Demystifying the Beach
Where should I fish? It's early
September, and that will be an often asked question for a lot of
guys who will be hitting the beaches the next few weeks. Even
guys who only fish the surf occasionally or who generally fish
back bays and sheltered waters will be crawling out
"front" to hit the suds a few times for the fall run.
The pilgrimage is on!
It had to be done
"Any beach" is the easy answer right
now. That's right! Practically any beach along the
entire striper coast is currently infested with mass quantities
of mullet, peanut bunker, peanut herring, assorted smaller
baitfish and plenty of snappers and baby weakfish chopping them
up in the first break. Fishing has been very predictable from
late afternoon going into dusk and again at dawn. The simple key
to success right now is to get out a little early in the
afternoon to drive the coast a few miles. Spot check ANY
accessible places looking for signs of birds, bait and fish. You
can usually spot them, and get action from late afternnon into
dusk and early night. Of course, you can return to those same
spots at dawn or hit those same spots for some late night innings
too if you are a night fisherman.
What to use? As for myself, the
Super Strike Little Neck poppers and leadheads with 4"
plastic shads have been dependable in day time for me. Several
evenings the fish clearly preferred Charlie Graves tins at
sundown. Transitioning into the early darkness, I am getting good
action off small blue-backed Danny metal lip surface swimmers
leaving a pronounced vee wake. At night, small white Super Strike
bottle plugs, various plastic lip swimmers, rigged and plastic
eels for me.
Where to cast? So the hot spot
right now is "any beach". But when you're standing in
the sand on "any beach", where exactly do you cast for
best results when you get there?
That's the topic for the rest of this article. How to dissect
the layout of any sand beach, and how to target the best spots on
any beach for best results. I have fished many surf areas on the
east, west, and gulf coasts, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. I have found
several generalities about all sand beaches everywhere. I would
like to share them with you. Basically, I find that there are
only four primary sand structures that define the character of a
beach and that attract fish to feed on a beach.
All fish-attracting sand structures on the beach can fit into
one of the four following descriptions:
- What is it? Points extend out
from shore and can be way big or surprisingly small protrusions.
The classic point configuration extends out at right angles to
the beach. Sometimes the beach may take a turn and it may look
more like a "bend", but it still is a big, rounded
point to me. At the other extreme, even the smallest of points
generate small, hardly noticable "rips" very
close into the beach. On an otherwise straight stretch, fish will
linger off the smallest of points. Sometimes, points are actually
the beginnings of sand bars, and in these cases, I categorize and
fish them as bars (see below), not as points.
- How to fish? It is not uncommon to have
wadable shoal water, more white water, and a faster sweep going
past points. It is classic for fish to feed at the "tip"
of a point, including right on the tip, or in the open water to
the left or right of the tip. Going back towards the beach,
anywhere along the sloping sides of a sandy point can hold fish,
particularly in the "pocket" which is a
scooped out depression just out from the base of the point on
- What is it? Bowls indent into the shore and
typically form between two points. Bowls can be wide and deep in
a classic "teacup" configuration. At the other extreme,
they can look like hardly much more than a straight, featureless
stretch between points - but still a bowl - as you will see as
wind and tide subtly shape it over time.
- How to fish? Fish along both the upper right
and upper left "rims" of a bowl, especially towards the
area where the upper rims of a bowl begin to transition into the
base of a point. Also fish the very apex, or dead center
of the bowl, which often holds good bait and fish.
- What is it? Troughs are long depressions
that parallel the shoreline or parallel sand bars (see below).
Sometimes, but not always, a trough can exist paralleling the
sides of a bowl or a straight stretch even if there is no
accompanying bar further out from shore. But usually, a trough
accompanies and parallels sand bars.
- How to fish? Fish often prefer to feed along
the sloping sides of a trough rather than in its center -
particularly if the side of a trough has a stiff upper
"lip" where the edge of the trough transitions into the
adjacent shallower structure (bar or beach). It is important to
note that troughs have both an "inside" edge and an
"outside" edge, but fish show a tendency to gravitate
towards whichever edge is the sharpest, which may change sides as
the trough meanders down the beach.
- What is it? Sand bars parallel
the shore, often for long distances. On some beaches, there may
not be any bar at all. On other beaches (or parts thereof), there
is typically only one bar, but some beaches have a series of
several bars running progressively further out paralleling the
beach. Troughs often gouge out long depressions along both the
inside and outside edges of a bar. Typically, the most important
bar is the outer bar. Generally, bars are really only wadable
towards low tide. Often, however, the bar is too far offshore to
wade even at low tide. However, if you can reach the inside edge
of the bar on a long cast from shore, you can be rewarded big
time. If you are new to surf fishing, then there's two more words
you should know about wading bars, and you've got to make sure
they aren't your last words either: BE CAREFUL. Be careful if you
try to cross through troughs, and ALWAYS make sure you can cross
back safely after fishing on the bar.
- How to fish? It is not uncommon to have
wadable shoal water, more white water, and a faster sweep along
the entire lengths of bars. Fish will usually feed along the
outer sloping front side of the bar- particularly the bottom
where the sloping front of the bar ends and transitions into the
lip of the trough. A "cut" is a classic and highly
productive spot where the water cuts through the bar, forming a "tip".
The cut forms a channel at right angles to the bar where water
from the inner and outer troughs sluices through between the bar,
which is now cut. NEVER try to wade through a cut. It's suicidal.
A cut can range from (1) very treacherous "rip"
water running right in the cut, often full of fish, or (2) it can
be a more complacent cut that doesn't exactly rip but which
scoops out depressions or "holes" that hold
fish just inside and just outside of the cut, or (3) a a really
good cut can form both rips and holes.
That's it! Points, bowls, bars and
troughs are the only four primary sand structures on a beach.
Other sand structures are secondary and cannot exist without the
presence of a point, bowl, bar or trough. These secondary sand
structures include the tips, pockets, cuts, rips, slopes and
holes that we mentioned.
The coolest patterns form. The
coolest thing is to consciously make note of the exact kinds of
primary/secondary structure where you hit fish. Why? Because you
can then usually move down the beach and continue to hit fish in
the exact identical types of structures for many miles. That is,
if you bang fish on the right hand tip of a bar, the fish will
pretty much be hitting on the right hand tips of all bars down
the beach. That is, if you take fish dead center in a bowl, or in
the left pocket of a point, then you can move along to the dead
centers of other bowls, or the left hand pockets of other points
- and expect to catch fish in these exact same areas. Often, this
becomes a pattern, which may last for a night, a few nights, a
week, or even form an extended pattern for an entire season. I
can fondly recall one beach where the fish were all in the bowls
one fall, and all on the points the next fall. You need to find
out what the fish are doing, exactly what structures they are
doing it on, and focus your efforts to be doing your thing in the
same spots that the fish are doing their thing.
It's reading the beach made easy!
A lot of times people make a big issue about "reading the
beach". But it is easy if you just focus on finding these
four primary structures - points, bowls, troughs and bars - and
then target the secondary "spots on the spots".
You can dissect the layout of any sand beach
into these four well-defined structures. Then you can
methodically fish them, thereby identifying which structures the
fish are currently using and equally important, discover which
structures the fish are NOT currently using. If you do so, you
can confidently eliminate unproductive types of spots for the
moment, and you can consistently put yourself in the company of
gamefish all up and down "any beach" where gamesters
are using these four primary structures - and especially the
secondary "spots on the spots" to put on the fall feed
Especially if you are new to the surf, welcome, and I hope you
will gain some elementary knowledge of sand beaches from this
post. Hope it helps you find many large surf fish over the next
few weeks and over the following seasons!