While it’s true every fishing style presents challenges, there are some unique to the ocean arena that make planning and preparation the keys to success for an angling vacation in this arena. So let’s take a look at some tips designed to help ensure you’ll have fun, catch lots of fish and enjoy a safe trip you can brag about for years to come.

Questions to Ask When Planning 

  • Will you fish from a boat, a land-based location, or both?
  • What are your target species?
  • Are you intending to keep or release your catch?
  • Are you taking personal gear?

In answering these questions, I'll highlight a 'best of both worlds' angling vacation including offshore charter followed by surf fishing the beach on alternate days. The target species are sailfish and  mahi-mahi offshore. Snook and redfish run the beach., along with other species including larger game like tarpon and sharks. For the most, we'll practice catch and release, but a few mahi-mahi and redfish might just make the dinner menu. And, a sailfish would look great on that wall in the den. As for gear, most charters provide tackle, but we'll need personal equipment to fhis the beach.

Now For Some Preparation:

Let’s start with the charter. Don’t book the first operation that has an opening the day you need it. Instead, contact several captains and talk about your expectations. Begin the conversation by asking about their experience in general, and specifically, with your target species. What you’re doing here is looking for a close match in personality and style. Experienced anglers will find this especially helpful, but everyone should do it. Talking with captains to gauge a sense of rapport before leaving the dock makes a difference. When you're 20 - 70 miles or more offshore and discover a personality clash or serious difference of opinion, it can make for a long day. Most captains pride themselves in running reputable, safe, productive, and fun operations, there are exceptions you can avoid.    

After finding a match, don't hesitate to ask questions. If a captain can’t answer, keep looking. Confirm their licensing with the United States Coast Guard  and ask if references are available. Inquire about required safety gear, insurance and verify the cancellation policy. You should also discuss your intent to keep or release your catch. Checking around the marina or yacht club is also a good idea, and don't forget to search the Internet for additional information. 

What You Should Bring

Most charters provide tackle, bait, and ice, but get confirmation; then add the following items to your checklist:  

  • A cooler for food and drinks. Larger boats typically provide cold storage. Have a second cooler in your vehicle for harvested fish.
  • Polarized sunglasses.
  • Hat and sunscreen for shade and skin protection.
  • Gym bag for basic rain gear, extra T-shirt, a towel, and other personal items.
  • Dramamine (non-drowsy, used for motion sickness). If you’ve never been sea  sick, you don’t want any trip to be the first time. Some brands recommend taking a dose in advance.
  • A still and/or video camera. Go digital, if possible, and have a disposable for back up. Remember, “Stories are stories and pictures are proof.”
  • Cash for tipping the mate. Typically, 15 to 20 percent of the full charter is acceptable, depending on service. Fish cleaning can usually be arranged. Just ask ahead of time.

What To Do With Your Catch

If luck is good and you end up with that sailfish for the den, consider a replica mount. Many companies now specialize in this practice, where in most cases a catch photo or a description is all you'll need. King Sailfish Mounts in Pompano Beach, Florida, is an example of the craftsmanship helping to make catch-and-release fishing an increasingly common practice with all sizes and species. 

If you keep some for the table, but cooking and doing dishes isn't in your vacation plans, don’t despair. It’s not uncommon to find local restaurants to prepare and serve your catch. I’ve enjoyed inexpensive, but memorable feasts in establishments like Wok & Roll in Montauk, New York and The Village Restaurant in Marathon, Florida. Just ask around and you’ll probably find a similar establishment.

Now it’s Time to Chase Fish in the Surf

Species from the bottom all the way to the very top of the food chain call the surf zone home. Depending on the time of year and location, this relaxing environment can provide plenty of rod-bending action for the vacationing angler. Before you go, check the local laws on seasons, slot sizes, and bag limits. Then, determine what licensing may be necessary. 

Most of the essentials you had for the charter will also come in handy here, along with a few additions starting with shoes. There’s nothing like the feeling of sand between the toes, but beaches are full of sharp objects like broken shells, the occasional can tab, and other surprises so protect your feet. Any shoe will do, but there are brands like Rugged Shark available with footwear designed specifically for marine environments. For additional protection in the water, products like Safe Sea are a good choice. This lotion serves as a sunscreen and doubles as protection against ocean stingers like jellyfish while doubling as a sunscreen. Last, but not least, save room in your bag for a basic first-aid kit. 

Now, let’s talk fishing gear. The good news is you don't have to transport a campsite’s worth of stuff like we do on most surf fishing expeditions. With smart choices in versatile gear, you can get into a little bit of everything on a good day.

If you’re taking one set up, a spinning reel in the Shimano 6500 B medium action class is the best way to go. Slap that on a two-piece 12-inch Ugly Stick rod and you'll be in business. Be sure and tape a lunker light for night fishing to your rod tip or attach a bell near the top for an added strike alarms. If you don’t mind carrying an extra rod and reel, consider adding a light-action spinning combo in the 12-pound test class. There’s always an opportunity to put this to use while bigger baits soak on the larger surf rig. To prevent saltwater corrosion, take some time and rinse your gear with fresh water at the end of the day.

This configuration makes it possible to deploy a variety of baits and lures to varying distances off the beach. For some species, you won’t need to throw far. Add to your equipment list a soft-side tackle box with hooks of various sizes, lures, leader materials, and basics like a knife, pliers, flashlight, and measuring device. Keep in mind that circle hooks are a great choice for catch & release. In advance of your trip,  get online to locate and contact local tackle shops about what works well for the time of year, location, etc. They'll know best and will also be a good source for the right bait and other needs while you're there.

Some Final Thoughts On Safety

In the event you hook into a larger animal like a shark or tarpon, put safety first; especially, if you’re fishing alone or aren’t experienced in handling these fish. When in doubt, the right choice is to enjoy the fight, then cut your line or leader as close as possible to the hook without endangering yourself or the fish. 

When walking in the water, drag your feet. This is known as the “stingray shuffle” and helps spook these usually harmless animals out of your path before you get too close for comfort and risk their instinctive defense response.

If you’re wade fishing or cooling off, stay away from river mouths, sandbars, cloudy water and schools of baitfish or feeding birds. Also avoid swimming or wading at sunrise, sunset or after dark. These areas and environmental factors attract large predatory species like sharks. Weather can also be a concern so in the event of lightning storms, always seek appropriate shelter immediately.

As you can see, a little planning and preparation up front can set you up for a much more relaxing, productive, fun, and safe saltwater angling vacation. Now, it looks like all you’ve got left to do is book those travel plans and have a great trip!