Beach-bound isn’t so bad

Flounder are one of a handful of saltwater species that are commonly caught in the surf this month across the beaches of the Carolinas.

Surf fishing really comes into its own in the Carolinas this month

October was a big transition month for saltwater fishing in the Carolinas, and by November, the water and air temperatures have cooled off considerably, but those aren’t the only changes.

While some anglers have stowed their gear and decided that fishing can wait until the spring, they’re missing out on some of the best action of the year, especially fishing from the surf.

The entire fall is good for beach-bound anglers, but the fishing really peaks in November. The bull redfish make their trek from north to south, skirting the coastlines of both Carolinas and feeding heavily before the cold weather comes and they head offshore or into the creeks to pack up into tight schools. And they aren’t the only species biting off the beaches. You can catch speckled trout, bluefish and even flounder are other species in the surf this month.

You’ll see a wide variety of gear being used this month by surf anglers. Some are targeting bull redfish and big sharks, using heavy rods and reels that look more fitting on billfish boats. They’ll use large, single-hook rigs with weights up to 8 ounces or more, and they’ll get their baits, which can range from half a mullet to half a stingray, into the strike zone by paddling them out in a kayak

Those anglers are looking for quantity over quality, and as long as they are patient, they’ll usually find it this month. They usually try to drop their bait into the first deep hole beyond the breakers, and because that location can change every day, many anglers will scout the beach at low tide.

Be prepared, scout

Scouting is a good idea, no matter what species you’re targeting, and you should pay attention to more than just the location of the deep holes. It’s something that many anglers overlook, according to John Knight, a seasoned surf angler who spends much of his time fishing North Carolina’s southern beaches late in the fall.

“You want to look at any high spots and low spots during low tide,” he said. “That will tell you where the depressions and shallow spots will be once the tide comes in. And it’s not necessarily the deepest holes that will hold fish. If you’re after really big sharks, then yes, that’s what you want, but especially if you’re after fish to eat, you just need to pay attention to basically any changes in depth. Those changes are where the fish will be.”

Anglers looking for keeper-sized fish for the frying pan should forget about that super-heavy gear the shark and bull redfish anglers are using. You definitely want stout gear to fish the surf, but spinning reels in the 3500 to 5500 range are fine, and Knight also likes using conventional casting reels. Rods in the 8- to 12-foot range are common, and anglers typically use weights that range from 1 to 4 ounces and hooks in the 3/0 to 5/0 range.

For bait, anglers can use just about any type of cut or live bait, and whatever they catch in the surf with a cast net is as good as it gets this time of year.

Don’t cast too far

Knight said one of the biggest mistakes anglers make while surf-fishing is thinking they need to cast past the breakers.

“This goes back to knowing the lay of the land by scouting before the surf comes in,” he said. “You want to target the changes in depth, and many of those changes occur close to the beach and long before the breakers end. Casting past the breakers really does little in the way of increasing your chances at catching fish. On some days, I’ve seen women and kids catch far more fish than the grown men they’re fishing with, and it’s mainly because they don’t have the strength to cast beyond the breakers. So they’re sort of accidentally catching fish, while the grown men make some great, long-distance casts, but aren’t casting to where the fish are.” 

Some anglers prefer pyramid-shaped sinkers, which are designed to stay in place despite the moving water, and some use sinkers with thin, protruding wires that dig into the sand to anchor them more securely. But other anglers stick with egg sinkers and don’t mind their bait shifting around with the tide. 

Surf accessories:

Beach carts to haul rods, coolers and other fishing gear are common pieces of equipment for surf fishing, and rod holders with sand spikes are good for holding rods in place as anglers wait for a bite and also when they’re baiting hooks.

Umbrellas can prolong a day of surf fishing. Even this time of year, it’s easy to get sunburned, and an umbrella can also help keep anglers cool on unseasonably warm days, of which the Carolinas often have plenty of early in the month.

Cast nets and 5-gallon buckets are good for catching and keeping bait alive, and sharp knives make quick work of tangled lines and are also essential for cutting baitfish.

Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1363 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.