Fall and winter along Treasure Coast beaches offer up some of the finest fishing there is. Surf fishing is fun, fulfilling and best of all, can fill a freezer in a couple of trips. Whiting, pompano, croaker, bluefish and Spanish mackerel are prime targets. While none of these species will ever earn acclaim for their size, they earn high marks at the dinner table.
The hours of the incoming tide and beginning of the outgoing tide are the best time to go. Seas don’t have to be flat calm, but there is a threshold where if the shorebreak is too heavy, it might not be worth the effort. Surf fishing is generally a modified form of bottom fishing. If the waves are too large and require too much lead weight to hold bottom, it makes it impractical to fish. Plus, fish move out beyond casting range when the water is too sandy near the beach.
Tackle requirements include a long 9- to 12-foot rod. Some anglers prefer spinning reels, however, the professionals keep one or more conventional reels in play, which helps reduce the potential for line being “spun” up by jacks and bluefish. Light line is the norm, too, about 10-pound test, but no more than 15. Most use monofilament with 1/0 or 2/0 hooks in a double-hook rig. Small pieces of bait like clam strips, pieces of shrimp, sand fleas or artificial bait like Fish Bites work well, as many of the targeted species feed using scent. Using a clip swivel, hook on a sinker heavy enough to hold bottom. Sometimes that weight might be 2 ounces; sometimes it might be a Buick.
Whiting are nice to catch, and croaker mix into the cooler just as well. Both produce white flaky fillets and can be prepared in any number of ways. Take the skin off the fillet and bread for frying. Or try a whiting Reuben on rye bread with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing for a true delight.
Bluefish are voracious predators that feed in schools reminiscent of toothy piranhas, except larger. They are fun to catch, peeling off line and pulling like a jack crevalle. The Florida state record was caught in Jensen Beach in 1972. It was a whopper of a chopper, weighing 22 pounds. Spanish mackerel are also a fan favorite, and both macks and blues can be caught with topwater plugs, large spoons like Krocodiles and fast-reeled jigs. Bluefish taste fishy. Spanish mackerel are flavorful, but are best day-of fresh, and not great otherwise.
But pompano really draw the crowds. In case there is any question, stop by a fish market and check the price per pound, which hovers around $19.99. Pompano have a delicate, rich flavor and elegant texture. Fillet with the skin on, which leaves them perfect for grilling or broiling. Lemon and pepper and a little tartar sauce make for a great reward for taking one’s fishing rod to a Martin County beach.
Ed Killer is an outdoors columnist with Treasure Coast Newspapers and the USA Today Network.