Surf Fishing for Beginning Angler

Surf fishing is probably the easiest type of saltwater fishing on the Outer Banks.

It can be as easy as just grabbing a rod, some fresh bait and starting catching fish. Of course there is a little more than that but really not that much more. So that’s why so many new anglers try this activity.

So let’s get started. First, anglers who plan to fish on the surf will need a saltwater fishing license. Short or long term licenses are available either online or at a local tackle shop. And while you are at the tackle shop, new anglers should pick up a copy of the rules and bag and creel limits.

The tackle shop can then advise of the best gear, baits, locations, tides and the best times of the day. Of course, most anglers fish when and where they can. New anglers should focus on fishing in the mornings and evenings when there are less swimmers. Fish tend to feed more aggressively during those hours.

Now armed with the correct gear and bait, the next thing is finding the best place on the surf. During your visit at the tackle shop, hopefully they provided a little advice on finding fish and reading the water. And as a newcomer, it can be a little confusing and occasionally frustrating because all the water appears the same. But with a steady eye, the new angler will be able to see slight changes in the waves, current and colors.

When reading the water, look for something different. A slough runs parallel with the surf. Moving water creates holes, points and rip currents. Another important key is look at the waves as they break on the shore. Look for piles of gravel, shells and small rocks. This indicates a steep drop off. Fish feed in these areas.

So here are three keys that each new angler should focus on for a successful outing.

First, fresh bait catches more fish. Use shrimp, small mole crabs or artificial fish bites. Blood worms are great but expensive, so stick with more practical baits. Remember,fresh bait spoils quickly so keep your bait out of the sun and preferably in a cooler. 

Rule of thumb is ninety percent of the fish you catch on the surf will be within fifteen yards from your feet. So cast close in. Allow your bait to move in the current. Check your bait frequently. 

And finally move. If you aren’t feeling bites within several minutes, move parallel along the beach. The surf bottom has many different configurations. Fish will seek food or protection in an area they find food and safety. Easy to find it you look closely.

Retrieving a fish should be methodical. When you feel a nibble or bite, and the fish begins to take your line, just raise your rod tip and reel slowly. Never jerk the rod. Jerking pulls the bait and hook away from the fish. Many new anglers get excited with a bite and will miss the catch when retrieve too fast.

Use the waves to help retrieve and bring the fish to the beach. The fish will be trying to escape by swimming straight away. Keeping the line tight, reel slowly when the fish isn’t taking line. Steady pressure keeps the fish hooked. 

The incoming waves will help with your retrieve and push the fish up on the surf. Be patient and use the waves to your advantage.

Once you have brought the fish ashore, remove the hook carefully, take a picture quickly and if you aren’t planning to harvest it, release it back into the water.

Well, there you go. See how easy that was. 

In a future article, we will discuss in detail where and when to fish and how to read the water. 

Until next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony

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