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View From The Beach Renowned surf angler, Rich Troxler, shares his thoughts, tactics, tips and tricks for surf casting success!


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  #1  
Old 05-15-2013, 01:55 AM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

by Rich Troxler

Or so goes the old Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler". Many people have asked me, and many discussions on the surfcasting boards have revolved around the question of how long to stand on one spot before moving. Most of us who have been at this awhile have faced this many times and it's not an easy question to answer. There is also the old adage about not leaving fish to find fish. This too has caused many of us to question our decision making processes in certain situations.

So what is the "truth" in terms of where we should be, how long we should wait there, and where we should go if we decide to move. Once again, like most things surf fishing, there are no easy answers. So I'll offer whatever insights I may into my thought processes and hopefully offer you a few clues as to how to approach this problem. As always, my examples are based on my home area, being the south shore of Long Island, so just consult a map if you need to understand my locales.

For starters, there are no straight answers to this question in fishing any more than there are straight answers in card playing. Every hand (fishing situation) is different, and this year (post Sandy) should prove this point even more. And like card playing, there are some basic strategies that I employ throughout the season, but they can also vary year-to-year based on conditions, bait patterns, and species abundance.

For instance, this year seems to hold the promise of a significant weakfish run. When weakies show up in May, I tend to alter my typical early spring approach to fishing (bass forward) and switch my attention to the green-eyed, vampire-toothed weakfish. So this year, my early spring hold’em / fold’em methods have taken a different turn. Frequently both species will be present in the same locales, but the methods to take them differ somewhat, so at this point I find myself trying to kill two birds with one stone and a little at odds with my basic spring-fishing paradigm LOL.

So let me get back on track here. The question is this. How long to stand on a spot or when to move. The most direct answer to this question is “experience”. Where experience is concerned, there are many variables to be considered. My good friend Billy Legakis (aka Billy the Greek) has frequently spoken of the “sixth sense” that fishermen develop over time. This is not a myth, or some sort of fancy-speak. It really does exist.

But it’s not something you can buy at your local B&T or read about on the Internet or local fishing magazine. And unfortunately, this sixth sense can and does factor heavily in your decision-making processes. So what is this sixth sense? I guess the only way to describe it is the intuition that is gained over time. Over many, many years of fishing, you gain knowledge, both tangible and subliminal, and it is this combination of experiences that helps develop your sixth sense.

I’ll try and break this down a little deeper. The simple fact, and our starting point on this journey is that many fishermen new to the sport don’t have experience. No offense intended, but they really have no idea what to look for. When they approach a shoreline they see nothing but water, literally. This is fundamental to the problem of how long to stand on a spot. They don’t see structure, they don’t see bait, they don’t smell anything, they don’t hear anything, their perceptions don’t pick up anything other than sand, wind, and water. So with no point of reference to go by, their tendency is stand in one place and fish. And this, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, because it is at this point that the journey toward a sixth sense begins.

So how does it happen? Well, if you do something over and over again, eventually things begin to click, at least hopefully. Let’s take smell for example. When bluefish are around, and I mean swimming around in the water, you can’t explain to people who have never experienced it, just what bluefish smell like. I can tell them it’s kind of a “ripe melon” kind of smell, but until they smell it for themselves, and make the connection to bluefish being present, then it’s just words. But once a person makes that connection, then he’s taken the pot and added some chips to his stack.

And the same thing goes for the “oily” smell of bunker and the “sweet and salty” smell of rainbait. These smells can tell you that bait is in the area, and that information can influence your decision on whether to stand your ground for a while longer, or fold your hand and move on to the next spot. Over time, and particularly if you fish at night, smell becomes an important part of the sensory input process that contributes to the development of your sixth sense.

While we’re talking about sensory organs, let’s take a look at sight (pun intended). Sight is without a doubt the most important sensory input organ of them all, for everything, not just fishing. But where fishing is concerned, it takes a little while to learn exactly what you should be looking for. Like “tells” in a poker game, over time you begin to “see” what is actually going on around you when you approach the shore.

You learn what water looks like when it is being affected by something, be it sand bar, submerged point, or some other sort of underwater obstruction. You learn to identify troughs and eddies. You see birds diving and understand what it means, bait beneath the water, or dimpling in the moonlight, or the subtle swirl of a big fish making a drive-by. All of this knowledge gives you more chips in the big game and further development of your sixth sense.

And let’s not forget about hearing. Learning to hear is very important where developing a sixth sense is concerned, particularly if you fish at night. It will tell you how big the water is on the open beach. It can tell you if bait is present in the bays, like the slapping of bunker or the dripping sounds of rainbait dabbling the surface. You eventually learn the differences in how bluefish, weakfish and bass sound when they are feeding on the surface. In the spring, in the back bays, it becomes my primary sensory input organ, especially on really dark new moon nights. The complete explanation for this is rather involved, so for now I’ll summarize the sixth sense as being the ever-growing catalog of sensory data your mind compiles over time and experience, and leave it at that.

