| April 25, 2008
A guide to the top rigs and lures for surf fishing
By JOE MALAT
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
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.
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
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
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
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.)