Finding My Footing On The Sand

Surf fishing when sand crabs are abundant on the beach is high up there in terms of my favorite kinds of fishing.

Last year, I didn’t get a very long surf fishing season though.

I had about 2 weeks in July while visiting from Seattle. By the time I came back in September, the crab had disappeared and the season was basically done. Over those 2 weeks, I fished from Malibu to the beaches on the south end of Santa Monica Bay. During that time, I fished the sand every opportunity I could targeting corbina. Despite the compressed timeframe, I managed to log some impressive catches, culminating in a new personal best fish…23-1/2 inches (right).

Given that experience, I considered myself to be a pretty proficient surf angler. Fast forward to this year though, I’ve moved south and until last week I was O-fer the beach through a half dozen sessions or so.

What went wrong? I needed help.

Enter Nick Heid. Nick is a kid (he’s literally less than half my age) who grew up in the San Diego area and almost exclusively fishes the beach. Over the years, he’s logged some amazing catches off the sand, including the unicorn of all unicorn catches…a 53-1/2 pound yellowtail in the surf! You can follow Nick’s exploits on his Instagram page.

Nick has parlayed his surf fishing prowess into a guide business and I reached out to him to help me shorten my learning curve. Last Tuesday (June 15th), Nick had me meet him at a local San Diego-area beach (he asked me not to say which one) and we fished the last few hours of light.

There weren’t any huge revelations over the course of our session.

Nick fishes way heavier than I’m used to (he typically uses 15# fluoro vs. my 4#). But it made sense to me when I saw that the fishing we did was less of a skinny water deal and more focused a couple breaks out. He showed me a different way of hooking sand crabs that he feels increases his hook ratio. Basically, skunking over several sessions had really messed with my head. I just needed some affirmation and a point in the right direction of where to look for fish. I didn’t hook into anything big during our session, but the skunk was finally over. Below is my first SD-area surf fish (I got some bigger ones too), a yellowfin croaker.

Nick told me he really likes some of the North County beaches. I had plans to see some friends in Oceanside on Thursday evening, so I used the occasion to apply my new knowledge (or my old, but re-affirmed knowledge as the case may be) to the areas Nick told me to look at.

As if on cue, I’m at one of these northern beaches and my first fish of the day on Thursday afternoon turned out to be something really good. It slammed my crab hard, shocking me into hyper-alertness. It took a long first run, but I eventually worked it near to the shore. There was a group picnicking near me and one of the guys took an interest when he saw me fighting the fish. I had it within maybe 10 feet of beaching it (with my audience of one watching). I saw the outline in the wash. If I had to take a guess, it was either a large corbina or a spotfin croaker. I think it was a combination of my drag not being super smooth (since fixed) and the beach being rockier than what I’m used to, but it busted me off before I could land it. I should’ve fished heavier like Nick recommended. Old habits die hard.

Rather than being upset about losing the fish though, I was energized that I had found and hooked into that kind of a fish the first time out after fishing with Nick.

It would’ve been a fitting conclusion to this story had I managed to land my first ever spotfin croaker. But it wasn’t to be. I fished until dusk and was rewarded with 2 barred surf perch and 2 yellowfin croaker for the effort. I guess I could’ve been happy with that outcome and called it good, but now I was in full white-whale-chasing mode.

I went again Friday and Sunday. No great shakes for either session, but I didn’t take a skunk either. More BSP and YFC, and a round ray that I managed to foul hook and release without getting stung. Whew!

I saw a HUGE corb in the skinny water while making crab. I was about to cast a bait on it when a lifeguard asked me to move. I was at the same beach I was at on Thursday at low tide and learned that there are actually small reef areas within casting distance from the shore…another reason to go heavier. While not successful in re-hooking and catching what I lost on Thursday, it was good to put the time in and start to learn some of the nuances of these beaches down here vs. the ones in LA and OC counties that are familiar to me. It’ll pay off eventually. Stay tuned.

Good luck if you get out there.

Joe Sarmiento
Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...