I'm off to Tobago for a few days with Richard and Steve so the website will be on hold for a couple of weeks. Lots of anglers have holidays in tropical paradises these days so I've been writing a little CD booklet on shore fishing in the Caribbean. I thought that you might like to see a chapter - just to whet your appetite 'til we get back. You may have seen one or two of the pictures before.
Most shorelines are liberally supplied with sandy beaches, in fact these (together with the guaranteed sunshine) are the main reason why many people choose to visit. Beaches may be steep-sloping or gentle. Often there will be quite a heavy swell which surges up the sand. On the Atlantic, windward shores of the outer islands, constantly stirred by the North East trade winds, the water may well be murky, particularly at high tide. Leeward shores, in contrast, will usually have gin clear water apart from the sand disturbed right in the surf zone. Often there may be rocks or reefs within casting range and at either end of many bays there will usually be rocky points or headlands.
There are a few handy tips regarding the fishing from sandy shores. Firstly, don't sit near or leave your gear underneath coconut trees. Steve had a valuable video camera reduced to a pile of plastic junk by a nut accelerating at 32ft/s/s. Secondly, dry sand can be very hot and wet sand is abrasive on bare feet so a pair of light shoes or sandals may be useful.
At the back of the beach keep an eye open for burrows in the sand. These burrows will be about five centimetres in diameter and are the homes of ghost crabs, fast running crustaceans with pale yellow shells and whitish claws. The crabs are tricky to catch, because they are very alert, but they can be useful baits. One trick is to wait until the crab comes to the mouth of its little tunnel (a watching friend or spouse can tell you when) and then to scoop smartly under it from behind - sand and all.
From many sandy beaches fish can be caught throughout the day (bathers permitting) but by far the most productive period seems to be the hour or so either side of sunset. As the sun goes down many large predatory fish will be at their most active.
Houndfish, barracuda, ladyfish or jacks may take a heavy wedge or a slim silver spoon, such as a Toby, cast well out and retrieved FAST near the surface. Having said this, these fish and a number of others can be caught even in broad daylight under the heat of the midday sun. With regard to the fast retrieve we were all astonished by the speed of movement of many predatory fish in the tropics. It seems difficult to wind too fast for most species and, in the case of ladyfish at least, it may even pay to jerk the rod as you wind to induce takes.
Fishing from a sandy beach, in Costa Rica, Rich used a Toby as weight for four small silver feathers and caught some hard fighting horse eye jacks on the feathers. Other species of jacks may also be present and at times give their presence away in feeding frenzies.
Using small countdown or buoyant plugs we have taken lizardfish, flounders and even young permit from this type of shoreline. No doubt there are many other species to be caught. It is well worth trying a plug since it is likely to tempt fish that would not chase a fast moving spoon. Of course plugs don't generally cast as far as spoons but, since they can be fished more slowly, are perhaps more likely to be taken by slower swimming fish.
Bear in mind that many of these fish fight like tigers on light spinning gear and quite a few of them have large, razor-sharp teeth so always use a wire trace of suitable strength for the line. No need to go over the top with tackle though and if you are using fifteen or twenty pound main line then twenty pound Drennan (or similar) wire crimped to suitably small swivels and strong clips will be fine (big barracuda may need heavier wire traces).
This is as good a point as any to mention tackle. Any spinning rod, long or short, (including telescopics, although we have not yet found an ideal one. There are a number of decent, multi-section 'travel rods' available now) will do but an eleven or twelve foot carp or pike rod with a test curve of 2.5 lb is a good all round tool. This will allow long casts, with lures of up to an ounce or more, good lure control and, most important, a solid strike with 20 lb braid. Slim crimps can be used to neatly attach a small swivel and a suitable clip, at opposite ends of the 0.5m, 20lb wire trace. After catching a few fish the traces do eventually accumulate kinks and twists near the lure. It is a simple matter to replace the wire or if most of the trace is still OK to cut off the clip and re-crimp it after removing the damaged section of wire. If you expect large and powerful fish, such as tarpon or big barracuda, forget the clip and crimp a heavy wire trace directly to the lure.
The productive areas for most species of fish seem to be around rocks, particularly near the ends of bays. It is always worth keeping an eye open for dark patches on the sandy seabed. These may be areas of rock, beds of sea grass or, astonishingly, dense shoals of small fish. In all cases they are likely to attract bigger fish. If it is possible to gain safe access to rocky headlands (the rocks may be both jagged and slippy and the swells are often large so be careful) they are well worth a try. These seem to be the main areas in which pelicans and boobys (tropical gannets) concentrate their fishing efforts so presumably they harbour large numbers of baitfish near the surface. In addition to the species mentioned above it is likely that larger predatory jacks, kingfish and even tuna may pass close by, well within casting range in the deeper water off rocks.