Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SURF FISHING ON THE FIRST COAST the Hot Spot

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SURF FISHING ON THE FIRST COAST the Hot Spot

Article excerpt

NORTH BEACH -- Late Wednesday afternoon, I was researching the weekly fishing forecast -- I went fishing -- and was approached by a man on the beach north of St. Augustine.

"How's the fishing?" he asked.

Slow, I responded. A few small whiting were about it for the previous hour.

Then, as we chatted, my rod tip began vibrating in its holder, and I reeled in a nice eating-size whiting. I rebaited and cast to the same general area, and immediately the rod bowed and began dancing again. Another whiting for the pan.

The stranger became more interested in what was happening, curious about my rig, hook, bait, etc. In succession, I caught five more whiting. They were suddenly fired up, slamming the bait as soon as it hit the bottom. But the sun was sinking fast, and I already had enough for supper, so with some reluctance I left them biting.

The timing of the bite had been perfect, making me look like a pro. Enthused, the stranger announced he was going to try surf fishing for the first time the next day.

Surf fishing is, indeed, infectious, and this is the time of year to go. There are whiting, bluefish and pompano out there, and you don't have to step over sun-bathers to get to them.

The rules of the surf-fishing game can be as simple or as sophisticated as you make them. Armed with Kmart tackle, price stickers still affixed, tourists typically pick any convenient spot on the beach, bait up with pink, frozen shrimp, make a bad cast and hold the spinning reel upside down. Amazingly, they still catch some fish.

Those with a little more knowledge catch more fish.

-- Rule No. 1 -- use fresh bait. Freshly dead shrimp, the universal surf bait, should be gray in color. If all your bait shop has is the frozen pink stuff, buy live shrimp and place them in a cooler or plastic bag. To bait up, twist off the head of the shrimp, peel the shell and thread the remaining body on the hook.

Another option this time of year is cut bait, pieces of belly strips from freshly caught whiting or bluefish, and clams.

For pompano, live sand fleas captured at the water's edge are the way to go. Though not as effective, shrimp and frozen fleas will also catch pomps.

-- Study the beach for irregularities at low tide. Surf species relate to structure just as their finny kin do in other habitats. Sloughs, the deep trenches formed by pounding waves between sand bars, run parallel to the beach and are the equivalent of north-south fish interstates.

Run-outs occur perpendicular to the beach, cuts through the bars that provide fish with east-west access. Look for a stream of outflowing, clear water surrounded by foam on either side.

Depressions in the bottom, appearing darker than surrounding water, are best observed at low tide with the sun overhead or behind your back. …

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