Any veteran fisherman knows that fish have a wide variety of temperature preferences. It is quite noticeable for fish near the shoreline. As the temperature near the shore changes much faster than deeper parts of a sea. That’s why people who are into Surf fishing need to check the water temperature to catch a specific kind of fish.
Most fish near the shore operate within 35°F to 100°F temperature range. Flounders usually prefer 62-66°F, while Mackerel like 45-58°F. Every fish has its preferred water temperature, and they won’t show up outside that temperature range. You have to determine which type of fish you want to catch and then fish when the water temperature is just right.
Finding the correct temperature of your targeted fish is the first step. Then you need to figure out when the water temperature matches your needs. Some people do not have a specific fish in mind when they make a fishing trip. The best water temperature for surf fishing is the temperature where the most kinds of fish are present.
Why Does Water Temperature Matter While Surf Fishing?
Fish generally cannot regulate their body temperature. That is why some fish grow lethargic in different temperature settings. They are heavily reliant on the external temperature in the ambient environment. Some fish can handle higher temperatures, and some fish can handle colder temperatures.
Every fish has an upper and lower temperature threshold. So, these fish will never venture into waters that cross their threshold. Water takes a long time to change temperatures; it retains heat for a long time. But different parts of the sea have different temperature levels by proxy, different species of fish.
When you are going out to fish, you need to figure out which temperature category your fishing spot has at that time. Water temperature at sea fluctuates constantly. Areas near the shore have massive temperature fluctuation during tides. You need to match your fishing trip considering the probable temperature; otherwise, you aren’t going to catch what you want.
However, not all fish are cold-blooded. According to the researchers from Southwest Fisheries Science Center, moonfish is a full warm-blooded fish. But they are rare, and you are not likely to see such fish while surf fishing. All the fish you come across while surf fishing will rely on the water temperature to regulate their body temperature.
Optimal Temperature for Catching Specific Fish
Finding the tolerable temperature range is crucial if you are hunting a specific kind of fish. On the other hand, casual surf fishers tend to pick a water temperature range where the most fish are present. The idea is to find a temperature range that caters to the greatest number of fish.
I’ll admit, it is tough figuring out the water temperature if you don’t live near the beach. It gets even more troublesome to plan a few days ahead of time. Rest assured, I’ll give you some tips later to make things easier for you. Fish love being in their optimum temperature range. Inshore species, in particular, are highly sensitive to temperature changes.
Let’s look at the available marine species you can catch while surf fishing on the western shores. I’ll list their upper and lower tolerance range, as well as their preferred water temperature. According to researchers, the following species are a common catch for surf fishing.
Kelp Bass prefers water temperature between 64°F to 69°F. The lower tolerance limit for this species is around 62°F. It can withstand up to 72°F, as that is its upper limit.
Kelp bass is common in coastal areas. You can find a lot of kelp bass in San Francisco Bay and the Delta as they are well-known kelp bass habitats. Their spawning season is usually from March through May.
The ideal water temperature for Groundfish is around 75°F to 80°F. The lowest temperature they can survive is 60°F, and they can withstand a temperature rise of 84°F.
They are generally easy to catch; as a result, they have been overfished for quite some time now. According to NOAA, the Groundfish population has been making a fast rebound due to protected fishing.
Mackerel prefer temperatures around 45°F to 48°F. Their upper limit is 55°F, and their lower tolerance limit is 41°F.
One of the best ways to catch Mackerel is to walk deeper into the waves. They tend to like low temperatures so going at them in the morning is a good idea.
Surfperch likes to stay within waters between the 51-76 °F temperature range. They can’t tolerate too much cold; the lowest they would go is around 40°F. They have an impressive upper tolerance limit of around 100°F.
Surfperch like to roam inside surfs, so you need to walk plenty deep to catch them. Some people walk partially into the breaking wave to have a longer casting range.
The optimal temperature for Salmon is somewhere between 40°F to 50°F. They can handle temperatures as low as 35°F and as high as 62°F.
