I have plenty of folks come in my store each and every day that are having trouble catching fish on the surf and there a litany of reasons why they are having trouble. Most of these are very easily corrected.
1. Fish where the fish are: This does not mean right in front of your beach house. Let’s think of the ocean as the world and let’s think of ourselves as aliens coming to earth to abduct some humans. Would we go to the Sahara? Probably not. We would look for a large group of people to increase our chances. We need to do the same thing for fish. The water in front of you beach house might be the Sahara and you can fish all day long the correct way with the correct bait and catch nothing. You need to find a slough. Somewhere it is deeper than everywhere else. If you have ever waded out and stepped off into a hole you have found a slough. They can be spotted from the beach by reading the waves. If you see a wave breaking then stop breaking and start breaking again you have found a slough. If you fish in that slough (even if it is only 20 feet off the beach) you will increase your chances greatly.
2. Fish with the appropriate gear: For the most part people fish with a rod that is too big. For most fishing here at Topsail all you need is an 8’ medium action rod with 12 lb test. If you are fishing the bar at the inlet you might need something larger but an 8” rod will serve you well for most of the fish you will encounter on the surf. If the rod you are using is too stiff you will not be able to see or feel the fish biting. Also, if you are having that trouble try using braided fishing line. It casts further, is more sensitive, doesn’t stretch, and gets grabbed by the waves and wind less than monofilament.
I also see people using hooks that are much too large for most of the fish. If you are fishing for Sea Mullets you should use a hook no larger than a No. 4. Even a 2-pound sea mullet has a teeny tiny mouth and would have a hard time getting a 1/0 hook in its mouth.
3. Fish closer to the beach: I see lots of people who wade out as far as they can and then cast as far as they can. While this can be good every now and then it is usually much too far. In the summertime when oxygen levels drop fish are looking for oxygen and they find it where the waves break. The wave action also stirs up sand fleas, disorients baitfish and provides cover for predators to ambush prey. This means most of the fish will be within the first 20 yards of the beach.
4. Keep your gear out of the sand: Even the most expensive reel will succumb to the effects of saltwater and sand. I have plenty of expensive reels I have abused and had to throw in the trash because I abused them and didn’t wash them off or service them as often as I should. Invest in a good sand spike and keep your reels out of the water. When you get done fishing spray them off with fresh water and let them dry before putting them up. Get them serviced once a year at a tackle shop that does that kind of thing.
5. Try fishing at night: In the summer when the water heats up the fish are very much like us. They just want to lay around in the shade and do nothing. I do a lot more fishing at night in the summer than I do in the daytime. It is better for my skin too. When fishing the surf at night one thing that will make your fishing easier is a chem. Light. You can buy these little 2-inch chem lights at most tackle shops. Break them, shake them, and tape them on the end of your rod. You will then be able to see if a fish is biting.
6. Use bait correctly: If you are targeting pan fish you will want to use three major baits. When using shrimp you want to peel them, cut them up in pieces about the size of a small marshmallow and put a piece on each hook. If using bloodworms cut them from the tail (small end) in pieces about a half-inch long. Thread them on the hook without piercing the skin. If you don’t pierce the skin the fish will knock the worm up the hook and you will be able to slide it back down and fish with it again. When using sand fleas dig them out of the surf and simply hook them from the bottom up.
If you are targeting larger prey do not bury the hook in the bait. If the hook point cannot be seen how can it penetrate the fish’s mouth. Make sure at least the barb is exposed so you can get a good hook set. This does not apply as much in the pan fish baits as they are softer than a big chunk of mullet.
Tight lines and fair winds.
Capt. Chris Medlin is a third-generation tackle shop owner and charter captain. He makes his home on Topsail but loves fishing all over. Most of the time you can find him at East Coast Sports in Surf City or just contact him through his website at Eastcoastsports.com.