Tremendous Top Ten: 10 Things to Surf Fish Like a Boss

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I love the beach.  The smell of salt, lazy criss crossing shrimp boats on the horizon, and a drink in hand makes the stresses of life drift away like a coconut in the current.  Marry the relaxing toes in the sand aspect of the playa with the chance to tie into a variety of hard fighting and yummy fish–or better–watch your munchkin crank furiously with sweat and elation mixing on his face and you have the makings of a tremendous experience.  The variety and size of the fish you can catch is unlimited and here’s what you need to harvest the surf’s bounty:

1.   Rods and Reels.  Check your local fish and game handbook, but I like to bring multiple setups with me.  I use a couple big spinning reels, with 30-50 pound test braid for targeting sharks, bull reds, and black drum.  I then have several smaller reels to catch fish in the 1-10 pound range  like whiting, sheepshead, puppy drum, slot reds, pompano, etc. Whatever you bass or bay fish with will work well for these fish.   But fair warning, eventually you will hook into a shark or bull red on a small set up. Fun times!

2.  Five feet of 1.5 inch PVC Pipe.   These cheap rod holders will stick in the sand deep enough to keep from falling over, about 12 to 18 inches.  How do you get them into the sand?  Well, this part isn’t so manly, but it’s quick and it works.  Put your mouth inside the top of the pipe and suck as hard as you can.  Magically, the pipe will sink into the sand.  Or you can just bring  a pair of post-hole diggers. I think you should just suck it up.

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3.  Ice Cooler and Ice.  I think this is best anytime you are going to keep fish, but it’s mandatory for the beach.  Stringers are no use in the surf unless you are wading while you fish.  And then there’s sharks.

4.  4 wheel Drive.  Unless you want to battle crowds, you need to get down the beach where others cannot.  This isn’t absolutely necessary, but its really nice and partly makes up for your rod holder planting technique.

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Drive down the beach and get away from the crowds.

5.  Leaders.  Basically, a leader is a section of line stronger than your main line.   If toothy fish are around, I’ll go with a steel leader. Others like to roll with a fancy one that has beads and multiple swivels.  I find the best ones are simple and have had good luck with making my own.  I do use store bought ones on occasion and haven’t lost many fish using them.

6.  Weights.  Sometimes, I think this is the most important item.  If the waves are higher than your knees, I prefer 2-3 ounce spider weights.  Otherwise, I use 1 and 2 ounce pyramids.  If you are going to fish multiple rods, the weights need to stay put.

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7.  Hooks and Shrimp. I like to chill at the beach, so I use circle hooks that don’t require a hook set.  This way, I can set my coffee down, make my way to the rod, and slowly start reeling it in.  Once I feel the fish is well hooked it’s party time.  Sometimes, though, I’ll have one rod I keep in my hand while watching the others and on it, I don’t mind sporting a J hook.  On the gulf, nothing beats fresh dead shrimp.

8.  Sun/Wind Protection.  I’m basically pink.  So to avoid advancing to a painfully burnt red, I usually go with a hat, pants, long sleeves, and a buff to protect my face. Plus, I look like a train robber.

9.  A Wave Chart.  Swell info rocks and can tell you prior to beach arrival what the conditions are.  It’s a surfer’s website so I look for the bad days of surfing when there are no waves and the surface is clean.

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This is my favorite kind of surf to fish.

10.  Kids.   Fishing from a pier, dock or boat is nice, but I think this is the best form of fishing for a young or new angler.   There’s a good chance to stay busy getting bites, there are a variety of fish to catch, and if all else fails, you are still at the beach with all the fun that entails.  Be sure to have some snacks, drinks and sand castle equipment and all should be fine.

Grab your gear and head to the beach. The fish are running!

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A common afternoon’s catch in late winter/early spring

Pescado de Matagorda and a Kid Fishing Primer

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“Dad, I’m freeeeezing!”

“Ok partner, lets go home.”

“Nooooo!  The sheepshead are running! We are staying till dark!”

Goofing off with supper.

Goofing off with supper.

Such was the conversation between my eldest son, Oliver and myself.  Keegan, four, said he was fine but to hand him another Gatorade and more jerky.  We’d been on the pier in Matagorda for about 20 minutes.