The best time for catching Salmon is between May and September. You can get them in October and November too, but the catch rate will be abysmal. On top of that, most of what you’ll catch will be undersized feeders.
Pacific Halibar likes to stay in waters with a temperature range of 37-46°F. Their lower limit is 30°F, and they can handle up to 55°F.
Halibuts migrate eastward and southward. Their movement depends on the season, and they interchange between deep and shallow waters. You would have better luck catching them around summer.
Northern Anchovy on the western coast prefers to stay with a water temperature range of 52°F to 62°F. The ones in the California gulf can stay between 59°F to 62°F water temperature range.
You can’t get these on the surf during the winter seasons. Northern Anchovy stays far offshore during the cold months. They only return inshore during spring and summer. So summer is a great time to fish for Anchovy.
The ideal water temperature for Pacific Sardine is between 51°F to 66°F. They have an upper tolerance level of 69°F and a lower tolerance level of 48°F.
Pacific Sardines are common on the western Californian coasts. They can be found in almost all surf zones and inshore waters.
What Seabass stays within a temperature range of 58°F to 65°F. They do not like venturing into waters of higher or lower temperatures.
White Seabass likes to stay close to the shores. You can hunt them in the kelp beds, as they stay within 10-25 depth. They will try to stay near the top if there is little or no current.
Red snappers are hardy fellows that like to stay with a temperature range of 55°F to 65°F. They can handle the temperature in the lower end of 50°F and as high as 72°F.
You can often find red snappers inside troughs and pockets near the beach. They tend to hind in deeper waters.
Striped bass love cool and highly oxygenated waters, and you will find them on the surface when the water temperature is between 55°F to 68°F. In extreme temperatures like too hot or too cold, they migrate to deep waters as they are very picky about the temperature of the water they live in.
The Striped bass at their core is topwater fish. If the temperature is right, they will swim so close to the surface that you can actually see them. Therefore, for surf fishing striped bass, look for them near the surface of the water. You can also use sonar to detect them, but that might be a bit too much for a casual angler.
Most fish in the surf are comfortable between the 50-70°F range. It is also the range where you will see the greatest number of fish. When the water gets below 50°F, many species start becoming inactive. You will keep getting fewer and fewer bites as the water becomes colder.
Extremely hot water is also not ideal. If the temperature crosses 90°F for some reason, most fish will dive into deeper waters. You would need to wade deeper into the surf and cast your line far deeper than usual to get some bites.
Best Weather for Surf Fishing
Weather plays an important role in any kind of fishing. Appropriate weather can drastically change the temperature of an area. That is why you can catch certain fish only when it’s raining. Other weather elements can also affect surf fishing, so keep an eye on the forecast before planning your trip.
Weather changes can be a headache to most people trying to snag a few fish off the shore. If you hunt a fish that likes relatively hot temperatures, a little rain will throw a buck of water on your plan (quite literally). Rain will rapidly cool the water down, and the fish you’re trying to catch will bail.
Hence it is crucial to take weather into account before you plan a fishing trip. While it drives away some fish, some other fish will soon swarm in to fill up the gap. Hence your overall benefits won’t belittle. The only problem is you might not get to catch the fish you targeted before
Darkening sky generally a prelude to storms. If the forecast doesn’t mention a storm, then a clouded sky can be a good thing. The clouded sky presents a rare opportunity to catch predatory fish like the billfish. Predatory fish usually stay in deeper and colder water.
Drizzle can help lower the shores’ temperature. As long as it is not a downpour, it will usually benefit you. Heavy rain is very likely to cause disturbances on the water’s surface, which will scare away some of the fish. Strong wind along with drizzle will significantly lower visibility and alter the temperature.
Keep an eye on the forecast for wind. Slightly windy weather is manageable, but anything higher than 19 miles per hour is a big no-no. You are better off canceling your trip during those days. Strong winds will mess with your casting line, and it can also deter the fish from the surf.
Which Seasons Offer the Best Temperature for Surf Fishing?
