Atlantic striped bass is a popular fish that many surf fishermen seek out every day. They frequent bodies of salt and fresh water on the east coast, but there are also some great spots to find them in the west. If you’re getting started learning on how to surf fish for striped bass, this is your complete guide. So, how do you surf fish for striped bass?
To surf fish for striped bass, you must gather the proper equipment, learn to read the beach, surf fish 2 hours before high tide throughout the outgoing tide, make sure you have the best bait to encourage them to bite, and don’t forget to obtain a fishing license to be able to catch striped bass from the surf.
When I was starting out with surf fishing, I didn’t know where to start. There were times when I asked a lot of questions with fellow anglers to help me catch my first fish. Some were kind to share their knowledge and skills; some anglers were not.
After doing a lot of reading and researching to educate myself on how to surf fish for striped bass, I finally caught my very first fish. Continue reading for my comprehensive guide on surf fishing stripers. I’ll give you my recommendation for equipment, baits and lures, and how to pick the best fishing conditions.
Essential Things You Need to Know Before Surf Fish for Striped Bass
Striped bass is a pretty popular sport fish across the nation. It is currently one of the top recreational sport fish caught in the Chesapeake Bay, Montauk, Cape Cod Canal, and other places in the US.
Where this species was once overfished in the United States, there are now strict regulations in place to help control the population and keep it at a stable level for these fish to thrive.
These fish can grow to be pretty large, which makes for an exciting catch. Adults can grow to be up to 59 inches long and 69 pounds in weight. Typically found in the Atlantic Coast of North America, the Striped bass will come in various colors like:
- Dark Olive green
- Silvery grey
- White Belly
- Blackish Stripes on the sides
They have stripes going down the side of their body. Although they frequent the east coast, you can still find them in many areas around California.
Check out some of the most important things you need to know before you start surf fishing for striped bass:
Rules and Regulations
In California, there is year-round open fishing for striped bass. However, there are still restrictions on the type of gear you can use to fish. The tools you use must have a minimal impact on the environment.
Every person who is 16 years or older must carry a sport fishing license when they plan to take fish, shellfish, amphibians, or reptiles from their habitat in the state of California. This, of course, refers to hunting, fishing, capturing, and killing animals for sport.
To obtain your sport fishing license, find a local agent who can help you out.
In the past, there was a law that you must display your sport fishing license on your clothing as you fish. However, it was repealed in 2010.
Now, you must have your fishing license in your possession while you are fishing to be compliant with fishing laws.
Keep in mind that you do not need a fishing license to fish on a public pier.
What is the Size and Catch Limit Per Day?
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is in charge of managing the stock of striped bass from Maine to Virginia, as well as some coastal areas of North Carolina.
Together with other organizations, they put catch quotas in place to help control the population of these fish.
These limits are created to conserve the population of striped bass. The wildlife should be able to replace the amount of harvested fish on its own to keep up with the demand.
Catch quotas will vary by state.
In California, there is a daily limit of two fish that are at least 18 inches long. These minimum size restrictions work to protect younger bass and allow them to live long enough to:
Another thing to keep in mind when fishing for striped bass is, it’s prohibited to use a sinker over four pounds and a powder-driven gurdy or winch, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).
Marine Protected Areas
You must also remember to avoid fishing in a Marine-protected area. These areas are protected for various conservation uses. Many of these areas have the purpose of protecting an ecosystem or preserving important resources. They will show up in the form of:
- Research facilities
- Marine sanctuaries
- Wildlife refugee centers
- And more
To learn if you have any Marine-Protected Areas near you, visit the Department of Fish and Game’s website or check out the MPA Inventory.
Essential Equipment For Sur Fishing
Last, there are requirements when it comes to the materials and tools you can use to catch striped bass. Most hooks and fishing lines will be approved while fishing in the San Francisco Bay.
However, you must avoid the following restricted materials: your line may not have more than three hooks. When you are fishing for rockfish, you may not have more than two hooks.
