05. Setting Up Your Campsite
Vehicles and the Beach
Poor is the man that comes to the beach without a shovel, a tow strap, and some wood planks. Poor is the man that forgets the fix-a-flat. Poor is the man that forgets his jack or spare tire. Poor is the man that tests out the limits of his 4×4 when he pays to get pulled out. The beach is rough on vehicles, no doubt about it. Always be careful.
When targeting sharks, we often fish on long sections of beach that range from 5 to 60 miles from end to end. You drive on the beach, and ride on down until you see a spot you like. Some drives are an hour or more to get to your destination. Many of the beaches require 4 wheel drive to access. The Padre Island National Seashore can be access with 2 wheel drive along the first 5 to 10 miles, but 4×4 is required thereafter between the 10 and 60 mile marker points. If you have only 2 wheel drive, there is an abundance of beaches you can select that do not require 4×4, so do your homework and find a 2 wheel drive beach if required. 4×4 will allow you to access almost any beach, providing the ultimate in mobility, but you can catch as many sharks with 2 wheel drive access, you just cannot fish as many spots.
It is hard to see at night when you are driving on the beach. The most dangerous part of the trip will be when you come in from several hundred miles away, it is 4:00 am, and you can barely keep your eyes open. One night I got lucky when I was trying to do 35 mph down the beach with a windshield covered by sand trying to get to the camp before I feel asleep. Yes, I nailed my little 4×4 truck…I hit and bounced over a nice tree stump about 5 yards away from the surfline, that was hard to see in the fog. Now of course, I have incredible luck and nothing was damaged, but I will drive under 25 MPH down the beach at night no matter how smooth it is from now on. At 20 to 25 MPH you can see things with enough time to take evasive action when required.
New seaweed deposited on the waters edge is perilous during the spring. People have been cruising down the beach when their truck sank in sand to the axle. If there has been heavy seaweed, assume there is weed under some spots at waterline, and near the waterline. Don’t make it a habit to drive over the wet weed. Sometimes there are boards with nails in them at the waterline. Sometimes you get flats from hardheads washed up at the waters edge. The best safest driving is along the ruts created by other vehicles.
Be wary of days with high seas and high tides. There are times when strong winds accentuate tides and the beach disappears under water. Be wary of hurricanes that can trap you as well. Low tide is often the easiest time to move off the beach. The weather can quickly change the water level as much as the lunar and solar effects. Be careful of storms.
Beach conditions change fairly often. The beach is usually hard packed the day after strong rains and easier to drive on. The beach will also be cleaned up after a tropic storm. Other times the sand will be like deep and soft like power, easy to get stuck in if you drive to slow.
The softness of the sand also changes with the local geography along a fishing beach. Matagorda has several sand textures along the 23 mile section of beach. Along 63 mile long Padre Island National Seashore, you can encounter several different sand textures in a day’s drive down the beach. It is always good to find out about driving conditions at your destination from other people if possible.
Not picking on anyone, but Drinking and Driving is a no at the beach. We have seen a vehicles roll over when driving only 25 mph. If the driver is intoxicated, might be good just to pull over and stop the truck. You must have quick reflexes to drive on the sand. Sorry, if this hurts some feelings, but it is what it is. Let’s all be safe.
Take care of your truck. Do not drive your truck through the saltwater at the beach. Take time to wash your tuck off at a carwash when you leave the beach.
Picking a Spot
The beach is a dynamic constantly changing environment. A spot that worked good one week may be different the next week. For the guys that fish close in or “short”, the better locations are where the second and third sandbar are relatively far apart. The way to spot these areas on windy days is to climb up high on the sand dunes and survey the seascape. Standing up high on the dunes lets you get a better vantage point and select a good location where the second and third sandbar are far apart.
For the guys that fish deep, carrying baits two hundred or more yards beyond the third sandbar (400+ yards out), we like to watch for spots where the third bar is deep, and the water is calm, making it easier kayak through. When standing on the dunes, let your eyes scan the third sandbar zone, from left to right, scanning hundreds and hundreds of yards to pick a good location. If you do not see something you like, get in the truck and drive a mile or so and get out of the truck to look again.
Some people ask how to tell where the sandbars are and the guts (deeps spots between the bars) are. The waves break on the sandbars and where the water is shallow. Between zones with breaking waves, there will be calm areas with the deep water, these are the guts where the water is deep and the larger sharks congregate. These guts tend to be a highway for fish to travel.
