Bill Varney – SURF LINES

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Thursday, October 12, 2017
October surf fishing
Friday, January 05, 2018
I’ve Got a Plan

Winter surf fishing with grubs
As water cools along our coast this winter, changes occur both near shore and offshore as to how fish forage for food. Many anglers mothball their tackle this time of year as they wait for spring. But top surf anglers know that winter is one of the most productive times at the beach. With minor changes to your bait and presentation, the cold months of winter may be your hottest months in the surf.

Anglers aren’t the only ones who slow down in winter – fish do too. As ocean waters cool, the metabolism and activity of surf fish diminishes significantly. As a result, both feeding frequency and aggressiveness toward catching food changes. Lucky for us, the effect of cold, winter water plays right into the hands of the grub angler.





As the warm water of fall begins to cool, sand crabs go into hibernation. Meanwhile, surf fish continue to scour the surf for any forage to carry them though the year. Because food becomes scarce in winter, fish are always looking for an opportunity to find something good to eat.

That’s why so many artificial lures work well during the winter. Native baits become scarcer during this time but fish still need to eat – so an enticing meal swimming by may get a bite. One of my favorite lures to use for a variety of surfperch in the winter months are surf (a.k.a. perch/crappie) grubs. Although they work year-round, they seem especially effective during cold-water months.

Plastic grubs come in two distinct shapes: curly-tail and swim-tail varieties. I like to use both shapes in the surf. The curly tail imitates a small baitfish while the swim tail adds a thumping vibration to the presentation. Matching the hatch with 1½- to 3-inch grubs seems to work best in the surf.

Utilize different grub colors depending on the color of the water and time of day you are fishing. With waves crashing and churned turbidity, most surf fishing areas have cloudy water. Fish cannot easily see whites and muted colors. Dark colors, which cast a more enticing shadow and match surrounding bait, work best. Motor oil, red flake, gray flake, brown and orange all seem to work well. Also, for early morning and evening sessions, use dark-colored grubs as they cast an enticing shadow in low light conditions. During midday periods, use a brighter grub (like clear with red flake), as these grubs seems to cast a more visible shadow in bright light.

For the best chance of catching fish, always be sure to use colors that resemble the colors of food that occur naturally in the area you are fishing. This is true for all lures used in the surf. Take a look at the bait you find at the beach. Mussel and clams have brown and orange colored meat, sand crabs are gray and sidewinders crabs are motor oil green and brown. These are the colors you should use as they best imitate the colors of forage living near and on shore.

Kalin, Big Hammer and Slider lure companies manufacture some of my favorite grubs. Be sure to pick up a variety of colors and feel free to try several out once you reach the beach to find out what color fish are keying into that day.

The best way to present grubs to hungry fish is on the Carolina rig. This is a simple rig and is made up of a sliding egg sinker, a 6mm bead, a swivel, leader material and a very sharp hook.

Your sinker size will depend on how much current or wave action you have at the beach. On days when the surf is four feet or larger, I use a heavier sinker of up to one ounce. On days with smaller surf, I prefer to use a ½- or ¾-ounce sinker (a ½-ounce sinker is a great place to start). Remember, it is very important to keep your bait on the bottom, as this is where fish feed, so having a bit heaver sinker is much better than having one that's too light.

Beads used between the sinker and swivel help to control the amount of sand that may build up inside the sinker. I like to use a 6mm red or orange bead in the winter and a clear bead in the summer. When fishing for summer corbina, it is important to hide your rig as well as possible – whereas during winter, the colorful bead helps attract surfperch and other fish.

Your swivel and leader come next. I use a number 12 size black swivel and 4- or 6-pound fluorocarbon leader material. Black swivels reflect very little light and look natural in the sand, while fluorocarbon remains invisible and is very abrasion resistant.

At the end of my leader is a very sharp hook. Sharp hooks may be the most important part of your rig. There are several good hooks available on the market, but my favorites are black, size 2 or 4, Gamakatsu split shot/drop-shot hooks, Owner Mosquito Light hooks or Trapper hooks. All three are thin wire hooks that are very sharp and work perfectly with grubs.

Now that you have the rig set up it’s time to hook the grub. Grubs must be placed on the hook so they lay as flat as possible. Any small turn in the grub will cause it to spin and appear unnatural.

PERCH FISHING CAN be great on grubs in the wintertime.

The first step in hooking a grub is to place the hook against the bait to see where the hook’s end will punch through the grub body. Next, check the grub to see if it has lines, like a seam, left by the mold. If so, be sure to center your hook between those lines.

Holding the grub between thumb and forefinger, insert the hook into the center of the head and pull the hook toward the tail, making sure to keep it centered in the grub. Once the hook is far enough down the inside of the grub (so the eye of the hook is now at the head of the grub), exit with the hook’s sharp end. Now that the hook’s shaft is buried in the grub, stop and pull the grub back toward the eye. This will even out the grub and help to keep it flat on the hook.

Think about presentation – the more the grub looks like it’s flat and freely moving through the water (without a hook), the better chance you’ll get a bite. Take a moment to pull the grub underwater in front of you and make sure it swims freely and doesn’t spin. Now you are ready to cast out.

Now that you know how to rig a grub, the next step is finding the best way to present this bait to surf fish. Using the grub allows you to cover the greatest area and search for fish. Begin by fan casting — that is, casting to the left side, straight out and to the right. Try to cover as much water as possible. If you don’t get bites after 10 minutes or so, move down the beach and try again until you find the fish. Remember, you may cover a mile of beach before your find a trough or hole that holds fish.

Let your bait sink to the bottom and slowly retrieve it back. The colder the water, the slower your retrieve should be, so as to mimic the slowed metabolism of surf fish. When the waves are pulling back, wait a moment during the retrieve and let your bait rest — you can expect bites here, as fish are pulled by the current past your bait. Always keep your line tight to your sinker and your bait on the bottom.

Lastly, comes the dippin’. I place about two ounces of fish attractant in a small snack-size zip bag. My favorite fish attractant without question? Taco shop hot sauce! I use two packets (can’t tell if I like Taco Bell or Del Taco the best). Just dip your grub into the sauce and cast it out. Every few casts take a moment to reapply. You’ll be amazed by how many more fish you catch with this simple addition. Please believe me — it really works!

Halibut, barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, walleye surfperch, pile perch, calico surfperch and many other fish in the surf are attracted to grubs. Although grubs work all year long, they seem to work their very best in winter when bait is scarce, water is cold and fish are hungry.

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Help support CCA of California by becoming a member and picking up the 2018 SportFishing Tide Calendar at tackle stores, landings or at a Turner’s Outdoorsman store near you. In addition to great pictures, tides, important dates and moon phases, this calendar has a monthly CCA drawing featuring rods, reels and tackle. To have a chance to win, register your 2018 calendar at www.ccacalifornia.org or www.fishthesurf.com

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