Essential Gear to Surf Fish For Striped Bass
Next, you must grab the best equipment to support your surf fishing adventure. It’s always a good idea to consult with knowledgeable clerks at the bait and tackle store in your area.
They can guide you through finding the right tools. For now, check out some of my best recommendations for the gear you need to surf fish for striped bass.
Surf Fishing Rod
When you choose a surf fishing rod, it’s ideal to have a rod with a length between 7-11 feet. The exact size will depend on your personal preference and your height and weight.
Longer rods can be heavier and more difficult to control. It’s crucial to choose a rod you can manage while standing in sometimes rough waters that can knock you off your balance.
Fishing rods can be made of;
- Graphite composite
Consider starting with a graphite rod, as these are lightweight. They have excellent sensitivity and can reach long casting distances.
Composite rods, on the other hand, give you the best of both worlds because they have a lightweight to them but are still pretty durable.
Surf Fishing Reel
When you’re getting started learning how to surf fish, spinning reels are a great choice. They make it easy to learn how to cast.
They’re also easier to clean and maintain compared to other fishing reels. Try a spinning wheel combo with 30 lb braiding to cast long distances.
Shoot for a reel with a water-resistant or sealed drag. If you fall while you’re surf fishing, this seal can help keep your reel dry and protected from ocean debris.
I would recommend braided line when surf fishing for striped bass. These fishing lines have a much smaller diameter and a great diameter-to-strength ratio.
Braided line allows for further and faster casting in the air, which is great when you’re situated at the ocean’s shoreline.
There are various types of fishing lines, with each having its own benefits and drawbacks. Look around and consult with veteran fishermen to discover what works best for you.
Purchase a leader that can handle the job when you’re planning to surf fish for stripers. An ideal set up is a 30-50 lb fluorocarbon line with at least 70 lbs — Barrel swivel.
Using a barrel swivel can help you avoid line twist upon retrieval. Using it also makes it easier to tie or connect your main fishing line to your leader.
Next, you must choose the right type of hook for the species and location you are fishing. Circle hooks are good to use for surf fishing striped bass. The point on the hook curves back in toward the shank, which creates a circular shape.
This type of hook is an environmentally friendly tool to have because it pierces the fish in the corner of their mouths. This makes catch-and-release fishing much easier.
To determine the ideal size of your fish hook, consider the bait you will use while surf fishing. Choose a circle hook that has half an inch between the point and shank. This can prevent you from catching fish that are too small.
Sinkers can come in handy when you have to cast your line far out into the ocean. This tool provides your line with some stability to stay put in harsh weather conditions or heavy bait weighing the line down.
The shape of your sinker is designed to be aerodynamic as you cast your line. I recommend one that is at least three ounces. You can use a larger or smaller one depending on the conditions of the current and surf.
Sand crab net should always have or carry if you are planning to fish on a sandy beach. It will help you collect sand crabs quickly. Ask any tackle shop in your area and see if they have one available for you to buy.
Sand Spike or Rod Holders
It may also be useful to have a sand spike or rod holder if you need a quick break while standing on the shore. You can buy these at a bait and tackle shop, but you can also build one on your own with a PVC pipe.
When deciding on a rod holder, think about the wind and weather conditions. You may want a high-quality rod holder instead of a PVC pipe if you are experiencing heavy winds.
You could also benefit from a surf fishing cart to hold your materials and other supplies while you stand out on the shore. A cart can carry a cooler for your bait and catch of the day.
A measuring tape is a must when surf fishing for striped bass. It helps you accurately measure your catch of the day to make sure it meets the state size requirements—or to show off to your friends when you catch a big one.
My go-to Rig: Fish Finder Rig
Fishfinder rig is my go-to setup when using live baits to surf fish for striped bass. I’ve been using this rig since the beginning of my surf fishing journey, and it works well for me.
Here are the materials you need to set up a fish finder rig.
- 3 oz weight,
- Slider sinker,
- Two swivels,
- Circle hook,
- and a fluorocarbon leader.
Some anglers prefer to attach their slider sinker directly to the mainline. I use to do that too until I started using lures. It’s easier for me to switch from live bait to lures. The beauty of this set up is, you can take the whole rig off and attach your lures easily with a leader line or your choice.
