Saltwater fishing offers a huge array of angling opportunity… wide open spaces, abundant (often large) sport fish species, and technical challenges among them.
But the vast oceans can be intimidating for some fishers. Where do you start? What do you use? And how the heck do you find fish? For starters, let’s assume we’re fishing from shore… we’ll get to boats and saltwater later.
In all fishing situations—freshwater, saltwater, fly fishing, bait fishing… whatever—you ultimately have to ask yourself two simple questions: where are the fish going to be moving (or congregating), and what are they eating?
In saltwater, as in any lake or river, the answer to the “where fish are going to be” question revolves around currents and structure (like rocks, reefs, dock pilings, and so on). Big fish will be where the bait is. While schools of bait will ball up in the open ocean, near shore, bait fish often cling to structure, and having moving water is a plus. Also look for subtle depressions off the beach, and patches of sea grasses and other vegetation are typically bait magnets.
A uniquely important aspect of saltwater fishing is that water and the fish move according to tides. Both incoming and outgoing tides have advantages, depending on where you are. There’s no way to better understand the tides and how to fish them than to ask people a local tackle shop. The one thing I’ve learned about tides is that every place is different. But, if you get the skinny that you want to be near a certain point or inlet when the tide is falling, for example, you’ve taken half the guesswork out of the equation.
What to use? That also varies, depending on where you are, and what kind of fish you are chasing. But for the beginner, I say you can’t go wrong with a simple spinning rod setup. I’d recommend an 8-foot, medium-heavy rod, with a spinning reel spooled with 10-pound fluorocarbon line. (Eventually, you might want a larger rod for surf casting, or a smaller finesse rod for jigging around dock pilings, and so forth, but this is a safe place to start).
As for lures, I’d go in one of two directions to start: I’d either use a spoon, or a bucktail jig. The spoon swirls and flashes in the water like a baitfish (it’s good to go with chrome and silver, with accents of green, blue, chartreuse, and/or red), while the weighted bucktail jig skips along the bottom, attracting the attention of fish that eat crabs, shrimp and so forth (also mix and match colors).
Ultimately, it comes down to making casts, gaining the experience, and finding your own way. If you’re planning a beach vacation, bring a rod… that’s often the best place to start.
(I’ll write more on saltwater fishing… from boats, with fly rods and other specialized tackle, and for specific species, in future columns… stay tuned, and don’t be afraid to ask questions you want addressed in the comment thread).
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.