Seasons play a significant role in determining the available water temperature range. Wintery seasons will have a lower average temperature range than summer. Many fish become inactive during winter, so it is not the best season for surf fishing. Autumn and summer offer a much better average temperature range.
Spring or autumn are typically the best months for surf fishing because of the amiable weather. Summer is fine, but summer also brings many storms, so it might be a bit dangerous for surf fishing a lot of the time.
The amiable weather of spring also makes fish a lot more carefree. They will mate and come along the shore for food. This is the perfect time to make a killing with surf fishing. A lot of fish will flock along the coastline for migration near the end of spring.
Colder weather makes a lot of fish lethargic. You will find regular fish during the winter very rarely. The most you’ll catch are some predatory fish that can handle the cold better than others and some special species. That being said, winter is still one of the best times for practicing your fishing skills because of the stable weather.
Does Tide Affect Water Temperature?
Tide does affect the water temperature. It also brings in more fish from the offshore areas. Having a good idea of the tide will give you an edge over the local fish, as you can preemptively wait for them to come up.
Surf fishing relies more heavily on tide than other fishing techniques. You need to wade into the waters up your knees to cast the lines in surf fishing. You can also walk after a receding tide, or you could wait for the tide to come to you. Generally, it is better to bet on the latter.
Both tides and dawn and dusk are great times for surf fishing. You can generally catch more if you can get near a high tide. The tide at dusk is better if you plan on catching fish in a low-light environment.
Tide changes the water temperature by shuffling the coastline. The water from the deeper area is colder than the water near the coast. Tides help to mix these to create a balanced temperature environment temporarily. During a high tide, the fish variety will increase in the affected area until the water recedes.
Two hours before and two hours after a tidal phase is the best time for casting your line. The water during these tidal phases is incomparably calm, and you can easily cast your line in deeper waters without any problems.
How to Find the Best Surf Fishing Spots?
Finding a good spot for surf fishing is more challenging than you’d think. You need intimate knowledge of the underwater terrain of the beach. You need to know the underwater structure of the shore. It will help you determine where most of the fish traffic is.
Underwater slopes such as sandbars are great places for surf fishing. These areas tend to be shallow but have a decent amount of traffic. Sandbars are also the easiest structures to locate.
You can also find troughs between multiple sandbars. These are deep pits that house a plethora of marine life. You are likely to find larger fish in troughs because big fish usually stay in deeper water.
You can find even deeper holes inside the troughs called pockets. These are the deepest parts of water near the shoreline, and they can be maddeningly hard to find. It can be quite inconvenient to look for pockets all day instead of fishing, so try asking the local fishermen if they are willing to share their knowledge.
You can also locate good fishing spots by watching baitfish activity. A large cluster of baitfish on the surface usually means bigger fish right below. These predatory fish will follow the dumb baitfish everywhere.
You can also judge marine activity by watching the seagulls. Seagulls will fly above places with dense fish clusters.
How to Keep Track of Water Temperature?
Checking the temperature manually is the way to go if you want to adapt to the changing temperature. Many people measure the overall temperature through forecasts and ignore the fact that temperature can change at any time. Taking a good thermometer on your trip is the best way to avoid this mistake.
Sudden rain, strong wind, a cloudy sky can all affect the water temperature very quickly. They will change the available fish on the surf, and you’ll catch nothing if you do not change your tackle and bait for the appropriate species.
You need a thermometer that you can throw deep into the surf, and it needs to be strong enough to withstand the currents. I prefer digital thermometers because of the conveniences it provides.
In the end, the best water temperature depends on the type of fish you are trying to catch. Everyone has different preferences—some people like specific fish in different seasons, others like fishing for fun. On average, the 50-70°F range is the best water temperature for surf fishing.
Water temperature fluctuates too much, and it is almost impossible to find a stable water temperature. That’s why you need to check the temperature from time to time as you are fishing to adapt to the changes. Weather changes and tidal phases are also things you need to be wary of. Thanks for reading, and until next time, tight lines.