Clothing Equipment While You Surf Fish
While it’s great to have the best equipment for surf fishing striped, you also need to dress correctly for the occasion. You have to protect yourself from cold, rain and seawater as well. Surf fishing is fun, but you don’t want to get sick.
Here are some clothing items that I would recommend to wear before you go out on the water:
- Lightweight and breathable waders: Grab a pair to wear as overalls. Look for water-resistant waders that do not collect sand or moisture after walking around the beach all day.
- Outerwear: Wear water-resistant layers that can keep you warm and dry in various weather conditions. It can get surprisingly cold out in the water, especially when fishing at dusk or dawn when the striped bass tends to feed.
- Sunglasses: These can help protect your eyes from the glaring sun and see your catch better.
- Waterproof footwear: If you’re going to use stocking foot waders, I would recommend buying a pair of wading boots or a Shimano Evair Marine fishing shoes. These allow you to wade out into the water and protect your feet.
- Wading belt to hang your tools
Every angler has their preferred clothing setup. Sometimes I used boot foot wader defending on the situation or the beach that I’m fishing. I also sometimes use neoprene wader when the weather is cold.
I’ve also seen some people not using any waders at all. However, if you have a budget to get one, I will suggest getting a pair for yourself. You can always wear any wader you preferred as long as it meets your needs.
Best Bait and Lures To Catch Striped Bass From The Surf
One of the most critical parts of surf fishing—or any type of fishing for that matter—is to lure the fish in with the right materials. Check out some of the tips for picking the best bait and lures for your striper surf fishing adventure.
Bait You Can Use to Surf Fish for Striped Bass
In their natural habitat, striped bass eat:
- Sandcrabs/Sand fleas
These are only a few selections of bait you can use for striped bass. When you’re surf fishing, look for bait that is similar to what they already eat in the wild.
Softshell Sandcrabs or Sand Fleas
Before you can bait soft shell sand crabs, you need to find them. There are several methods for finding soft shell sand crabs, including crab raking and hand digging.
Softshell sand crabs tend to travel in large groups and are mostly found near the shoreline. As the summer rolls in, crabs tend to move toward sand bars and other areas that are accessible during low tide.
If using a rake, stand near the shore and wait for the water to recede. As the water rolls away, use one foot to dig sand into the net. Before the tide rolls back in, lift the rake, and remove your crabs.
This beginner-friendly bait is easy to use and pretty helpful if you run out of bait from the shop.
Sandcrabs is my go-to bait every time I hit the surf, especially the softshell one. I’ve caught my first striped bass, and my personal best (34 inches) using this bait. Don’t forget to try them every time you hit the surf as long as they are available.
Bunker, also known as menhaden, is a great bait to use when fishing for striped bass. Cut this bait into chunks and use every bit beside the tail. Using the head can be especially beneficial in catching a large striper.
Herring is another popular choice for live bait for striper fishing. These fish are similar in size and purpose as the bunker. However, these fish are often difficult to find at a bait shop, so you may want to catch your own to use as striped bass bait.
You can buy this bait frozen or fresh. Add them to your rig whole to attract large fish or cut it into small pieces for your mini targets. Squid works well to bait many saltwater species.
Sandworms is my replacement for sand crabs when they are not around. I like to use the whole worms for better presentation.
The best time to gather this bait is when it’s low tide. You can dig up your sandworms on the shore using a digging fork or purchase them from a local tackle shop in your area.
Striped bass is large enough to take a live shrimp whole without pulling it off the hook, which makes them a good option for live bait when surf fishing.
Ghost shrimp are one of the most common types of bait shrimp found in tackle shops and are an effective type of bait for many species of fish that you can catch from shore.
Mullet is good bait for a variety of species while you surf fish. You can also use these whole or cut them up for fishing smaller species. Mullet can work efficiently, whether they’re alive or dead. Many anglers find success with the head and gut pieces, as opposed to the tail.
