I love waking up before dawn, grabbing a coffee and driving to my favorite surf fishing spots with a fluttering in my stomach that can only come from the anticipation of casting to schools of huge surface-feeding stripers. I travel down empty roads and darkened windows, feeling like I have the world to myself, and when I arrive at my destination and hear the shriek of terns over the water my heart races. I can’t get my waders on fast enough and as I half-jog to the shore I imagine the scenario of seeing my plug disappear in a watery explosion that leaves me battling a creature half as big as myself. Within a few minutes I turn these musings into a thrilling reality. This is what I live for.
In June, bait is everywhere and so are the striped bass. These fish are lean, aggressive and can be found in great numbers, but choosing locations to fish is a challenge for surfcasters, since standing on shore and having a limited casting range can be a hindrance. An angler must come to conclusions about where the fish will be and when, but areas with certain features can provide distinct advantages.
My favorite areas to target are deep, narrow river mouths with lots of moving water. Bass are opportunistic and use river mouths to their advantage because they bottleneck the water, limiting space for prey to flee. Also, the stronger current is more difficult for small baitfish to overcome. Examine charts to locate deep pools and other features that may appeal to bass, and fish different stages of the tide and different times of day. If a spot looks like it should hold bass it probably does, but sometimes they’ll only set up and feed during very specific conditions. Fish a spot diligently and you’ll eventually discover a pattern.
Targeting points that are surrounded by deep water is another strategic approach for a surfcaster. As baitfish make their way along the coast, keep in mind that they must obviously travel around obstructions like points of land, which disrupt the shoreline and extend into deeper water. The bass will set up at these points and await the inevitable arrival of schools of bait. Certain wind, tide and light combinations will create more optimal conditions, so once again vary your approach in relation to these factors. The list of viable fishing spots goes on and on, but a basic understanding of the natural features and conditions that attract bass and why they do so can help narrow it down significantly.
Finding great areas to fish is a sort of science, and having the proper gear will aid you greatly in your experiment. Your rod and reel are your primary tools to deliver your plugs and retrieve the beasts that latch onto them. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest limitation to the surf angler is your position on shore. Being able to make long distance casts when needed is something you must be able to do, so having a rod that is capable of this is important. I recommend a graphite blank of 9 to 10-feet, capable of handling lures of up to four ounces. Your reel should be well matched to your rod and have a full spool of line, since having a half-full spool can severely limit your casting range and put you at an automatic disadvantage. I use 50-pound braided line with a four foot, 50-pound mono leader. Braided lines not only cast farther, but transfer energy from your rod to your plug quickly and more effectively, providing solid hooksets and better plug action. I use “Breakaway” clips at the end of my leader because they offer a quick means to change lures, and unlike standard swivel clips they cannot accidentally open.
For me, plug selection is a simple decision. I love pencil poppers, and my plug bag is full of them. In my opinion, there is no other lure that is quite as diverse and effective at calling big fish. White is my favorite color, but I also have a couple yellows and blues. The yellow plugs work best in foggy, cloudy or low-light conditions and the blue is for when the fish are on mackerel. Most of my pencils are 3 to 3 ½ -ounces and they cast like missiles, which is great for those days when the fish are hanging off shore a bit. I use wood plugs exclusively, and companies like Gibbs, Lemire’s and After-hours offer some of the best, all of which are durable, well constructed and cast a mile. Other than pencils, I have a few “spooks”, a couple surface swimmers, a “polaris” type plug made by a friend and some tins. These lures have their applications, and I’d be foolish to limit myself to one type. I also keep a small dry box that holds my swivels, clips and hooks, as well as a spool of 50-pound leader material that I zip-tie to my plug bag. I wear nylon, breathable waders with stocking feet because I like the ankle support that wading boots offer. My wading belt has two large “D” rings on it, one of which holds my pliers and the other to clip an eight-foot stringer onto. A headlamp with a red light is also important, especially for the early morning and late-night outings.
Don’t believe for a second that owning a boat is essential to consistently catching big fish. While June is prime time, a surfcaster can find success throughout the summer by adapting techniques and fishing various locations, keeping in mind the reasons why fish do what they do. Some of my fondest fishing memories were while surfcasting, and it’s those same inescapable memories that flood my mind on those dreamlike drives to the shore.
By Capt. Casey Allen