Shore-based anglers targeting saltwater species from beaches, jetties and piers recognize the months or April and May as an exciting transition time. Warming temperatures promote increased activity among various resident fish, while also triggering epic migrations of striped bass, tarpon and other species that bring the largest individuals close to shore and within casting range. It’s a busy time for the serious surf anglers who plan ahead, traveling up and down the coasts to chase down the best bites. But it’s also a great time for beginning or more casual anglers who are aware of, geared up, and prepared for springtime’s rewarding surf-fishing opportunities.
Florida-based “Crazy” Alberto Knie is one of the most passionate and well-known anglers to ever stalk the beach. “Crazy” is the word most often used – almost universally – by those who fish with Knie to describe the uncontestably effective but extreme angling methodologies he employs.
“Spring is a very exciting season because it’s a transitional stage where winter fish are still in the mix along with the early migrating species,” says Knie, who forgoes many of life’s comforts to hunt the largest examples of his target species, often during what he describes as “inhuman” hours. “When others are asleep and dreaming of catching fish, that’s when I’m out there actually doing it,” he says. “I will mainly target snook, redfish, speckled trout and tarpon here in Florida over the next two months, but I’ll also travel to chase the early striper migration from New Jersey into New York waters, where I’ll target big weakfish and yellow-eyed monsters (bluefish), too. Springtime brings great freshwater bites, too,” the versatile angler relates, “so there’s a lot of tough decisions to be made in the coming weeks.”
Knie says he employs the same basic approach to fishing in the springtime as he does at other times of the year. “There are always tweaks to be made, but successful surf fishing always comes down to being in the right place at the right time,” he says. “To increase your catch rate and also to intercept larger fish, you simply need to be in a location where the fish are and then target them in the specific spots they are using at the right tide phase with the right baits.” To this end, Knie spends just as much time researching, observing and traveling as he does actually fishing. “You obviously need to know about patterns, the impacts of weather systems, and how to identify and find specific holding and ambush spots, but you ultimately need to know when to fish,” he says. “In my experience – more than any other variable – big fish are caught during slack tides.”
Knie primarily uses artificial lures like bucktails, swimmers, rubber shads and various topwater poppers during ebb- and flood-tide periods, altering size based on the species and conditions. He says these techniques extend the windows of opportunity to connect with fish outside of what he calls the four magic windows, which are the four slack tides that happen every day in every fishery. “I use 5000-to-7000-size spinning reels for the bigger fish with artificials during the nonhuman hours,” he says. “Daytime rigs consist of 40-pound braid with 40 inches of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader. Around the slack tides, I use conventional reels for live bait and chunk fishing.” Knie says these rigs most often consist of 8/0 hooks with 30-inch 80-pound fluorocarbon shock leaders connected to 80-pound braided mainline during daylight hours, but as he does with his lure fishing, Knie upsizes at night. “For nighttime chunking for monsters – or anytime I’m targeting tarpon, I’ll step up to a 100- or 150-pound shock leader.”
Knie’s specific choice of rods is varied, but one thing remains consistent. “Anyone who knows me or who has fished with me knows that I’m an extremely finicky and hard-to-please tackle freak,” he says. “There is a compelling reason why St. Croix rods are referred to as Best Rods On Earth®. I’ve personally tried and tested hundreds of different surf rods and St. Croix’s Avid Surf and Legend Surf Series consistently outshine everything else in terms of casting performance, sensitivity, action, lightness, and overall ‘feel’. They are my personal favorites, but I need to add and recognize what St. Croix accomplished this year with the launch of the SEAGE Series. These rods are extremely light and strong with exceptional ergonomics and are a great value. In my opinion, there’s nothing that compares to their performance in their price range, so this is a series that it going to be of extreme interest to a really large cross section of surf anglers.”