So how about something a little more concrete and less mystical LOL. How about logs. How many of you keep logs? Logs are probably the single most useful tool a fisherperson can employ, where developing some sort of consistency in their fishing efforts is concerned. It can also factor heavily in your decisions as to whether to stand or pass on a spot. The reason for this is that over time you will be able to chart your own successes and failures and from this patterns emerge.

Your patterns will come from the correlation of data that exists within your logs. You will start to associate certain times of the year with certain bait migrations, on certain wind directions, with certain sized fish etc. But beware! Do not try to reduce fishing into a complex matrix of conditions because it doesn’t work that way. Not all conditions are created equal. Some are far more important than others, and over time you will learn to prioritize, or “weight” those conditions accordingly.

Let’s say that according to your log entry for June 12th of last year, you caught some big bass east of JB6, on the outgoing, NW breeze, water temp 55 degrees, calm seas, schools of bunker were observed and you caught on bottle plugs. This doesn’t mean that on June 12th of this year that you should show up at the exact spot and fish nothing but bottle plugs. That’s not what logs are for. Logs simply provide data, and as your experience grows, so too does your ability to understand what the data is telling you.

Working it backwards and asking the reasons why many times, the thought process might be something akin to this. Why were the big fish there? Because bunker were there, and we know bunker are the primary forage of big fish in June along Long Island’s south shore. Why were the bunker there? Because of the NW wind. You check your log and see that there were several days of northwesterlies preceding this bite. Bunker feed into the wind, so the occurrence of bunker on the beach in June was most fortuitous. Why? Because the prevailing winds of June are southerly, which is why the boat guys typically kill them in June, and the surf guys only get to read about it LOL.

The rest of the information in that log is either anecdotal, or a subset of less important conditions. The tidal stage would probably only be important based on any structure that may or may not have been in the area, with the nod generally going to the some stage of high tide, simply because bass like water over their heads. The area along the south shore that the bite took place might be loosely correlated to the water temps or whether or not there was a cold / mild winter / spring. And the plug, probably any big-bodied plug would have caught. But on retrospect chunking fresh bunker, or snag and dropping a live one, may have produced a true cow.

So logs are incredibly useful tools. But the information contained within them still needs the benefit of experience in order to interpret their true meaning. And as your experience grows, so too does your ability to understand what your logs are really telling you. So keep those logs because they will pay big dividends down the road when it becomes time to know whether to stand pat, or fold the hand and move to a different spot.

So we have the development of your sixth sense and the keeping of logs to chronicle your experiences as two things that come into play with regards to how long to stand on a spot. A third item to be considered is exploration. There are times when I’m strictly exploring new spots. I’ve written about this process before so I won’t go over it again now. The only thing to know about it is that the catching of fish during these exploratory trips only serves as information. It doesn’t stop me from moving and exploring the other spots on my itinerary. This is run and gun fishing, the repeated working of several spots throughout the tide in order to gain consensus on whether they are worth further effort or not. It’s strictly about growing my catalog of spots, which means giving me more options.

Then there’s squatter’s rights LOL. Some spots don’t often justify leaving because they are that good. These are few and far between and are typically well known. Examples of this would be the very rocks on an inlet that allow you to hit an extremely productive rip and also have the benefit of giving you a good landing rock for your catch. This is primo real estate and the competition for it is usually intense, so if you find yourself lucky enough to get there, there is little chance you will abandon it before the tide ties. I wouldn’t unless I get crowded off, and it is fair to say that I don’t much care for crowds when I fish LOL.

Lastly, I mentioned the old adage about leaving fish to find fish. I guess you would have to file this type move under short term observation meets experience. I’ll give a few quick examples of when I have done this. Many bites materialize and disappear quickly but some are longer term. It would take a long time for me to explain why and I may do so in some future post, but for the sake of this discussion, please take it on faith that some long term bites do occur.

And many of these bites exhibit the same pattern day after day, and almost all of them have to do with what I call “food chain events”. I’ve spoken of these before and I believe them to be important where hunting big fish is concerned. Again, I won’t go into a detailed description of all food chain events, but will give a few short examples as a point of reference.

First, big fish generally do not like to work too hard for their meals. They won’t sit in a strong current for very long if suitable prey is not present. Suitable prey typically means a “big” meal. I’ll relate two examples revolving around what was a common prey item a number of years back because it demonstrates a food chain event accurately. The prey item was the Hickory Shad, a cyclic fish that was very abundant in these waters 10 years ago or so.

