“I am not even sure there are any fish here,” I said to my Dad after feeling a wave of hopelessness. He began laughing as if I had just told a joke. I had been sitting in my beach chair scanning the surf and wondering if I was reading the beach correctly. Eventually I had convinced myself there were no fish anywhere near us. “The waves just don’t look right here,” I thought to myself. I wanted to pack up and drive down the beach to look for something different. Finally, I gave up the thought of getting Dad out of his chair. There was no way he was going anywhere after catching a 34″ striper from that spot only an hour earlier.
Surf fishing is unlike any other type of activity I have ever experienced. The thrill of fighting a large striper or drum from the beach is incredible and anyone can do it! It does not require an off-road vehicle, expensive equipment or even fishing experience. All a person really needs to do is make an effort and be in the right place at the right time.
As humans, we are constantly striving to improve. At a young age, life brings us new goals and we begin learning the best possible way to reach those goals. By utilizing the techniques we learn and by working hard, we become increasingly successful with every attempt. However, in my experience, this theory does not apply to surf fishing.
I have spent countless hours reading fishing books and magazines. I have scanned the internet researching various techniques, and looking for new and improved methods. I have spent a lot of money on rods, reels, hooks, sinkers, bait and I even bought a vehicle for the sole purpose of driving on the sand.
When I first started targeting striped bass, I was obsessed with every detail. Each day, I would check the weather forecast in case there was a front moving in or the wind had decided to blow off the water. I usually had the tide chart memorized and always kept an eye on the water temperature. I would go online and look up the previous year’s fishing reports, make notes on the dates, tides and any other details regarding a successful day of fishing. I had set a realistic goal to catch a striper that was at least 40 inches and I had no doubt it was going to happen.
Soon, I was on the beach implementing everything I had learned from other angler’s experiences. Before every trip to the beach, I would go out of my way to find the freshest bait, ensure my hooks were sharp, my knots were strong and everything was just right. I fished the best beach structure I could find, varied the distances in my casts and constantly moved the bait a little closer to keep it from getting buried in the sand. From what I understood, the conditions for catching large fish were often apparent and I was doing everything right. According to all of the research I had done, I should have been worn out from catching fish. However, it was just the opposite.
I sat many long hours swatting at biting flies and feeding that precious bait to relentless crabs, small sharks and skates. Other times, the ocean seemed void of life completely, but I kept fresh bait on the hooks and patiently waited and wondered what I could possibly be doing wrong.
One evening, after many unproductive and expensive trips to the beach, I finally caught that fish. To my surprise, it was during a full moon, a West wind was blowing and the ocean was as calm as a lake. These were all conditions I had learned to avoid when striper fishing. I remember thinking to myself, “I am so lucky!”
I have often looked back on that night and have even told other anglers how “lucky” I was when I caught that fish. However, deep down I really felt I had earned that fish the hard way and had been rewarded for spending so much time in the pursuit of my goal. It would be easy to assume that “luck” had little to do with it.
Last week, I was fishing next to a very good friend and angler. After a few hours, he began to express how upset he was with his fishing skills. He told me that he had fished several days this year and has yet to catch anything but skates and dogfish. He began trying to rationalize what he was doing wrong. He started second guessing his tackle, then the spot we were fishing and finally he decided it was because of the tide. As I sat and listened to him, I recognized the same desperation I have often felt. I did my best to assure him he was doing everything right, but I do not think he was convinced.
Make no mistake, several days of surf fishing and nothing to show for it will certainly test any angler’s passion. However, if my friend keeps putting in the time I have no doubt that he will hook into that fish. When he does, not only will it be a memorable and rewarding catch, he will once again be reminded that his techniques are solid and his confidence will be restored.
Certainly, it is best to understand and utilize the basics when surf fishing and doing so will put you on the right path. Keep an open mind when talking with other anglers and don’t be afraid to try different methods. Over time, through your own experiences, you will find the best technique that works for you. If you find yourself second guessing your techniques, do not be too hasty to change what you have learned.
For me, I had to face the fact that fresh bait, sharp hooks and strong knots would not guarantee catching fish. Once I realized that success is ultimately up to the fish, I was able to relax, enjoy my surroundings and feel “lucky” to have such a beautiful place to fish.