If you live within easy distance of the ocean, chances are, you already enjoy the exhilarating fun of surf fishing through the warm seasons. But winter can be one of the best times to fish the surf.
Less people jamming the beaches means more elbow room for you to stretch out and lay out your cast. Fewer crowds and a lack of recreational boaters… can it get any better than that? You’ll find little to no competition during the crisp winter months, so it’s the ideal time for winter surf fishing.
Winter Surf Fishing: A Whole New World
The topography of a beach will completely change in the winter, jettisoned by big surf and high winds. Your usual holes and troughs you frequented over the summer will be completely gone.
You’ll want to pre-scout the area to find new spots to try out. Walk the beach at low tide and make note of the new holes, and troughs. Look for the sloughs, they’ll appear as an area of dark water at low tide, and on high tide, it’s the spot where the waves don’t break over. Find where the structures will be that are covered at high tide, too. Pockets of fish may be found on the open beach, but the rocks will have higher concentrations. This time of year, fish like to find a safe haven near rocks (and so does their food), so you should have good luck fishing up against jetties, harbor entrances, and anywhere else you find piles of rocks.
While some of your old fish friends may have migrated further out to sea or south, following the warmer waters, others continue to remain. If you live in areas further south, you’ll find some seasonal visitors that are just passing through.
Weather is Important When Winter Surf Fishing
While you can’t hit the beach when the surf is big or it’s really windy and rainy, you should pay attention to the weather for more reasons than just that. Right before a storm, low pressure compresses the atmosphere and creates calm conditions that get the fish foraging before the storm rolls in. That’s a great time to fish the beach.
When storms are brewing and the waves get really big, winter surf fish like to head inside the bays and harbors to hide.
Winter Surf Fishing: Hit-&-Run
Even on the Jersey shore, you can have plenty of luck reeling in Striped Bass. You just have to be willing to bundle up against the cold and change your approach. You’ve got to be flexible with your spot and be prepared to not dig your heels in for too long in any one place if you’re not bringing anything in. There are going to be fewer Stripers, Spanish mackerel, Speckled Trout or whatever surf species you’re chasing in your area this time of year.
Most of them have moved south with the warmer water. For the ones that remain, they’re not traveling far or quickly, so there will be lots of dead water between schools. Throw a couple of casts, and then move on a little ways if you don’t get any bites.
Slow Down Your Retrieval Speed
With the colder water temperature, the fish’s metabolism and energy level slows way down, and they can become a bit sluggish. Depending on what fish you’re after, you’ll want to retrieve your lures very slowly, moving them just enough to keep them off the bottom, barely making a minnow plug swim. Fish a teaser just in front of the plug. For stripers, salted clams and bloodworms can bring them in.
Surf fish feed along the bottom for the most part. If you’ve been at it for a while and aren’t getting any bites, try a heavier egg sinker. In bigger surf, you’ll want to use up to an ounce of weight, for smaller surf you may use as little as a quarter ounce.
Heat Things Up A Bit
When you’re fishing with grubs, a little trick of the trade is to use hot sauce. It doesn’t matter what kind. Since the fish aren’t as aggressive in the colder waters, hot sauce tends to help them hold on long enough for you to set your hook. Dip your grub in about every 5 casts or so. Just remember to not rub your eyes!
Do Your Research Before Winter Surf Fishing
The surf can vary greatly during the winter months. Tides, water temperatures, and sea conditions can vary greatly from day-to-day, depending on the moon phase, weather, and swell direction. Collect as much information as possible before you head out. Local bait and tackle shops that provide surf and fishing conditions can go a long way towards helping to steer you towards local secrets. Winter fish varies greatly from location to location at this time of year, so get some accurate predictions from the locals before heading out.
Online resources can prove invaluable for helping you figure out geography and topography. Pull up your ANGLR app and study it before you go for your low-tide scouting walk. Websites exist that can link you to other anglers to find out what they’re having luck with at the beach. Pierandsurf.com is one such. Find one unique for your area and check them out.