Imagine standing on a surf beach, the crashing waves creating an exhilarating atmosphere. Sea angling at surf beaches is a thrilling experience that ignites the angler’s instinct. But have you ever wondered what lies beneath the surface? Where are the bass feeding? In this article, we will delve into the workings of surf beaches and discover how to maximize your chances of catching fish.
Surf beaches are synonymous with bass fishing. Anglers agree that targeting this species provides unmatched excitement and sport. Specialized tackle has even been developed specifically for surf bass fishing. However, it is important to note that surf beaches are also home to a variety of other species. While fishing tactics may be similar, the specific fish populations can differ between locations. Most fish are found inside the surf line and often close to the shore.
Surf fishing is dynamic and not suited for anglers burdened with excessive tackle or those looking to set up camp. The surf is constantly in motion, and that is the secret to successful surf fishing. On days when the surf is calm, the sea appears smooth like glass. But when an onshore wind stirs the surf, it comes alive, disturbing the sea bed and threatening the marine habitat. It is during these times that bass and other opportunistic feeders congregate in search of food.
The clarity of the water in surf beaches is influenced by the sand, sediment, and silt content. This, in turn, determines the presence of certain species. Some of the most famous surf bass beaches boast clear water even during raging surf conditions. This is because the heavy sand sinks to the sea bed rather than clouding the water, as seen in areas with large silty estuaries.
To illustrate the dynamics of a typical surf beach, imagine miles of seemingly endless sand and surf. Our perception may be idealized, but it is crucial to recognize that fish location in the vast expanse of surf is of paramount importance. Not all white water contains fish. Factors such as wind and tide play significant roles, as food disturbed by the surf may not always be pushed inshore. Instead, it can travel along the surf line, creating hot spots in deeper holes and gullies where it eventually settles.
Seasoned surf anglers assert the ability to “read” the surf, identifying brown water in heavy surf as a prime target. In the UK, it is essential to carefully consider your choice of fishing spot. The best fishing spots are not always right in front of where you park your car.
How to Find the Feeding Fish
The key to locating fish in the surf lies where the waves gouge out the sand. Flounders, for instance, can be found throughout the surf, particularly in the flat sections between wavelets and inside the surf itself. During the flooding tide, flounders often position themselves at the edge of the trickle that floods the sand.
However, the most significant fish action occurs where the surf disrupts the sand. Overspill of sand and food particles from this disruption extends inward through the wave flats. Typically, the third flat from the beach towards the main breaker is the hot spot at the majority of surf beaches.
Deeper, undisturbed water beyond the surf is inhabited by rays, dogfish, and other species adapted to deeper waters. However, reaching these areas from many surf beaches is a challenge due to the considerable distance involved. Accurate casting becomes crucial in such situations, as the constantly shifting surf line necessitates keeping your bait in the hot zone of action.
The close proximity of various fish species on surf beaches is often a surprise to novice anglers. It is not uncommon to catch bass, flounders, turbot, dabs, mullet, coalfish, and other species with your leader knot in the tip ring of your rod. This discovery presents an opportunity to fish with lighter tackle, eliminating the need for a shock leader on a flooding surf beach where power casting is often unnecessary.
In fact, an effective tactic is to gradually reel in your tackle as you walk back with the flooding tide. Fish are continuously moving in to explore the sand exposed during low water. They may find exposed food, remnants of storms, and even discarded bait, making it essential to change your bait regularly and create a trail that leads to your hook. Leaving your tackle in the water for an extended period may result in it drifting further out into the surf, which is not always advantageous, although it may be a viable option at some venues.
At estuary surf beaches like those in the Bristol Channel, anglers often favor casting large baits at low tide and then allowing them to move with the sea as they walk back. This tactic works well during calm conditions. However, on most days, keeping your baits within the active part of the ever-moving surf is the most successful approach.
Understanding Lead Weights
Choosing the right lead weight is crucial when surf fishing. Powerful surf can drag lines and tackle along the shore, so a wired grip lead is essential if you plan to offer a static bait. There are also specialized plain lead weights, such as the pyramid and the traditional watch shape, that stay put in the surf.
