Bill Varney – SURF LINES

WON’s Surf fishing Editor Bill Varney, really knows the California surf. His family has lived and fished in Los Angeles since the 1850s. Besides the four generations of surf knowledge that have been passed down to Bill he also grew up in the South Bay where he worked for TC Tackle, as a hand on Redondo’s 3/4-day Dina Lee and for the surf master Fred Oakley collecting bait for every tackle shop from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Over the years tackle has changed as anglers downsize from the long heavily weighted rods and rigs of the past to much lighter surf gear. It is the fast-growing sector of the fishing industry and Bill’s book “Surf Fishing, The Light-Line Revolution” covers all aspects of West Coast surffishing with information on rigging, baits and dozens of techniques on how to find and catch more fish at the beach.

Bill’s monthly articles in Western Outdoor News cover how-to techniques that help readers find, bait and catch fish in the surf. While his weekly tips, keep surf fishermen up-to-date on new and exciting ways to target local surf fish.

You can e-mail him at fishthesurf@mail.com

Surf fishing and safety at the beach
Surf fishing, as with any outdoor sport, has it dangers. Every time I go to the beach I think about what bait, rig and spot I’m going to fish but I also think about what dangers might be awaiting me and how to prepare for them. Walking a gentle sandy beach doesn’t seem to be the place where one might hurt themselves, but you’d be amazed with how many ways you can get yourself in trouble.

Just the right (or wrong!) sand berms, rouge waves, stingrays, slippery rocks and sharp hooks can all ruin your day. Being aware of your surroundings and keeping in mind the inherent dangers that may occur will give you peace of mind and a better chance of landing the record fish you hope to catch.

One of the most painful and most often occurring injuries is caused by stingrays sunning themselves in the warm summer water. With just a swipe of their tail, stingrays are sharp reminders of how painful and unpleasant a misplaced step can be.

To protect themselves and injure their prey stingrays have an extremely sharp and barbed stinger loaded with a neurotoxin that is activated by cold water. This stinger is located near the base of their tail and when threatened (or hungry) they slap it against their victim. The stinger then releases a toxin that is activated and intensified by cold water.

Should you encounter a stingray’s barb, immediately soak the affected area in hot water — as hot as you can stand. This will reduce the severity and lessen the duration of the pain.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid the rays of summer. First, do everything possible to keep from being stung. When entering the water, shuffle your feet both ways as you go out into the surf and while coming back in. When de-hooking a ray, use a long set of hemostats or cut the leader. Don’t try to put a rag on the fish.

If you do get stung, get help fast. All lifeguard services have a facility to treat stingray victims. Lifeguards will treat the effected area with hot water. If part of the barb is left in you, seek professional help. Also, any puncture wound that occurs at the beach may become infected. Watch it carefully for reddening.

Another sinister place at the beach is along the sand where the wave berm forms. As waves crash along the beach they often form berms from two inches to ten feet high. These “sand walls” form near the high tide mark and run the length of the beach.

The obvious hazard might be getting stuck between the wall and an oncoming wave and getting wet. But the one that always gets me is the two- to four-inch berm. Just when you are backing up to move away from the surf or fight a fish, your heel catches it and you go head over keester onto the sand. The obvious lesson here is always look back in advance and see where the berm is, so when you do need to run backwards you can do so safely.

One other thing to keep in mind is the waves themselves. When tying hooks, replacing leaders or putting on bait, we many times take our eye off the water. Be aware of where you are in relation to the surf and when you cannot keep an eye on the waves — move up the beach.

Waves also come into play when fighting a fish. When fighting a big fish, you will be pulled toward the ocean as the current pushes away from shore. This is the time to keep an eye on the incoming waves so you can time your retreat up the beach as the wave approaches. Just like in baseball, don’t take your eye off the ball for long or it might clobber you!

Besides keeping an eye on the incoming surf, other factors come into play when fishing from the rocks. Fishing from jetties, rock points and breakwaters can provide some dangerous conditions.

