October 27, 2019
The fall bait run along the beach is some of the most exciting fishing you can do in Florida. And a kayak is a great vehicle for getting in on the action.
Casting or trolling plugs, jigs and live bait can be very productive, but at times it seems that with the millions of baitfish in the water, the fish you're looking for never finds your bait. To improve your odds, work the edges of the bait schools. Also look for holes in the bait school. Many times, that hole is there because there is a large fish there. It is worth a few casts to any holes in the schools and to any spot where you see the bait being chased. But the best way I found to hook fish during the run is to use live mullet hooked in the lips with a 1- to 2-ounce jighead, and slow troll it around the school. You want the bait to drag along the sand. Many of the bigger fish will swim along the schools looking for injured bait on the bottom. A live bait dragged along the bottom is an easy meal for a large game fish. This method has been the most productive for tarpon.
The key to this style of fishing is to make sure to pick a calm day. If the surf is over 3 foot I will go fish inshore, or use the kayak as a beach cart and cast off the beach (this is a fun and surprisingly efficient use for a kayak!). Also, make sure you have the right kayak for this style of fishing. For most of us, sit-on-top kayaks are the way to go. Make sure your scuppers plugs are out, allowing any water that may get into the kayak to quickly drain. Paddle boards are another great choice and are great for sight fishing along the shore line.
Know that even a small breaking wave can roll a kayak, causing broken and lost rods and tackle. Pick a beach where you are allowed to launch and where there will not be a lot of swimmers. It is good to check with lifeguards to find the best spots to launch. Remember that a kayak being pushed by a wave can badly hurt a swimmer.
If you are new to fishing the surf zone, try going out without any fishing tackle. Bring your kayak, paddle and life vest. Practice paddling out into the surf and coming in. Most fishing kayaks were not made for the surf and don't surf well. On the way out you will need to point the nose of the kayak into the wave and power paddle your way out. On the way in, I will back paddle as a wave approaches, to keep from riding the wave. Alternately, I might get out where it's shallow enough to stand and grab the back of the kayak to walk it in. If you do get out of the boat, make sure that you are between the wave and kayak.
Most of the time waves will be in sets of three or four with a pause with calmer water. Right after the last wave comes in, make for open water on the way out, or for the beach on the way in.
And then there are times when you are out past the surf zone and a big wave comes out of nowhere and breaks in front of you. You may only have a few seconds to point the nose of the kayak into the oncoming wave and paddle hard, punching your way through it. Don't try to ride it out; it almost always turns out badly. If you think the surf may be too large that day, go to a backup plan inshore.
Jig the Rips
Jigs catch lots of fish in the surf zone. Dressed and undressed models will all work. The key is just enough weight to keep contact with the bottom. On calm days, cast to the water's edge and bring the jig through the surf zone; don't be surprised if a slot-size snook takes the jig a foot or two off the beach.
If there is a light surf, stay on the outside of the breakers and look for patterns of water moving away from the beach. These are rip currents, and they commonly pull out baitfish, sand fleas, crabs and shrimp. Put yourself on the outside of a rip and cast into it, bringing the jig back with the flow of the water. Most of the fish will be outside of the rip waiting for bait to be washed out.
Topwater and suspending plugs and crankbaits can be very productive. Match the size of the lure with the baitfish you see along the beach. Take a little time and scan the water. If you see snook smashing glass minnows, tie on a small suspending bait; don't think that you need a big bait to catch big fish. When fish like bluefish and ladyfish are thick you may want to replace the treble hooks with a single hook. It will be easier to unhook the fish and you will be less likely to be hooked in the process. Always make a few casts in the trough before you launch. You may be surprised at the fish cruising a few feet off the beach. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine September 2016