When casting a wired lead weight into the main breaker, it may become buried and challenging to retrieve. Therefore, it is important to select the appropriate lead style for the prevailing conditions. Sometimes, two grip wires in a breakout lead are more effective than four. On calmer days, plain bomb, torpedo, or pear-shaped leads are ideal for trundling your bait into holes and gullies where food may have accumulated.
The secret to success lies in putting your bait exactly where the fish are located. Accurate casting and adjusting the lead weight to find the fish are key strategies.
The Best Bait Choices
Choosing the right bait is crucial for surf fishing success. Different species have varying preferences. For bass, lugworms are considered the top choice, while small ragworms and harbour rag (maddies) are effective for catching flounders and mullet. Peeler crabs are deadly during their local season, but shellfish are favored in some venues where they are washed ashore in significant numbers. Sandeels are less successful, though using a fish tip, such as mackerel, can help attract flounders and turbot at many surf marks. Also, old lugworms and shellfish have proven effective on several occasions.
Optimal Rigs for Surf Fishing
Learning to spread your baitfish is key to maximizing your chances of catching fish in the surf. A simple one-up, one-down paternoster rig is perhaps the best option. This versatile rig can be cast at short and medium range, which is usually sufficient for surf fishing. The configuration of the rig ensures that the two baits are spaced as widely apart as possible, increasing their chances of being discovered by a fish.
The length of the rig is crucial, as fish tend to congregate in a narrow band in front of the surf. A longer sprawl rig gives the baits a greater chance of being found. Depending on your target species, you can use a single hook (size 3/0) specifically for bass or three hooks (size 1 or 2) for catching flounders, dabs, turbot, mullet, and coalfish.
Adjustable rig stops are invaluable for fixing hook snood positions, allowing for the movement of snoods up and down the rig body. They are perfect for flapper-style rigs used in the surf. If you are fishing in or beyond a distant surf line, a standard one-up, one-down clipped loop rig can streamline hook baits and offer extra casting range.
Staying Mobile Along the Surf Line
When fishing the surf, it is not possible to set up a camp. Therefore, your tackle needs to be compact, minimal, and lightweight, allowing you to stay close to the sea at all times. Fishing 100 yards back from the wave edges is far from ideal, particularly when judging casting distance. Chest waders are an essential piece of gear for surf fishing. They keep you dry and enable you to wade and beach fish without the risk of getting soaked.
Most anglers prefer a tackle box, as it keeps gear dry even if washed by rogue surf surges. A clip-on side tray eliminates the need to place bait on the sandy ground, where it might be washed away. A tripod with a butt cup and head that raises the rod tip above the wave movement is useful, even when fishing close to the shore, as it reduces false bites. A clip-on bait tray positioned under the tripod keeps essential items within easy reach. If you prefer holding your fishing rod, a simple monopod stand will suffice while you bait up.
The Wonder of Wading
There is an undeniable attraction to wading into the surf, especially when targeting bass. Standing amidst the tumbling water with your fishing rod is an exhilarating experience. However, it is essential to note that surf beaches in the UK often host species in close proximity to the angler’s feet. Flounders, mullet, turbot, and even bass can be found in such shallow waters. While wading can be tempting, it is possible to wade past the fish. Going too far or standing in front of other anglers casting may result in line breakages or disturbances. Exercise caution and fish wisely.
Lure Fishing in the Surf
While fly-fishing, spinning, and plugging for bass are feasible in some surf beaches, the conditions are not always ideal. Fishing with bait may be the only viable option. Lure fishing can be a rewarding challenge, but it primarily targets schoolies. If you seek an angling thrill, fishing with a lure fits the bill. However, if you are aiming for large bass, nothing beats a big juicy bait.
The Call of Irish Surf Beaches
Lastly, we must mention the allure of Irish surf beaches. These locations epitomize surf bass fishing and have been a cult favorite since the 1950s to 1970s, solidifying the specialized branch of sea angling it is today. The Irish have taken steps to protect their bass stocks by implementing a close season and bag limit. The atmosphere alone, with the roaring surf, is enough to excite even the most skeptical angler. Surf fishing can be addictive, so approach with caution!
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Surf fishing provides an incredible opportunity to witness the power of nature and reel in some fantastic catches. By understanding the workings of surf beaches and adopting the right techniques, you can greatly increase your chances of success. So grab your tackle, head to the nearest surf beach, and get ready for an extraordinary angling adventure!