Before you go out on the rocks, look to make sure it’s safe from dangerous surf, then plan your route. Remember it’s “slippery when wet.” Rocks splashed by waves at high tide may become very slick because of bait, bird guano, moss and other substances deposited on them.

Be sure to wear a good shoe with traction (like a sneaker or boot) and avoid fishing, no matter how tempting it may be, in flip-flops or sandals. When walking on rocks, know that they may be uneven or unstable or both. Always look down and forward as you walk to measure each step and plan your next.

Check the conditions before you go and avoid big surf. Rogue sets of waves are common and can sweep everything from the rocks. Once at your desired fishing spot, survey the area and make an escape plan should big waves and high tides combine. Know the path off the rocks and to safety before a calamity occurs.

When retying hooks, hooking baits and taking pictures, always step back to a safer area far enough away from the crashing waves. With challenge comes reward — and although you always need to use extreme caution when fishing from rocks, the payoff is the big fish lurking in those rocks that keep you coming back.

On last suggestion… and this has to do with beach etiquette. When you go to the beach, remember that you’re there for recreation and not confrontation. Every so often we run into some bonehead and have to remind ourselves to keep cool. Be patient and enjoy yourself.

If you see someone fishing the beach give them space. If you choose to fish near them, let’s say from the rocks or on the beach, take a moment to ask them for their permission. If they say no, move on. Most often they’ll say yes and may let you in on what they’re doing to be successful.

When dealing with swimmers and surfers, here are a few things to remember: Be respectful. Most swimmers and surfers have little knowledge of fishing and don’t know when they’re in danger or in your way. If you can move a bit or wait for the drift to take them away, you’ll be able to get back to fishing in no time.

Give way to the crowd: If you approach the beach and find it crowded with swimmers and surfers, don’t fish there. Find another place to fish or return earlier and later once they’re gone.

Let them know you’re there: If swimmers or surfers paddle out right where you are fishing, let them know with a call or whistle and point out as to where your line is. Most of the time they will move on down the beach. If they don’t, you move on.

These are just a few of the many ways to get yourself into trouble at the beach. So take it from me, I’ve had plenty of skinned knees and soaked clothes but I’ve learned my lesson: Take safety first and good fishing always follows!

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Join WON’s Surf Fishing Editor Bill Varney for one of his CCA on-the-beach surf fishing clinics this summer. You’ll find all the information about the clinics on his site fishthesurf.com. Plus, check out his surf tackle store at surffishtackle.com.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Sand Crabs, Free Sand Crabs, Are Here!
Sand Crabs, Emerita analonga, are found along the Western coast of both North and South America, the African peninsula and most tropical regions around the world. As of 2019, 10 species of sand crabs have been recognized across the globe.

In California we have two distinct groups of sand crabs. Those that come to the surface, spawn and feed once the water is 60 degrees or warmer and a sub species, north of Santa Barbara through Washington, that thrives at the sand’s surface in water as cold as 45 degrees.

A PERFECT SAND crab fished on a 4-pound setup tricked this solid bean for Kevin Sullivan of Ventura.

In tropical waters south of Baja Sur, you’ll find yet another sand crab. In water temperatures that range from 70 to 95 degrees, this crab flourishes in soft sand near rock structure. Unlike crabs to the north, these crabs do not congregate on the open beach… but instead, are always looking for rocky shores for a bit of shade and safety.

So why do sand crabs work so well for surf fishing? The simple answer is that they occur in huge numbers along the coast and have become the primary food source for surf fish. But there’s more to the crab than meets the eye. Sand crabs have two distinct characteristics that fish love: First, they often contain bright orange row and provide both a visual and olfactory attraction. Second, the side-effect of growth is the shedding of their hard shell. The result, soft-shell sand crabs provide an attractive food that surf fish can’t resist.

To find crabs , start by looking near the waterline for groups of birds on the beach. Many seabirds use their beak to probe the sand for crabs. Sand crabs like soft sand, they don’t enjoy rock or pebbly areas.

THIS NICE BARRED surfperch couldn’t resist a soft-shell sand crab offered by Larry Betancourt of San Diego.