My priority is to look for a spot where I can catch bait. I look for deep guts in close where I will find lots of whiting, ladyfish, and mullet. I believe if I can get my hands on sexy bait, everything else will fall into place.
Travel Light Strategy
Some people use a mobility strategy. When you pick a spot, try it out for a few hours. If that spot does not produce, try moving five to ten miles and run your lines out again. If the second spot does not produce, move a third time and try again. If you are still not getting action sit tight until the sun sets. You will certainly get runs no matter where you are on the beach when the sun leaves the sky. Shark almost always feed at sunset.
After people fish for some time, they often get a little trailer for their gear. This is certainly not required, but it does make it easier to fish a mobility strategy. I have never owned a fishing trailer, but the people that do own trailers love them.
Setting Up Camp
When you pick your spot to fish, locate your truck away from the water so you do not have to move it to higher ground when the tide rises. If you look at the sand, you will usually find a small line of seaweed deposited at the high tide line. Park your truck above this line to avoid water washing in at night while you sleep. New moons and full moons tend to bring the highest tides. Windstorms will also bring the tide up on the beach. When you have strong winds and a new or full moon, you need to park up next to the sand dunes for vehicle security.
If you have more than two vehicles in the campsite, try to spread your camp out. Each shark fisherman will usually require 30 to 40 yards of beachfront to fish. If you have 3 guys in your campsite, you will need to spread your rods out over 100 to 120 yards. With our rods spread out far at night, we us lightsticks on each fishing line to watch for the bite.
Setting Out Rod Holders
I use GALVANIZED ELECTRICAL CONDUIT PIPE for rod holders. (I DO NOT USE PVC) I buy ten-foot sections and have the people at the hardware store cut it in three sections. I like two-inch wide pipe since all my rods slide into the pipe easily. I have a small shovel which I use to dig each pipe in. I dig a small hole no larger than eight inches wide and about eighteen inches deep. I place the pipe in the hole along the inside of the hole closest to the water. I try to dig the hole clean so the walls of the hole will remain packed sand. I cover the hole up with sand and place a rod into the holder and test it out.
Another method is go to the place where the dry sand meets the wet sand. Dig a small hole until you run into a small pool of water. Next part sounds silly, but I’m going to share it anyway. Place the pipe in the small pool of water. Put your lips on the pipe, form a seal, and suck as hard as you can. The pipe will sink into the sand rapidly. Keep going until the pipe is at least 18 inches down. Your friends may laugh at you but this rod holder will withstand 30 pounds of drag pressure without budging when you sink it in like this. Furthermore, you can get your rod holders out of the way of traffic by using this method.
Comfort on the Beach
There are several things people due to insure comfort on the beach. Some depends on how much room you have to carry extra stuff like water for showers, and extra ice chests.
For long trips lasting many days, keeping ice is important and some people resort to burying their ice chests in the sand to keep ice longer. Keep your ice chest out of the sun at all times; cover it from the sun to keep it cooler. Crazy as it is, the old white styrofoam ice chest, even though fragile, tend to keep ice very well for extended periods. There are also some custom new age ice chests that seal better and have more insulation, than most conventional plastic ice chests. Almost all ice chests work better with and empty trash bag used to help seal air as the chest is closed.
Next thing that help extend the life of your ice it to leave it in the bag it comes in when you put the ice in the cooler. If you break the bag apart, the ice melts quicker. Keep the bags unbroken and your ice will last longer. Another item to have is block ice. Block ice lasts longer than bags of ice. For long trips, extending many days, block ice it great to have.
Baby powder is a favorite of many people. Many people love this as sunset and for skin chaffing between the legs. Baby powder makes you feel clean all over.
Water and soap for bathing. Key item, if you bring the whole family. If your wife or girlfriend can shower daily or twice a day, she is going to be happy; nothing like a nice cleanup at sunset. Women tend to have a shorter fuze at the beach if they are unable to nest. Creature comforts like small inexpensive shower tents, a camping stove, and other camping comforts help make a trip pleasant for the ladies. If she gets a bad sunburn and no shower, she will not make many trips.
Sunscreen, bug spray, and a headlight/flashlight for everyone in the camp. Mosquitoes are not a regular occurance at the beach, but it is best to be safe. Liberally use sunscreen and cover your body with loose clothes. Sunglasses and a large brim hats are essential for all members of the campsite.
Last, it is good to prepare a packing list and fill it when planning your trip.