Shore Fall Beach Action
Nice stripers like these can be caught fishing light tackle along beach line sloughs.
Some of the best surf fishing action on the mid-Atlantic coast can be found along the Eastern Shore of both Maryland and Virginia. And this action gets no better than during those first few cool months of fall, long after the beach blankets are gone. It's during this time of year that saavy anglers will line up like sentinals, casting to migratory species that will take up brief residence along the sud line. Surf anglers will find the Ocean City beach and both the Maryland and Virginia portion of Assateague Island are the most convenient to fish from. You pull up, unload your gear and begin fishing. But for intrepid surf fishermen, Virginia's barrier islands offer unsurpassed surf fishing adventure. I say intrepid and adventure because you'll need a boat to get out to them. But what the islands offer in beauty easily makes up for the hassle of getting there.
There are two productive areas to fish on a beach. One is along the drop-off located just off the shoreline. This "slough" which runs parallel to the beach is where bait tumbles in the wash and predators ambush them. The best place to fish a slough is where they face a perpendicular cut in the outer sand bar. A good time to "read" a beach is at extreme low tides, like during a full moon, which exposes surf line features.
"Another productive area to fish is just beyond the first bar which can be anywhere from 40 yards to 100 yards off the beach. If you can reach the bar and/or beyond it with your rig, you'll be in the strike zone of big fish who like to patrol these areas," says Tom Vasiliou of Steve's Bait and Tackle on Chincoteague Island.
Opinions differ on when's the best time to fish the surf. Traditionally the most productive times are early morning and the evening hours. But surf anglers, like national casting champion J.T. Bolding who habitually fishes Assateague, will tell you more depends on wind and tides. Bolding likes to fish "the top of the tide rise through the beginning of the ebb, no matter what time of day it is, because that's when fish are more active along the surf line, he says." He also prefers a light southeast or east wind, which theoretically holds bait along the beach.
Fall puppy drum, average between 5-10 pounds and can sometimes be caught until late October. Best baits for them include peeler crab, mole crabs, shrimp, fresh cut mullet or bunker and lures such as plugs, gold spoons, or leadhead jigs. These fish feed from the outer bar and in sloughs along the beach. Big striped bass will feed along the beach by late fall and are active during the low light hours of early morning and evening. Effective baits include finger mullet, peeler crabs, clam, live spot or eels and fresh bunker. And big swimming plugs, hammered spoons and bucktails will all take fish, including roving bluefish.
Weakfish or seatrout, though scarce the last few years, are another traditional fall surf species. Use squid, bloodworms, and fresh peelers, bunker or mullet on a small fish finder or float rig. They will also hit leadhead jigs laced with a squid strip, small metal jigs, and smaller swimming plugs. Other popular fall fish include spot, croaker, and kingfish. Best baits for these small fish are bloodworms, squid, Fish Bites or clam pieces, cast just off the beach. What spot and kingfish lack in size they certainly make up for in eating.
For the bigger stick I prefer a "fish finder" rig, which allows the baited line to slide up past the weight and free float in the current. Use at least 40-pound test line tied off to a barrel swivel that connects to the main line. A simple 3-way brass swivel rig can also be very effective. Depending on target species, I use short shanked or circle hooks between 2/0 and 8/0, with weights in the 4-8 ounce range, since you'll need to hold bottom at all times. I also sometimes bring an 8-10 foot medium fast action rod that I can whip lures out into the surf should a breaking school of fish appear. And I love casting swimming plugs into the surf just at dusk.
Other essential surf gear should include waders, pliers, tape measure, knife, flashlight, cutting board, sand spikes, and a bucket to sit on and carry all your stuff in. There's no better time than fall to fish the beach, so break out the big sticks and head towards the rising sun. .
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