When you first arrive at the beach, begin your search between the high tide mark and the ocean for signs of sand crabs. Look for moving water, receding from each wave. As a wave recedes, look on the wet sand for little “V’s.” This is the characteristic ripple formed by a bed of crabs. Using their extended feather-like antennae, sand crabs feed on plankton that rides the crest of each wave. With practice you will find they are easy to see grouped in bunches and become exposed as the water recedes between waves. The warmer the water, the closer they will be to the surface.

Sand crabs always swim, crawl and dig backwards. When a wave washes over them they can quickly relocate and dig back in leaving only their eyes and breathing antennules exposed. These are the appendages that reveal their location as the waves recede. They always settle in looking out to sea. You should approach them from above, on higher ground, to improve your chances of catching them in numbers.

Beginning in May, crabs congregate near the high tide mark to begin their spawn. As summer progresses crab beds will appear at both the high tide mark and on sand bars only accessible at low tide. So look for them near the high tide mark in spring and as summer progresses, they will also be found on the outside sand bar easily accessible during low (and especially at minus) tides.

COVERING YOUR SAND crabs with a wet piece of kelp is an effective way to keep them fresh.

Watch carefully as the waves roll out for anomalies on the beach that appear as ripples on the surface of wet sand. Dig here as this is where you will find the crabs.

The best way to catch crabs is with a galvanized crab net. Promar makes an excellent galvanized crab rake, which can be purchased at your local tackle store. You’ll also find a light-weight crab catcher that clips to your belt at www.surffishtackle.com. Make sure all parts are well galvanized and rinse thoroughly with fresh water after each use.

When picking through crabs, touch each crab to see if it’s soft and pliable. I’ve found that medium-soft crabs (those with a shell softness equal to pressing in a pop can) are the best bait. Test the waters by trying different hardness and sizes of crabs to see what fish in your area are foraging on.

After finding a patch of “V’s,” approach slowly and wait for the water to rush in and over the area before standing on it. Once covered by water, step forward and place the net in the water and allow it to settle to the bottom. A surprise approach means crabs will be less likely to dig deeper into the sand and will be easier to catch. Continue as you “crab” to look up and down the beach to find more V-shaped clusters.

Other effective ways to catch sand crabs are by hand digging and by using a colander or a clothes washing bag. A clothes’ washing bag is something your mom may be aquatinted with: a bag the size of a pillowcase that is made of netting and is used for cleaning fine washables. Simply, unzipped the top, scoop sand into the bag and then pull it to the water’s edge where the sand washes away and leaves a net full of crabs.

SAND CRABS IN tropical climates, like those found in the East Cape in Baja, have longer legs and are almost white in color.

Two good times to catch crabs are on a large incoming high tide and at peak low tide. Peak high tide is usually going to be your most productive time. Time of day is not usually important unless there is excessive beach traffic that may drive crabs down. Peak low tide is when you will find congregations of crabs on exposed sand bars.

Pay attention to the sand once you reach the beach. When you first walk on the beach near the water, feel the sand with your bare feet. As you walk you’ll notice that the sand varies from soft to firm as well as coarse to fine grain in different areas. Crabs prefer soft, fine-grained sand that is easy to burrow into and rely upon it until their hard shell develops.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your sand crabsfresh and lively. Keep and transport your crabs in a waist bait bucket. A small piece of wet kelp helps to keep the temperature down and the bait fresh. If you plan to keep the crabs overnight, place them in a dry plastic container (no lid) and cover them with damp newspaper or a moistened cloth.

Be sure not to crush them. I place the bucket in a cool dry place inside a large ice chest. If you feel they may become too warm (as they prefer the air temperature to be between fifty-five and seventy degrees) you may place a frozen bottle of water adjacent to their container. By all means, don’t place them in saltwater or the refrigerator, as they will expire in just minutes. Lastly, be sure not to disturb them. Otherwise, they will be cranky (and dead!) in the morning.

Summer’s almost here and so are the crabs. So take a few extra minutes to search and find sand crabs and you’re sure to find the fish that are looking for them too!

