Hit the surf, then the flats, for an exciting combination.
Resembling three Navy SEALS hell-bent on a beach invasion, we scurried through the darkness and over a walkway that crossed the dunes and led to a noisy surf below. Armed with long rods and sharp hooks, we sloshed along the wet sand as we hustled through the fog and advanced to the surf’s edge.
This was to be the first half of a combo day—a trip on which we’d spend part of the day fishing the surf, then hop back across the dunes to wade the river. It’s a workable plan in many parts of the state. In a way, you double your chances of catching fish. Usually you can’t go wrong.
Today I was wrong about one thing, however. We weren’t first on the fish. A flock of screaming seagulls had beaten us to the beach, where they dived and skimmed the waves above a school of ravenous bluefish. The birds were seeking an early morning breakfast of baitfish leftovers. Arriving, we plunged our sharp spikes into the sand, marking our positions.
Cacophonous shrieks and exploding bluefish added to the excitement. I was obsessed with getting my line into the water at first light—so eager that I looked down and discovered, much to my dismay, that the fingers on both my hands had, miraculously, transformed into thumbs. Clumsily, I snapped on a 3-ounce pyramid sinker and fumbled at threading a hook through a fingerling mullet. I was going full throttle as I continued to see frantic mullet leaping above the surf as surging blues made phosphorescent streaks up and down the beach. It’s a helpless feeling. The faster I hurried, the clumsier I got. Just getting the bait into the water would mean an immediate hookup.
Finally, I flung my bait just beyond the breakers into a brilliant background of daybreak. Streaking flares lit up the sky, allowing me to see the splash when my lead hit near the school of marauding blues. Quickly, I stuck the rod into the sand spike and reeled in the slack line—just in time. An attacking bluefish slammed my bait, almost jerking my rod from its holder. The battle was on! I glanced to each side and saw that Walt and Dan had both hooked up also. The plan was working—at least the first phase.
Throughout the morning, we continued to chalk up bluefish. When the toothy blues finally moved down the shore, we switched to lighter, 20-pound mono leaders baited with shrimp and began catching whiting.
Before noon, we packed up and headed to nearby Titusville for lunch. After a respite, we would launch the second phase of our combo. The first part had been feast. Hopefully part two would not be famine. Later, we would wade-fish the flats of the Indian River or Mosquito Lagoon. We would decide which during lunch. We would opt for the area that offered the most protection from an afternoon seabreeze.
Since I’m prone to superstition, I ordered a combo lunch at the fast food restaurant: A spicy chicken sandwich, fries and a Coke. (Variety being the spice of life, I also wondered if the spicy chicken would bring variety.)
Some days, the fish are hitting in the surf and also in the river. Would this be one of those days? On the Indian River near Titusville, we waded out from the sheltered shoreline, armed with gold spoons, jerkbaits and jigs.
The late morning and early afternoon sun had warmed the flats, which made wading cool, but not excessively cold. It was an early spring day, which meant the bluefish run in the surf would soon end, but the seasonal seatrout and redfish action was just beginning to come on strong in the river. Before long, Dan, who was wading shallow, began casting a gold spoon and catching redfish.
Meanwhile, Walt was hooking up on large seatrout while twitching jerkbaits in slightly deeper water. I was casting even deeper and jerking a soft-tail jig and catching trout also. For a couple of hours, the action was hot and the fish were large. We kept a few trout for dinner and released the rest, along with all the redfish we caught—seven or eight. A perfect end to a combo day.
Surf Strategy Points
Tides: For best results, fish the last two or three hours of an incoming tide and the first half-hour of the outgoing for bluefish and whiting. When targeting pompano, fish the lower tides.
Bait: For bluefish, use a whole live or dead fingerling mullet, half a fingerling mullet, cut mullet strips, cut ladyfish chunks or fresh shrimp. For whiting, use fresh shrimp, live or dead. For pompano, use sandfleas or fresh shrimp.
