Get Your Baits Away From The Beach
The author shares tips and tricks for surf fishing.
You’ve heard the old joke about fishing: if you’re on shore you try to sling the bait as far out as possible, and if you’re in a boat, you try to toss the bait as close to shore as your skill allows. It’s as paradoxical as it is true. What I want to share today is a place where getting the bait way, way out is an absolute must, and I’ll show some creative ways that I’ve learned to do just that.
My dad taught my brother and me to surf fish as kids on our annual beach trip. He’d take us to the beach at night with green-bottle propane lanterns—you know the ones that make that roaring sound, this was before the LED era—and shove pointed PVC pipes into the sand to serve as rod holders. He used large, open face reels and waded out into the water as far as possible to sling the rig into the sea. Heavy pyramid weights clipped to wire leaders sank somewhere out in the darkness while we waited on shore for the bend of the rod.
Here we found the first aggravation of surf fishing. The pyramid sinkers, heavy though they were, and designed to dig into the sandy bottom, were no match for the endlessly rolling surf. The line was constantly moving, the pole constantly tugging. Being inlanders, used to Brushy Creek and the Ocmulgee River, we believed a sharply bending pole meant you had something. Many a time we yanked the pole out of the PVC and gave it a good hook-setting snatch, only to realize there was nothing to hook.
Eventually, we learned two things. The first, when a fish really hit, it was obvious. Those piddly little pole bends caused by the rolling surf bore no resemblance to the straining, doubled-over excitement caused by a gafftopsail catfish or the drag-snatching run of a blacktip shark heading out to sea with our squid.
The second was that getting the bait out farther, past where the waves crested and broke, could help decrease the turbulence.
Over the years, surf anglers have become inventive on ways to get their baits out farther to sea. When we discovered the advantage of using a kayak to take our baits out, our surf fishing success went to the next level. However, only attempt what your abilities allow, and always wear a life jacket. Those points in mind, if you’re up for it, kayak-assisted surf fishing is a blast. There are two options.
The first, one person stays on the beach with the rod while another paddles out to sea with the bait. You will need some sort of communication between the land team and the aquatic team. Perhaps a waterproof walkie talkie. Or if it’s daytime, just wave your arms.
Nighttime can be trickier, although I’m at to the age where I’ll only do this during daylight hours. When I was younger, I’ve watched my brother paddle out into the pitch darkness of the Gulf of Mexico dragging a leader loaded with shrimp as I watched the reel spool out. When I saw the line getting low, I’d flash a light at him. The spooling stopped, meaning he’d dropped the bait.
A second kayak option is to take the rod with you. A two-person team in a tandem kayak works great for this. One person in the back can paddle, and the person in the front can fish. I envision some high-stakes rock-paper-scissors at this point. Get out past the breakers, past the knee-deep sandbars, out there where the fish are. Daytime is a must for this, as is a life jacket. Know the weather, the current, the wind and most of all your paddling abilities. I don’t want a message-in-a-bottle washing up on the beach that reads, “Dear Wes, I read your GON article on kayak fishing and am now lost at sea. Thanks a lot.”
If going out alone in the kayak, a small anchor can be handy, depending on conditions. Get out there, drop anchor and have a ball. Personally, I’ve had the most success and the most fun with this method. One time I nearly flipped out of the boat when a small fish jumped and landed in my kayak. See, it’s so effective the fish literally jump in the boat with you!
For this method, you can simply drop the bait straight down, or, if you prefer, cast it out a bit away from your boat. Inlanders, you must resist your bass-fishing urge to cast it up as close to the bank as you can.
I will mention that leaving dry land might require an extra dose of nerves. My uncle and I once hooked a shark that was uncomfortably similar in length to our kayak. There was obviously no getting this fella in the boat with us so we had to tow him in. Any Captain Quint fans out there? We’re heading in Brody.
Anyway, he tagged alongside us as we paddled toward shore. When it came time to face the breakers, I felt a serious unease about capsizing as we rode a wave in. Flipping is not an uncommon occurrence in an ocean kayak, but with a mouthful of teeth in the water next to us, well, that upped the ante a bit.
For those who want to keep their feet on sand, I have a couple more ideas. One is the potato gun made from PVC pipe. Before I go further, I discovered that sometimes there is a distinction in the laws between compressed air cannons and combustible-propellant cannons where you use things like ether or hair spray to launch the potato. So I called the GA DNR office in Brunswick, and they said all these sorts of bait launchers are legal in Georgia. Yay! I told them this would be in a fishing article, so I really wanted to be sure.
There are a number of different versions of this tactic, but for me it was as simple as shoving the pyramid weight and hook into the topside of a potato before loading it in the barrel. The leader and line trailed after the potato, and the pole rested to the side in a rod holder.
Here are two examples of how to build a potato gun:
Some people use ice balls instead of potatoes, which is cool because they freeze around the hook and then melt out at sea. Whatever the case, just be sure the reel is released and the line is not tangled anywhere, then…FIRE IN THE HOLE. Off goes the potato (or popsicle) and weight and all, the line running out and, usually, a crowd of spectators on the beach saying things like, “They must be from Georgia.”
The ice-ball method gets some good and some bad reviews online. The main complaint by some is that, depending on the water temperature, it can take too long for the bait to thaw after you launch it, so an angler might sit for a while before he’s actually fishing.
Not all sources agree with this complaint, and the frozen balls do have the advantage over the potatoes in that there are less tangles, and no chances of the bait flying off the hook with the blast. For anyone considering making the frozen bait ball, one way is to make the ice mold in a PVC pipe the same size as the barrel of your launcher. Getting exactly the same size pipe is critical, and the best way to do that is to save the excess pipe from when you make your gun. This will ensure that the ice balls you make fit snugly into the barrel, which will give you a better launch.
I found additional information on building one of these bait launchers at www.extremediy.org/surf-fishing-air-cannon-bait-caster-ice-bullets-carolina-rig.
Another great video of the potato launcher in use is below:
If you are looking for more power to get the bait out, the purchase of a compressed air cannon is an option. The Sand Blaster Bait Caster is one example of these units, and they even come with molds sized specifically for the specification of the launcher. Check out the Sand Blaster at:
I also found some talk about bait launchers on a GON forum from 2019 worth a look at https://forum.gon.com/threads/how-to-construct-a-bait-cannon-for-surf-fishing.942813.
More recently I found some folks using a drone to take bait out. Drone fishing has more options than an iPhone, but some key points seem fairly universal. The first is that cheaper drones often can’t handle the weight of the fishing rig and the line that spools out, so drone fishing is going to come with a bit of a price tag. You need a good drone, with long battery and strong lifting capacities and probably GPS. Also, there is always the risk of the drone crashing out at sea, and that’s the end of that investment. There are waterproof drones (splash drones), some even made specifically for fishing (i.e., they have a built-in bait dropping mechanism), but if it’s way out at sea and you have no kayak, it might be gone forever, waterproof or not.
As to the rod and reel to use with drone fishing, line capacity is the main thing. Consider using a longer rod because it holds the line high so that the waves in the surf don’t make contact with the out-spooling line, which could potentially cause flight issues with the drone.
Here is a link to a great article with more good info on this: www.fishingreminder.com/articles/42-fishing-articles/124-getting-started-with-dronefishing.
There are two good drone videos below:
There’s no denying that drone-drop delivery might be the neatest method yet of getting the bait away from shore while keeping both feet on the beach.
Hopefully the above techniques will get you to the next level of getting your baits off the shore and more fish in the cooler.
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