Fishing update Part 1 - Surf Fishing

This is the first of two posts covering my fishing attempts since moving to St. Augustine.  I haven't posted about fishing in some time, so I'll give it a stab.  The primary reason why I haven't written much about is because I am a little embarrassed at my lack of success thus far.  Finally, after much effort, I am  starting to sort out my problems and am seeing progress. Much like boating, I was never an avid fisherman throughout my life.  I never had family or friends with a boat to fish off of, or anyone who really knew what they were doing to show me the ropes.  My dad and I  would throw the lines off a dock when on a beach vacation and score some fishes, and we took a couple of deep sea fishing charters.  Unfortunately, that was about the extent of my fishing experience growing up.

When I decided to pursue cruising, I knew that I wanted to get the most of my surroundings by fishing and gathering seafood as much as possible.    People get into fishing for a variety of reasons, but for me the primary motivation is catching what I want to eat.  Sure the challenge, the fight, the strategy, the time in nature are all great...but what I really want is the freshest fish on my plate caught with my hands.  There is something extremely gratifying about being able to feed yourself by either hunting, gardening, gathering or fishing.  I've lived your typical American life with a big distance between the food I buy at the grocery store and its source.  In my recent awakening to the world, I've discovered a great desire to reconnect with my food sources and develop new hobbies out of it.  On top of the incredible feeling of catching your dinner...it is free!  As a person who will be cruising on a budget, that is very important.

I first talked about fishing in this post.  I find it funny how I predicted that the large redfish I caught would be a bane to my existence as it would be a very long time before I top it.  I have yet to top that catch, and up until this past weekend haven't even caught a redfish again.

Since that post I have moved to the coast and have gradually fished more and more, mostly surf fishing.  It takes me under a minute to walk to the waters edge from my house, so it is never a big event to get out and fish from the shore.  Surf and pier fishing is fun and relaxing.  It is "easy" fishing, as you just cast the lines and wait.  You occasionally check to see if you need to re-bait, but mostly just it is just sitting and enjoying the scenery.  Throwing out the lines with a few beers and a glowing sunset is one of my favorite things to do after work to relax; though it is third in line for after-work activities behind surfing and boat work.  If the waves are up, I'm surfing.  If not, I'm doing boat work.  If boat work is at a stopping point or I just need a break..then it's fishing time.

When surf fishing, I usually take out two poles with a two-hook & pyramid weight rig.  I generally use fresh dead shrimp purchased from the local tackle shop.  The target fish in the surf are whiting, pompano, small sharks and whatever else will hit the bait.  90% of the time I catch small whiting, about a third of them being keepers.  Whiting are small, but delicious fish that are abundant here in the surf.  Since they are a pain to filet due to their bones, I either grill the fish whole or remove all of the meat in small pieces for ceviche.

A keeper, cleaned and ready for the grill:

Occasionally when I catch a whiting I will use the head on a larger hook to target sharks.  I've only caught two sharks so far, but I don't often try for them.  I recently learned that you can actually eat them, and they are rumored to be quite delicious..  Uric acid can ruin the meat as they essentially pee through their skin, so you need to bleed them correctly. I have yet to learn that skill, so I've set all my sharks free.

A small sand shark (Bonnet head):

Whiting is good and all, but I really want to catch a pompano.  Pompano are the prized surf-fish and are delicious to consume.  They are a bit more rare here in North Florida compared to South, though they do come through in numbers certain times of the year.  They apparently love sand fleas more than anything, so that may be the reason I haven't had much luck getting one.  Sand fleas are a bit of an enigma to me as I cannot seem to find any.  I remember seeing them all over the place as a kid, but I also spent more time making drip sand castles so I probably saw them as I was digging in the wet sand.  I try to dig around in the sand these days and they still elude me.  There are a few methods I have yet to try, such as using a strainer, so I can't say I've done my best at getting them.  I always seem happy just to use the easy dead shrimp.

Here is a small pompano I caught recently.  Still waiting on a keeper:

I think a key to getting better at fishing in the surf will be to use better bait.  While fresh dead shrimp is cheap and easily available nearby, it might not be the best. I recently was given a small cast net for my birthday, so I hope to expand my fish catching with the ability to catch fresh bait.  Using small live and cut baitfish in the surf I should be able to go after other fish like mackerel, bluefish and possibly bull redfish and black drum.  I hope with the cast net bait and sand fleas (when I figure out how to find them) I will have more success in the surf

I also have an inshore pier close by me which I've tried here and there.  For some reason my luck is much less on the pier and all I've ever caught were undersized whiting and sting rays.  I haven't seen many people catch anything solid (with a few exceptions) at this pier, so I haven't gone much since last summer.  It is a beautiful place to fish with all of the boats going by, but the surf seems to yield more.  There is a surf pier in St Augustine beach and I know for sure that it is the best place to fish in the surf, but it is a bit too far for me to drive to regularly.  You also have to pay to fish off of it, so I stick to the free shore next to my house.

While surf fishing is a nice relaxing activity that yields some prizes, it isn't the top of my fishing desires.  More than anything, I want to go off-shore to catch big Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and billfish.  But until I get Windsong back in the water, that will have to wait.  The next best thing to off-shore fishing is to go inshore on the Intercoastal and its tributaries.  The inshore fishing in Florida is world class with the prizes being speckled seatrout, redfish, snook, and flounder.  In the next post I'll describe my efforts (mostly failing) to score some inshore prizes.