Surf Fishing Florida Beaches

Surf fishing is in a class entirely by itself. True surf fishing is fishing from the beach, not from a jetty, pier or other land based structure. Today, surf fishing has taken on a wide range of definitions, and for this section of the book it only applies to fishing from a beach shoreline. This is one form of fishing that really requires some know-how to be successful, despite its ease of appearance, or you’ll exhaust yourself walking up and down the beach and pulling in only weeds and frustration. As with boating, you don’t have the option to fire up the motor and hit numerous spots miles apart, nor can you drift along to cover more ground. A surf caster must walk the territory so knowing as much as possible will save you much time and energy. In fact, with the right knowledge it is possible to pick one spot and work it in depth and be successful!


Typically a surf caster will know a great amount in regards to the weather, tides, water, bottom structure, fish, bait, and the location. Though it is but one part of the sport to walk the beach in search of fish, and a fun part I might add, it is also part of the sport to catch fish! Knowing the conditions mentioned above should be true for all anglers, but some seem to rely on the theory that if there’s water there’s fish, and skip the scouting and learning of the basic aspects. Even when you know the basics and more, it is imperative to soak up some local information within 12 hours of going out. This kind of pre planning knowledge allows a surf caster to lug his equipment to one area and be successful working areas relatively close to home base; the area where you parked your ride!


I feel this aspect of fishing is a staple to inshore fishing with not only locals, but with those on vacation, and rightfully deserves to be explained in every fishing guide. I am an avid boating angler, but I also love fishing from the beach. Sometimes I just don’t feel like launching my boat, or dealing with the clean-up afterwards and find that just grabbing some gear and walking the shore can be satisfying and rewarding. The following information assumes that you may be new to surfcasting, in which case I’ll start from the simplest how to's of surfcasting, and progress with enough to have you in the game in no time at all. This section is not intended to be a complete guide on surfcasting, but it does have a very good selection of information that will be more than ample for beginners, and enough for weekend warriors to be successful and make the right choices, and perhaps even enough for those hard-core surf anglers, even though many won't admit it.


The difference between going back for a second surf fishing trip and tossing your gear in the garage is as simple as having the right gear and knowledge. I’ve known a few beginners that gave surfcasting a try only to come home empty handed, frustrated, and never to try again. What a shame, for they are missing one of the most exciting and relaxing ways to fish. But as I mentioned in the opening, this is one form of fishing that really requires some know-how to be successful due to its confinements.


Knowing how to read the surf is imperative for surf fishing. Those new to the game are often confused when looking at the churning mix of action taking place over such a large area, and this can quickly turn that smile into a frown after hours of no action. It all looks the same to an untrained eye, but in reality, there are very evident clues to those more experienced that enable them to be successful. Many new to the sport of surfcasting walk onto a beach and immediately look to the surf to find a spot that looks good, when in reality they should be looking to the sand beneath their feet first. Reading the surf is certainly not easy, and not knowing why the surf looks the way it does only makes matters tougher. I'll give you as many tips as possible, but to become good at reading the surf and finding fish you'll need to take this info to the water and gain field experience. Let's look at the surface indicators before diving into the actual bottom structure that makes surface indicators possible.

1) Sand type - The first thing you'll notice is the texture of the sand. Look at the actual sand grit at the water, not on the dunes, because the dune sand is wind carried sand and always finer. The grit at the water becomes courser as the wave height increases, as the fine sand is carried and deposited offshore where it doesn't return in equal amounts. The actual beach sand at the water's edge will be your first indicator of the bottom slope. Very fine sand that is tightly packed is often found on beaches with a gradual slope, indicating that surf zones extend closer to the beach as the waves continue to roll onto the beach. Coarse and mixed shell sand will be an indicator of a steep slope, where a sandbar forms and creates waves that break on the bar, thus moving the surf zone further from the beach.


