Dec 122011

And what you can do about it.
(A guest post by: Josh Mann)  

One of the main complaints I hear from people who are interested in fishing saltwater for the first time is ” There’s so much water , I don’t know where to start.” I can understand that sentiment. The vast expanse of ocean and the miles of breaking waves visible from the shore certainly make the idea of catching fish from the beach seem like a daunting task. Add to that a wide variety of TV shows and Youtube videos showing people fighting huge fish and catching man eaters , and you have something that makes even experienced freshwater fishermen feel inadequate.

Most people who are saltwater enthusiasts don’t start out using 6/0 stand up boat rods and catching Marlin. It takes a great deal of experience to fight and handle the behemoths. A few people may have started out on a charter after big fish , but I’d say this is an exception rather than the rule. The majority of us start out on the beach or on a pier , and this is ideal for breaking into the sport. Just like you wouldn’t put a toddler on a motorcycle before they could ride a bike , it’s a bad idea to throw a 500 lb. tuna in a beginners lap.

There are tons of opportunities in the surf for a beginner to hone his or her skills on. Perhaps the easiest thing to start with would be the use of a simple two hook bottom rig ( ) to target fish like the Norfolk Spot , the Atlantic Croaker and other small species that hang out close to the beach. These “Bluegills of the Sea” are often found around the piers here on the East Coast and are a favorite among many anglers. I know several seasoned saltists who are just as proud of a cooler full of nice sized spots as they are of much more impressive big fish , mainly because the humble spot is excellent table fare. Another great thing about this style of fishing is the wide variety of species it can produce , like the Stingray and Blowfish pictured below.

Moving up the food chain a little , you’ll find the fish who’s diet consists mainly of other fish. Some of the more common predators caught close to the beach are species such as the Bluefish , Spanish Mackerel , Speckled Trout and Weakfish. These fish can also be caught using bottom rigs , but it’s much more fun to target them with lures and light tackle. One of my favorite things to do is to walk the beach in a pair of swimming trunks carrying a bass rod and a few lures to target roving schools of Bluefish. When you find a school , the action can be hot and heavy. Nothing in freshwater can compare to the carnage a school of these toothy critters are capable of.

Further up the food chain , you’ll find fish that are capable of topping 50 pounds. Striped Bass , Red Drum , King Mackerel , Dogfish and a host of other species are all a possibility from the end of a pier or in the surf. These are the fish to cut your teeth on if you want to catch big biters (sharks) or large pelagics (Tuna & Marlin). Most anglers who target these fish will use 10 to 12 ft. rods , big reels and big bait. The head or even a whole spot is a great piece of bait , as is a small bluefish. Just keep in mind that something capable of swallowing a whole bluefish will test your gear and also your skills as an angler.

So there it is. By starting out small and working your way up to bigger fish you can eliminate a great deal of the intimidation factor. In my experience , this approach closely mirrors what many of us went through as kids fishing in freshwater. By starting out small , you gain the experience and know-how that is necessary to pull big fish from the ocean. You can find out more on my blogs , Something’s Fishy ( and Surf Fishing for Beginners (

Tight Lines and High Tides!

Josh Mann is a devoted husband and father of two who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He has fished the waters of the Mid-Atlantic states for almost 30 years, targeting both fresh and saltwater species that he writes about on his blog, Something’s Fishy.





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  • Great stuff, and I couldn’t agree more. I just posted on my blog in response to this column and to share some of my own thoughts on surf fishing. Cheers!

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