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Learn about equipment, bait and how to find fish at the beach by joining Bill Varney and CCA California this summer for a series of on-the-beach surf fishing clinics. Visit www.fishthesurf.com and look under “Topics/Seminars” for all the details. Check out Bill’s Surf Tackle and New Line of Surf Rods at: www.surffishtackle.com .

FRESH CRABS ARE a great way to get into some big, early-season corbina like this one caught by Keath Beifus of San Diego.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Perch Fishing for Winter Slabs
Now that we are surrounded by winter and much of our offshore fishing equipment is put away, it’s a great time to get back down to the beach for some fishing. You know, when I tell folks that it’s a great time of year to surf fish, they always look a bit sideways at me. I can’t really blame them. Wind, rain, short days and a complete absence of fish reports tend to make one think that there is no good fishing to be had.

Many surfperch fishermen wait until early spring to fish the beach, as this has often been the time when large, spawning perch go wide open. But traditionally, some of the largest perch you will ever see have been caught throughout the entire winter.

BARRED SURFPERCH TUCK into the rocks in winter and wait for food to be washed out from the rocks.

Over the last few winters this has not been the case in Southern California. As the water from the El Nino effect has warmed, both fish and bait (surfperch and sand crabs) have moved north. This year the water temperatures have begun to settle back to their averages and the big perch have followed with them.

Their are many types of perch in the California surf but three of my favorites to target are barred, walleye and calico surfperch. All three use their throat to crush bait and spend most of their time in the inshore trough just a few yards from shore. During the late fall, perch gorge on forage during their mating period. They become voracious eaters during this period as they prepare to give birth to live offspring. The gestation period is around five months, so they generally bear their young in spring. Young perch flood the beaches during summer so the winter period always seems to be the best time to catch the largest fish.

To prepare for catching these 3-pound perch I like to use a nine-foot spinning rod matched with a 2500 series reel, loaded with six-pound pink or red monofilament. For rigging use the Carolina rig. It a simple rig made up of a sliding sinker, a bead, swivel, eighteen inches of leader and a very sharp hook.

If the surf is small and the current light I will use as little as a ¼-ounce sinker. If the surf is large, with a strong current or winds, I will use up to a 1-ounce slider. A bead is essential to keep your sinker from loading with sand and binding on your line. I prefer 6-pound fluorocarbon as my leader material because it’s “invisible” and abrasion resistant. As for a hook, it must be sharp. Yes, I mentioned that twice because it’s so important that your hook is sharp. Ok, that’s three times.

Surfperch love a variety of baits. Perch by nature are scavengers and feed on just about anything. My favorite baits are ghost shrimp, sidewinder crabs, clams and both lug and bloodworms. Although perch also love sand crabs, sand crabs are generally much harder to find during winter. For artificial baits, perch will chase Gulp! Sandworms, plastic grubs, minnow-style hardbaits and spoons.

FOR THE BEST results at the beach find the inshore trough at low tide, line it up with some type of marker on shore and come back and fish it at high tide.

Finding perch at the beach can be a daunting task if you hope just to stumble upon them. Here are a few tips that will help you find the fish.

If you plan to fish on an open beach you will need to find the troughs where surfperch hide. The easiest way to find them is to go to your favorite beach at low tide. Walk along the beach and take note as to where the inshore trough is and line it up with something permanent behind it so you may go back at high tide and fish it. There are generally two inshore troughs: one that is near shore which is carved out by waves breaking on shore (it is about 10 to 50 feet out) and another that is formed by waves breaking offshore at low tide.

Besides the open beach, you’ll always find perch around structure areas like rocks, jetties, reefs and pilings. Surfperch gather around rock areas for both protection and to feed. When the winter months arrive surf fish generally make their way to rock outcroppings because much of their winter food clings to and is washed from the rocks.

When fishing rock outcroppings, jetties and harbor entrances, it is important to find the area where an eddy has been created, as this is where the fish will hide to ambush food. When first approaching a rock area, identify the direction of the swell as it reaches the rocks. Look on the opposite side of where waves meet rock for swirling, foaming and off colored-water. This most likely is where you will find the fish.

