If you are looking for an ultimate surf fishing guide or the best surf fishing tips and tricks from pro surf anglers – you have come to the right place! I have all the relevant information from my own experience of surf fishing so that you can become an expert as well!
From my experience, saltwater fishing is much trickier than freshwater fishing. Hence, beginner saltwater anglers must be well-prepared before they head out for their first surf fishing adventure. If you are a newbie, this applies to you too.
So, how to prepare for your introductory surf fishing experience?
According to TPWD Basic Guide For The Beginning Angler, saltwater fishing calls for the big guns. The water you fish in is massive and marine species are often large and aggressive, so your surf gear has to be much larger than your freshwater gear.
Unfortunately, when I just started doing it, I quickly realized that equipment setup was not my only worry. Once you are all geared up, you’ll have to select proper bait and lures, find a suitable spot on the beach, and practice some new fishing techniques, too.
Do not be intimidated, though. Surf fishing is not as scary as it seems! With my help, you’ll learn how to surf fish in no time!
This guide is not short by any means, but be patient and persistent, and it will pay off in the end! You’ll not only learn how to select your first surf rod and reel or a perfect rig, but you’ll also develop a boomy surf fishing strategy that will help you catch fish from the very first day on the water!
The Best Surf Fishing Tackle
According to the California Department of Fish and Game, gear choices can greatly enhance your enjoyment when surf fishing. I prefer to travel light when fishing from the beach since I want to be mobile and cover as much water as possible. Yet, as I have read on the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation site, surf fishing tackle must be more massive and durable in order to withstand harsh saltwater fishing conditions and help you catch big and strong saltwater fish species.
Your surf fishing setup must enable you to cast your bait and lures further (often in windy conditions) and handle genuine sea monsters, such as sharks. For this reason, saltwater fishing rods are usually about double the length of freshwater rods, while typical surf reels can hold hundreds of yards of thick fishing line. Let’s discuss all this in more detail!
Choosing The Best Surf Fishing Rod
I leaned that besides being significantly more massive than other types of rods, surf fishing rods also need superior power to cast heavy bait and lures beyond the violent waves breaking near the shore. So, how to choose the best surf rod?
There are three things to consider::
If you fish in calm water, you can get by with an 8 feet long rod. If you plan to fish in high waves, you must opt for a rod at least 10 feet long.
Surf fishing rods can be even 14 feet long, but such rods can be difficult to handle and are not required unless you want to make very long casts. I would not recommend choosing a rod longer than 12 feet, especially for beginners.
The power of a rod (the rod weight) stands for how strong it is or how much weight it can lift without breaking. When surf fishing, you must choose a rod powerful enough to handle the heavy bait and lures you cast, the sinkers that hold your rig in the bite zone, and the hefty marine fish you catch.
Therefore, surf fishing rods should have a minimum medium-heavy (MH) power ranking. If you choose a lower ranking, you risk breaking your rod and losing your catch. If you opt for a heavy (H) or ultra-heavy (UH) rod, you might compromise the sensitivity of your setup.
How can you determine the power of the surf rod you plan to buy?
As explained by Lamiglas, the premier rod & blank company, surf rod powers are vastly different. Most rods have their power rating written on their surface along with other important information such as their length or compatible line size and lure weight. The problem is that some manufacturers use the same markings to refer to the rod’s action.
Instead of marking their rods as fast action, they label them heavy action and use the same symbol H. It can be very confusing for surf anglers looking to purchase a rod, especially if they are first-time buyers.
According to the article I have read in Ontario OUT of DOORS (OOD) outdoors magazine, the action or speed of the rod tells you how flexible or bendable your rod is. If you know the action rating of your rod, you can predict where it will bend once you put it under pressure. There are three basic types of rods depending on their action:
- Slow action rods
- Moderate action rods
- Fast action rods
When you go out to a tackle shop to buy your first rod for the surf, you will see more action categories, such as extra-slow, moderate-slow, or moderate-fast and extra-fast. However, when I was just starting to learn about surf fishing, I realized that there is no need to go into that much detail yet. You can stick to the three basic categories I have just listed.
