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Saturday - September 03, 2011 - Live Weather Conditions from the Amelia Island Online Weather Station

Amelia Island Fishing Tackle

Fishing tackle comes in a million different flavors, and in the last few years if you aren't careful you can spend a million dollars buying it. I used to buy a box of a hundred good hooks for two bucks, now I buy a pack of five circle hooks for four bucks. If you're serious about catching big fish, you have to pay attention to the terminal tackle you select and to how you put it together; a three hundred dollar custom surf rod with a two hundred dollar reel won't catch fish. The right size hooks and the proper type of rigs tied with good knots will.

Knots and rigging are very important. Time spent learning to tie good knots will pay off on many fishing trips. Knowing what to buy at the tackle store (and what not to buy) will save you money and also save lost fish.

Local knowledge is something else that's very valuable to the serious fisherman. Up and down the east coast, a blue fish is a blue fish and a trout is a trout, but the rigs and methods used to catch them vary widely in different locations. What works great in New England may not work at all on the same type fish in Florida. If the guy on the pier next to you is ripping up the flounder, don't be bashful - go talk to him and see how his line is rigged, what he's using for bait, and technique he's using. You won't find many fishermen who don't want to share their knowledge with others. Most of what I've learned over the years has been from watching and talking to other guys on the beach or the pier.

This is a brief description of what I use for fishing around Amelia Island.
 


Line & Leaders

Line - My favorite size line is 17 lb test, but when I'm surf fishing I sometimes switch to 15 lb test for a few extra yards on casts. You don't need 40 lb test line to catch a 40 lb fish; you just need a reel with a good drag system and a bit of patience. Physical size of the main line on your reel (diameter) is a big factor in how far you can toss the bait. As the strength of the line increases, the diameter naturally gets bigger, and your casts get shorter. Newton's Law Of Heavy Monofilament I guess. How far you can toss the bait can become a big factor in how many fish you'll catch in the surf.

Line is very important; it's the only thing between you and the fish. You don't need to fill your spools with Lazer Cut Fire Wire Super Duper Fishin' Line at two dollars a yard, but you should not fill them with two dollar spools of no name brand either. Berkley, Stren, and others make reasonably priced mono and you can save a lot of bucks if you buy your line in bulk spools (spools that will fill ten or twelve reels, or one reel ten or twelve times). It's usually no deal to get a spool filled at a tackle store - you can fill it yourself for a lot less from your own bulk spool.

monofilament line doesn't last forever. You should respool your line once a season and maybe more often than that if you fish a whole lot or fish where the line can be damaged by rocks, barnacles, etc. Berkley has always been my favorite for main line, and also for shock leaders.

I haven't tried the new braided lines yet. They are much smaller than mono and have no stretch, so they should cast much better than an equal strength mono. They also are expensive, require special knots, can't be cut with clippers, and can cut the end of your casting finger off. If you decide to try using braided line, read the instructions. I don't think I could get used to fishing with gloves on, so I doubt I'll switch to braided line anytime soon.

Leaders - I use 40 lb test colored line for shock leaders. There is an article about shock leaders in the TIPS section of the web site. When I rig for reds, I use 50 lb test clear mono for leaders on the hooks. I also use 40 or 50 lb test mono on most other type of rigs I make, and on occasion when the blue fish are really biting, I'll use 45 lb test wire leaders.
 


Swivels & Snap Swivels

Swivels and Snap Swivels - If you break a line with a fish on, you lose the fish. If you break a swivel with a fish on, you lose the fish. In the forty five plus years I've been fishing, I've seen a lot of lines break. But I've never seen one swivel break. Swivels are important to keep line from twisting, but they're not important enough to buy the stainless steel ball bearing swivels that cost three bucks each. Look for the blue bags of swivels at Walmart marked "less that a buck". Let me know if you figure out how to break one, short of using it to pull a Hummer off the beach. Trust me, you'll break your line or pop a knot long before you'll break a swivel.

