Whiting in the Surf
Whiting in the Surf
By Jim Hammond
Now that the water temperature has dropped and maybe the weather man will give us some sort of calm days, we can head to the surf for a few tasty whiting.
Almost every year, right about Thanksgiving, the surf fishing for whiting turns on and continues with pretty good action through March or April.
I can remember the times, when I was a lot younger and my biggest concern was whether I had enough gas money to get me to the beach and back, so I could surf fish. Well times have changed, gas is no longer 20 cents per gallon, and I cannot fill up my truck for $2.00, but overall, life is great.
I still like to fish in the surf and catching whiting has not changed much since I was a kid. Here are a few tricks and techniques that I have learned over the years on the ways and places to surf fish for whiting.
I like to start by loading the truck the night before. The main reason for this, is I am usually more alert then, so I do not forget to load something that I will need for the next day. If you wait to load up until the morning, you are usually in a rush and when that old brain is trying to process too much info while in a rush, sometimes things get left behind.
I like to load up a couple of small rod and reel outfits per person and a couple of large outfits per person, just in case there is something big out there, like reds or drum.
For the small outfits, I like a small spinning outfit like a Shakespeare Ugly Stik SPL 1100, 5' 10" rod with a Shakespeare Intrepid SS 3835 reel. I like to spool the reel with 20 pound test Power Pro line. With the braided line, you can get about 200 yards on the spool, enough for a big fish if you luck up and hook something big. I slide a 1/2 ounce egg sinker on the Power Pro and then a trout float rig bead, this bead keeps the egg sinker from damaging the knot that you are going to tie when you attach a barrel swivel to the Power Pro. Now you are going to need a piece of 12 to 15 pound test monofilament about 12 to 18 inches long to use as the leader. Tie this to the empty end of the barrel swivel. For the hook, I recommend one of these. If you like to rare back and set the hook on the bite try a Daiichi D-16 Bleeding Bait Hook in # 4 size, or, if you are like me and like the fish to hook up when he pulls back use a Daiichi Circle Wide in # 4 size. Both of these hooks a strong enough to handle a BIGGGGG fish and sharp enough to penetrate the mouth of a small fish.
The all time preferred bait for whiting has to be FRESH shrimp, preferably live. I like to use a piece of the shrimp, no larger than the last joint on your little finger. These fish have small mouths and CANNOT get a large piece of bait in their mouth. After you catch your first one, look at his mouth and you will see what I mean. Over the past year, I have used Fish Bites for bait while whiting fishing and have had very good success and it does not come off of the hook as easily as shrimp. Same deal as the shrimp, put on a small piece. Bring a pair of scissors and cut the Fish Bites into small pieces. I generally use a piece about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch, this is plenty big enough.
The big poles are usually Shakespeare 9 or 10 foot long Big Water BWS 1100 series with Shakespeare Intrepid SS 3860 reels. I spool them with High Vis (yellow) 50 pound test Power Pro. This might seem a bit much, 50 pound test line, but it really isn't, it is only the diameter of 12 pound test monofilament. I even have 100 pound test on some of the surf reels and it is not too big. From the line on the spool, I generally make a small loop knot about three feet from the end and another one about 18 inches from the end. Slide a barrel swivel over each loop knot and tie to the swivel a 1 foot long piece of 20 pound test monofilament. Tie on a Daiichi Circle Wide Bleeding Bait Hook in 5/0 size to the end of each leader. Now on the end of the Power Pro, tie on a Sea Striker Sputnik 4 or 5 ounce sinker, using a Palomar knot. The Sputnik sinkers have wire legs, that allow the sinker to grab the bottom thus allowing you to get away with less lead. From the bottom of the rig going up you should have, the sinker, a loop knot with a swivel, leader and hook and up from that another loop knot with swivel, leader and hook. The bait on the big poles should be a small piece of Fish Bites on each hook. Slide this up to the eye and then put on as big of a shrimp as will fit on the hook. For this outfit you will need your PVC surf rod holders, a big hammer and a piece of wood.
Now for the when, where and how part of this trip.
Look for a stretch of beach that is covered with small broken shells or coquina. A few good places are the Amelia Island beach, Nassau Sound and from Ponte Vedra, south to Marine Land. The when is off course, whenever you can go, but the best times are going to be the outgoing tide.
Now for the how:
Start by carrying all your stuff down to the beach or find a beach that you can drive on. Go down to the waters edge and using your hammer and piece of wood, drive your surf rod holders into the sand. The piece of wood is to be put on top of the rod holder so the hammer does not tear it up when you pound on it. Be sure to get them down pretty far, as you don't want a big fish to pull one of your poles out to sea. Space you rod holders about five or six feet apart. Go ahead and bait up the big poles and cast them out, adjust the drag and place them into the holders. Rare back and cast these as far out as you can get them.
While fishing with the little pole, you will need to look back at these once and a while to see if the rod tip is thumping with a fish on.
Now that your big poles are ready for Mr. Big Fish, you can concentrate on whiting. Pinch off a small piece of shrimp or Fish Bites, put it on the hook of the small pole and cast it out, just past the breakers. This rig is going to roll down the beach, depending on which way the current is going, so cast it as far up current as you can. As the rig rolls down the beach, try to maintain a tight line, so you can feel the bite. These fish don't generally play around. When they hit your bait it is usually a pretty good thump.
Remember, this is the ocean and there are some big fish that swim out there, so be ready for anything. Be sure your drag is not too tight. There have been a lot of people that have lost very nice fish because their drag was cinched down and the fish broke off. If you are using the rig that I suggested, you will have about 200 yards of line on the spool (two football fields long), this should be enough line to work anything that you hook that you will want to land. With this rig, your weak link is going to be the leader, but you cannot use wire or big heavy leader for whiting or it will greatly decrease the number of whiting that you catch. If you get a very large fish on this little pole and he has pulled almost all of your line out, you have to decide how bad do want to try to capture him. If he gets to the end of the line, you might lose everything, all of your line and rig. I have had to, on occasion break off the fish rather than lose all of the line. It this does happen, you will have a heck of a story to tell and the fish, because no one has seen it, can be anything you want it to be. You know how fisherman are about their FISH STORIES.
You might want to check the bait on the big poles every 15 minutes or so, just to be sure you still have bait.
Give this a try and you might end up with some hard pulling, very tasty fish. These fish do not get real big but they do pull good and they are very good on the table. You can fry, bake, broil or use them in fish chowder. As a matter of fact, here is a pretty good receipt for fish chowder.
In a skillet, add five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or 1/2 of a stick of butter, bring the heat up to medium. Cut up in small pieces, two potatoes, two carrots, one onion and one stalk of celery. Put the veggies in the hot oil and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Drain the veggies and in a four quart pan place the veggies, two quarts of milk 1/2 quart of cream, 1 stick of butter, 1 garlic clove, crushed and a little salt and pepper. Let this cook on low heat for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are soft. Bring to a high heat boil, stirring constantly. When the boil is achieved, add a couple of big hands full of fish filets that have been cut into small pieces, about 2 inch squares. Remove from heat. Stir a few times, call me and we are ready to eat.
Capt. Jim Hammond