The key to boys having fun is action.   Think about puppies.  They wrestle and fight and chase things.  Human puppies aren’t any different.  So when I take them fishing, we target fish that are amenable to biting a hook.  Save sight casting for bonefish around Islamorado when they are older.  We want the pole bent, and to accomplish this I turn to shrimp.   Everything in the ocean loves shrimp.  We’ve caught sharks, bull reds, sting rays, whiting, croaker, Spanish mackerel  jacks, Atlantic spadefish, black drum, mangrove snapper–you get the picture, all on the lovely little crustacean.

The weigh in.

The set up is simple:

  • Size 1 or 2 circle hooks and smaller
  • Fresh dead shrimp (shrimp that’s too old for the shrimp fishermen to sell as table shrimp)
  • Various weight sizes from ¼ to 2 ounces.
  • Whatever fishing rods you have
  • Little Red Wagon to pull your gear down the pier.

How to:

  • Eagle claw makes some fine little steel liters with various sized hooks.  Tie one of these leaving yourself about 18 inches of excess line.  To that tag end, tie the smallest sinker you can that will keep the shrimp on the bottom.
  • Bait the hook with the shrimp.  Presentation is not important, but thread the shrimp in such a way your bait won’t be stolen. I think using the whole shrimp works best.
  • I cast the baitcasting and spinning rods for the boys.  I don’t use a lot of spincasting reels, but we have a few they use.
  • Be patient.  Prepare yourself for tangled rods, being hooked and losing some fish.  It’s all about them enjoying the experience.  Hopefully in the future they will take you fishing.
  • Stay comfortable.  Little monkeys don’t want to suffer while fishing.   Make sure they are well clothed, hydrated, and fed.  I failed miserably on the clothing aspect of our trip.
  • Keep it short.  Even when you are hauling fish in left and right, I’ve found it best to keep the outings to less than 5 hours.  Most of ours are no more than three.  When we do stay longer, we usually take a long lunch break or dig a sand castle, or something of that sort.

We had a great time, but Oliver began to turn blue and shiver.  Despite his protests I called it a day after 2 hours.

Scaling

Scaling away. Prepare to wash your little ones hair when they are done.

Scales were flying everywhere as Keegan and Oliver dove into the fish cleaning.  We opted to cook the fish whole on my new grill.  Here’s how we cooked it.

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Leaving the head on is not optional.

Grilling a whole fish is easy and manly.  Grilling a whole fish you guided your sons to catch and taught how to scale and gut is even manlier.   This is actually a tasty recipe and will work well with your more prehistoric fish like black and red drum, sheepshead, whiting, and croaker on the Gulf Coast.  In the Pacific Northwest this would work well with all your black bass and assorted rock cod fish.  Go with pike, largemouth bass and buffalo in freshwater.   It’s not a dainty recipe, so don’t make it for the little princesses in your life.  Have lots of napkins handy and feel free to use your hands. Growl as necessary.

Serves 2

Prep Time 30 minutes

Marinade Time 2-10 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 2 cups of olive oil
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano (grow it or buy it, must be fresh)
  • Salt
  • Coarse black pepper to taste
  • 1 whole two to four pound fish, scaled, gutted, head on.
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Puree half the cilantro, olive oil, oregano, a table spoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of course black pepper.  Add the juice from a lemon.
  2. Pat your fish dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper the entire fish. Be sure to get inside the cavity as well. Score the fish (cut lines perpendicular to the backbone) every inch and a half or so to allow the fish to cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip lock bag, pour the marinade over the fish.  Rub into cavity well.  Put in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2-10 hours.  The really lets the flavor penetrate the fish and the salt do its thing.
  4. Repeat step one and use as a garnish and dipping sauce.
  5. Be sure you are starting with clean grates on your grill.   I like cooking over wood, but gas and charcoal will work fine.  I like my fire to be medium, not too hot, not too cold.  A good test is can you leave your hand over the fire for 3-4 seconds.  Any longer and its too cold, shorter too hot.
  6. Using a basting brush or a paper towel, oil your grill grates well and then place over your fire.
  7. Grill the fish about 5 minutes on each side, for each inch of thickness.  For instance, if your fish is 2 inches thick, grill for about 10 minutes each side.  When the inner most meat near the spine is done, remove from the heat and drizzle with your marinade you set aside earlier. *
  8. Serve it hot with some saffron or Spanish rice and sliced avocado.

*  If your fire dies on you, which I’m not scared to admit I’ve had happen, finish under your broiler in your oven using the same time frame guidelines.

Learning

Soon to be slimy boys.