the surf, I may throw a cast net out to see if I can get any. As I catch bait fish, I cut them up into heads and cut bait. Varying the distance of my casts and varying the types of bait I am using (see the How do you set up your fishing rods section), I begin testing the waters.
I mentioned in another section that you don't need to set the hook when using a circle hook. I have found that the circle hook sets itself perfectly as long as you allow it to. Circle hooks work great with spider weights. The legs of the spider weight dig into the sand and hold your bait pretty strong in place. When the fish pulls your bait and swims off, the tug that the spider weight imposes on the line digs the hook and sets it. What you do need to pay attention to is how you hook your bait onto the circle hook. The goal here is not to hide the hook. The circle hook needs to be exposed in order for it to work correctly. A single pass through the bait should be sufficient. I never put a circle hook through the bait twice. You will also need to be careful that the circle hook will not swing around and accidentally hook itself back into the bait. I have lost more than a few fish like this.
As you are getting your rods set up and casted out, don't forget to adjust your reel's drag. You are fishing in the ocean and you never know what you're going to catch so you need to be prepared to hook into a monster. I like to adjust my drag so that I can pull it out easily with my hand. When those big fish hit, if you are not close by, you want it to pull your line out. If you don't properly set your drag a large fish can (and will) pull your rod and rod holder into the water.
I have used all of the above. You won't always be watching your fishing rod when a fish bites. Conventional reels have built in clickers that will warn you when your line is being pulled out. I have used bells on the tips on my rods during the daytime to get my attention. The bells can typically be purchased in the Catfish section of most tackle shops. I eventually stopped using bells because they can tangle into your line when reeling in a fish and some of these bells just won't attach to the thick tip of surf rods. Glow sticks are must-have for me. I attach glow sticks to the tips of each of my fishing rods with zip ties. Sometimes I will hang a larger glow stick off the tip of my rod or on the fishing line itself. When placed on the line, you will quickly see your line go slack if a fish swims toward the beach. Rod alarms are a great option but on the expensive side. The rod alarms currently being sold in stores are probably not worth your money. People that I know that have used them say that they are junk and don't seem to work well. You best bet is find someone to make one for you or make on yourself. Handmade options are great because they are fully customizable with alarms, LED lighting and mounting brackets to suite. The alarms typically have a clamp that attaches to your fishing line and when the line is pulled the clamp (attached to a string) pulls a switch that sounds the alarm. Depending on the type of siren you use, these alarms can be heard quite a distance away and will wake you up if you're sleeping.
When that big fish finally does commit, hold on and keep the line tight at all times. On the original run, let the fish run! I never try to stop or turn a fish when it's running. It is best to let the fish run and you keep the line tight. When the fish begins to tire itself out, then start putting pressure on it. Sometimes the fish will swim in towards you instead of pulling your line, you will notice that your fishing line went slack (always keep your lines tight when the rods are in the rod holder). If you see that your line is slacked, grab your rod and start reeling until you feel tension again.
Every single day you go to the beach when you get off work and you still can't catch that big bull red that you're going after. To that I say, give it time and it will happen. Sometimes you can do everything right and still not catch anything. Some people will tell you "When the wind is blowing from the East, the fishing is horrible", or "Fishing is always bad under a full moon", or "The barometric pressure was too low". Does it really matter? All that matters is that the fish weren't biting. I recently spent a weekend on the beach and found that the only time I caught fish that weekend was between 10:00PM and 10:15PM. My rods would go absolutely crazy for those 15 minutes and the rest of the weekend my bait would sit out there untouched. As a general rule, the best fishing is near structure on a moving tide. (see the How To Find A Spot section)
This is the BEST way to become a proficient fisherman. By doing this, you will figure out what works best for you. You will begin to pay attention to the things that you are doing right and things that you are doing wrong. You can see for yourself if fishing when a full moon is above your head is good, bad or doesn't really matter. Spend some time on the sand and enjoy every minute of being out there because that's what it is about. Clear your mind and enjoy the time. Catching fish is just the icing on the cake.
You should never plan a trip to the beach without checking the tides and weather. You should also be familiar with the beach that you are going to and know what the driving conditions are going to be like. Be prepared for things to change. You may be able to drive your Subaru to the end of Matagorda on Memorial Day weekend if you get there on Friday after work. Trying to leave Sunday afternoon after hundreds of vehicles have destroyed the driving path may not be so easy. I don't think I have ever been to Matagorda and not see a vehicle stuck in the sand (Some even 4wd). You can use FB fishing pages and beach cams to get an idea of current beach driving conditions. Check the tides to see when and how high they are. Be aware of when high tide is. If high tide is at 4am and low tide is at 4pm, you really need to make sure that you vehicle and sleeping area will not be underwater when you wake up in the morning. You must also pay attention to the weather. If there is a storm in the Gulf near Florida expect the tides to higher than normal. I have been in some scary situations because I was not prepared for the island to have waves crashing over its highest point. I have had to drive up dunes to keep the surf from stealing my Jeep because of coastal flooding. I have also been caught in severe thunderstorms where I thought I was going to die for sure. Do yourself a favor and take the 15 minutes to check tides, weather and driving conditions.
This storm blew in during Sharkathon a few years ago. The temp dropped 40 degrees in just a few minutes and the wind blew so hard it changed the current direction.
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