The Efficient Surfcaster
by Joe Lyons
ver find yourself on the beach fumbling for this-or-that while the fish are breaking, or ever get to your favorite spot only to find you forgot your pliers? Well - I have. I've even driven forty-five minutes only to get out and find that my waders were not in the truck. By nature, I'm not the most organized person, but over time I've learned a few things that have helped me along. I've also had the shortcomings of my organizational ability pointed out to me in the way of missed fish and missed opportunities.
I found out the hard way that getting organized for surfcasting can advance your chances by saving fishing time and greatly lessen frustration - improving your fishing experience immeasurably. Necessity pushed me to re-examine my own methods and the sheer inconvenience and wasted time forced me to become better organized.
Through my writing I've been fortunate enough to fish with and interview some great local surfcasters. Originally, I assumed that there were going to be many common traits among accomplished anglers. I thought that it took a certain "type" of person to become exceptional in the suds - but I have found that this is not the case. Surfcasting seems to attract a diverse assortment of personality types who employ a wide array of strategies.
For the rest of us, this is a good thing. We can take comfort in the fact that we don't need to have a certain personality to become proficient - it means that there is opportunity for everyone to get to that next level. But the accomplished surfcasters I've met seem to have one trait in common: they are well prepared. They also tend to view the unorganized with a certain measure of comic disdain. Being independent in the surf, from being well supplied to being able to handle yourself in any fishing situation, is a matter of pride among better anglers.
Being organized and efficient is not about buying a box with a lot of little compartments. It's more about thinking things through, and showing up with the right stuff, at the right time, and being ready in many, often, very little ways.
Planning Your Trips
Figuring out when to go and planning ahead, particularly for travel trips can make a big difference. When my friends and I would plan our overnight summer forays to Block Island it was done with the aid of a moon calendar during the cold of February. Fishing logs from previous years were referenced and the dates were chosen for a night with the most advantageous tides. When the date of the trip arrived, my cohorts would be ready down to the smallest of details. They new what type of bait to expect, what type of surf conditions, and they outfitted themselves appropriately. They always-brought along adequate spare supplies of food, clothing, and batteries. They even anticipated my lack of preparedness and always seemed to have a spare sandwich or eel rig for me.
To experience the great local fishing available to us on Nantucket, The Vineyard, or Block Island requires planning. If you wait until you hear reports and then try to get a vehicle over on stand-by, you will be disappointed. The good thing about our New England summer is that the weather, with southwest as the prevailing wind direction, is reliable. Hard-fishing, overnight "Commando Trips" can be affordable ways of experiencing different areas, but you will need to plan in advance to get over on Friday and back on a Saturday or Sunday. If you are dreaming about fishing the islands and you don't plan ahead - you'll never see their shores.
Even when you are not traveling to the more remote destinations, planning your trip to spend more time fishing and less time driving can help ratchet up the odds in your favor. In Rhode Island, most of my fishing spots are off the same main road and I'll often plan my trips in a straight line. I'll fish the beaches associated with the breachways from north to south, starting at Charlestown, the Quonochontaug and finally Weekapaug. By utilizing the differences between low water it is often possible to fish the last hour of the dropping tide (widely considered the best time) at Narrow River and at Weekapaug.
Do It Ahead Of Time
There is little that can be done in the dark that can't be done more efficiently in the light. When guiding I'll often stop at a gas station so the client can use the bathroom and suit up under the lights. (In the cold weather, even something as routine as going to the bathroom after you have suited up in layered garments can take a very long time.) If the walk to our first fishing spot is short, I'll put the client in Korkers at this time also. Putting Korkers on a clean boot under a streetlight goes far more quickly than putting them on while standing on a jetty with sand on the boot and a flashlight in your mouth. Dressing into your fishing gear is considerably faster when you can see what you are doing.
After gearing up, I'll re-check the rods to make sure no guides were missed and that each one is ready to use when we get to our destination. When we arrive at our parking area, we need only to get out and start walking. Depending on where you have parked, leaving the area quickly and quietly can be highly advantageous. (Not that a surfcaster would ever park somewhere he was not supposed to!)
Tying your eel and plug leaders before you arrive and using a leader wallet, like those fly fishermen use, can save lots of fishing time. Leader wallets will often hold up a dozen leaders in separate plastic sleeves to keep them from tangling. You don't have to tie up a seasons worth of eel and plug leaders over the winter like Iron Mike Everin does, but the more that are tied ahead of time, the more time that will be opened for fishing.
