Winter Surf Fishing

winter surf
By CAM Staff

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are many types of surf fishing techniques one can utilize to catch fish from Florida’s surf. But during the winter months, November through March, the techniques, the tackle, and the fish we target in the surf, narrows down. When water temperatures drop below 70 degrees, many warm water species like trout, King mackerel, flounder, and tarpon tend to migrate to deeper water and milder areas, while fish tolerant of cold water, like pompano, whiting, sheepshead, red and black drum, are more plentiful in waters near our Gulf beaches.

Using baits like sand fleas, cut clams, cut mullet, and peeled shrimp is one of the more reliable methods to catch cold water species in the surf, and these baits are best presented on a pompano rig, which is made with two or three #2 or #4 wide gap gold hooks. You can buy some of these rigs pre-made with a small chartreuse or yellow float or pink plastic beads rigged above each hook. Or you can learn how to make them yourself; it’s very easy to do. The bright float and beads are said to attract fish. These floats also keep your baits just off the bottom. Use wide gap hooks, as a heavy hook is not needed. The amount of weight used normally depends on the size of the surf and the speed of the surf’s current. A three, four or five ounce pyramid sinker is usually enough weight to keep your bait stationary. If you need to add more weight to keep your rig from dragging along the bottom, it’s probably too rough to fish, unless you’re a very experienced surf angler. When the surf’s up, using a tall surf rod (one between 10 to 15 feet long) will go a long ways towards keeping your line above the breaking waves. Use a sand spike for each rod to hold them firmly in place, keeping your rod inside the sand spike until you decide to check your baits or when a fish strikes. 

Make sure your reel holds at least 250 yards of 20 pound test. I prefer using a braided line on my surf reels. When choosing a braided line, use a 20 to 30 foot piece of 20-pound mono-line for a shock leader. This works best when making the long casts needed when reaching fish hanging near outside sandbars, channels and reefs. Remember to be aware of pelicans and other marine birds flying, and people walking behind you. Most importantly when setting up, give other anglers around you plenty of room for keeping everyone’s fishing lines separate.  Before long you will set hook on a bluefish, pompano, whiting, sheepshead, or big drum by picking up your rod and reeling steadily. 

Tides, water temperatures, and sea conditions vary greatly from day-to-day depending on the moon phase, weather, and swell direction. Finding a local bait and tackle shop that provides accurate surf and fishing conditions is a real bonus to anglers wanting to become experts at catching fish from the surf. Surf fishing is certainly a year round sport, but when the weather gets down right cold, the surf fishing can get downright hot along Florida’s beaches. Happy New Year and see you soon the beach!