WALLEY SURFPERCH ARE generally found on open beach areas snuggled into the nearshore trough.

A common mistake when fishing near and from the rocks for perch and other surf fish is that anglers cast away from the rocks. Remember, fish grew big by being smart and although it’s embarrassing to match your wits to that of a fish, they will surely out-fish you if you don’t keep this in mind: fish of all sizes use the rocks for protection. They head back into the rocks and only come out for a short while to feed. You’ll miss the big ones if you cast away from the rocks.

So when fishing from the rocks, cast your bait roughly 5 feet in front of where water meets rock and let the current wash your bait in and out — and because this many times results in snags, just downsize your sinker to 1/4-ounce and also shorten your leader to 12 inches or less. If your line does get snagged in the rocks, jiggle it gently and most times it will come free.

Allowing your bait to wash in and out of the rocks presents food in its most natural state. Fish will come out from the rocks, pick up your bait and move right back into their “garage.” So always keep your line tight to your sinker and as soon as your line begins to come tight (almost like you are snagging), reel quickly and raise your rod tip to set the hook and pull the fish from between the rocks.

Take some responsibility to insure the health of the perch population by quickly and carefully releasing pregnant female perch. That will insure the fish will be there the next time you go. With so many huge barred, calico and walleye perch out there, now is the time to get down to the beach. Don’t wait for summer to pull on you next fish when you can pull on a slab today!

CALICO SURFPERCH ARE most active in the winter and can be found up against offshore rocks, jetties and harbor entrances.

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Bill Varney has just finished publishing the 2019 CCA Sportfishing Tide Calendar. You’ll find it at tackle stores, landings and all Turner Outdoorsman’s stores. Join Bill next summer for a series of CCA on-the-beach surf fishing clinics. You’ll find more information about surf fishing and the upcoming clinics on his website: www.fishthesurf.com.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Fall Fishing With Clams And Mussel In The Surf
This time of year always reminds me of a story my son told me one day after coming home from surf team practice. The story starts out the day I met a fellow fisherman on the beach who turned out to be a marine biologist doing an extensive study on corbina. Although the biologist’s focus was to catch, examine and catalog corbina, they always seemed to catch other common surf fish during their research. Once all the fish had been examined, they discovered that every fish from the surf had one thing in common: their stomachs all contained mussel and clam bivalves — and not just one or a few — but every one they caught over a nine month period.

littleneckclamsLITTLENECK CLAMS CAN be found in intertidal areas and work great for surf fishing in the fall.

I had always known clams and mussel worked in the surf and had noticed some time ago that they seemed to work best starting in October. So one day a few years ago, my son came to me after surf practice and told me the story of how one of the kids on the team was thrown from their board and tossed to the bottom. When they came to shore their face was torn, scraped, bloody and covered with clams. Immediately the light went off in my head and I excused myself, collected my gear (and a few clams) and made my way down to the beach to have some of the best spotfin croaker fishing ever!

With more than 15,000 species of clam, oyster and mussel bivalve mollusks to choose from, it makes sense that this bait works well in the surf. The most common bivalve may be mussels, which are found anywhere you have substantial tidal movement, in conjunction with rock, pilings or jetty structure. More than anywhere else, mussels seem to thrive on pier pilings, docks, jetties and inside wave-protected harbors.

Two different kinds of mussel work great for surf bait. One is common rock or piling mussel, which contains orange and brown meat (Mytilus carifornianus). The other is the green bay mussel, which is full of bright chartreuse meat and can be found under small intertidal rocks (Mytilus edulis diegensis).

The best time to collect mussels is at low tide. Rock and jetty mussel will be found in groups on rocks facing the open ocean. Bay mussel is found inside harbor areas on the bottom of small rocks where only one or two may live.

Rather than wrestling with bait in the morning’s half-light, I like to clean my mussels before going to the beach. When shucking mussel, use a small knife to cut the tendons near the rear of the shell. On one side, near the back, there is a small indentation or hole. Insert your knife into this hole and slowly pull the knife forward toward the front of the shell. As you move along it will cut the tendon and once the shell is partly open you can pry it apart with your fingers. Inside the mussel you will find two different bait textures: one very soft and pliable another very rubbery and strong. Both make good bait.