Slow-action rods are the most flexible (they bend from their lower 1/4 part), while fast-action rods are the stiffest (only their tip bends). As you can assume, moderate action rods are the golden mean (they flex from their half). They are also the best option for beginners surf fishing.
A moderate action rod brings you the best of both worlds. It grants you a great casting distance and adequate control when fighting against big marine fish.
I know there are surf anglers that would not agree with me. Many would argue that fast action rods are the best option for surf fishing due to their sensitivity and exceptional hookset. While I agree that fast-action rods have many advantages, too, they require more force and energy to handle, at least from my experience.
A fast-action rod also transfers most of your energy to the end of the fishing line and is thus more likely to break or snap when things get heavy or the fish tries to escape. Moderate action rods perform much better in this type of scenario. Why?
Being more flexible, these rods divide the pressure between your line and rod. The fish can fight as much as it wants, and your rod will bend in whatever direction it tries to escape.
Choosing The Best Surf Fishing Reel
Once you start visiting tackle shops, you are likely to feel a bit overwhelmed with a choice of shapes and sizes of surf reels. However, making the right decision is not as hard as it might seem at first.
As far as the types of fishing reels are concerned, the choice is easy – go for a spinning reel. It can cast further than other types of reels due to reduced line friction – and we all know how crucial casting distance is for surf fishing. More experienced anglers can use a baitcaster rod and baitcasting reel, too.
When choosing the size of your reel, things are not that straightforward. One thing is certain from my point of view, though – you have to think big! While reels start from size 1000, a surf reel must be at least size 6000. A Guide to Central California Beach Fishing issued by the California Department of Fish and Game suggests that heavy bait fishing or “plugging,” calls for a spinning or conventional reel capable of holding 150 to 200 yds of 20- to 30-lb test line.
So, I suggest buying a spinning reel in the 6000-8000 size range and making sure it has the capacity to hold at least 500 yards of 25lb braid. When surf fishing, you are likely to encounter fish that are more than 3 feet long and can peel off hundreds of yards of line in a nick of time – be prepared!
Choosing The Best Surf Fishing Line
The choice of the fishing line might be the most difficult when preparing for your first surf fishing trip. You’ll have a hard time deciding between using a braid or mono. Every surf angler has had that dilemma at some point – including me.
The battle between braid and mono for surf fishing is as old as surf fishing itself. Every experienced surf angler I asked while doing this research had their favorite, yet, two equally skillful fishermen might choose different types of lines too.
I vote for the braid. Why? Due to its superb sensitivity, I can always detect bites and control the end of the line enabling me to pull more fish to the shore.
On the other hand, I must admit that mono has numerous advantages in the surf zone, too, especially if you are a beginner surf angler. Its high stretching capacity and abrasion resistance allow for more mistakes you are bound to make when learning to surf fish.
The bottom line is, and the Sport Fishing magazine confirms it, mono and braid serve different surf fishing situations. Let’s discuss that in more detail so that you can make a choice of your own.
The Advantages Of Braided Line For Surf Fishing
- Better wind and current resistance due to the smaller diameter. The thin braided line offers more stability in the surf zone, making it an excellent choice for fishing in rough conditions.
- Zero-stretch brings about superior sensitivity and enables anglers to feel the slightest line vibes, detect bites, and improve their hook set rating.
- A small line diameter enables you to load your reel with more line, which is beneficial for your casting distance.
- Higher breaking strength in comparison to the mono line of the same diameter. It is a significant advantage when targeting big fish.
- Having no line memory, the braid does not change over time, and you can use it repeatedly.
- Excellent casting distance enables you to reach far into the surf zone.
- The braid is the most expensive, but also the most durable option since it is very resistant to damage and deterioration. You can use the same braid for at least a couple of years.
The Advantages Of Mono Line For Surf Fishing
- Resistance to abrasion makes this type of line ideal for fishing in rocky areas and targeting sharp-tooth fish species.