Snap swivels won't usually break either, but you can pull on them hard enough to straighten the snap. The size of a snap swivel is more important than the cost - make sure you aren't using tiny brass ones made for fresh water fishing in the surf. I use a chunky size 1 for surf fishing.

DO NOT buy bottom rigs that are designed with a snap for holding the hook (unless you really want to lose fish). You can easily learn to TIE a hook on, and it will be much stronger than if you clip one on. If you want to use wire leaders, you can easily learn to crimp the hook onto the wire.
 


Hooks

Hooks - Hooks are a lot more important than most people realize. You need to pick the right size for the fish you are trying to catch, and you need to use a hook that's not going to bend or break. Again, you don't need the Lazer Sharpened Whiz Bang Goober Hooks for three bucks each, but you don't want the cheap stuff either.

My favorite hook for general surf fishing is a Mustad 5/0 stainless, or a 3/0 for smaller fish. I always bend the shank on these hooks and snell them onto a leader, or crimp them if I'm using wire leaders for blues. When I'm fishing for reds, I use Gamakatsu 6/0 Nautilus circle hooks. The circle hooks are pricey, but they prevent the fish from being deeply hooked, and I release all the reds I catch regardless of size. When I'm lazy I also use a smaller Gamakatsu circle hooks for whiting; the whiting hook themselves and I just have to wind them in to the beach.

Size matters with hooks. Experiment with different sizes for the fish you are targeting to see what size works the best. Buy a good grade of hooks.

Circle hooks are named for the circle like bend in the gap of the hook. The point of the hook actually curves in toward the hook shank. If the fish swallows the bait, the hook will come right back up the throat without hooking the fish. As the fish turns away and runs, the hook is pulled toward the mouth of the fish. When the line pulls the shank of the hook out of the mouth, the hook naturally turns back toward the rod, and the fish is hooked in the corner of the mouth. You don't need to "set" a circle hook - just wind the line when you get a bite and the fish will hook himself.
 


Rods and Reels

Rods & Reels - Rods and reels are available in many different sizes and flavors, and are something that need to "fit" the individual fisherman and type of fishing for which they are being used. In my opinion, there's no such thing as the "best" rod and reel combination, because what works great for one person might not work great for someone else.

Reels - The most important factor, I think, in selecting a reel is the drag system. The drag system is the part of the reel that can be adjusted so that when a big fish pulls hard on your line the line strips off the reel (as opposed to breaking). There are a lot of good inexpensive reels available for the casual fisherman - look for a smooth drag and a reel that will hold the size/amount of line you need.

For the serious fisherman (I include myself in that group) a good reel is an investment in catching more, and larger, fish and it's something that will last a lifetime if properly cared for and maintained.

For surf and pier fishing, I use reels made by Shimano called "Bait Runners". For years, Shimano was the only company that made the bait runner type reels, but now they are being made by other companies too, like Okuma. A "bait runner" type reel has two drag systems - you can switch in the second drag when you put the rod down, and if a big fish grabs the bait and runs with it, the bait runner drag will feed line to the fish (and keep your rod and reel from going over the railing or down the beach). When you pick up the rod and turn the reel one crank, the regular drag kicks in and you are ready to fight the fish. Much more convenient than trying to tighten the drag when you pick up the rod to fight a fish, or tying the rod down with a bungee cord so it doesn't go over the railing on the pier.

The Shimano reels I own were all purchased in the 1980's, and they all still work and look like new today. A good hosing with fresh water after every fishing trip, a spray of WD-40 now and then, and a yearly tear down for cleaning and lubrication will make a good fishing reel last a lifetime.

Rods - Rods are something that really need to "fit" the individual fisherman. The main things I look for in a rod are quality guides (cheap guides will groove, and damage the line), and how "stiff" the rod is. When you're fishing in the surf, you'll be tossing 4 or 5 ounces of lead plus the bait on an average day, and that's not easy to do with a limp, whippy rod. On a day when it's windy or the water is rough, you'll be using 6 or 8 ounces of lead.