The first bite was a rare one because it took place right behind an inlet and happened both spring and fall for several years before it fell apart due to the down cycle in the shad. Due to the prevailing structure it happened only on the outgoing, specifically the beginning of the outgoing and went like this. Outgoing starts to move. 20 minutes or so in the hickory shad show up and start feeding in the rip. 10 minutes or so later, right on their heels, a small pod of good-sized bass would show up to chow on them.

The bite lasted on a short time and after that there would be pick of smaller fish through the tide. A short distance further in, the same type bite would happen as soon as the tide got going, so I would typically leave the first spot after the big fish bite and head for the second spot hoping to cash in again. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom about leaving fish to find fish, but I never really thought of it as “leaving” and “finding” fish as I expected the big fish to be in those spots, as long as the conditions that favored the bite continued.

The reverse of this happened in a different spot and this bite also remained fairly consistent for several years in June. Like the previous example, this one was in a bay very near an inlet. Basically, shad would feed through the outgoing tide in a rip that formed where a channel formed an S-bend. The shad would feed in the rip formed as part of the “lower” S and the bass would wait in the resulting eddy formed on the backside of this rip. As the outgoing died and the shad backed out of the rip, the bass would slaughter them. And if this corresponded to false dawn, the bite was wild.

I witnessed some of my funniest bass fishing experiences I can remember during that time. When I first stumbled onto that bite, I would catch the shad on one rod with a little leadhead and then transfer the live shad to my meat stick and lob it into the eddy. As time went on and my short term knowledge of the bite grew, I would spend most of the tide catching the shad and storing them live in a modified crab trap tied to a post prior to the bite, so that when it got going I didn’t have to stop to re-catch live bait. I’m all about efficiency LOL.

So the tide is dying and the first dim light of false dawn starts to illuminate the east and the bite is just nuts, I mean a total gobble job. Lob a shad in the eddy and it was literally assaulted on impact. So I’m standing there fighting a fish and I hear this noise coming from my right, by where I had my shad pen tied. I look over and see at the cage being rammed by at least one bass, and I mean rammed! They were trying to get at the shad trapped in pen LOL. I started laughing out loud, it was just too bizarre, the shy, secretive, mysterious bass, who’d a thunk it LOL.

So funny stories aside, I guess the question of how long to stand on a spot without catching, or when to move, all comes down to your experience level and what your sixth sense tells you. Fishing is a life-long process and your threshold and decision triggers will change and evolve over time. Eventually you will become better adept at knowing when to hold’em, fold’em, or go all in. It’s May, it’s going, so get on out and catch’em up.

Have a good spring all.
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  #2  
Old 05-15-2013, 10:14 PM
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ogsep22 ogsep22 is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

Thanks for the truly informative post. It just goes to show me that I'm light years away from becoming a fisherman the likes of yourself. I'm in my second year of surf fishing and to be honest, I'm starting to doubt if I'll ever be able to dedicate the time and energy needed to become a consistent and proficient angler.
Working close to 60 hours a week with two small kids and a stay at home wife who needs relief herself, I wonder if I'm wasting my time. I don't have the luxury of scouting locations during the day nor can I fish as many times during the week as I should. My frustration is starting to build as I realize what it really takes to produce results. I fished all but ten times last year as my daily responsibilities have consumed most of my free time.
I've purchased a reasonable amount of gear to begin lure fishing but I'm inclined to resort to dead sticking bait on weekends simply because it's more relaxing and less tasking. My real passion exists for the art of lure fishing and the ability to manipulate a plug or bucktail to entice one of those beautiful animals to accept my offering.
Do you have any encouraging words for a novice fisherman whose true love for the sport has been tainted by the harsh demands inherent of being successful?

Regards,

Joe the
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Old 05-17-2013, 07:08 AM
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Salty Salty is offline
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Thumbs up Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

Quote:
Originally Posted by ogsep22 View Post
Thanks for the truly informative post. It just goes to show me that I'm light years away from becoming a fisherman the likes of yourself. I'm in my second year of surf fishing and to be honest, I'm starting to doubt if I'll ever be able to dedicate the time and energy needed to become a consistent and proficient angler.
Working close to 60 hours a week with two small kids and a stay at home wife who needs relief herself, I wonder if I'm wasting my time. I don't have the luxury of scouting locations during the day nor can I fish as many times during the week as I should. My frustration is starting to build as I realize what it really takes to produce results. I fished all but ten times last year as my daily responsibilities have consumed most of my free time.
I've purchased a reasonable amount of gear to begin lure fishing but I'm inclined to resort to dead sticking bait on weekends simply because it's more relaxing and less tasking. My real passion exists for the art of lure fishing and the ability to manipulate a plug or bucktail to entice one of those beautiful animals to accept my offering.
Do you have any encouraging words for a novice fisherman whose true love for the sport has been tainted by the harsh demands inherent of being successful?