- Acccording to FishingCarpUk organization, the big advantage of mono line is its stretchiness. High stretchiness is excellent for shock absorbing and makes mono more suitable for beginner surf fishermen. Thanks to it, mono does not have as steep a learning curve as braid.
- The low price of the mono line is an enormous advantage for anglers on a limited budget. Do mind that it will not last as long as a braid – it is more sensitive to sea salt, heat, sun, and humidity!
- Mono is easier to tie and provides more secure knots than the braid.
- It absorbs the stress and cushions the fighting movements of large marine fish fighting to escape.
No matter which type of line you choose, you should always ensure you have enough of it to load your reel to its full capacity. It is not good to spool too little or too much line.
What Pound Test To Use For Surf Fishing?
A Guide to Central California Beach Fishing suggests that heavy bait saltwater fishing calls for a 30 or 50-lb test line. If you have opted to use a monofilament line, use a lighter pound test to be able to spool enough of it onto your reel and maintain your casting ability.
There is a connection between the rod’s power and the line’s strength, too, so you must check if the rod you have can handle the line you plan to buy. The line size is always provided on the rod’s surface.
In general, heavy rods should pair up with strong lines and vice versa. The following table shows the most common rod and line combinations for surf fishing:
|Medium Light (ML)
|6 – 12 lb test
|10 – 16 lb test
|Medium Heavy (MH)
|14 – 26 lb test
|20 – 40 lb test
What Color Line To Use For Surf Fishing?
Even though many anglers I talked to debate over which color line is the best, no single color has ever proved to trigger more strikes. The line colors that have given me the most success in the surf zone are clear and pink. You can try them too, but I think any color will do if you do everything else right.
The Best Surf Fishing Rigs
One of the best surf fishing tips you will ever get is to keep your surf fishing rigs simple. That will help you avoid tangles.
What is a rig, and why is it important? According to the I FISH NY Beginners’ Guide to Freshwater Fishing issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a rig is the combination of terminal tackle or the way your hook, weight, and swivel are joined together. Using the right fishing rig enables you to present your bait or lure in the best possible way and thus attract more fish too. Here is the list of the most popular surf fishing rigs:
Fish Finder Rig
A fish finder rig might be the most simple rig, but it is highly effective nonetheless. It offers several benefits. For example, the heavy sinker holds your bait in the bite zone and, at the same time, lifts the sand from the sea bottom imitating a wounded bait fish. The long steel leaders and circle hooks which are recommended by the Florida Sea Grant program, attract attention, too, by bouncing the bait on the bottom.
Why is this rig called the “fish finder”? It is because it enables you to feel even the slightest action on your hook regardless of the weight of the sinker. It is achieved by attaching the sinker via a slider. In this way, the live bait can swim freely since the line that holds it can slide up and down the mainline.
A fish finder rig is ideal for targeting striped bass and bluefish. You can also use a fish finder rig for large cut bait and targeting sea monsters such as sharks and trophy red drum, marine invaders described by the Florida Museum experts.
As I have read in a SurfCasting article written by an experienced surf fisherman Zaldy G., fireball rig is a popular bottom rig that measures about 3 to 4 feet in length and is ideal for targeting striped bass and bluefish. It attaches to the mainline and calls for a standard swivel or a duo lock attachment to secure the sinker. The goal is to allow the sinker to move freely so as to avoid line twists and create a natural presentation.
This rig features two dropper loops in between the sinker and the mainline. They are up to a foot apart. There are also one or more brightly-colored float attachments made from styrofoam located just before the hook, keeping the bait floating near the sea bottom.
Double-Drop Bottom Rig
If you want an all-purpose rig, go for a double-drop rig. It can help you catch whiting, speckled trout, flounder, catfish, and many other species. This popular surf rig consists of two dropper lines tipped with hooks connected to the mainline and a sinker that holds it all in place. I also add some colorful beads to make my rig more visible in waves.
Specialty rigs are usually used to target smaller saltwater species according to my experienced colleagues. For example, the bottom rig mostly made of wire is an excellent choice when fishing around the piers, docks, bridges, large underwater structures, or near the rocky bottom, especially in rough conditions.