WHEN FISHING WITH mussel, be sure to include a bit of shell on your bait to provide for a more realistic presentation in the surf.

Mussel works great as fresh bait, but you may also want to collect a few extra, shuck them from their shells and freeze them for later use. I divide them into small zip-top bags and freeze them. Only thaw them once. Mussels thawed and refrozen may become too mushy for bait. Always take only as many as you will need.

For hooking mussel, I’ll wrap it around an octopus (seems ironic!), mosquito or split shot hook, then pierce the rubber lip membrane last so that it holds the bait in place. Be sure to puncture the lip membrane past the barb to hold it securely. Some anglers use dental floss or silk string to secure mussel to the hook and some also include some of the shell in their bait presentation.

Another hooking technique is to feed the mussel lip up the hook just as if you were using a worm. This can be done by inserting the hook into the center of the mussel lip membrane and then pulling the mussel up over the hook and eventually onto your line. Rather than wrapping the bait around the hook (like above) you are pulling the hook down the center of the bait so it appears to look like a worm. If a bite takes off the bottom half of your bait just slide more mussel lip below the hook and poke the point of the hook back through the membrane.

Mussel is very hardy and will last in a cool moist plastic tray for several days. They can be cleaned immediately or are a bit easier to shuck after being stored overnight. By all means, do not eat mussel that you collect. It’s a filter organism that when feeding passes huge quantities of water through its membrane. It’s “muscle” then retains and concentrates toxins it filters from the water, including “domoic acid,” the neurotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning, which may also be fatal.

Besides mussel, there are several different types of clams that work well in the surf. My favorites include little neck clams(Protothaca staminea), cockles(Clinocardium californiense) and Pacific razor clams (Siliqua patula). Some of the largest spotfin croaker I’ve seen caught were those caught on fresh clam.

The best place to find these clams (with the exception of Pismo clams) is in inlet areas that are flushed by daily tides. Harbors, inlets, estuaries and any marine environment where saltwater washes over rocks are good places to look for them. Most clams are found near or under rocks.

I look for areas that have small rocks (about the size of a shoe box) and turn them over. By using a small hand cultivator you can turn over the mud and sand near the rocks and find the clams. I use gloves and the cultivator because of the many barnacles on the rocks and sharp objects in the sand.

RAZOR CLAMS WORK great for surf bait and can be found buried in mud and sand inside harbors and estuaries.

The best tide to find clams is always low tide. This allows you to harvest an area that is covered by water at high tide. As with collecting most types of bait, go down to your local harbor or inlet to explore and dig around at low tide. You will be amazed at what you’ll find and you’ll know exactly where to go the next time you need bait.

When you’re finished hunting the elusive clam, replace the rocks and try to leave the spot as undisturbed as possible. Just take what you will need for a couple of days fishing.

Clams will last in your refrigerator for about one week. Be sure they are in a tight container. I open clams at the beach by crushing their shell with my pliers. You may also open them at home the night before. Be sure to keep them in their own juice so they don’t dry out.

When you open clams you will find two distinct meats. One meat is very soft and should be put on the hook first. The other meat is very rubbery and is sometimes characterized by a bright orange or a dull yellow color.

Now it’s time to hook the clam. Once you’ve opened the clam carefully pull out all of the meat. First hook the soft part of the bait. Then hook the rubbery (a heart-shaped, normally yellow or orange) section. This will help the clam stay on your hook for a good cast.

Clams are stable on the hook and easy to cast. Check your bait periodically to make sure it’s securely hooked. You’ll find that clams are durable and work great for surfperch, corbina, yellowfin and spotfin croaker.

Fall and winter months have always been a great time for using clams and mussel in the surf. If you are collecting them yourself, take a few moments to become familiar with the DFW regulations by going to: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean#310671027-finfish-and-invertebrates . Always take just what you need for bait, and catch, photo and release your surf fish whenever possible.


