Big is not always better — at least when it comes to selecting bait for surf fishing.
"I'd rather have one too small, than one too big," Tim Broom of Half Hitch Tackle told the more than 75 gathered at Legendary Marine in Destin for the Gulf Coast Sportsman Seminar Series on Surf Fishing.
The seminar series will be held the first Tuesday of the month at Legendary and tap into local experts’ wisdom on a variety of topics.
During Tuesday's seminar, Broom said he prefers using a sand flea about the size of the tip of his middle finger when trying to snag a pompano in the surf.
And choosing the right bait tops his list when it comes to surf fishing.
"If I have my choice, it's going to be a live sand flea," Broom said. If live is not available, fresh is good and then frozen.
Next bait of choice is shrimp. Again, live is always best and fresh peeled is second best.
"Fresh peeled shrimp works like chum in the water," he said. The peeled shrimp releases its natural oils and flavors into the water to attract the fish.
If the shrimp is big, cut it in pieces, he suggested.
As for artificial baits, Broom said Fishbites or Berkley Gulp Sand fleas work well or even a pompano jig.
WHEN AND WHERE TO GO
March to November is prime time for surf fishing. The main targeted fish include pompano and whiting, however, redfish, blue fish, ladyfish, blue runners, Spanish mackerel, black drum, shark, sheepshead and bonito are possibilities as well.
"Having a true winter sets up the tides to have good fishing," Broom said.
And the tides play a big part in when to go.
"The best time is when the tide is either rising or falling … as long as it's moving."
Plus a wind coming out the south to southeast is good.
"But you want the current coming from the other direction," he said. That pushes the fish in close.
As for where to go, Broom says you can fish anywhere along the coast, but picking the right location is key.
"You can't just go out there and start casting," he said.
Broom suggests that the angler spend some time on the dune walkovers looking down at the water before setting up rigs.
He explained that when looking at the water with polarized glasses, you can see where the water changes colors and where the waves break. The light green areas are the shallows and the dark green is the deep holes.
"You want to fish the deep holes," he said.
Broom said he usually fishes four rods, tossing them out at different distances until he finds where they are feeding. Once he finds where the fish are, he'll readjust his other rods.
TACKLING THE TACKLE
An 8-to 12-foot rod with medium action works as well as a medium size reel in the 6000 to 8000 size, Broom said.
As for the line, 12- to 20-pound braid is good.
Broom said the advantages of braid are that you can cast it farther and "you should get two or three seasons out of a reel of braid."
"It can be very abrasive at first," Broom said of the braid. He suggests wearing a thumb guard and bring along Super Glue to glue up the cut fingers.
However, "it will soften, the more you use it," he said.
A 1 to 2-ought circle hook works best.
Broom likes to use a two hook dropper loop rig with pompano floats.
"Orange is the best color for the floaters," he said, because it resembles the orange in the sand fleas sack of eggs and helps to attract the fish.
Broom prefers the pyramid leads and he likes to paint his own, orange, pink or yellow.
"And I never fish less than a 3 ounce and no bigger than 5" lead, he said. "With a 3-ounce lead it will always set the hook."
Sunglasses and a hat are important when sight casting for pompano.
Amber or green amber polarized lenses work best, Broom said. A hat with a dark color under the bill helps to cut the glare.
And every person who fishes from the surf must have a license — except for those under age 16. Saltwater Shoreline License are free to Florida residents. Annual cost for a saltwater fishing license is $17.
When the day is done, don't forget to clean the rod and reel. A bucket of hot soapy water works well, then lightly spray it down, but not flat on the ground.