Pompano rig is also a popular choice for targeting small fish in the surf zone. You should best use pompano rigs for fishing near the shore when the tide is high. Pompano rig is not reserved for pompano only; you can use it when you want to catch other species of similar size, too, such as perch, spot, or croaker.
The Best Bait And Lures For Surf Fishing
According to the Saltwater Fishing Field Guide issued by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, choosing a setup depends on the type of fish you want to catch. Novice anglers often feel overwhelmed by the vast selection of surf bait and lures. It is time to make the choice easier.
Some of the best surf fishing baits from my point of view are the ones you can find in nature and sometimes even collect on your own – free of charge. Check out the following list.
- Sand fleas
- Crabs (fiddler crabs, sand crabs, hermit crabs)
- Live bait fish (pinfish, threadfins, sardines (pilchards), menhaden, finger mullet, etc.)
- Minnows (glass minnows, mud minnows, or cigar minnows)
- Ghost shrimp
- Barnacles (Might not be legal to bring them to your area if you have found them elsewhere – so make sure you check the regulations!)
Any of the live bait we have just mentioned can be used in the form of cut bait, too, but you can also cut up smaller fish you have caught in the surf and target larger game fish that are further up in the food chain. The following sea species make excellent cut bait:
- Small jacks
- Blue runners
The large cut bait is best presented via a fish finder rig that will keep it floating above the sea bottom. In this way, you will prevent it from getting snatched by the bottom feeders.
Watch the video below to find out how to best use cut shrimp:
Fresh shrimp are excellent natural bait, but I discovered that frozen shrimp work equally well while being cheaper and easier to store. The same goes for other types of natural bait, too. It is often more convenient for a surf fisherman to buy frozen bait, keep it in the freezer, and use it whenever needed.
The most popular frozen fresh bait you can buy in most shops are frozen shrimp and squid, but you can also find frozen fish such as shad, bunker, or mullet.
Artificial Surf Fishing Lures
Artificial surf lures imitate what saltwater fish eat. Since these lures do not have a natural smell, it is best to use them in clear water so that the fish you are targeting can see them better. Here are some popular options:
- Topwater poppers
When casting artificial surf fishing lures, it is up to the angler to imitate the life-like action and attract more fish bites. It does not mean they are reserved for experienced anglers; novice anglers can cast artificial lures too.
Surf Fishing Cart
Getting to the desired fishing spot on the beach is not an easy task while dragging all the heavy tackle with you, believe me. For this reason, it would be wise to invest in a surf fishing cart.
When choosing the surf cart, I consider the wheels first. They need to be able to go over the soft sand without digging into it. Another important feature you must consider are rod holders. Some carts allow you to add an additional rod holder if you wish to.
Watch the following video to learn why you should buy a surf fishing cart:
Additional Surf Fishing Gear
Here is the list of some additional surf fishing equipment that help me catch more fish and feel more comfortable doing it:
- Fishing pliers with a line cutter to remove hooks and cut the line
- Fillet knife to cut up the bait or fillet the fish you catch
- A towel or a cloth to clean and dry your surf fishing equipment
- Bolt cutters to handle the swallowed hooks safely
- Sand spikes for fishing with multiple surf rods
The Best Time To Surf Fish
The best time to surf fish is during the tide movement. At this time, fish wait for the current to deliver their meal, and you can use it to deliver your bait too. So, always check the tide chart for your area to determine when it is low tide or high tide.
The best time to surf fish is two hours before the high tide. That is when big fish come closer to the shore. It is not a rule written in stone, though. You can have success fishing in the outgoing tide, too. Many fish gather on the outside of bays and waterways emptied by the outgoing tide.