Clams seem to work their best in the months of October through January. As a clue to what fish are eating, I look for beds of clams (Donax gouldii, bean clams) that form near the low tide mark in huge beds. You can usually find these in October and although they are not the clams we use for bait, it lets us know this is what fish are eating.

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Also, check out Bill’s new product the “Crab n’ Go,” a great tool for catching sand crabs for surf fishing bait. You’ll find it on his site surffishtackle.com or ask for it at a tackle store near you.

chartreusebaymusselsCHARTREUSE BAY MUSSELS are irresistible to cold-water surf fish.

HALIBUT TOO CAN easily fall prey to a mussel lip threaded onto a long shank hook.

USE THE LIP of a large mussel to attract surf fish by threading it up the hook and making sure it's as straight as possible.

surfperchsnuggleSURFPERCH SNUGGLE UP to rocks in cooler water month hoping to find mussel and clams to forage.

IN THE FALL as the ocean cools and sand crabs hibernate, huge spotfin like this one forage near-shore for clams.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Being prepared for fall surf fishing
This summer has produced some crazy-good surf fishing. Stripers in San Diego, world-class corbina fishing in Santa Barbara and everything in between.

Recently, Scripps Institute reported the surface water temperature at Scripps Pier in La Jolla hit a record 78.6 degrees. That’s the highest temperature recorded in 102 years. With hurricanes on the horizon, there is no doubt the water temp will go even higher.

With all this hot water how is that going to affect surf fishing? Well, that’s anyone’s guess, but here’s mine: Warm water generally signals less sand crabs and a migration of some surf fish toward the north. Fish generally follow their food, so as the food moves north into cooler water, so do the fish.

In previous years of warm water, perch have been hard to find in Southern California but are found in abundance in areas like Pismo, Guadalupe, Monterey and beaches north. Yet, it also encourages fish rarely seen in California to move up the coast. Corvina, bonefish, needlefish and jacks are just of few of the fish we might expect to see this fall.

GHOST SHRIMP MAKE excellent bait in the fall when sand crabs become scarce.

Fall has always been my favorite time to fish the beach, when crowds are thin, water is warm and fish are numerous. As with the change of seasons, bait changes from season to season too.

Summer brings us loads of sand crabs and the on rush of corbina to rake the sandy shores for food. When summer ends sand crabs sink out as they prepare for their winter hibernation and fish begin searching for a new food to take the place of crab.

Fall baits such as bloodworms, ghost shrimp and lugworms work well for fishing the beach from autumn through spring. As the billion or more sand crabs leave the beaches, surf fish such as barred perch, spotfin croaker, leopard sharks, yellowfin croaker and the occasional corbina look for a new source of food to comfort their veracious appetites.

One of the best surf baits has always been ghost shrimp. Credited with catching some of the biggest surf fish on record (the current world record corbina being one), the ghost shrimp is one of my favorite surf baits. Ghost shrimp can be found inside your local estuary or harbor where they can be “pumped” by hand.

As with most surf baits fished on light line, I always use the Carolina rig for ghost shrimp. Use a long shank worm hook for shrimp. Insert the hook near the shrimp’s tail and “feed” the hook upwards through the center of its body. Exit the business end of the hook just below the shrimp’s head and between the legs. This is by far the hardest part of the shrimp’s body and by hooking here will allow you to give the bait a moderate cast without losing it.

Storing shrimp correctly is important because of their fragility. Unlike sand crabs, ghost shrimp may be stored in a refrigerator. If you have bait left over after a day of fishing, rinse it out with saltwater at the shore just before leaving the beach. Because shrimp excrete urine (which will eventually kill them) bring home a bottle of saltwater from the beach to rinse them at least once per day.

I like to take it one step further by using a five-gallon aquarium that fits in a “dorm” refrigerator to keep my ghost shrimp alive and crisp. Keep the temperature in the refrigerator around 54 degrees and change the water every two to three days. Shrimp kept this way will last about a week and be much fresher and crisper on the hook.

When I take shrimp to the beach, I will always place them in my hip bait bucket with a couple of ice cubes. That way when I reach the beach they stay cool and don’t cook inside my closed bait container.

