The Atlantic's beaches are very dynamic with big waves, strong currents, deep holes and shallow sandbars. The Gulf Coast is a kinder, gentler environment, but it can offer beach anglers a great variety of fish to pursue. Snook, pompano, bluefish, flounder, whiting, jacks and speckled trout are the most sought after species and the daily lineup can vary throughout the year depending on the water temperature.
Along our beaches most of the fish can be caught in a narrow zone of opportunity where the water and sand meet; that's where the predator fish will be searching for food such as small fish, sand fleas and crabs. Long casts are not necessary. I like a 7-foot, fast taper rod rated to cast between ¼ and ½ ounce of weight, mated to a 2500 series spinning reel filled with 20-pound test braided line.
There's no need to wade out waist deep in the Gulf. I like to stand with my feet on the sand at the water’s edge and cast my offering parallel to the beach, about a foot or two off the sand, working that area where the fish are most likely to be found feeding.
When I'm fishing this way, mobility is key so I tuck a few extra lures, hooks and leaders in a small hip pack and walk along the beach, casting as I go to cover a lot of territory. While fish can be caught along the beach at any time of the day, first light can produce banner catches. This is especially true during the hot summer months.
I grew up fishing from the beaches of Virginia and North Carolina's Outer Banks. When my wife Nell and I made our first trip from North Carolina to Captiva in 1990 I quickly learned that surf fishing in Southwest Florida was very different from the Atlantic Coast and many of the lures, rigs, baits and techniques I used at home simply did not apply.
Southwest Florida Surf Fishing 101
Natural baits and artificial lures will produce, but I prefer lures such as lead head jigs with soft plastic tails, small white bucktails, Silly jigs and D.O.A. shrimp. A 30-inch piece of 25-pound or 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader runs between my main line and the lure. A Uni-knot joins the leader and line and a Uni-knot loop connects the lure.
If bait fishing is your thing, it’s tough to beat a live shrimp fished on a 1/0 hook, 24-inch fluorocarbon leader connected to the main line with a tiny black barrel swivel. A shrimp can be fished without a weight, but casting distance can be improved by adding a weight with a knocker rig or Carolina rig. The knocker rig uses a small egg sinker between the hook and swivel at the end of the leader. With a Carolina rig the main line is run through the egg sinker and stops at the swivel.