Low light is your ally. So go to the beach early or late in the day when fish are less apprehensive, just like the already mentioned Guide to Southern California Beach Fishing issued by the California Department of Fish and Game suggests
The Best Fishing Spots For Surf Fishing
You have to find a suitable fishing spot for surf fishing, or all your fishing skills and equipment will be in vain. Luckily for us surf anglers, identifying the areas where fish like to gather is not such a difficult task, especially nowadays when we can use Google maps or apps such as Fishbrain. Start with the following areas:
Troughs & Sand Bars
According to encyclopedia Britannica, sand bars or shoals are underwater ridges. You can locate them by watching where the waves break during the low tide. Do not rely only on maps or photographs as sand bars shift frequently.
You should cast your bait into a trough. It is a deeper channel that forms between the ridge and the beach or in between two ridges.
Seams or cuts are often referred to as “the spot on the spot” because those are the best zones in the trough for game fish to ambush the bait fish. They are also the best locations for catching fish from the beach.
These areas are located around the entryways where water flows in or out of the trough. You can find them by locating the parts of the sand bar that are missing sand. Also, waves do not break over them.
As described by Andrew Chadwick’s shallow-water wave theory, points are shallow areas in the surf zone. They are easy to find as they jut out of the water (like points). If a point extends into a trough, that is the primary spot to fish in. Concentrate on targeting the deeper pools or pockets forming next to the points.
Walk up or down the beach to find some structure in the water that fish can use as cover. The spots of interest include the following:
- Piers and docks
The Best Surf Fishing Tips
Here are some of the best surf fishing tips I have accumulated over years from my own experience and after talking to my fellow fishermen
- If you have only just started surf fishing use two poles maximum. It will enable you to target more species without losing control.
Rig one rod with a heavy rig and a large chunk of cut bait to target big fish, and the other with a lighter rig and a small piece of shrimp or squid to attract smaller fish. You can stand between these two rods and react as soon as you feel the strike.
- Ensure your rig is aerodynamic enough to facilitate long casting while still maintaining its natural appearance.
- When surf casting, you should best get into the water. It will enable you to cast your bait further, which is very important, especially in low tide.
- Your bait must sink to the bottom when you cast it, or it will be carried around by the strong current and waves. If it does not sink, you need to add more weight until it does.
Once you feel your bait hit the bottom, start backing up with your bail open. Slowly release the line from your fingers but keep it tight, or it might get tangled by the waves. Next, close the bail and reel in the line until your rod bends.
- Be patient, the sea bottom is a hectic place. Give fish enough time to notice your bait and react to it. Always be ready for a strike, though; things sometimes happen very fast too. In general, the larger the fish you are targeting, the longer you have to wait.
- Be a responsible angler, as advised by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Eat or release the fish.
What should I look for when surf fishing?
When surf fishing, you should look for high tides and outgoing tides and take advantage of low light early or late in the day. Also, try to locate sand bars, troughs, seams, points, or large structures in the water (jetties, docks, rocks, etc.).
How far do you cast when surf fishing?
When surf fishing, you cast as far as you can. The goal is to cast beyond the breaking waves since that is where the hungry fish are. It is best to cast about 60-100 yards from the beach.
What is a good length for a surf rod?
A good length for a surf rod is somewhere between 9 to 12 ft (2.75 to 3.65 meters). Shorter rods are best suited for fishing in calm water, while longer ones are reserved for high waves.
Is it better to surf fish at high or low tide?
It is better to surf fish at high tide than a low tide because it enables you to target deeper water and larger fish that feed in it. Always check the tide chart for your area to identify the best time for surf fishing.
What time is best for surf fishing?
The best time for surf fishing is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You can also go out on a cloudy day. In general, sea fish are more active in low-light conditions.
What tackle should I use for surf fishing?
The tackle you should use for surf fishing should include a 19-12 ft long, medium heavy spinning rod, 6000-8000 size reel with at least 500 yds line capacity, and 25lb to 50lb braid or a 30lb monofilament line.
Time To Surf Fish
Learning to surf fish should not be as difficult as it seems, especially with the guide I wrote in this post. Go out to the beach and try out everything you have just read – I am sure you’ll have fun and score at least a few fish.
If you have some surf fishing tips to share, please do! I am also open to any questions – just use the comment section, and you’ll hear from me soon.