Tackle: For blues, use 2 or 3 feet of 50-pound mono leader and rig it with a 4/0 or 5/0 hook. Also, tie on a sliding swivel with a 2- to 5-ounce pyramid lead above the barrel swivel that connects the line to the leader. Thread a bead just below the lead to soften the impact of the lead on the swivel. Use a long (10-foot or longer) medium-to-heavy action rod and a large spinning reel rigged with 12- to 20-pound line. For whiting, use the same type rig with a No. 1 or No. 2 Kahle hook and bait it with a fresh shrimp. Pinch off the tail to prevent line twist and thread the shrimp from the tail forward to the head. Use a medium-action rod (7 feet or longer) and a light-to-medium action spinning reel. For pompano, use the same type rig that is used for whiting, but longer rods. Some anglers use rods 12 feet and longer to get the bait out farther during low tides for pompano. Use sandfleas or shrimp for bait.
Closer Look at Canaveral Seashore
Numerous sites are available for combo fishing here. Playalinda Beach near Titusville and Apollo Beach near New Smyrna are two prime locations for surf fishing. Hours during late spring through summer and fall are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. During winter months, hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A daily entrance fee into Playalinda or Apollo beaches is $5 per vehicle. However, those 62 or older can purchase a lifetime Golden Age Pass for $10 which will get you into both sites and into most national parks. Anglers under 62 can get the same deal for $50. For an annual park pass into Playalinda and Apollo beaches only the cost is $35. Purchase the pass at the entrance gates at both sites. For additional information on fishing these two sites, call the Canaveral National Seashore Information Center at (386) 428-3384, ext. 10.
Some of the best locations for wade-fishing Mosquito Lagoon include Eddy Creek, which is inside Playalinda Beach at parking lot No. 8. Or try Bio Lab Road, which can also be accessed inside Playalinda between the entrance gate and the beach. The road is narrow, bumpy and winding, but it extends for several miles to Bio Lab launch ramp and offers numerous areas for fishing. The road is open from sunset to dusk. Other good sites for wading the nearby Indian River are available along the shores near Titusville. Anglers surf fishing Apollo Beach near New Smyrna can also find a few choice wading sites inside the park along the waterway on the El Dora side of the road opposite the beach. Because of security concerns, some areas inside Merritt Island National Refuge have been closed for wading or fishing from shore. Anglers fishing inside the refuge will need a Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Fishing Permit, which explains the regulations. For more information, call the Refuge information number: (321) 861-0667. —M.B.
Some days, a combo surf-and-flats trip means action on both sides of the sand. Florida is tailor-made for this kind of fishing, with narrow barrier islands skirting much of our coast. In many areas, it’s as easy as parking the car, walking to the surf, then walking across the street to wade the flats. A few great places to try this include Canaveral National Seashore in Volusia County; South Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County (particularly the areas immediately north and south of the power plant); Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Lee County; Englewood and other beaches of Sarasota County; and Santa
I like to wade in the same clothes that I wear for surf fishing. I start the day off by slathering on sunscreen, wearing a longsleeve shirt and long pants to avoid sunburn and skin cancer. Wading boots or tennis shoes are good for both surf and wade fishing. When wading, I sometimes wear a straw hat onto which I hang surface lures, spoons and jigs. Unless I feel I’m going to get hypothermic, I try to avoid wearing waders. They complicate the simplicity of my combo plan. Also, I once wore a pair of waders with felt soles, which are conducive for rocks, but not for wading sandy or muddy bottom. At least, they had felt on the bottom when I started fishing. If the water is exceptionally cold, I wear long underwear beneath my fishing pants. Wear a strong belt and strap on a fillet knife, landing net, inexpensive pair of fishing pliers and a floating fish basket. On rare occasions, I have found sharks and alligators interested in fish dangling on a stringer. When I do take a stringer, I make sure it’s a rope stringer and I take my fillet knife so I can cut the stringer in case an emergency arises. Also, take along a towel to dry off with, and dry pants, shoes, socks and shirt to don after wading. I take along a plastic garbage bag into which I toss my wet boots and wading clothes. A good pair of polarized sunglasses is essential for seeing fish. Also, always carry a device to measure your fish.