Things To Consider
One of the most "difficult" aspects of surf fishing is finding the right location. There are popular beaches all along the North Carolina coast that are unofficially designated for surf fishing, and these locations attract fishermen from all over the country.
In fact, one of the most popular surf fishing beaches on the East Coast is located on the Outer Banks. Cape Point, a stretch of beach bordering the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, has attracted generations of surf fishermen because of its unique geographic location and amazing catches. Sticking out 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Point jets out into the ocean and separates the North and South facing beaches of the Outer Banks. Just off Cape Point is a series of shifting shoals and sandbars, known as the Diamond Shoals, and these waters are also where two major international currents meet: The Labrador Current and The Gulf Stream. Millions of fish use both of these currents to feed and migrate through different waters.
These conditions combine to bring an assortment of giant game fish to the waters off of this special beach. It's not unusual for fall fishermen to catch 30-pound red drum in the spring or fall; and puppy drum, bluefish and flounder all summer long. Because of its reputation, Cape Point is a very popular beach. If you go and you are new to surf fishing, you may want to initially pick a spot away from the crowd. Sometimes, with so many fishermen, it can be easy to get your line tangled with the line of another angler.
You will also want to make sure you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, as Cape Point is two miles from a paved road, and walking with armloads of equipment can be difficult. Follow the signs for the ORV ramp, and lower your air tire pressure to 20 psi before heading out to the sand. There are plenty of gas stations and tackle stores nearby with free air hoses so you can fill your tires back up when you are done driving on the beach.
If you can't make it to Cape Point, don't worry. With hundreds of miles of ocean, virtually any spot on the sand can lead to an amazing catch of the day. Just remember that certain parts of the day can be more fruitful when it comes to landing the big one. Most anglers prefer to fish in the early mornings and evenings. This allows them to avoid surfers and other beachgoers, and more importantly, it's universally known as "feeding time" for a variety of game fish.
Perhaps the best days to go surf fishing are when the high tide peaks in the early morning (between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.) The break line will not be so far from the shore when high tide peaks. You will want to have a tide table handy, as tides can affect your fishing too. Tides raise and lower the water level approximately two times per day and affect where fish are located and how they feed. The timing of a high or low tide changes daily, and is also different for each coastal area along North Carolina. You can normally find a free tide chart for your area at local bait and tackle shops.
A shallow area that may hold fish and be a good spot to fish during a high tide might be a bare mud bank during low tide conditions. And a slough (a slight depression in the bottom) that might be perfect for bottom feeding fish during a low tide might be too deep and difficult to fish on a high tide.
Running tides (rising or falling) are best since they cause bait to move and promote active feeding among coastal fish. Changing tides, time of day and location are also important when you are fishing in brackish water, which is coastal water that is a mix of saltwater and freshwater and is home to both saltwater and freshwater fish. Brackish water is found in most tidal creeks and rivers along coasts and is highly affected by tidal movements.
In general, the best fishing is almost always on a rising or falling tide - not dead low or dead high tide when there is little or no water movement.
Determining the best time to fish requires checking on many fishing factors and outdoor conditions. Read the local newspaper and visit with folks at a local tackle shop to get accurate tide information.
Winds and currents can also affect your angling. With high, steady winds come rough and choppy waves, which create strong currents that pull on your line. On windy days, bring heavier weights to help your rig stand up against the currents. You will also want to get familiar with the pull of the ocean if you are casting from the surf. A current can suddenly move your line, as if there was a fish at the end of your hook. Before you start to reel in, wait to see if you feel rapid fire tugs at the end of your line, not slower pulls that may just be a current moving the line.
When you cast out into the ocean, make every effort to avoid seaweed that has a tendency to group together in large bunches along the ocean. Look for large collections of miniscule ripples, or in clearer waters, large sections of water that is brackish and discolored. This can indicate a large mass of seaweed. Granted, small bait fish love to duck in and out of seaweed, to feed and hide, and this attracts the larger species. But if your rig gets caught in seaweed, it can be a hassle to untangle, or worse, break altogether. You should also be cautious along rocky beaches where a rig can get stuck in between rocks and snap. Try to stick to sandy beaches whenever possible.