Regards,

Joe the
Been there, done that! Just trust me on this, "Do NOT give it up, There is nothing more relaxing than sitting on the beach and watching and listening to the ocean. You need an outlet yourself, and to tell you the truth, NOTHING beats being at the beach fishing, even if you are not catching anything. The fish will come to you if you wait long enough.
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Old 05-18-2013, 02:38 PM
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zimno1 zimno1 is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

well thought out and once again exellent in it's content.
joe, just imagine you didn't have all this info at hand how hard it would be..
at the very least you should take away from this what has been years of experience and make some semblence of it.
i'd copy it and put it in mylar and take it to the beach every time you go...
read it there and go out on the beach and fish.. if you read this and in two days go out? you may not have the memory to remember what to look for.. this is a tool i've had people use when going out. don't just read the book/article.. take it with you... read it.. implement it. make a concious effort to begin your journey with confidence before you go on the beach and WONDER what will i do.. great stuff Rich...



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Old 05-30-2013, 12:45 PM
sarek sarek is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

the old adage, "they call it fishing not catching", would seem to apply here. I have brought my gear to the Cape beaches after hauling the the 4 kids and wife for years just to sit at waters edge, pole in one hand and cold beer in other. Well worth the extra trip to the car. I know with broad day light, wrong tides, weeds etc will not likely yield a fish. I will endure years of my wife's snickers about "some fisherman you are". It's zen like. Just be in the moment and be happy your fishing vs. doing anything else.

by the way, can you point me to a forum on this site sharing the latest intel on Cape surf action ( bay and ocean)? Canal as well?

Thanks
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:53 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

I hope this post didn't come off as setting the bar for others to aspire to. It was not meant that way. I am a huge believer in process, with the emphasis being on enjoying the process, enjoying the journey. So Joe, I'll say this to you. First and foremost, fishing is whatever a person wants it to be, it's all good. It's not just about catching fish, it's about detaching from the rest of our life for whatever amount of time we can spare, and focusing on something different. What the others said is good counsel, don't give it up and enjoy the zen-like experience.
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Old 07-12-2013, 11:14 PM
Bengardner Bengardner is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

Hi Rich,
Thank you for sharing your hard won knowledge. I found a mussel bed off the beach have you found this structure to be productive; any tips for fishing it?
Regards,
Ben
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Old 07-13-2013, 11:32 PM
richtrox richtrox is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

Hi Ben,

Is a mussel bed productive? Interesting question. Without knowing your area (assuming a bay or sound type waters) I would put it this way. If there is nothing else going on for quite a distance around the mussel bed, then that is the only structure in the area, so by default, a great place to start your search. If it's miles of endless mussel beds, then there is nothing to stand out against the rest of the area and so bass can be anywhere on them.

I had just made a post on noreast about "holes" as they pertain to the open beach. This year, as everybody knows, has been an absolutely dreadful year for bass on Long Islands south shore and bays. Worst I can ever remember and I've been fishing a long time. Bass have been very hard to come by. So how does this relate to your question. Here's how.

The locations (with nice structure on them) that typically produce this time of year for me and a few of my friends have been dead. So I spent an afternoon on incoming tide looking at miles of uneventful beach, structure-wise, trying to find a new location that might hold some bass. On one of the beaches, fairly near an inlet (which is generally a good thing) I found 3 holes on an otherwise shallow, gently sloping beach. Two were near each other and one was a decent walk away. One was only about 30 yeards wide and the other two were about 50 yeards wide.

They were nothing special, most people would just walk right by without noticing them. Only the incoming tide's wave break gave them away. They were about 4-6 feet deeper than the surrounding area and with bass, that's all it takes. So we have these 3 little pieces and we fish them on the last of the in into about the first 3 hours of the out, preferably at dusk and dark.

Although it's not been a slam job, we've had fish there every time we fish them. It may only be for an hour, but they've shown every time we've been there, including several fish in the mid 20's, which are really hard to come by in these parts this year.

So the reasoning is this. With nothing else, in terms of structure, to draw the interest of the bass, any fish in the area are likely to make a stop there, simply because it's the only structure around. Bass follow edges like a shadow and they like a little water over their heads while doing it, so in terms of holding and folding, we fish the crap out of those holes and don't spend any time fishing flat shallow white water.

So your mussel bad can have the same effect if it's the only structure in the area. Mussel beds tend to have life on them, so if that's all there is in the area, then fish it hard through a tide to see if a bite develops at a particular stage of the tide. As to how. If it's a dense mussel bed stay out of it and cast to the sides. Mussels have a bad habit of closing on fishing line, so you don't want to cast on top of them.

I hope this helps.
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Old 07-14-2013, 08:12 PM
Bengardner Bengardner is offline
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Default Re: Know When To Hold'em, Know When To Fold'em

Thanks again Rich,
I will apply the knowledge you bestowed upon me.
Ben
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