St. Croix Steps Up
Dependable line, the most enticing lures, his Tactical Anglers Power Clip - details are many; but for this seasoned surfcaster, it all starts with the rod. Every aspect of his game matters and Knie invests countless hours in preparation, maintenance and strategic study. However, all is for naught if he's unable to present a bait with accuracy and fight a fish with authority.
A diehard fan and devoted advocate of St. Croix's renowned quality and commitment, Knie favors the top-shelf Legend Surf series, but also recognizes the importance of providing anglers a range of options to fit the skill, experience and budget of anyone seeking to explore the sport for which his heart beats. Through its Triumph Surf, Mojo Surf and Avid Surf lines, St. Croix offers a tiered menu of rod choices, each infused with the core principles Knie values.
This matters greatly to Knie because pursuing trophy fish from Southeast Florida, through the Mid-Atlantic and up to his signature stomping grounds along the rugged Northeast coast; the often harsh scenarios he encounters demand not only the most technologically advanced rods but also the peace of mind that St. Croix's quality commitment delivers.
"The more you elevate yourself to high-performance, you'll want to go to the St. Croix Legend Surf series for extreme surf fishing," Knie says. "However, as you're learning the art of surf fishing, St. Croix provides several levels of rod series that advance with an angler's increasing skills."
In other words, you don't have to burn your budget to obtain a high-quality surf rod that'll equip you well for the battles you'll face. In fact, many start with St. Croix's Triumph Surf, an entry-level series that Knie describes as moderate action spinning rods with plenty of fish-fighting power. With lengths of 7 to 10 1/2 feet and a $120-$190 price range, the Triumph Surf allows anyone a comfortable introduction into a family of rods that will undoubtedly draw you deeper into the lineup as your performance needs increase.
The right rod is best determined by an angler's fishing needs, but once you dial in the appropriate choice, surf fishing's broad spectrum of opportunity pulls us deeper into the learning curve. With that, let's look at where Knie suggests testing that incomparable St. Croix quality.
FLORIDA'S EAST COASTBetween the tourism-driven seaside towns awash with novelty shops and rooted in the hospitality industry, several highly specific shore-based fishing features exist throughout the Sunshine State's Atlantic edge. Hardcore surf fishing here is more of an underground movement; a mere shadow of the mainstream popularity boasted in coastal states to the north. Nevertheless, Knie urges anglers to explore the amazing opportunities to engage powerhouse surf species like his favorite - the snook.
The Tactics: Throwing a selection of bucktails, rubber shads (swimbaits) and plugs like his Tactical Anglers Sub Darter, Knie said he may find snook anywhere from open beaches, to jetties to the shadow lines of coastal bridges. Peak action, he said, typically occurs within an hour of the tide's turning - incoming or outgoing.
Fishing Tip: While a 7-foot rod will suffice for lighter backbay snook efforts, the versatility of an 11-foot rod makes this Knie's choice for his surf fishing efforts.
"Your rod choice has a lot to do with understanding where the fish are positioning, as well as the size of fish you're encountering," Knie said. "You may have a rip or the ocean breakers where the fish tend to congregate that require a long cast, whereas, on a jetty the fish could be right under your feet. People often think they can use a 7-footer because those fish are close, but it has a lot to do with the size of the fish. When I'm targeting 'snookzilla,' I want a longer rod to help me control the fish."
MIDDLE-ATLANTICEnigmatically defined by the trophy redfish action of North Carolina's famed Outer Banks, open beach surf casting on desolate stretches of wave-washed sands offers a straight-up tackle-testing thrill.
The Tactics: Throughout hotspots from Buxton, to Avon to Cape Hatteras, the term "heaver" refers to an 11 to 12 foot conventional outfit capable of sending chunks of freshly cut menhaden or mullet on heavily-weighted fish finder rigs with 8 to12 ounces of lead out to the bull red zone. These big fish don't play, so Knie suggests 50-pound braid with 15 to 20 feet of 80-pound shock leader and a No. 7-10 hook.
Fishing Tip: While the crashing surf gets most of the attention, Knie advises an open-minded approach that includes attention given to the "soundside" - the Intracoastal waters on the west side of barrier islands. Pamlico Sound, along with Albemarle and Core Sounds to the north and south respectively, also holds big redfish in a less demanding scenario that offers a far less pressured opportunity when the beach bite isn't happening. Here, Knie drops down to an 8 or 9-foot rod and throws topwater walkers or poppers in the early morning or sunset hours.
NORTHEASTThe land of hardcore surf fishing, this region is best known for its migrations of giant striped bass. From the rugged, rocky shorelines of world-famous Montauk Point, to beaches and inlets of Shinnecock, Moriches and Great South Bay, to the Cape Cod Canal, when "cow" stripers follow bunker schools close to key vantage points, the arm-stretching opportunities are well worth the long hikes.
The Tactics: Knie says the Northeast striper game can stretch from May through early-December, but he points to the 58-degree water temperature mark as optimum. Early season sees this comfort zone widely dispersed, but finding the cooler water highways becomes intrinsic to locating the fish later in the year.
"The night tides and the 'non-human' hours on the darkest nights are the optimum times when most of the bigger fish come out," Knie said.
Fishing Tip: Noting the region's primary and secondary theaters of engagement, Knie said rod length is a key consideration for the savvy surf angler.
"Everyone has this vision of extreme surf fishing in wet suits, but the back bays are very overlooked and there are a tremendous number of large fish that most people don't know about," he said. "When the weather is super extreme on the coast, you can always go fish the back bays with light tackle and a 7-foot rod. But if I know the holes close to the inlets where you have big fish, then I'll use heavier tackle."
"I tend to go with an 11-footer for the inlets and the beaches. You can always short cast with an 11-foot rod, but it also allows you to make longer casts. You can finesse it, or you can punch it out. I would love to carry multiple length rods with me at all times, but when you're making a 3-mile hike across boulders in the middle of the night, you don't have that luxury."
Knie admits the allure of surf fishing is undeniable. From the moment his feet hit the sand, whether tucked into wading shoes or heavy-duty water boots with traction cleats, the sea's infectious charms pull him ever closer. A powerful force, no doubt, but armed with St. Croix surf rods, Knie and those who share his passion are ready to pull back.