Understanding Long Shore Drift and the 12th Annual Big Shell Beach Cleanup

Understanding Long Shore Drift and the 12th Annual Big Shell Beach Cleanup
Mr. Paul Knowles of Corpus Christi removing a long section of abandoned fishing line from an old vehicle buried near the Port Mansfield jetties – Jan 9, 2007.

Many of my customers hire me the first time hoping to gain a better understanding of the surf zone and how to spot high potential "fishing holes" scattered along the miles of winding and diverse shoreline. My daily goal is that when we're through, they walk away with a greatly increased understanding of this complex and dynamic eco-system and the habits of the creatures that live there. At some point during most days I will laugh and tell them that my job security lies in the fact that regardless of how well I teach them today, and how well they absorb the lesson, the next time they come to the beach everything is very probably going to be different. In reality; to really understand the surf it must be experienced firsthand during a wide variety of conditions and during different seasons of the year.

One of the first things I tell them is that the potential for a good catch is controlled by the tide and the wind they encounter on any given day. It is appropriate that I do this, but to go immediately into greater detail would serve only to overwhelm and confuse a novice. But as regular surf fishers know, there is another very important factor present each day and that is long shore current or drift.

Littoral or long shore drift is the wind generated movement of water and sand along the shoreline. It is totally independent of the tides. To simplify; when the wind blows from the north the current runs south and vice versa. If the day is calm the current moves very little and the harder the wind blows the faster the current runs. Several consecutive days of high velocity wind from the same direction will create current capable of destroying existing "holes" and turns the nearshore gut into a featureless ditch running parallel with the shoreline for miles.

Beach fishers say, "all the holes have blown out." Typically at this time, the current will move at a velocity that makes it extremely difficult to keep any bait or lure from being swept along with it very quickly.

The upside for those of us fishing in the Coastal Bend of Texas is that the angle of the shoreline is constantly changing as we travel along the beach. Thus; some stretches of shoreline are impacted much more dramatically by a particular wind than others. So, while the nearshore gut may be featureless and the water of the surf muddy for miles, one may continue south several more miles and run into a stretch of clean water with numerous high potential holes present. Notice that I said "may" and not "will." I'm often tickled when fishing alone far down the beach in Caribbean-like water, knowing that most everyone else drove to the end of the pavement and took one look at very poor water conditions and went home to watch the ball game. On the other hand, the surf may be totally blown out and muddy from end to end as is often the case immediately behind the gale force winds of an incoming cold front.

The truth in most cases is that the only way to really know what the water is like along the entire beach front is to go look. There is no quick fix. Neither should we use the word "always" when it comes to the dynamics of the surf. Last weekend the current south of the Big Shell ran hard and fast into a 20-something mile per hour north wind for two days while the current north of Big Shell ran to the south. This happens when an offshore current impacts the beach and over rides the littoral drift in velocity. I'm sure all of this is confusing to some of you but it may well help somewhere along the eternal learning curve. The more we understand these dynamics, the more effectively we can interact with them.

The bottom line for surf anglers goes like this The stronger the current, the more difficult fishing becomes. Current determines which species we fish for and how we'll fish for them on during any given day. Personally I am a grinder, a dedicated lure fisher. As current speed increases my choices dwindle quickly and my last chance selections are limited to Rat-L-Traps, heavy bucktailed jigs, swim baits and Spooners. Bottom fishing with bait is quite often more productive during periods of excessive current. Shark fishers are often successful casting baits when it is impossible to hold bigger baits placed further offshore. Setting baits at a 45-degree angle into the current will help them stay in place.

Enough surf lessons, let's talk about the 12th Annual Billy Sandifer Big Shell Beach Cleanup. We are scheduling this year's event for March 10, 2007. We have moved the date back one week from the traditional first Saturday of March this year in hopes of gaining increased participation by saltwater professionals who are tied up with other commitments on the first Saturday. The Houston Fishing Show at the George R. Brown Convention requires their presence and hopefully this date change will allow them to attend both the show and the Big Shell Cleanup. This grass roots, one of a kind, once per year event, is the only citizen organized beach cleanup that takes place in the 4-wheel drive area of the Padre Island National Seashore. Efforts this year will be targeting beginning 16 miles south of the pavement to as far south as time and energy allows.

Any and all are welcome to participate in this hardworking but spectacular event and it affords volunteers the opportunity not only to make a difference in the appearance of a unique wilderness area but also to actually see the results of their efforts as they drive along miles of pristine beach on their way back to civilization at the conclusion of the event. What better way for families to share a day in the Great Outdoors together and what better way to teach their children the importance of a clean environment than to participate in such an event?

Volunteers, 4-wheel drive vehicles and utility trailers (not too large and in good condition) are needed. Volunteers without 4-wheel drive vehicles are also welcome and will be given transport into and out of the work area. Often, Tyler Thorsen and I receive inquiries from companies wanting to sponsor the event in some way. This is appreciated; but the reality of it all is that what we need are willing volunteer workers, vehicles and trailers. Companies are most welcome to send some employees and equipment to the event. People are what make this event work though; not financial support.

Volunteers are asked to meet at the Malaquite Pavilion parking area no later than 7:00 am Saturday 10 March. Volunteers will return to this location by 2:00 pm. Drinking water and snacks will be available during the event but feel free to bring a sandwich if you think you might want one. Trousers, a hat, long-sleeved shirts, rugged footwear and gloves are recommended. Event T-shirts will be handed out at Malaquite and refreshments will be furnished at the pavilion following the event. This event is a genuine hoot; y'all come on down and be a part of it.

Performance stats for the eleven Big Shell events from prior years:
Volunteers - 2,073 Trash removed - 804,920 lbs (402.46 tons)

Be Careful, Be Courteous, Be Kind.
Capt. Billy L. Sandifer