Adapting to surf conditions

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THERE ARE MORE FACTORS when it comes to surf-fishing conditions than you might think. PHOTO COURTESY surffishingsocalsd.com
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BY NICK HEID

Fishing is a game of chance. You can put the time in and figure out the highest percentage methods to maximize your chances at success. But, at the end of the day, it really is a game of chance. First and foremost, your success rides on whether the fish are there and hungry enough to feed. Secondly, you’re at the mercy of the conditions.

With all styles of fishing, there are numerous factors to consider when preparing for a session. With surf fishing, those factors can be overwhelming at times. You could show up one day to pristine conditions: low surf, minimal current, no seaweed, perfect structure submerged within casting range for the tidal set, low winds, readily available bait, etc. Then you could show up the next day, and nothing looks the same, nothing feels the same, it absolutely sucks. In some instances, even if just one or two factors are off it can ruin the session. The surf could be perfect with great weather, but seaweed just rolled in and conditions are now unfishable. The surf could have been predicted for a nice 2 to 3 feet and you show up to 5 footers up and down the beach. You literally never know.

All that said, the surf can push you in a couple different directions. It can discourage the heck out of you to the point of giving up, or it can push you to learn how to fish to the conditions. If you make it to the latter of the two, you’ll learn how to fish through seaweed, how to fish through high surf and which local beaches handle certain conditions better than others. Another thing you’ll learn is how to read the surf. Sometimes, it only takes one session to be the deciding factor on which path you end up choosing. The other day was a perfect example that illustrated which path I chose and the benefits I’ve reaped.

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Conditions and Analysis

I showed up to a local beach prepped and ready to go – I come prepared to fish three different styles of surf fishing just about every time I hit the sand: a Carolina rig for corbina, perch and croaker, Lucky Crafts and other lures for halibut and possibly white seabass, and of course a shark rod for whatever might pick up my bait. – I’d be fishing a falling tide, but that was okay in my mind. I’ve learned how to read the surf, so I’m comfortable showing up to any tidal height or tidal phase as long as I know the beach can handle it. The sun shined through upon arrival, but I could already tell it was going to be a chilly, overcast evening. I’d prefer a clear evening, but not a huge deal.

The water temp was 67-degrees fahrenheit which was right on pace for middle of June and the surf height (which was predicted to be 3-4) was very manageable at about 3-feet. What was off then? Everything was lining up except one factor. The seaweed was everywhere. The sand was covered, chunks were floating in the surf and there were a few patches of water that were chummed up with little pieces and grass that would surely make fishing impossible in those areas.

Immediately upon arrival, I began making adjustments as I would fish to the conditions. The shark rod remained in the car, and I’d head to the sand to get a closer look and get a feel for how fishable this was going to be. One other factor ran through my mind. Since the tide would only be falling for the remainder of the day, the seaweed on the shoreline would not be a factor. That was an encouraging note. Ready with Carolina rig and lures still in my arsenal, I walked the beach looking for two things: clean water (without seaweed) and good structure… ideally both factors in the same spot.

Responding to the Conditions

After a few hundred yards of walking, I found a spot that would be good enough to start. Straight in front of where I set my gear down, there was a really nice series of troughs along with a nice, defined hole. Only problem, it housed a few good chunks of seaweed and grass. To the right of that good structure, was a flatter section of sand, but not undesirable. The nice thing about this section was that it was clean, no seaweed.

I decided to rig up with a Carolina rig and then gathered some sand crabs (a good amount of soft-shelled crabs too). First, I tried the clean spot next to the structure with no luck. I noticed the current was holding pretty well.

When the current is strong and seaweed is thick, it’s really tough to avoid it all. But, when it’s relatively predictable as to where the seaweed will be, you can do a few things. If the seaweed is just big chunks, you can easily maneuver around the chunks and it’s not a big deal. If it’s a lot of grass or small pieces in the waves, your best bet is to cast short. That means either literally casting short or wading out and then casting short. The idea is to keep as short a section of your line in the water as you can. Raising your rod tip above the water also helps.

With no luck in the clean section after some 15-minutes and having noticed the minimal current, I decided to bolden up and try the short troughs to my left. I did my best to stay away from the highest density spots (in terms of seaweed) and I gave it a short cast just far enough to reach the first trough.

Reaping The Benefits

No more than five minutes would pass by before I felt a nibble. It was a slow and subtle nibble at first, but after it confirmed for me that it had taken the bait, I set the hook and knew immediately that it was a solid fish. The first run was great, so was the second. The third and fourth were a combination of the fish being quite strong and me trying not to lose it in the seaweed that had now accumulated on my line. I tried dipping my line under the water to let the seaweed pass over my line, but that only accumulated more seaweed. The last thing I wanted to happen was for the seaweed to slide down and put too much pressure on the fish causing it to fall off the hook. Luckily, I managed to keep most of the seaweed higher up on my line as I walked the fish back with the waves.

Through the seaweed, I saw a nice, dark spot behind it’s right dorsal fin and my suspicions were confirmed. A really solid spotfin croaker! I broke the tape out and measured it to be 21-inches. No monster, but a heck of a fight and a solid fish. After a quick photo and release, I cleaned up all the seaweed off my line and took a breath of relief and satisfaction. It was nice to get rewarded in tough conditions and although it was only one fish, I was content.

The day didn’t end there however. The falling tide cleaned up the water nicely and I got on a solid corbina and yellowfin croaker bite just before sunset all the way through last light. The story of the day though, was the spotfin. Don’t let rough conditions discourage you, use them to get better!

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