Another bait you can find at your local tackle shop are lug and bloodworms.

Bloodworms have a storied past and are considered one of the best baits ever used at the beach. One great advantage of the blood worm is its durability. Their outside casing is so tough feel free to catch one, two, or five fish on the same bait — it’s that strong.

LUG AND BLOODWORMS attract fish in fall and winter and can usually be found at most local tackle shops.

The lugworm is a recent addition to surf fishing baits and has become a great substitute for bloodworms. These worms are farmed in controlled conditions and can be grown in huge quantities. This helps to make them more widely available and less expensive. Both blood and lugworms can be kept for up to two weeks in your refrigerator.

Because you will use the entire worm for bait, it takes a bit of practice to get one on your hook. Inside the worm’s mouth you’ll find a set of two to four pinchers. They appear as if they are tiny fingernails. The worm uses these to catch its prey and to dig holes in the sand. On larger worms these claws will get your attention as they clamp onto your skin with a sharp pinch!

It is essential to have the worm expose it’s “claws” outside of the casing to hook it correctly. Rub the worm against your coat or pinch it with your pliers to open its mouth. The fresher the worm, the faster and more pronounced the pinchers and mouth will be.

To get the worm in a position to place on the hook, pinch the “neck” (just below the pinchers) between your thumb and forefinger. Holding the worm firmly and insert the sharp hook end into the mouth (center of the pinchers). Slowly and carefully, trying not to puncture the worm casing, feed the worm up the hook (and the hook down the center of the worm). Pull the worm onto the hook until you reach the hook eye and mono knot. Firmly grasp the mouth and pull it over the hook’s eye. At this point the worm can also be slipped up the line. Puncture the casing of the worm with the hook and leave a one and one-half inch piece of worm, just below the hook. Be sure to pull the hook past the barb so it sets well and will hold the worm in place as you cast.

Check your worm every cast to make sure it has not slid down the line and bunched up. Also, make sure the worm is flat on your hook so it looks like a worm moving along the bottom as you retrieve. After each fish just pull another one and one-half inch piece down below the hook and off you go.

Great combination — worms and grubs : A great way to enhance your grubs is by adding a small piece of worm above the eye of your hook so it sits atop the grub. I start with a whole worm but when most of my worm has been eaten, I like to add a 1½-inch grub below the remaining piece of worm. Try it — you’ll be amazed at the results.

Now is a good time to begin collecting bait to be used in fall and winter. Being prepared by collecting bait a day, week or month before a fishing trip and freezing it, can make the difference between catching fish or not. Every few months I’ll spend some time working on collecting, processing and freezing bait.

Take some time to collect rock mussel and sand crabs. Make sure the crabs are of the hard shell variety (harder the better). I place them in snack-size zip bags with enough for one day of fishing. Make several varieties: One with crabs alone, one with crabs and taco sauce (pick your favorite) and one with crabs and a piece of juicy mussel. Once frozen and thawed, the crabs will have a softer shell and will be naturally scented. I guarantee that during wintertime this will drive fish crazy!

Mussel makes excellent fresh and frozen bait and they are easily collected from the rocks of a jetty or the pilings of a pier. After collecting a handful of mussel, let it sit overnight and it will be easier to shuck the next day. Clean the mussel and place it in small zip top bags with enough for one day of fishing. A great variation on this is to cut squid into strips (about the size of a pencil) and add this to the mussel bag. The squid will absorb both the color and smell of the mussel and will be both easy to keep on the hook and deadly effective.

Put bait packages in labeled brown paper bags in the freezer. Once per year throw out old bait and start over. That’s sage advice especially for those who want to stay married!

Knowing when sand crabs begin to leave the beach and knowing what baits work as fall and winter replacements will not only make you a better angler but will ensure that you’ll be catching fish at the beach long into this year’s warm water days of winter.

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WON’s surf fishing editor Bill Varney is teaming up with CCA Calfiornia for an on-the-beach surf fishing clinic at Bolsa Chica State Beach on Saturday, Sept. 22. To learn more about the clinic visit his website: www.fishthesurf.com

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