Introduction: Extreme Surf Fishing

Now that you have made your Extreme Fishing Gaff, let’s put it to use. Extreme Surf Fishing is what my fishing buddy (cousin) and I do on our free time. What makes it extreme? Being outgunned, handling potentially dangerous animals, and doing so while dealing with whatever weather Mother Nature throws at you. From beautiful summer days, to the days you regret stepping outside your door, surf fishing is an extreme sport.

Step 1: Showing Up to a Gunfight…with a Plastic Spork

It wouldn’t be extreme if you showed up to a fair fight. With today’s fishing technology of super braided lines, multiple drag systems, and ceramic bearings it is easy to overpower a fish. So I seriously hinder myself when going out fishing.  I pick a setup that is, at greatest, 1/5th of the size of the target species. In this case we are going for the mighty bat ray (the biggest fish available locally from shore), which can grow up to 200 pounds, so we are going to be using a 25/30lb setup.

The proverbial spork:

Shimano TLD 15/30                                        Roddy Hunter
Max Drag – 13.2lbs                                          Model – H-11HP
Line Capacity – 216yards/30lb test                    Length – 11 feet
Ball Bearings – 2                                              Line – 20-50LB
Gear Ratio – 5.2:1                                            Sinker – 3-6oz
Weight – 16.8oz

Step 2: Holding on by a Thread

A steel thread…

The terminal tackle has to be the strongest point in your system. This is what comes into contact with the fish and must be impeccable. Using crimping sleeves, attach a 9/0 hook and a barrel swivel to a length of wire leader, one on each end. In the possibility of a shark intervening, the wire prevents it from biting through the leader. You will also need a snap swivel to hold the sinker and a bead to prevent the swivel from hitting your fishing knot.

Begin by pulling a length of line through all the guides on the fishing rod. Pass the line through the eye on the snap swivel and then the bead. Finally tie a knot to the barrel swivel on the steel leader. I prefer to tie a Palomar knot as it is very strong and has never failed me. Finally attach the weight to the snap swivel and you are ready for bait.

To tie a Palomar (illustrated above), form a bight in the line at least 4 inches in length and pass it through the eye of the barrel swivel. While keeping the bight flat (don’t let the lines cross over each other) tie an overhand knot. Pass the entire leader through the bight, lubricate and cinch down on both the ends at the same time. Once done, simply cut off the tag end.

Using this rigging technique, the fish will be able to pick up the bait in its mouth without feeling the weight of the sinker. As the fish pulls on the bait, you immediately see the rod move, where using a different setup will require the fish to first lift the weight before moving the rod.

Step 3: The Bloodier the Better!

Big bait, big fish!

My choice of bait is, depending on size, anywhere from a whole sardine or mackerel to chunks of mackerel and Humboldt squid strips. Acquiring fresh bait is paramount to a successful fishing trip. I prefer to catch bait the night before going on a fishing trip, stuffing it in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper and tossing it in a few plastic bags and into the fridge. Don’t freeze it! Self draining ice will work too.

If using chunk bait, ensure that the point of the hook will not hit bone if you were to pull it out. Squid can be wrapped on the hook over and over and cover it all up, but allow a length of it to hang from the hook to give it action in the current; the action could trigger a response bite on a fish that isn’t hungry.

Step 4: Prepare for Liftoff!

The ideal casting distance in my local stretch of the beach is between 100-150 yards. For such an extreme distance, you need an extreme casting technique.

Enter Pendulum casting. Regardless of type of reel (conventional or spinning) a wide open beach is ideal for this type of casting, as you will be swinging 4-8oz of lead around. In order to pendulum cast you start off standing perpendicular to the shore. With the rod almost vertical, away from the beach, push your right hand to create an outswing of the sinker. When the sinker reaches the height of its swing, push down on the left hand to create an inswing (ensure the weight goes behind your back). As the sinker reaches the height of the inswing, lock your arms into that position, rotate your body and maintain your arm position, when you are parallel to the beach, get behind that rod and hammer your right hand forward and left hand back as you release the line.

It is very difficult to explain with pictures, so here is a link to a great explanation video from a great casting instructor.

WARNING! Using the pendulum cast you can easily cast 200 yards. When casting 8 oz of lead over 100 yards, you develop an immense amount of acceleration. A great deal of care is needed in performing this cast. It should never be used in an occupied beach. A snapped off sinker can cause great bodily harm and even death.

Once you have your bait in the water, set the reel alarm, place your rod in the rod holder, stretch, relax your arms, stay warm, hide from the rain, or enjoy the sun…while you can

Step 5: 3:10 to Catalina

At my fishin’ hole, the wait time averages out to about 30 minutes on a good day. When you see the rod start doubling over and the clicker screaming you pick up the rod, lock the reel and set the hook, not with a wild swing but a firm and solid motion. A nice 30 second, drag burning run surely means you are in for a fight. Remain calm, breathe, and settle (as much settling as you can do with an enraged fish on the other end of your line) into a rotation. Pull up on the rod, when it is nearly vertical wind the reel as you drop the rod tip slowly. This should give you about 6-11 feet of gain per rotation. Unfortunately that is never the case with a bat ray…nevertheless, there is no giving up now, the bat ray sure isn’t going to give up…and barring any terminal tackle catastrophes you should be enthralled for anywhere from 15 minutes for a small 60lb ray to well over an hour and a half depending on just how big it may be. This may very likely be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can experience fishing from shore.

Step 6: The Eagle Has Landed

…Bat ray, actually and let’s work on that now…

Landing a bat ray is no easy feat. Once you add the stinger and uncertainty of the surf to the weight, strength, and its fight or die response, landing a bat ray is an extremely dangerous endeavor.  The safest approach is with a stick gaff and should only be used on fish you plan to keep.

A 6 foot EXTREMELY heavy duty gaff will make quick work of any bat ray. A well placed gaff to a hard place, like the head or around the spine area, will ensure safe landing. Stay away from the wings, not only will you ruin the meat, but it is not strong enough to bear the immense weight of the body and will tear.

Due to the size of the bat ray in the video I tossed the camera phone to pick up the gaff

The other way to land a bat ray, and release it safely, is to do it by hand. Doing so requires a whole lot of nerve. After working the ray to exhaustion, you need to coax into coming into the ‘skinny’ (the water after the wave breaks). Once there, wade in and grab the leader with your less dominant hand. Pull the leader toward you to ensure the ray is facing you and the stinger is pointing away from you. Grab the ray by the ‘ear’ with your dominant hand, and walk up the beach not allowing the ray to turn.

Remove the hook and, if you plan to consume, dispatch or release your catch to fight another day.  Release your catch in the same manner you landed it. Pull it into the water, step back, and watch it ‘fly’ away.

This bat ray was landed by hand.

Step 7: The Wrap Up

While bat rays are the target species, they are not the only things to be had. Five foot leopard sharks are common and striped bass up to 30 inches have been caught. While these can be muscled in on 30lb test, they present a great challenge on 6 pound test and are another type of extreme surf fishing that can be done by rigging the same way on a lighter line setup. Landing a shark can be done with a tail grab and a striped bass can slide in with a wave and a carefully placed thumb grab in its mouth will secure it. Alternatively THE gaff can be used.

Care should always be taken when dealing with these situations. Under ideal conditions handling bat rays and sharks can be very dangerous. A rogue wave while landing a fish can drop you and put you next to the wrong end of the animal. A full-sized, mature leopard shark will (considering its situation) attempt to bite whatever is preventing it from being free. Doing all of this in miserable weather conditions increases the danger exponentially and care should be taken. Inform someone where you will be fishing and give them a time to expect you. 

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