As any experienced angler will know, you never stop learning. The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. There are many tips and tricks you pick up when surf fishing involving weather, bait, technique, and today’s subject timing of the tides.
The key to your success surf fishing is in preparation; more specifically, your timing. It is for this reason that we attempt to answer the question – what is the best tide for surf fishing?
The best time to surf fish is before dawn at the start of an incoming tide. But, just before dusk, as the tide subsides, is the perfect time to catch larger, predatory fish that were out of sight during the day.
Unfortunately, a complete and thorough understanding of the tides does not guarantee you success. You may surf fish at the right time but still end up blaming your gear for zero results. The reason for this is because it is not only the timing of the tides that matter. There are other things that you need to time correctly for the best results. But before we delve into those, why are tides important when surf fishing?
Why Are Tides Important when Surf Fishing?
Knowledge of the workings and effects of tides on fishing is important as it means less time wasted at the beach waiting for fish. That said, we will have a brief look at the science side of tides, then get into how it affects the fish type and movement.
The Basic Science of Tides
Tides are defined as the rise and fall of the sea level. They are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun and follow a lunar timetable as the moon has more influence on the sea level due to its relatively close distance to the earth.
The magnitude of the tide depends on the position of the sun relative to the moon. Spring tides usually happen on new and full moon phases, when the sun and moon are on the same side of the earth. During this time, tides rise and fall higher and lower than during the first or last quarter seasons. When they are on opposite sides, the tide is usually lower.
Floodtide is the name given to a rising tide as water moves towards land. Ebbtide is when the tide is falling and water flows away from land while the slack tide is when there are no currents so the tide is not moving in either way. The high-low movements take place at different times of the day, which vary according to location. For a detailed timetable of the tides in your area, check this out.
How Do Tides Affect the Fish?
The to and fro movement of water affects deep-sea fishing as well, but shallow waters feel a stronger impact. During an incoming tide, there is a minimum current so small baitfish such as bluefish, weakfish, striped bass, and channel bass are most active. During this floodtide, tiny organisms that serve as food to fish are washed ashore, luring the fish. It is at this time that you get to see larger game fish coming in to make their move. The smaller fish often scatter and can’t use the current to escape predator fish.
As the day goes by, the tides become larger and larger. These stronger currents prompt more fish into feeding as they pull food and other organisms from the sea bed into water columns and beaches giving you a better opportunity to catch something. The high tides also pull food from the beaches to the sea. It is also during these times that most sea creatures mate and/or give birth so there is lots of planktonic food for other fish.
As night approaches, the larger predators come out to hunt close to the surface, presenting you with an opportunity that wasn’t available during the day.
It is quite common to see anglers fishing when there is a full moon in the middle of the night. The full moon brings with it higher tides and more active fish, making it the perfect time to take your rod and reel for a spin.
When (Time, Year, Moon, Weather) to go Surf Fishing?
Aside from tides, there are other factors that are important to consider to get the most out of your fishing trip.
By ensuring all following timings are in check, you will nudge the odds in your favor.
#1 – The Best Time of the Year for Surf Fishing
As we don’t have any particular location in mind, the best time to surf fish is during spring and fall. That is not to say that fishing in winter and summer won’t get you results; it’s just that they won’t be as good. Nonetheless, in some areas, you can catch lots of fish all year round.
#2 – The Best Time of the Day for Surf Fishing
The best time to surf fish is from before dawn to around 10 AM and two hours before dusk. It is during these times that the fish are feeding, hence exposed. That being said, it is best to speak with the locals in your area as they always have the best knowledge of the fishing conditions in your area.
#3 – The Best Moon Phase for Surf Fishing
As mentioned above, the moon affects both tidal movements and fishing as well. That said, the best moon phases to surf fish are the new and full moons. During this time, water moves faster, and the tides reach deeper than ever. What’s more, it is believed that fish are more active and feed for most of the night during full moons.
#4 – The Best Weather Conditions for Surf Fishing
Onshore breezes are the best conditions for surf fishing, but they need not be too strong lest they mess with the water clarity. When they are too strong, the effect is similar to that of cold fronts.
Low pressure is also better for surf fishing than high pressure during tides. If the weather conditions become extremely bad then subside, you will not be able to surf fish for a while say, one or two days as the fish reacclimatise.
#1 – What do I need to start surf fishing?
Even if you are used to conventional fishing and can do well in ponds, streams, and rivers, surf fishing will feel like a totally different animal altogether. You are going to need a whole new set of fishing gear to get started.
To begin with, as you are going to be shooting a heavy line into the surf, your standard 8 or 9-foot fishing pole is not strong enough to get the job done. Typically, surf fishing rods lie anywhere between 9 and 15 feet. As a beginner, however, a smaller and lighter rod say, 10-12 feet, should suffice. It gives you room to “grow into” as you get experience and hone your skills well enough to well cast a 15-foot monstrosity.
As you are just starting out, you don’t have to break the bank for a saltwater spinning reel. Some surf fishermen use the more complex baitcasting reels, but you should stick to the more traditional gear setup, which will feel more natural if you are used to conventional fishing. The importance of a high-quality fishing line needs not be mentioned. You can use the regular old monofilament, or go for the much stronger, flexible, and lightweight fluorocarbon line. One with a weight capacity of 20-25 pounds is enough.
The last major piece of the puzzle is a shock leader. As you are going to use heavy-duty casts, the shock leader is important as it absorbs all the stress on the line. Once you have known your way around the standard shock leader setup, you can graduate to using more than one leader at the end of your line.
The other bits and pieces of tools you need include a sharp knife, sand spike, and a cooler or a bucket to keep your catch.
#2 – What Types of Fish Can I Catch When Surf Fishing?
The only limit to the type of fish you can catch at the beach is your location along the coastline and your locale. In New England, for example (off the coast of Cape Cod), you can catch everything from sea bass and striped bass to winter flounder, cod (of course), and mackerel among others.
If you Surf Fish further south down the Atlantic Ocean coastline, you can find flounder, spotted sea trout, black drum, red drum, and even sharks if you are lucky. Fishing on the West Coast, off the Pacific Ocean beaches exposes you to leopard sharks, yellowfin croakers, red tail, California halibut, striped bass, surf smelt, and bat rays among many others.
As a general rule, it is very hard to have a bad day at the beach; and it is even harder when you are deeply engaged, hauling lines and pulling in dinner left and right.
Put some thought into what we have discussed and you are sure to have a great time. Don’t be surprised to find yourself hooked after the very first try and hopefully, this guide will help you reel in your very own sea monster sooner rather than later!