2) Points - these are simply areas where the sand juts out further into the water. Areas like this will usually form a trough on each side, and as they become covered with water they can act as ambush points for predators, or a place to corral the bait and force them against the impression on either side. This is certainly an area worth penciling on your map and investigating at the right time.


3) Rips - A good rip that is formed by shore break can easily be seen right at the shoreline. As the wave breaks on shore the backwash is concentrated and funneled back out, usually in a "V" shaped funnel. This occurs when water converges from different angles to create this flood of backwash. On beaches where the wave action increases, the shallow sandbar doesn't enable as much water to return over the bar as it dumped with the incoming wave, thus creating a mass of faster moving water that forms a cut in the sandbar. In many cases, a rip will create a different surface texture, usually a bit choppier, but can also be flatter, so look for areas of irregularity. The sand may also get pretty stirred up so you can look for discolored water as well, if the rip is strong enough. Getting your bait in the rip and letting the current dictate its fate will always produce. Rips also can be found from a good beach point where the beach extends out such as off the end of the beach. As the tide breaks against or over this point it forms rips around the point. Fish will stage on the calm side.


4) Bowls - Bowls are formed by a multitude of conditions, and are more on the rare side, but when found will certainly be a honey hole. The first aspect in finding a bowl is finding a cut through the sandbar as discussed above. If conditions are right, you'll have a trough close to the beach and another inner trough even closer with a cut between them that funnels that water back out. The water moves down the troughs towards the cut and meets the incoming water, thus creating a turbulent area of darker water that swirls and churns up the bottom. In many cases you'll see the erosion cutting deeper into the shoreline. This is not only evident by the water's surface, but also by a steeper beach slope in that area. The debris on the beach may also standout, whether it be mixed shell, gravel and sand, darker color, or just different than the surrounding area, it's a good sign of an active bowl.
5) Ruts - Areas containing multiple shoreline ruts extending from the beach toward open water are good areas to concentrate your near shore efforts. This is occurring because the water being pulled out is being pushed in from multiple angles, thus creating more mass and a stronger outflow. Since the bottom is always changing, these situations occur in different areas daily. Oncethe fish find this stronger water, they come in close to snag the sand fleas, clams, and crabs that are being pulled from the shoreline.


6) Cutouts - Just as the name implies, this is an area where the sand has been cutout from the beach by wave action. This indicates deeper water in that area such as a hole, which we know will hold fish.


7) Bait - Look for sand fleas, crabs, clams, and any other living creatures that burrow into the sand. Many times you'll find concentrations of creatures just waiting to be pulled out to sea. While the predators may not be able to reach these little critters, they can certainly smell a concentration of them, and will indeed be nearby waiting for the strongest part of the tide to pull them out of hiding.


8) People - That's right, watch the people! By watching people wade out into the water you get to see the depth changes. There is always a few in the crowd that walk out to chin level and then swim further out until they can touch bottom on the sandbar. That's the trough and sand bar, and they just showed you where it was with no need for you to get wet.


9) Color change in the sand. Look up and down the beach and look for color changes. You be looking for the darker color changes, as these areas are most often caused from a stronger current at some point, perhaps from previous rips, or it could just be an indicator of a larger cut in the sandbar allowing a more direct flow to the beach in that specific area. Similar to the bowl, you'll also find areas of concentrated material different from that nearby. On certain beaches here on the West Coast, such as Venice Beach, I look for the dark black areas, not only for fishing, but also for finding sharks teeth. I find these areas have a bigger concentration of prehistoric sharks teeth. In fact, I found a 4 inch Megalodon tooth in perfect shape buried about 18 inches deep at the shoreline, and several others under the same conditions. I have also caught some of my best fish directly in line with these indicators. 

Now that you've investigated the beach and hopefully learned a lot from what you've found, let's move on to looking towards the water for more indicators.  

This book section continues on with in-depth details on the above, as wells as the various fishing zones, where to find the fish, best times, fishing methods, relationship to inlets, details on species  and how they use the beach structure, tackle, bait, and much more.