April 25, 2008

A guide to the top rigs and lures for surf fishing


Often, my day in the surf begins by “prospecting” the waters to see what might be out there.  Most of the time I’ll start with lightweight rigs, small hooks, and pieces of bait, rather than jumbo-size hooks dressed with huge bait chunks. Bigger is not always better, and at times the super-sized approach will cause anglers to miss a lot bites from small- to medium-sized fish that have no chance of being captured on big hooks, but I’ve seen more than one 40-pound red drum caught on a rig intended for spot.

There are a couple rigs I use frequently and they have captured everything from pompano to puppy drum. Both are made by a company called Sea Striker from Morehead City, N.C., which calls one a “spot/kingfish rig” and the other a “pompano rig.”
Both feature light, gold-finish hooks, but the pompano rig has small orange beads in front of the hook, and the spot/kingfish rig sports a small fluorescent colored float in front of each hook.  I’ll bait them with bloodworms, squid, fresh shrimp, or pieces of fresh mullet.  The bead rig is especially deadly on pompano, and I like the kingfish rig for sea mullet.  

Most of the time I’ll use a typical pyramid surf sinker, but I also like to use a flat sinker, or pancake weight, so the rig can slide across the bottom and drift slightly with the current.  Flounder and sea mullet will eagerly attack a moving bait, maybe because they assume it is getting away from them. After the rig settles to the bottom, I’ll draw it back in slow steady sweeps, or periodically bounce it across the bottom.

Another rig that’s always in my tackle bag is the standard, two-drop bottom rig, with light-wire, long-shank hooks, sized from #2 to #4.  The long shank helps with hook retrieval from the small mouths of these bottom feeders.
As in the case of most surf anglers, I alternately fish with natural baits and artificial lures.   It’s easy for me to choose an all time “favorite” lure, and that choice also happens to be my preferred speckled trout lure -- a lead-head jig with a soft plastic tail.  But, I’ve caught trout, puppy drum, flounder, bluefish, false albacore, and black drum on lead-head jigs.
Depending on wind and surf conditions, I’ll fish with heads that weigh between 1/4 and 1/2 ounce, but my favorite is a 3/8-ounce, round, red head.  That’s what I usually start the day with, but I’m not so stubborn as to ignore those fishing around me.  If everyone is catching fish on a white head, I’ll switch colors in a heartbeat.
I feel the same about plastic tails. I most frequently use a Gotcha curl tail, in some shade of green, but will quickly defer to a Fin-S tail or a paddle tail grub in any color that the fish are eating.

However, I do rig them all in the same way. For trout fishing, I always fill my reels with top-quality, low-visibility, 8-pound test monofilament. Some trout fans like to tie their lures directly to the line, but I prefer to use 20-inches of 15- to 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader in front of the lure, joined to my line with a tiny, black #10 or #12 barrel swivel.  The swivel minimizes the inevitable line twist, and I tie the heads on with a Uni-Knot loop.
Technique is often critical in trout fishing, and it’s essential for anglers to pay attention, be mentally connected to their lures, and fish them all the way in to their feet.  I’ve seen a citation-sized speckled trout bite a lure so close to the beach that its back came out of the water on the strike. 

I also like to use shiny or painted, heavy-metal spoons such as Gators, Stingsilvers, Kastmasters, Hopkins, or Gotchas when casting for feeding blues, albacore, or Spanish mackerel, but these fish will usually strike anything that’s moving or shiny.  

Exploring a section of beach is fun with a small, 3/4-ounce Hopkins Shorty.  Speckled trout, blues, stripers, and even drum will eat this lure.  It can be fished with a variety of different retrieves at every season of the year.  I’ll usually rig these the same as I do my lead heads, with a short mono leader and small black swivel.

A few other “details” will also help to put more fish in the box. Whether fishing with lures or bait, I always sharpen my hooks and frequently check them throughout the day.  Sharp hooks catch fish.  

I also take care of my bait.  Fish feed by sight and smell and a washed out or dried out bait neither looks nor smells good.  I check my baits about every five minutes, especially when using pieces of mullet that may be picked or pecked by crabs and small fish.  If the bait is washed out or simply does not look good, I remove the old scrap of bait and put a fresh piece on the hook.

More than once I’ve seen anglers bait up a rig, make a cast, put the rod in a sand spike, then plop down in a chair and stare at their rod tip for the next hour. When they finally get around to checking their bait, they find nothing but bare hooks.  Chances are they’ve been “fishing on credit” for most of that hour.    

(Joe Malat lives in Nags Head and is a professional outdoor writer, book author, and director of the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools. He writes about saltwater fishing along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and is published regularly in national and regional magazines.  To order his books, or request information about the Outer Banks Surf Fishing Schools, visit Joe’s Web site at: www.joemalat.com.)


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