The Best Surf Fishing Rigs You Need to Know
It seems nowadays, we as anglers are assailed by an ever growing host of choices. Even something as simple surf fishing has become clouded with a myriad of types of tackle, gear, lines, rods, reels, and accessories. Not the least of which is the wide assortment and styles of surf fishing rigs available for purchase from local bait shops and tackle stores sprinkled along the Emerald Coast from Gulf Shores in Alabama to Mexico Beach in Florida.
Basic ‘double dropper’ bottom fishing rigs have been around for years, often sold as “pompano rigs”. And they are still sold in most big box stores across the region that carry rudimentary fishing tackle. These mass produced, imported rigs may work just fine under certain circumstances. But anglers have too often been disappointed with their poor performance, inferior components, and lack of variety or specialty.
Local knowledge cannot be mass produced or ignored. During the winter of 2020/2021, bright green was the “go to” color that caught a LOT of pompano all along the coastal region. The year before that, it was chartreuse, and before that, hot pink. Your local bait shops are usually great sources of that kind of information.
Best Takes Time
More than a few surf anglers tie up their own beach fishing/surf fishing rigs and some have gotten really good at it. These craftsmen have made it into a science, with their own tying jigs. Some have even turned this into a sideline business by producing and marketing their own lines of surf fishing rigs.
Now it seems like every bait and tackle shop along the coast has displays of the best locally/regionally produced pompano rigs for surf fishing. Each finished pompano rig hanging on a peg in the store represents an investment of time and money by the builder. Plus the store needs to turn a bit of profit too.
Still, nobody is getting rich by making and selling these rigs for $6. Some do it just to have a hobby that pays for itself, pad their income or get more name recognition. But this type of service/product represents a vital, yet small portion of the overall investment purchase individual surf anglers make on a day to day basis in order to help assure their best success in catching fish.
These specialty pompano rigs are not something just thrown together “on the fly”. Rather each producer has their own formula of tying specific components (terminal tackle) uniformly in a meticulous sequence utilizing a hand made tying jig. The pattern (jig) helps keep the dropper leader lengths consistent. Each tier has their own distance formulas, swivels, hooks and snaps in order to put the rig together the same way each time.
For instance some are tying pompano or whiting rigs with circle hooks of a specific size, while another may choose kahle hooks of different sizes. Their choices of colors, shapes and sizes of float or bead attractants is practically limitless (depending on availability) making each rig pattern unique. The end result leaves the casual angler with a lot of choices to try for themselves to determine which style, color, etc. may work best for them. Every surf fisherman seems to have favorite combinations or styles.
Best Do It Right
Still, putting any of these premium pompano rigs to good use, means baiting them properly and placing them in the best spot that is most likely to produce bites for you. That usually means using the freshest shrimp available, if not sand fleas, ghost shrimp, or even cut fish. In the case where ghost shrimp are being used, it is advantageous to use a product like Magic Thread or Miracle Thread to help keep the bait from flying off the hook during the cast.
Especially long casts, which are often needed in order to get your rig out to the zone where pompano may be feeding. But other times, less may be best. A synthetic bait strip like Fishbites may be all the bait needed to catch a variety of fish.
Also, anglers need to make time to learn the best venues and structures, and fish them accordingly. Look for drop offs on the back side of sandbars that may hold feeding fish. Or if possible, cast over the sandbar to reach deeper water if that is where you think fish may be feeding. In the fall through early winter, pompano often hang out and feed in water 6 to 12 feet deep. Though they will occasionally venture into shallower water to feed, especially as the tide is rising.
So, they are not always far from shore, but that is usually a good place to start looking for them. Often it is best to set up a staggered rod set at different distances with different colored pompano rigs in order to cover as many variables as possible. Especially when trying to locate feeding fish in a new location, or after a big storm.
The Best Fun Is The Short of It
When fish are feeding on bottom close to shore, 10 to 40 yard casts are the ticket, and your tackle should be scaled down accordingly. Shorter rods, with lighter lines and rigs can be employed in this scenario. Often single drop rigs with no bead or float may be most effective, as long as the water is not too dingy or rough.
These rigs can be tied quickly on the spot with just a two foot long piece of 10 to 20 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Simply tie the hook on one end (a # 6 or #4 kahle) and a small snap swivel on the other. Then tie a loop knot near the middle, and tie your main line to that.
A one to two ounce pyramid sinker or coin sinker is usually plenty of weight to hold the bait in place on the bottom where a pompano or whiting can find it. A moderate action, fast taper, 7 or 8 foot spinning rod in the 4 to 12 pound class rod easily detects their light bite. Yet the 4 to 10 pound line is more than a match for any whiting, even the occasional two pounder that may be nearly 20 inches long.
This also matches up well with pompano, which rarely exceed three pounds in weight. Of course the possibility exists of an even larger “puppy drum”, slot-size redfish, or even bull red or black drum to show up in the mix as well, turning your pompano rigs into a redfish rigs for surf fishing. But a 3000 series spinning reel holding 150 to 200 yards of 4 to 10 pound line can wear even them down with the proper drag setting and a dose of patience.
My proven rule of thumb is to expect about a minute of fight per pound of fish being required to land those in the 10 to 25 pound range on light tackle. They are tough, but not unconquerable, and some of the best times I ever had surf fishing!
In calm surf, fish finder rig surf fishing is often an even more efficient way of getting bit. Carolina rig surf fishing, as well. Anglers can also quickly tie up this stealthy rig on the spot with a one to two foot piece of 10 to 20 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. Simply tie the hook on one end (a # 6 or #4 kahle), and a swivel on the other. Then thread your weight on the main line and tie it to the swivel.
This setup is very easy and effective on whiting, as it allows the wary fish to pick up the bait and move away with it, without encountering resistance from the weight until it is too late for them. As the line comes tight, the kahle hook rotates in the fish’s mouth and usually sticks it in the lips. All the angler has to do is make a moderate hook set as they pick the rod out of the sand spike while reeling up the line. Then it is ‘hang on’ time with whatever is on the other end.
When surf fishing on any given day, our choices of rod, reel, line and terminal tackle are just as important as the location, time, and bait we decide on. The “best” surf fishing rig is one that is going to work “best for you” at that spot, on that particular day and time when you have the chance to go! It won’t be the same tackle every day, any more than it will be at the same place or time.
The sound investment of a quality, regionally produced and tested pompano rig is just one small purchase in the plethora of choices a conscientious surf angler makes to get the most from their time and sport fishing dollars. Similar type purchases can be made to support your local rod builders, and even locally hand-poured sinkers, or lure makers. The point is, ‘best’ is usually not the cheapest, but it may not be THE most expensive either. Take the time to research what is working best during the period you plan to fish, then give it your best shot!
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