by Jerry LaBella
With the arrival of fall, a sort of wild hiatus occurs, and not just along the Gulf of Mexico, either. Frenzied surf anglers also pepper the shores from as far north along the East Coast from Delaware all the way down to Florida.It is here that the sandy seashores become a pincushion for sand spikes and 8 ft. surf rods, not to mention the miles of tire tread prints from various 4 X 4 vehicles.
The key target for most of these pursuers is bull redfish (bull red drum).
What makes this type of fishing appealing to many anglers is you don’t have to have a boat to tango with these brutes of the surf. With a minimal investment of a rod and reel, ice chest, and some items discussed later, an angler can have success otherwise limited to those with a boat.
Accessibility is the key with this type of fishing, and it comes in many forms. You can fish off the beach, a bridge or jetties, or other structure if you have the proper equipment. Obviously, without a boat one would at least have to have a vehicle that would allow for the transporting of all the needed gear to the location of choice.
Careful planning is important because this kind of angling is more often a waiting game. Therefore, to make it more pleasurable you need to bring all the needed amenities: lounge chairs, sun canopy, refreshments, radio, etc.
There’s nothing real technical about this type of fishing, which basically involves casting a beefy piece of bait into the surf and waiting for a hookup. There’s no need, either, for any fancy working of the bait to enhance a strike. What will be important, nonetheless, is that you periodically check the bait to make sure you haven’t lost it and to keep it freshly changed about every 30 minutes or so, depending on bait type and how hungry bait thieves become.
The saying that “the more, the better” is definitely a principle to follow when considering how many rods to use, but don’t put out more than can comfortably be handled. Use no more than two rods per person and try to place baits in as many directions as possible, leaving a comfortable distance between each. Likewise, when fishing from a pier or bridge you would want to fish both sides, giving consideration to other occupants. Then, after everything is setup, pay attention to where the strikes occur, and relocate the rest of the rods and reels undergoing less action to that vicinity.
Once all the rods and reels have been cast out, the handles will have to be placed in a supporting device called a sand spike, or rod holder, which is driven and secured into the sand away from any lapping waves. This device may also be used wherever there’s a place with a railing or similar fixture (bridge rail, pier post, etc.) so that it can be taped or tie strapped securely to an up right.
A sand spike can be purchased at most sporting good stories, but you can construct one very easily. All you need for a sand spike is a 4 foot length of 1 3/4 PVC from your local hardware store. With the use of a hacksaw, cut one end on a 30-45 degree angle and the other end square. Clean the rough edges by scraping them with a razor knife. The angled end is driven into the sand; the other end is for the rod handle to go into.
To prevent loss of rod and reel you must make sure that the drag on spinning reels are set loose enough with bail closed. On bait casting reels, set them in free spool ratchet position, before placing them in the sand spike. After placement, test to see if they will remain secured in the spike by pulling out the line in front of the rod tip, simulating a fish strike. Adjust drag tension accordingly so that spike will not be pulled from the ground or fixture to which you attached it.
The game of patience begins when all lines are out and you’re laid back sipping on a cold one, waiting to be pleasantly interrupted by the loud clamoring sound of your reel’s drag. When that happens, set the hook immediately and get the other lines out of the water. On bait casting reels put the reel into lock mode (fighting position); on spinning reels tighten the drag enough to set the hook and allow for the run.
Despite popular theory, it’s not necessary to wait before setting the hook when catching bull redfish or black drum. These fish can engulf a fist-sized bait in one inhalation. If you wait a few seconds before setting the hook the fish may become gut-hooked, making it less likely to survive if you decide to release it.
Fight the fish long enough so that it wears down, and don’t be overly concerned if there’s a lot of wave action. Keep the line taut and use the waves to your advantage by allowing the surf to bring the fish right on the beach. Once landed, keep it clear of the lapping waves or it may be sucked back out to sea.
Fighting a bull redfish from a structure is an all together different challenge. Here drag tightening and rod manipulation can make a difference between landing or losing the fish. If a fish is headed for structure, such as piling legs, rocks, etc., and the present drag setting is unable to turn him, you may take a risk on tightening the drag more to head him off.
However, if that’s unsuccessful, you might try the “gambling tactic” if you are wary of line breakage due to abrasion.Since fish fight and run at the sensation of resistance, put the reel in free spool or break the bail open, which ever is applicable, and hope it steers clear of the potential obstacle. Allow the fish a few seconds and resume the fight with your rod tip pointing to where you want it to head–hopefully out of cover.
Fishing above the water from a pier or bridge presents a different challenge. Such places can make it difficult to landing the fish unless you have a bridge gaff handy. Remember, the longer the fish stays idle in the water, the more likely it’ll rest enough and rebound, possibly putting you back in the same situation you just got out of.
Like the sand spike, the bridge gaff is also something you can make. This device allows you to gaff the fish and hoist it up to where you’re located. This piece of equipment is nothing more than a very large treble hook fastened to a 1 ft. long shock leader of 200 lb. mono with about 1 pound of egg sinkers directly above the treble hook eyelet. A 30-40 ft. length of 3/8 rope is then tied to this leader after making a closed loop with the use of barrel crimps.
Landing a fish with the bridge gaff is relatively simple, if you have an assistant to direct the hook so that it gaffs the fish under the mouth area. Once the fish is gaffed, immediately place the reel setting in proper position to relieve any line tension (i.e. break bail, etc.) just in case the fish breaks free from the gaff it won’t snap your rod in two due to the fall.
Tackle is critical when scuffling with these broad-shouldered surf-runners. It is therefore important to use at least 25 pound test mono line, but braided line in at least the 6/30 class will be a better choice, particularly where structure is eminent.
A stiff surf rod of 8 or more feet in length, with a reel of no less than 200 yards capacity will be mandatory. This type of rod makes for longer casts and added leverage for maneuvering these heavy-duty redfish away from critical structure.
A simple, effective leader to use is a fish-finder rig. This rig allows the fish to take line without feeling the resistance of the sinker. These are especially useful when fishing the surf since the line will basically stay where you cast it.
A fish-finder rig consists of a 2-3 ft. length of 40 pound mono leader with an 8/0 hook on one end and a barrel swivel on the other. On the tag end of the fishing line slide a large snap swivel (eyelet end) up the line and place a pyramid sinker (at least 4 oz.) to the clip side of the swivel. Then tie the tag end of the fishing line to the leader at the barrel swivel. Depending on size of bait, current and waves, the sinker weight might need to be increased or decreased. Pyramid sinkers are the key here since they will dig into the sandy bottom and hold your line in position.
When using this type of leader setup, some have been puzzled when casting heavy baits with too light a sinkers. What takes place is a short cast with the bait traveling way beyond the sinker location. If this happens, increase sinker weight to equal or more than the bait’s weight. This will allow the sinker and snap swivel assembly to remain nearer the leader section during the cast, preventing it from double backing and entangling itself.
Many baits work well when going after bull reds; but make no mistake about it, fresh is best. Squid, mullet, pinfish, porgies, croaker all work well. But many veteran anglers choose whole or cracked crab because it is least prone to be taken by sharks, catfish, or picked clean by bait fish.
Nevertheless, no matter which one you choose, one thing is for sure – when the surf’s red, the bull’s will be fed!