Knie prefers 10-12-foot rods for most of his surf fishing. “They allow me to cover the beaches, back bays and inlets, excelling in the presentations I need to make and possessing the power I require when targeting 40+ pound fish,” says Knie, who encourages anyone new to surf fishing or visiting a new fishery for the first time to visit a well-respected local tackle shop. “These are the people you need to talk to about the specific areas, types of structure, and species you can expect to encounter. The local shop experts will fine tune equipment recommendations based on those needs and your experience level. I highly recommend SEAGE and Avid rods for newcomers to the sport. They are the perfect combination of performance and price with a 15-year warranty and unlike entry-level rods, you won’t have to worry about outgrowing their performance. The same goes for more experienced surfcasters – Avid and SEAGE are great choices – but those looking to add new rods with the absolute best performance, combination of technologies and elite-level components to their arsenals should definitely look at St. Croix’s Legend Surf Series.
Long Island-based surf rat and fishing editor, Matthew Broderick, routinely fishes four or five days or nights per week. He agrees with Knie that April is a transition month. “April typically starts out with schoolie bass in the bays and creeks. We’re fishing smaller ½-ounce-to 1-1/2-ounce jig and plastic combos and plugs on 8-9-foot medium and medium-light power spinning rods with 15-20-pound braid,” he says. “Blues start showing up on the beaches later in the month, which a lot of surfcasters target with topwater plugs and smaller tins.” Broderick says a 9’ medium power rod with a moderate-fast action is an ideal tool for casting these larger, one-to-four–ounce surface plugs with ample power to handle the bigger blues which can run up to 15 pounds or so.
“Then we start seeing the bigger bass coming from the Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River and New Jersey start migrating past Long Island in May,” Broderick reports. “This includes a lot of 30-40-pound fish that surf anglers can target around the jetties and bays with two-to-six-ounce darters and swim shads.”
Broderick agrees with Knie that having the right equipment – specifically, the Best Rods on Earth– helps surf anglers experience more success during the spring runs. “Not only does St. Croix give surf anglers the specific combinations of length, power and action they demand to support their diverse presentations, St. Croix is handcrafting those lengths, powers and actions in packages that are light, strong and durable with exceptional ergonomics that make fishing hard easier than ever,” Broderick says, pointing to the new SEAGE Series of surf rods as an ideal example.
“One thing that differentiates the new SEAGE Series – and St. Croix as a company – is angler input. They are constantly engaging with our passionate surf-casting community and delivering new rods designed for specific regions and applications. SEAGE is a great example of this, with 12 models ranging from a 7’ medium-light rod to a 12’ heavy-power rod. The blanks run a little thinner, which I like, and the guides are updated for a more modern feel while handling line well. The grips are also thin and comfortable. I love the way the Winn foregrip feels on my hand, and the thinner X-Flock handle terminates with a nice butt cap that reminds your lower hand where it’s at on the handle when casting. Most importantly, however, these rods feature a brand new material and two exclusive St. Croix technologies that combine to make SEAGE one of the strongest and most durable surf rods available on the market.”
Broderick says would-be surfcasters shopping for their first rod should consider a medium power, moderate-fast action SEAGE spinning rod in the eight-to-ten-foot range (SES80MMF, SES90MMF2, or SES100MMF2). “These rods have a versatile, moderate-fast action that will cast and work a wide variety of baits between ¾ and 4 ounces on 15-to-40-pound braid,” he says. They’re certainly good choices for stripers and bluefish here on Long Island, but also really versatile rods for other common surf-fishing applications. At $230 to $300, they’re a really good value, too, especially when you consider their performance and warranty. If anglers are looking for St. Croix performance that’s even more affordable, they should check out the Triumph Surfand Triumph Surf Travel lines.”
For more experienced anglers looking to add a rod to their arsenal, Broderick is bullish on the SEAGE SES110MHMF. “This is a long, powerful rod rated for 3 to 8 ounces that anglers can use to deliver a half-pound chunking rig well beyond the bar or employ while working big, heavy plugs in heavy current,” he says.
The months of April and May give surfcasters everywhere good reason for excitement and anticipation. “Soon we’ll be able to target those numbers of really big fish again,” says Knie. “And St. Croix provides all of us the necessary tools that allow us to win the battles.”