Surf fishing provides Isbell vocation
By David Rainer
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The pre-dawn light was sufficient for safe passage from the parking lot over a boardwalk to a beautiful stretch of beach on the Fort Morgan peninsula.
The early arrival guaranteed our party, led by guide Matt Isbell, would get to pick the spot where our surf-fishing adventure would have the best chance of success.
Isbell, better known as the Bama Beach Bum to all his YouTube followers, has developed a niche among fishing guides on the Alabama Gulf Coast. He has tried fishing from boats and piers, but he prefers the sandy beaches and surf where whiting and pompano roam.
The Wetumpka native moved to Gulf Shores for an insurance job, but his surf-fishing success led to a full-time guide business in March of this year.
Isbell decided to see if anyone would pay for his services. He learned there is a growing market for his kind of fishing.
“It kind of snowballed from there and really started picking up,” he said.
Isbell soon found out his guide business appeals to a wide variety of customers.
Isbell’s surf fishing started in earnest six years ago when he moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
“When I first started surf fishing, I was just trying to figure out what to do,” he said. “Like a lot of people in Alabama, I grew up bass and crappie fishing. When I came down here, I just tried to figure out the fishing. I fished a lot of different ways – from boats, piers, canals, wherever I could access the water.
“Then I started surf fishing and I fell in love with it. I just enjoyed being on the beach and being able to bring home dinner.”
Isbell has refined his surf-fishing techniques in the last six years. Although he has learned to judge the surf and which areas produce fish, it’s really not a technique that infrequent visitors should tackle. He said learning to read the beach takes time, that most people find it difficult to pick up on the nuances that might lead to better fishing unless a lot of time is spent on the beach.
“The biggest thing I tell people to do is to stagger your baits,” he said. “Make sure you cover a lot of water and try to locate the zone those fish are running in. Especially when you’re surf fishing, these fish are not hanging in one area like they do on a