When tying to cover an open beach or anywhere mobility is an issue, the less gear you can get by with, the more effective you will be. While fishing early this spring with Steve McKenna (picture above right) I noticed that he never placed anything on the beach - everything he needed was on his person. Though he knew precisely where he was going to fish initially, once the bite slowed down in that spot, he immediately began covering the beach in systematic fashion. He would walk, cast out in various directions and even before the final cast was in, he was moving toward the next station. Steve covers the water better than anyone I've seen. But if you have to pick up two duffel bags and giant plug bag - you are far less likely to cover the water and even if you do, will be a cumbersome task.
Switching to lightweight breathable waders can also increase your ability to range along the beach or walk in to spots where parking may not be available. Thick neoprene or heavy-duty rubber might have a high degree of durability, but don't try walking a mile into a private neighborhood on a summer night. Many of my favorite spots require a fairly long walk but without the breathables, I'd be far less likely to even think about attempting them.
If you eel fish at night, or if you fish primarily at night using plugs and eels, you can usually get away with using a plastic industrial size mayonnaise jug to hold your eels and small waist mounted plug bag like the one made by The Surfcaster or Canyon. If you find you seldom use more than a few plugs at night it makes sense not to carry dozens of lures you will most likely never use.
Another way to increase your effectiveness it to buy extra inserts for your plug bag and to break down your lures by day/night application. While fishing with Mike Dauphin of Portsmouth I was quite impressed by this trick. Mike pulled his lure bag out of his tote and quickly replaced the day insert of poppers and metal, with the night insert of swimmers, needles and darters. Unless you are the type of angler who typically fishes day into night or night into day, you most likely can get by with separate inserts.
Keeping your gear in the same location each time can be a great time saver. I usually sleep before I clean my stuff so I've taken to putting my gear back into the fish tote with the stuff that needs looking after on top. Anything that needs to be replaced I'll open: If I use up all my leaders, I'll leave my leader wallet open to remind myself to tie more, if my flashlight batteries are running low, I'll leave it open so I know I need to replace them, any plugs that need maintenance will also be left out. It is important to check everything each time, of course, but placing what you need to fix out in the open while it is still fresh in your mind, is a great time saver. Some guys will wash and dry their gear and then store it inside their trucks in a lock box - this way their fishing vehicle is always packed and ready to go. By consolidating the storage of the gear you use each time, you are far less likely to forget an essential item.
Carrying replacement materials and tools can also be trip savers. Many surfcasters have had to go home for want of a screwdriver. Behind my seat I'll keep a small plastic box with electrical tape, WD-40, a screwdriver, spare batteries, spare bulbs for my headlamp, etc. A spare tip-top for your rod and a glue stick can also be a trip saver.
I was taught that thing that is most likely to give to threaten a trip is a problem with your line. A big fish that hits the end of the cast can run out and then rub against rocks causing nicks and abrasions along large swaths line. A major birds nest can cause you to lose so much line your spool becomes overly depleted. A minor fall or a dropped rod can damage a spool to the point where it needs to be replaced or filed. I never go out without a spare spool and it has saved more than one trip.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
Strategizing your trips onto paper ahead of time can be a great way to stick with a plan and to ensure that you do what have set out to do. When I first started out I found that I had a tendency not to move around nearly enough and a lot of that was simply due to not having a plan. Now, I'll often write down times that I want to be in certain area and times I want to leave a place if I do not get into fish. I'll also write down alternatives should and area be unfishable for one reason or another. I'm not a believer in waiting for the fish to come you.
Finally, and I've wrote this more than once, the better anglers are percentage players. If the last hour at the inlet is the best hour to fish it - that is when they'll show. If a certain pocket is good on the beginning of a southeasterly flow - you can bet that is when they will be there. They don't play too many hunches. By piling the odds up in their favor, by having a reason that is rooted in experience or sound theory for each move they make, success becomes only a matter of time.
Articles by Joe Lyons
Joe Lyons has been a surfcaster for over twenty years on the rocks and beaches of Rhode Island and Block Island. An accomplished writer he is a regular contributer to several New England and Northeast fishing magazines. In 2002 he put his experience and knowledge to "good use" by becoming a professional surfcasting guide in Rhode Island and Block Island. Among his many clients has been Peter Kaminsky, the well known writer for the New York Times and author of numerous books on fishing and many other subjects.
Joe resides in West Warwick, RI 02893 and can be reached by calling (401) 615-2636 or by the Contact Us page on Surfcasting-RhodeIsland.com where you will find his complete Guiding information.