As usual, I read through the many fishing reports and see the amazing pictures of anglers proudly posing with their catch. By the time I have finished looking at the photos for the fourth time, the “fishy” part of my brain is creating a new list of excuses that may convince my wife to let me go fishing. Once I have finished explaining how the tide will be perfect for the next few hours, the weather forecast could not get any better and the tackle shop just received fresh bait, she usually gives her approval. In a rush to get out the door before she changes her mind, I find myself quickly going through my mental list of surf fishing necessities. Before I know it, I am on the sand wishing I had spent a little more time on that mental list.
Depending on where you fish, having to run back to your house or the nearest tackle shop may not be a big deal, however if you fish areas like the southern end of Assateague Island, having to admit to your fishing buddy how you managed to forget the bait knife is not a good feeling. Some anglers like to step out for an hour or two and they don’t need to take much with them. On the other hand, if you are like me and can’t help but fish until it hurts, there are many items you can bring that will ease the pain.
First of all, make sure you know the license requirements, regulations and creel limits for the beach you will be fishing. It is also a good idea to keep a fish species reference guide with you to help identify your catch. If you are not sure what you have caught, safely remove the hook and get it back into the water as fast as possible. A good photo will last much longer than any fish you will catch, so don’t hesitate to snap a quick picture.
You will need something to help carry your gear through the soft sand. A surf fishing cart can be a great investment for fishing spots such as the North end of Assateague Island. On some beaches, such as the federal side of Assateague Island, you are allowed to drive your vehicle on the beach. This is very convenient for longer fishing trips that require more fishing gear.
Of course you will need your surf fishing rod and reel, sinkers, hooks, and other basic fishing tackle. Choosing the type of tackle needed always depends on the species of fish you will be targeting. There are numerous options when it comes to choosing your tackle, however don’t let it overwhelm you. Your best bet will be checking out the fishing reports on the Internet and spending some time talking to the folks at our local tackle shops. They will be able to help you get an idea which rigs are best for your tackle box.
You are going to need a cooler with ice to keep your bait fresh. It does not take long for the sun and warm air to dry out even the freshest bait. In the spring, the most commonly used baits, such as bunker or peeler crabs are going to need to be cut into pieces, so having a strong, serrated knife and cutting board are essential.
The springtime sun can feel very warm at home; however the ocean breeze can feel surprisingly cold! Make sure you dress appropriately and have a good idea of the weather forecast. Even on those cloudy days, you will get sunburned so don’t forget sunscreen. Having a hat and a pair of polarized sunglasses will not only help with the sun’s glare on the water, it will also keep you from getting the painful “squint eye” headache. Wearing a comfortable pair of waterproof waders will certainly help keep your legs warm and dry when that unexpected wave sneaks up on you right in the middle of your cast.
After you have heaved your bait into the surf, you are going to need a sturdy sand spike to hold your rod. When choosing your sand spike, make sure the bottom of your rod easily fits into the sand spike. In my opinion, the longer the sand spike, the better. You will need to shove it down into the sand far enough to be able to put pressure against it without it falling over. As the tide comes in and the sand becomes soft, make sure you frequently check your sand spike to ensure it does not move easily.
One of the most common critters you are likely to catch is the Clearnose skate. Trust me, having a quality pair of needle nose pliers and fishing gloves will come in very handy when removing the hook from these spine covered bottom dwellers, as well as many other fish.
Being able to sit down and rest while you wait for that record fish to swim by will make your trip much more enjoyable. Although your cooler can also serve as a seat, I recommend a lightweight beach chair with a cup holder. It’s always a good idea to bring something to eat and plenty of fresh water for drinking and washing your hands.
Most importantly, you must remember you will be in constant contact with things that can hurt you if you fail to respect them. Think about it, you are dealing with sharp hooks and lead weights that are being hurled at incredible speeds. Be aware of the power of the ocean and the heat of the sun. There is always the possibility that you will have to unhook many different types of critters and just about all of them have some sort of natural defense.
Excitement and adrenaline can take over very quickly when surf fishing and you have to remember to stay focused. Always have a first-aid kit and cell phone, especially if you are fishing alone. Although it may not be on your list of surf fishing gear, being safe is without a doubt the last thing you want to forget.
Whenever possible, bring a friend with you. Not only can they help you untangle that spiny dogfish from your line, but in my opinion, sharing a good day on the beach with a buddy is a reward in itself.