Length and weight of rods for the surf is important. The longer the rod gets, the farther you can sling the bait - if you have the horsepower to load the rod, and the strength to hold it up. If you look around at Walmart, you'll find some 15 foot surf rods with a butt that's as big around as your wrist. Those are great for impressing the tourists, but unless you're a 19 year old buck who's been working out regularly, you won't be fishing very long or casting very far with a rod that heavy.

You don't need to buy a really expensive custom built rod to surf fish. I have two Diawa rods that I bought back in the 70's - one is 10 feet long, the other is 12 feet long, both are heavy action (stiff). For some weird reason (the way I cast I guess), I've always been able to sling the bait farther with the shorter rod than I can with the longer one. For a surf rod, I'd recommend you start in the 10' range, and then work your way up or down from there. I also have a couple 10' Shakespeare Tidewater rods from Walmart - inexpensive, but decent guides and still enough for 5 ounces and bait. They won't last as long as the Diawa's, but they get the job done.

For a pier rod, you won't need the casting distance or the amount of lead you use in the surf. A 7 or 8 foot rod is fine for the pier, easier to use, and won't become cumbersome when landing a fish or casting like a longer rod will.
 


Pier Cart

Pier Carts - Any serious pier fisherman needs a cart. There is an amazing amount of "stuff" you'll need to have with you, even for a short trip to the pier. When my Dad and I go pier fishing, we take this one along. The inventory in the cart has grown to the point that we need ramps to get it in and out of the truck.

The cart was made from a garden cart (Lowes I think). Rod holders were added from PVC by just tie wrapping them to the sides of the cart (no rust, like bolts). Our normal cart load of "stuff" to the pier consists of the following: 5 or 6 rods and reels, one live bait bucket with an aerator, one bucket that holds the cast net, one bucket with a rope for dipping water for the live bait bucket, two small coolers; one for bait and any fish we decide to keep, one for drinks and lunch (I hate Cokes that taste like dead shrimp), one tackle bucket, one folding chair for my Dad, and one umbrella to keep him out of the sun on hot days.

Fortunately Amelia Island piers are relatively flat; try pulling all that junk up a hill some time. DO NOT try to pull one of these onto the beach unless you plan on taking a mule surf fishing with you.
 


Pier Nets

Pier Net - Almost all the regular fisherman on the pier have a pier net. This one is about 3 feet in diameter, and it's an essential piece of gear to have if you hook a big fish. You won't haul a big red or any other large fish up over the rail without one.

Pier nets are available at the local tackle stores, but most need a slight modification in order to make them work better. You can't see it in the picture, but I've added three large trolling sinkers (10 or 12 oz maybe) to the frame of the net. This makes the net sink faster, and on a windy day makes it possible to get it down to the water without it blowing up under the pier. I'd also recommend you replace the wimpy ropes that come on the nets with some much stronger rope, and with a type that's weather resistant.

The net in this picture has been used to pull fish up to the pier for 20 plus years.

 
 


Beach Cart

Beach Cart - I've tried a bunch of different "beach carts" in my surf fishing career; some were home made, some were store bought, all were deemed easy to pull in the sand, and none really were.

So my new "beach cart" is a Jeep. I don't even need to pull it (most days), instead I can ride in it. Unfortunately, there isn't much sand left on Amelia Island where I can use this beach cart, because it's motorized. And if some people get their way, one day there won't be any beach left here for driving.

Amelia Island State Park, at the south end of the island is about the only place left on Amelia Island with a substantial amount of sand left that you can drive on. If mother nature doesn't carve away the beach along the sound to the point where there's no sand left, at least we have one place left for surf fishing in a four wheel drive vehicle.

 

 
A bad day of fishing is much better than a good day of cutting the grass.


Saturday - September 03, 2011 - Live Weather Conditions from the Amelia Island Online Weather Station
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