Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Clams and the MLPA
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
Surf Successful fishermen prepare first

Surf fishing from the rocks
With winter on the horizon surf fish know it’s time to leave the open beach and search for the safety and comfort that only piles of rocks can give. Winter diminishes the food available along the beach and high surf makes it almost impossible to find a safe secure place to stay. So fish move from the beach and congregate near rock structure. They also find food here that lives year round between and upon the rocks.

BIG SPOTFIN LOVE to hide near rocks.

Most folks believe that rocks give you a great opportunity to cast far out to sea. Far out where the fish are. Wrong. Fish, many of the biggest on the beach, actually hide between rocks and live secretly right below your feet!

Of course, it took a few tries for me to realize that the fish I was looking for were not way out to sea but actually in the rocks just below me. So one day I decided to put on my mask and fins and find where those fish really were. I was surprised. As each successive wave crashed upon the rocks fish would dart out from between the rocks for food. But as soon as the bubbles began to clear they were back between the rocks and well out of sight.

I saw the same behavior over and over again and realized that fish (usually the very biggest) live between the rocks. They utilize their size and shape to slide between the rocks for protection from predators and the surge. Rocks also provide a place where food is washed from the rocks as combers roll up the coast. Big fish survive by finding protection and food under cover of rocks.

Once at the beach your first job is to find where the fish are.Jetties, tides, surf and wind all work together to influence currents and determine where surf fish are hiding and feeding. So think of it this way: if you are looking out to sea and the surf is moving from the South toward North, fishing on the North side of the jetty would be best. At times, tide and wind also play a part in the equation of where a fishing eddy will be located. Always pay special attention to the water surrounding the outer edges of a jetty and try to find the swirling, foamy, off colored water, as this is where the fish are.

Rigging up with rocky intensions will save you a lot of time, trouble and heartache. Whenever you think of fishing from the rocks you always think of snags. When you go down to your favorite jetty at low tide you always see tons of line and sinkers and lures that have been snagged in the rocks. Our first thought may be to use heavy gear in anticipation of losing our rig in the rocks. But actually the exact opposite is true.


SIDEWINDER CRABS WORK great when pulling perch from the rocks. Watch for the conditions over a long period, as rogue waves can ruin your day, or worse.

I’m not saying go out and use 2-pound test line from the rocks but heavier line and sinkers will get you snagged every time. Lighter sinkers and lighter line will allow your bait to move in and out of the rock crevices with a much reduced chance of loss.

Bait naturally rides the currents near the bottom and washes across rock surfaces and in and out of their crevices. Fish wait in these areas to ambush their food. So in order to get your bait into these same areas use the Carolina rig with a small (one-eighth or one-quarter ounce) sliding sinker and a very short (eight to twelve inch) 6lb fluorocarbon leader. Because the sharpness of your hook is so important I will use a No. 4 Owner Mosquito light hook or a No. 4 Gamakatsu split shot/drop shot hook.

Although surf fish can be caught with many baits there are a few that seem to work best around rock structure. Time of year always plays a part in what bait to choose. When summer rolls around sand crabs and mussel seem to work well. Late summer, fall and spring seems to be the best time for ghost shrimp and lug/blood worms. But without question one of the best baits to use near the rocks are sidewinder (lined shore) crabs.

These are the brown and green crabs you see scurrying across the rocks as you walk out to fish. In winter, when fish push into rock areas to forage and hide, huge waves crash upon the rocks and wash these crabs off and into the mouths of waiting fish. January through March are the best times to use sidewinders.

The more natural your bait looks the better chance you have of hooking a big one — that’s why bait presentation is so important. Now that you have your rig set up it’s time to cast out and catch some fish. I like to start by casting about two to four feet beyond the rocks and letting my bait sink to the bottom. Remember to be tight to your sinker by reeling up all slack. This will greatly reduce snags.


Let your bait rig wash in and out near the rocks with the current. You’re not looking to have your rig in the rocks but just in front of them were rock meets water and sand. Always be sure to keep your line tight to your sinker and as soon as you feel a tug, reel down and as your rod loads up, lift your rod and fight the fish.

Big surf fish that live in the rocks don’t nibble. They swim from between rocks, shrouded by bubbles and inhale their prey, then move quickly backward into their holes. If you wait too long to reel down the fish may end up free and you snagged to its rock.

No advice about fishing from the rocks would be complete without a safety tip or two. Fishing from the rocks can be deadly dangerous. Never fish from rocks when surf is breaking upon and spray is going over the top. Carefully walk out on a jetty and look for a good place where you can stand safely and cast.

Avoid climbing down between sets of waves on rocks that will be covered by the next wave. Once you find the area where you will be standing look back toward shore and make a mental note of your “escape” route. This will help in the case of a rogue wave. When baiting your hook, taking a picture or unhooking and releasing a fish always walk back up the rocks and away from the water. Which leads us to rule number one: When fishing from the rocks never take your eye off the water.

Fishing from jetties with light tackle does take a bit practice and patience. By with a few simple techniques you’re sure to have a better chance of catching the big fish and a smaller chance of snagging a “keeper” rock.

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Bill Varney’s passion for surf fishing is detailed in his how-to book: Surf Fishing, The Light-Line Revolution, 3nd Edition Bill has teamed up with Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) to publish the 2017 Sport Fishing Tide Calendar. The calendar will be available in stores mid November and features a monthly CCA drawing for rods, reels, tackle and trips. Join CCA today to be entered to win at

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