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Surfcasting Maine’s Coastal Beaches
By Steve Vose
There is something distinctly awakening about standing on a sandy beach, watching the first rays of early morning light dance along the water’s surface. With naked toes buried deep in warm sand, listening to the music of the crashing waves, one could easily forget that they are fishing. Whether casting and retrieving a lure in turbid breakers or fishing bait off bottom anyone who has not tried surfcasting is missing out on a truly unique fishing experience. Even the most skeptical sportsman, will be hooked on this pursuit, from that very first electric zip of line being rapidly spooled off their reel, as a striper or blue threatens to haul their rod and reel to Ireland.
Maine provides ample opportunities for sportsman, interested in trying their hand at surfcasting. Our coastline is dotted with sandy beaches, perfect for catching stripers and occasional blue fish. While recent years have seen a marked dip in the number of stripers harvested, savvy surfcasters can increase their chances by staying updated on fish migratory movements. Reports are posted at all of the major bait and tackle dealerships up and down the coast. The trend in the past two years has stripers and blues holding to areas south of Cape Elizabeth. While it is possible to catch fish along the banks of the Kennebec up to Augusta and the Penobscot up to Verona Island your best chances, for the moment, have moved further south. To monopolize, focus efforts on areas such as Hills beach at the mouth of the Saco, Parsons and Cresent Surf beach at the mouth of the Mousam and points along the Piscataqua River. As summer transitions into fall, changing water temperatures drive stripers northward to the central Maine coastline as they follow their food supply. When this change occurs Pemaquid Beach Park, Popham Beach State Park, and Mile Beach at Reid State Park all offer fishing opportunities.
A basic surfcasting outfit need not break the bank. Sportsmen looking to try their luck chasing stripers or blues may already have a suitable beach fishing outfit. A medium weight rod and a reel, with a line capacity of 15-20 lbs, will work nicely when paired with a Kastmaster or pencil popper.
Beginners planning to fish off bottom, using bait and weights, should use a shock leader. This basically means tying a line (Stren Super braid) of higher breaking strength to your backing. The heavy “shock” leader absorbs the energy of casting. Without it you run the high risk of breaking your lightweight line after just a few casts and watching your rig sail into the sunset. The general rule is to use a 1 to 10 ratio or a 4 oz sinker to a 40 lb shock leader. Cut you leader long enough to wrap around your reel 5 times and run to the rod tip and back to your reel, this should provide ample leader for casting. With this in place, you will be able to cast with confidence.
The hobbyist surf fishermen, using fresh water fishing outfits, should be aware of the destructive power of sand and salt water. PVC pipes offer a cheap way of holding your rod and reel out of the gritty sand. Cut a 2 inch diameter PVC pipe to a length of 32 inchs with one end square and the other at a 45 degree angle. Insert the sharp end in the sand the other end holds the rod. Fresh water rods and reels are not designed for continued use in saltwater and will quickly corrode. Care should be taken to rinse off rod and reel with fresh water upon returning home. Use a light spray of water so as to not force sand or water into the inner workings of your reel.
With a small investment, sportsmen wanting to become more serious about surfcasting can invest in rods and reels that are specifically designed to take the punishment of fishing in this rough environment. Reels come equipped with an almost infinite number of features and combinations. For someone new to the sport simpler is often better. Owning a Penn Spinfisher 750SSM or Penn 525 Magnum reel matched with a quality 10-12 foot surfcasting pole like Cabela’s Salt Caster series or Tica’s TC2 with graphite shaft is truly a moment of Zen. As your knowledge of the sport grows, you may eventually want to explore some of the other reel options including models equipped with a bait switch that permits line to be spooled out freely, with the bail closed, allowing finicky stripers to take bait without tension.
The easiest surfcasting technique for the beginner is to continue casting exactly as you currently do now. Your familiar basic cast will let you get your lure or bait out to an acceptable distance and run a significantly lower risk of hooking yourself or an innocent bystander. Always watch the beach populace on your back swings.
Becoming more advanced, there are two additional casts you will want to add to your repertoire. These should be practiced in a safe location free of people, as a busy beach during the height of the tourist season is no time to be practicing new-fangled casting skills. The first is relatively easy and is called the off the ground cast. Once this initial casting technique is mastered, the second more complicated pendulum can be attempted. The off the ground cast will help you develop the muscle memory and coordination needed to learn the significantly more difficult pendulum. Mastering the pendulum, will require you to invest considerable time practicing, however, when done correctly will allow you to chuck a lure or bait out to 100 yards. For further information and videos on how to successfully conduct both of these casts, perform a Google search for “off the ground surfcasting or “pendulum surfcasting”.
Lure & Baiting Considerations
Surfcasting lures come in a dizzying variety of colors, sizes, materials and forms. From soft plastic shads to hard plastic pencil poppers to metal Kastmasters and high quality homemade lures like those made at www.aoktackle.com, the choices are almost endless. If you are looking for a solid lure, at a price pleasing to the wallet, purchase a package of Storm 4” pearl shads. These relatively inexpensive and versatile lures are incredibly effective and hold up well to all but the most aggressive blue fish.
Slide rigs for fishing bait off bottom, are available at many fishing shops. If you select one of these premade set-ups, help and protect the fishery, by choosing one using circle hooks. It has been shown, that fish hooked with J hooks die 27 percent of the time, as opposed to 2 percent with circle hooks. If you are looking for a cutting edge sliding rig, guaranteed to maximize your casting distance, check out www.breakawayusa.com. They offer high end products that will elevate your surfcasting to the next level.
Frozen bait including mackerel, herring, shad and bunker are available from bait shops up and down the Maine coast. Places to purchase bait and an assortment of fishing supplies, on your way to the surf, include Percy’s Market in Popham, Wiscasset Trading Post in Wiscasset and the White Anchor Inn in Boothbay.
Safety and Other Considerations
Fishing Maine’s popular saltwater beaches, during the height of tourist season, certainly have challenges. To combat crowds, focus fishing to the prime early morning and evening hours when fish are most active and beach goers most inactive. Also, keep a close eye on your line to insure you don’t accidentally snag dogs or small children. Tidal changes can cause relatively calm areas to quickly become unsafe as sea level increases create rip tides and erratic currents.
Another danger of beach fishing is in the unsheltered exposure to the sun’s rays. To protect yourself from heat exhaustion/stroke, bring a portable seat for keeping off the hot sand, sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat and plenty of water for staying hydrated.
Sportsmen all have their favorite species of fish and specialized methods for catching them. This may mean using worms and bobbers to catching brook trout, fly-casting for salmon, trolling downriggers for togue, jigging saltwater smelts or using tip-ups to catch perch and pickerel. Whatever your fishing passion, I challenge you to give surfcasting a try this summer, you may just ignite another outdoor obsession!