Imagine surf fishing along a Florida beach at sunrise with nothing but native vegetation and an access boardwalk behind you on the dune. You look to the south and see the two massive Space Shuttle launch towers several miles away. Look to the north, nothing but natural beach, dunes, palmettos, sea oats, and nature for the next 24 miles. No condos, no cheesy tourist shops, no hotdog stands on the beach. In the water, a trough just offshore about ten yards with schools of pompano and whiting searching the backwash from the shore break for crustaceans. A short cast into this trough, tighten the line just enough to feel the weight on your line, and minutes later, you feel the familiar "TAP TAP" of tonight's dinner taking your bait. You set the hook and reel your prize in, quickly rebaiting your hook(s) to get your line back in the water before the school of fish moves on, and wait, taking in the smell of the salt air, watching the pelicans cruise just above the incoming waves and listening to the waves breaking at your feet when suddenly it happens again. "TAP TAP". This is Florida surf fishing at it's finest, the way it's supposed to be. This is Playalinda Beach at Cape Canaveral National Seashore.


Basic tackle for Playalinda Beach surf fishing consists of an 8-9 foot spinning rod and reel designed for 14 to 20 lb test line. This is the most popular rig. However, a lot of times when the surf is fairly calm, I use the same 10 lb test spinning rod I use in the Lagoon for reds and trout.

The basic terminal tackle used is a 1-3 ounce pyramid sinker tied to the end of the line with an Improved Clinch Knot, with one or two drop loops tied starting about 12-15 inches above the weight. I tie the drops so that the resulting loop is about 8 inches in diameter. Then using my thumb and index finger. I compress the loop where it meets the main line and flatten the loop between my fingers by running them down the loop. Once I've found the true end of the loop I tie a smaller 2 inch diameter loop and run the end of this loop through the eye of the size one hook I'm using. I then put the end of the loop over the entire hook and pull the knot tight. This rig will do just fine for pompano and whiting. If bluefish are on the agenda, I simply make smaller drop loops (about 2 inches in diameter) above the sinker and attach wire snelled size 2/O hooks. These are hooks prerigged with nylon coated wire leaders about 8" long with small loops at the other end for attaching to your line.
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When using my lighter outfit (10 lb. test) the maximum size weight I use is 1 ounce. One of my favorite ways to fish for pompano and whiting is to tie on a 1/4 ounce "pompano jig" in chartreuse using a clinch knot and tipping it with a small piece of cut shrimp. Works great on calm days when the waves are less than 1 or 2 ft.


Lets talk bait. For pompano and whiting, some people go through the hassel of buying clams, opening them and cutting them into strips for bait. If you can get fresh clams this works real good. Unfortunately, many of the bait shops will sell you frozen clams. Trying to keep strips of these on your hook is like trying to keep jello on your hook. They're mushy, don't buy em. The fish can suck them off your hook with a straw before you know what happened. I usually buy a ziploc bag of frozen shrimp from the bait store, and supplement these with sandfleas caught on the beach and have done quite well. When using shrimp, remove the head and the tail, divide the remainder in half and thread the half onto your hook.

If your targeting bluefish, use the wire snelled hooks described above, and you can use either cut mullet chunks or whole frozen finger mullet. The only drawback to using the finger mullet is that bluefish will almost always bite the half that the hook is NOT in. I usually cut two cross section chunks out of the middle and use these, discarding the head and tail.


I've always found the best fishing at Playalinda to be during the higher phase of the tidal cycle, roughly 2 hours on either side of peak high tide. This is even better when high tide occurs in the early morning. Typically at Playalinda a trough, or deeper area forms just past the shore break and then about thirty yards out, a sandbar forms. As the waves approach the sandbar, they break and then reform a bit over the trough to break again on the shore. As each wave breaks on the shore, it stirs up sand and with it, small invertebrates and a type of crab called a sandflea (cause it looks more like a giant flea than a crab) that grows to about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long. These sandfleas burrow in the sand with just their gills protruding through the sand right at the shoreline. As the wave hits the shore it uproots these crabs and the pompano and whiting cruise just offshore to grab them. As the tide recedes the trough gets too shallow for the fish's liking and they tend to move out past the sandbar. They can still be caught but the action tapers off a bit.


Surf fishing technique is very simple, cast and wait. After casting you line out, hold the rod tip up, reel in the slack line until you feel the weight of the pyramid sinker. These are designed to bury themselves into the sandy bottom so that wave action doesn't push your rig up on the shore.

As each wave rolls in you will feel the pressure on your line increase and then subside as the wave passes your line. It's kinda easy when first starting out to mistake this for a strike. What your waiting for is a quick series of hard "taps" or "pulses" that feel distictly different.

For a different perspective on pompano and whiting I like to use my lighter rig with a 1/4 ounce jig with a piece of shrimp in the trough. I simply cast the jig into the trough and let the wave action provide most of the action and maybe slightly drag the jig along the bottom. when I feel a take I just continue to drag the jig until the fish is on. Had lots of fun doing this.

When the bluefish are running along our coast in numbers, they can be caught by casting floating/diving plugs and silver spoons into the schools of baitfish they are persuing. At times when they are in a feeding frenzy, they will strike almost anything that moves. Use a wire leader when doing this. Blues can bite right through lighter monofilament.


To get to Playalinda Beach, Drive from Titusville on the Max Brewer Causeway east across the Indian River Lagoon, past the refuge visitor's center until you come to the stoplight. Go straight through the stoplight, pay the $5 fee at the seashore entrance, and follow the road as it winds through the wetlands until it turns to the north. There is also a turn to the South, however it is off limits to the public due to it's proximity of to the Space Shuttle Launch pads. Heading north, you are now at Playalinda Beach and will now begin to see the numbered beach access points to your right.


Pompano are caught primarily in the cooler months of the year on cut shrimp, fresh cut clams, and sandfleas. Great eating. They must be between 10 and 20 inches in total length to keep. The daily limit is ten.
Whiting are the most common catch at Playalinda Beach and are caught most of the year on pieces of shrimp, fresh cut clam, and sandfleas. One of my favorite fish on the table. No size limit or closed season.
Bluefish are extremely voracious feeders that will strike spoons, plugs and other lures. The best baits to use are cut mullet or whole finger mullet on a hook with a wire leader as they can bite through monofilament easily.

Bluefish must be 12 inches from the tip of their nose to the fork of their tail in order to keep. The daily limit is 10.

Black Drum grow to be quite large, sometimes exceeding 50 lbs. They occasionally are caught in the surf at Playalinda Beach while fishing for whiting.

The daily limit is 5 black drum per day, all of which must be at least 14 inches in length and only one may exceed 24 inches. I've heard they're pretty good eating

Croakers are usually caught in the surf while fishing for whiting or pompano. No bag or size limits. Good eating.
Sheepshead are sometimes caught while fishing for whiting or pompano.

The daily limit on sheepshead is 15 per day with a minimum length of 12 inches. Good eats.

Jack Crevalle are usually caught by accident while fishing for bluefish as they have the same feeding habits and like the same baits. When hooked, they can take off on extremely long runs and put up a fight that leads you to beleive that you've hooked a much larger fish. They will strike almost any live bait or lure. Don't be suprised if he cuts your line off if not using a leader as their mouths are very rough on monofilament line. No bag limits. Not much food value.

One other fish species you are likely to catch is the saltwater catfish, which looks very similar to the freshwater cats. These are not considered good eating eating and are usually tossed back. Be careful when handling these as the dorsal and pectoral fins can puncture your skin and the slime on these guys can cause an infection if you get "finned".


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