Water. Shit, that was easy. No? Fine, fine. Moar words. I can do that. Ask my wife, you can't shut me up, and yet it took me awhile to sit down and write this because its hard to not sound like some sort of grandiose jerk who knows all, and I don't. I do, however, understand the concept of keeping it simple and just going out there to give it a go, and sometimes you don't need to study books, build a home astrolab, or sacrifice virgins to Cthulhu. Sometimes, well, you just need someone to kick start your brain....
So, the thing is that ocean's a big fuckin stream, and, unlike the trouts, the fish are transient. This means you need to find a place where the fish will likely be, at a time they'll likely be there. The other thing is, as a once-a-year sort of guy, you don't have the advantage of learning the ins and outs of what you're doing because for the other 358ish days of the year you're knowhere near the surf, and thus you look at this all from the wrong angle, and you're gonna need to tilt the odds as best you can in your favour.
First off is where to start, and we all think of a beach and the crashing surf as the place to be, because that's what the pictures of guys surf fishing for crashing stripers and marauding blues show us, right? I mean, we're at the beach, and that's what you read about when you looked up "striper fly fishing," so its just natural that you link the two in your mind. Or, I thought it was, so that's the link I made. I thought that for about an hour on the first night I went there, and I remember how fucking stupid and insignficant I was when I walked out and looked at the featureless ribbon of sand and crashing waves.
As I said before, though, I gave it a go. I tried hard to bring something up from the depths, for a little while, before I decided it was pointless and directed my effort to doing it smarter rather than harder. Not that beaches can't produce, but if you're on your summer vacation, there's better places to go rather than wander along praying for a blitz in casting distance.
Just like in freshwater, fish want structure and even though everything may look like a flat, boring expanse of ground, its there. Follow the curve of the land, and look for points. If there's a point on the sandy beach, it extends into the water, and the crush of the surf and the tide will help to concentrate bait to it. You can also look to the way the waves break, and get a feel. Remember, they break on the sand bar, and you can maybe get a feel for where that is based on where the breakers start.
You can also see where there might be a conflcting set of currents, a break in teh bar, or other beach structure. The fish want structure, and will congregate to these places, where it might mean taking advantage of a cut in the bar or two currents coming together. As you walk along the sand, look down and be aware. Places where lots of shells have washed up are a sign there's a funnel of some sort off shore, and is pushing these shellfish to this point. Chances are, if the helpless are being pushed through predators are there to take advantage.
Maybe, though, you can do better than the beach? As I once said, I happily soak bait at the beach with the family, but come evening time, I'm off to find better places to fish. I was able to locate an excellent bay with terriffic access, great structure and interesting tidal flows all within a 5 minute drive of my yearly rental. Frankly, a little time with any of the various online satellite mappers goes a long, long way, as does simply doing it the old fashioned way and hitting up a reputable fishing shop. Its important though, to remember that advise may be free, but these guys have a business to run and you should at least attempt to buy something when you show up.
Matter of fact, my first stop out of the beach house every year is down to a local bait-and-tackle where I will buy a few rigs, some sundries and some bait and promptly pick brains. I'm aware that being a fly fisherman sets me apart as different, and in that enviroment potentially aloof and stupid, but I still find knowing as much as I can can be helpful. One year I was given a tip about accessing a tidal creek and the salt marsh through a particular dead end road, something I wouldn't have learned if I didn't stop in and talk each year.
Salt marshes lend an important note to share: They might be productive, but they stink, are dangerous, and filled with blood sucking insects of all types. The word "marsh" might be your first clue, eh? Be warned if you try to walk into them that the ground could very well be a quicksandy marsh waiting to suck you in, the banks will collapse as soon as you look at them, and you might die. I tried my hand at wading into one once based on some reading I'd done in an Ed Mitchell book, and I'll never do it again. Period.
So, maybe we should skip the salt marsh, then? But, marshes and the rest of the estuary has to drain somehow, and generally speaking that's through a bay or an inlet into the ocean. All that bait gets clogged up there via the tides, and has to come right back out again. If you can find an easy to access back bay, you'll be in business.
Knowing where to fish is part of it, the other part is knowing when. Chief among that is tide.
You almost always want to fish a moving tide. Tide moves water, bait moves with water, predators follow bait. Tide comes in, bait comes in, and as the creeks fill so goes the bait. When the tide comes out, so do the baitfish and guess what, the predators are sitting there waiting for them.
Generally speaking, I've been told the incoming tide fishes better than an outgoing tide, but the real key is to make sure the water is moving in either direction, not slack. So, get a tide chart and learn to read it. You want to know more about tide and its movement, go read somewhere else. I've covered the basics.
So, you look for points like that, places where the tide has to flow past something that will help funnel the bait past a specific point, that can offer a predator a place to hang and hide or seek refuge from the current. Exits from the salt creeks, inlet points, edges or ends of jetties, etc, are all ideal funnel points as are the pylons from a bridge.
Bridges are special because often bridges not only provide structure and current breaks, but they also provide lights. Light will attract baitfish, and again, where there's bait there's predators. This can also be ideal because many of the fish you want (read: striped bass) are going to be increasingly active at night, making bridges and lights a triple threat: light at night and structure to hang on.
You can also find lights in other places, so keep your eyes out. Marinas always have plenty of good lighting and structure, but generally frown upon assholes trespassing to fish them. I was very tempted to hop a few fences in Florida and fish the "snook lights" in marinas, but a local suggested it was a bad idea. Seems people take unkindly to having lures flung near their toys, and the cops tended to arrest first, and fine later. YMMV. Do what you will shalt be the whole of YOUR law.
If you're on a beach, whether its the one around a bay, a bar that projects out into the ocean, or even the crashing surf zone of an unoccupied bathing beach, don't worry about launching 100' casts into the deep, and worry about what's happening right at your feet. Lots of fish will feed right up in that wash, taking advantage of bait pounded against the shore for a stunned, and easy, meal. Working the wash is a great way to look for fish, and you might be surprised at how much life is in that first foot or so of water. First year I wore polarized glasses to the beach was an epiphany, I remember being mezmeriszed by all teh fish swimming right at my feet, you would be too.
However, if you've waded out to a bar, or along a pocket beach or in front of exposed sod banks of a marsh, note the position of the tide and what it does next. One could easily be trapped in an inaccessable spot if you don't think about what you're doing before you do it. My final advise, and I may have said this before, is when you go out at night wear long sleeves and pants, and douse freely in DEET.
So, there. If you get one week a year with the family, you might as well try something. The best part is the better fishing happens at night, so you'll probably be able to spend the days with everyone being social, and slip out for a night or two and try your hand at some fly fishing along the ocean. It doesn't take much to give it a shot, chances are your average fly fisherman already has a 7 through 9 weight rod and some applicable fly tying materials. With that in hand, its a matter of taking a little time to scout out a spot, then having at it.
|The actual inlet at Corson's Inlet State Park. That's Ocean City NJ in the foreground, Atlantic City in the back.|