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Surfcasting Basics for Stripers and Bluefish

There’s nothing like the thrill of working your favorite beach or jetty with a swimming plug!  Learn how surfcasting can produce great fall fishing action.

Surfcasting artificial baits along your favorite stretch of beach for puts you close to the action! Part of the joy is feeling the waves churn and surge as you cast just beyond the breakers or feeling the refreshing spray as you walk carefully out a jetty. More importantly, surfcasting provides an extremely effective way to catch striped bass, bluefish and other gamefish, especially during fall, when baitfish and gamefish push close to beaches.

Matching the Hatch                             

Cotton Cordell Red Fin luresCotton Cordell Red Fin lures

Surfcasting for stripers and surfcasting for bluefish are at their best this time of year. The fish tend to be stout from summer feeding, and baitfish are abundant. You have large menhaden (also called bunker), sand eels, spearing, anchovies, herring and many other species roaming beaches. Often, schools are scattered. Sometimes they’re bunched in large schools and moving along the surf line! Matching the hatch often means throwing large, minnow-type plugs that suggest these kinds of baitfish.  

Time-tested favorites like the Bomber Long A and Long Shot and Cotton Cordell Red Fin offer variety and quality. Look in just about any surf-fisherman’s tackle bucket and you’re apt to find these lures. You might think surf-fishermen are “hoarders” because savvy ones carry lures of so many shapes, sizes and colors! But you need to know what baitfish species are present at the time you’re fishing and throw lures that look like these baitfish and that offer good visibility, given conditions.

Silver, blue, black, dark green are all top color lure patterns to try. Fan-cast your offerings to cover the most water. Vary retrieve speeds and cadences to see what might illicit a hard strike. Sometimes slow and steady is the only way to go. Other times erratic presentations with plenty of jerks and pauses trigger better action.

Always be ready because you never know just when that moment of truth will occur. I remember my first cast one day almost cost me my complete outfit! I didn’t see any signs of fish, and the water looked a bit too calm to be productive; however, on my first cast a 20-pound striper hit the plug hard, pulling the rod and reel right out of my hand! I was able to retrieve it because the drag was set at one-third the breaking strength of the line and my quick (at the time) reflexes came to the rescue! Be ready. Always!

Look for Natural Signs

Jetty and Opposing CurrentsJetty and Opposing Currents

Several signs help show what’s happening along the surf line. Look for seagulls or terns diving, which is a sure sign baitfish are present. Cast ahead of where the birds are diving to intercept feeding game fish. Look for floating seaweed or any type of floating debris. Often debris will collect where opposing currents collide and just beyond the breaking surf. Cast to these areas whenever possible as baitfish and game fish both gather here. Current eddies collect baitfish and make them easier to pick off for passing game fish species, which are bigger and stronger swimmers.

Hit the beach at low tide and take note of where the first slough occurs and if any sandbars are close enough to cast to during incoming or outgoing tides. Also, don’t hesitate to ask any fisherman you see what they’ve been experiencing. Most anglers are sociable and willing to share information.  Don’t forget to visit your local tackle shop, which is probably the best place to garner what’s been going on in the surf!

Remember that surf conditions are always changing. Scout continually and stay aware of what’s happening. Showing up frequently is, as they say, 80 percent of being successful! This applies to fishing the ever-changing elements along the surf line.

Versatility of Plugs

Cotton Cordell Red FinCotton Cordell Red Fin

Aspects that make swimming minnow plugs so effective include castability, flash and swimming action. They’re not called swimming plugs for nothing! Popular and effective patterns include 5- to 7-inch lures weighing as much as 2 ounces. When stripers are feeding near the surface, a minnow-type lure like the Bomber Magnum Long A is a perfect choice. Remember you will also need deeper-diving plugs, like the Bomber 25A and Cordell Deep Red Fin in case the action is taking place farther below the surface and more erratic baits like Jointed Magnum Long A. Also includes some baits that are weighted for extra-long casts, like the Bomber Long Shot and Wind-Cheater.

Some anglers will tweak their lures by replacing factory treble hooks. Other fishermen will simply use pliers to flatten barbs on treble hooks for easier removal from fish. You’ll probably notice that your hook-up rate will stay about the same, with less chance of injury to you or the fish in the low-light conditions of early morning or evening fishing. Try replacing the middle belly hook and rear treble with strong 1/0 to 2/0 size single hooks. You’ll still catch stripers and bluefish without the hassle of removing a treble hook or two from a struggling lunker-sized fish!

Back in the day, surf-fishing rods and reels were usually heavy-duty pieces of equipment. Today’s new graphite composite rods mean medium-action outfits are better suited for most surf-fishing situations. Years ago, many anglers would use heavy-duty rods up to 12 feet long, but these days’ 9- to 10-foot medium-action rods are more popular. In light surf conditions you may even opt for 7- to 8-foot rods.  The main reason is that even most skilled anglers have problems casting with super long rods. And longer, heavier tackle will wear you out faster.  

Also, since lure fishing requires constant casting, you’ll be more effective using a lighter outfit matched to a quality spinning reel. You need to save your energy for whenever a striper or blue takes your lure! If you’re casting from a jetty or other rocky outcropping, you should shorten the rod length to 7 to 8 feet since you won’t need to cast as far to reach sloughs, sandbars, submerged rocks and the like from a jetty—and it’s easier to swing your fish onto the rocks.

The advent of braided lines has meant anglers can use smaller spinning reels that still provide enough pulling power and strength to fight and land most fish you will likely encounter in the surf line. Look for intermediate reels that can hold 200 to 250 yards of 40- to 50-pound braid. Again, your local tackle shop is the best place to shop for the proper outfit because the local knowledge of what to use is always the way to go!

Remember that braided line requires you to start off your spool with monofilament or Dacron as a backing. You’ll need enough layers of monofilament on your spool before adding braid to prevent slippage and spinning on the spool itself. Many surf-fishermen still use monofilament lines, which provide a viable option.

One area that successful anglers don’t take lightly is the terminal end of their gear, specifically the types of knots to use. The Uni-knot is one of the most effective ones to employ when tying braided lines to monofilament, in the case of leaders for example. Also, tried and true knots such as the venerable clinch, surgeon and palomar knots are all good ones to know. These are easy to use once you get the hang of them, and there are plenty of online resources to provide good visual direction.

There are so many nuances to surf-fishing that seasoned scribes have written books on the same. One of the most exciting aspects of fishing the surf is the ever-changing nature of things. Rarely are two fishing excursions the same, as tides, currents and storms continually change what you’ll find at even your favorite stretch of beach! But that’s what keeps us coming back for more as we try to figure out the best tackle, lures and tactics to use in order to fool our favorite game fish species! There’s nothing quite like the surge of the surf at your feet, the splash of salty water on your face—and the promise of a tight line after that perfect cast just beyond a crashing wave!

Tips for Surf Success

surf linesurf line
  • Use a balanced outfit for better casting
  • Best rods are between 8 to 10 feet long
  • Quality spinning reels are most-oft used for surfcasting
  • Local tackle shops are must-stop places for timely insights and tackle tips
  • Bring along a good selection of plugs to match the hatch