Bloodworms are great to use in spring to catch the first striped bass of the season. You can find these yourself in mud bottoms close to the shore. They work well in a variety of conditions.
When attaching bait to your hook, make sure your bait is a little firm, so it does not easily slide off. Then, make sure to remove scales from your baitfish so your hook can properly pierce it.
Lures You Should Have to Surf Fish For Striped Bass
Lures can come in handy as an alternative to live bait. These also prevent crabs from stealing your bait. Many types can also reach further distances, which comes in handy while surf fishing.
Bigger lures can help if you are fishing in windy conditions, as they can stay put as the waves drive fish onto the shore. Check out some of my favorite lures for surf fishing striped bass:
Spoon lures are among the most popular artificial lures. They resemble a large baitfish like a mullet, and gold lures often attract more fish. Spoon lures work well in catching many types of fish because they can reach outer bars in the ocean pretty easily.
Many Kastmaster lures are made from brass, which allows for better durability and corrosion prevention. This lure is a versatile tool, as you can select from many sizes and shapes to fit your needs.
Minnows are lures shaped like a small fish to fool your target. They have 3D eyes and move in the water to resemble striper’s prey. They are also made with gravity shift steel balls inside to help with reaching far out into the water.
Bucktail jigs come in a variety of styles and colors, like yellow, green, and white. You can replace the tail with whatever material you want, like feathers or curly tails. This tail is what works to attract fish. They work best when they are able to sink low into the water.
Mickey jig lures have a chrome-plated body and an aerodynamic shape. These are great for beginners to use during surf fishing striped bass because they can also reach far distances. You can buy this in your local tackle shop.
Swimbaits are also a popular lure that many anglers use. It is made out of rubber or soft plastic that is designed to imitate fish. Swimbaits come in a variety of sizes and colors.
However, you need a jig head to be able to use this kind of baits. Make sure to get the right size of the jig head to match your swimbaits.
Poppers tend to be heavier than other types of bait, so you can more easily and accurately cast it in the water. Retrieve these lures in short bursts to allow it to pop up and grab the attention of your target fish.
Keep in mind that every lure has a different technique of retrieval. It needs a little practice before you master how to use them. Just make sure to use a casting glove to avoid getting injured or cut on your finger.
These are the lures that I’ve used when I started surf fishing and still using them until now every time I hit the surf. You don’t need to buy all these lures if you’re a beginner. Start with 2 or 3 lures of your choice, you can always add them to your arsenal later.
Guides, Tips, And Technique
Surf fishing definitely has a pretty steep learning curve. However, with a lot of practice and guidance from your local fishing veterans. You’re sure to be on your way to catching the biggest fish of the day.
Check out some of the best tips to help you get started:
Catching Your First Striped Bass
After you gather the proper materials, clothing, bait, and lures, it’s time to learn the proper techniques. Start by finding a great location on the beach.
As you learn more about surf fishing, you’ll also learn about the tide and how to read where the fish are populating.
Here are some more tips for catching your first striper:
What to Look for?
When you’re searching for a spot on the shore to surf fish, look for dips, sandbanks, and hollows on the beach.
- Sandbars are slopes of sand on the bottom of the ocean. Their crests can pop up right at or above the water’s surface. Try to fish in areas where the crests fall just below the surface.
- Troughs are the depressions between the beach and sandbars. They are deep, quiet waters that can be a successful place to fish.
- Rocks provide great hiding places, protection, and food for fish. If you locate a rocky area, that can be a great place to stop and fish.
- Another thing to look for is bird activities. If you see birds flying and diving on the water, it’s a good indication that there’s a baitfish in the area. Try to cast your lures or bait on that spot.
When I started surf fishing, I didn’t know what to look for, so I did a lot of research on how to read the beach to improve my skills and to have a higher chance of catching fish in the surf.
Best Time, Tide And Weather Condition To Surf Fish For Striped Bass
Checking your local surf fish and weather conditions online can be a great place to start. Eventually, though, you will become acquainted with these conditions so you can read the ocean yourself.
Surf fishing for striped bass happens year-round, but the best season will depend on your location.
Many surf fishers find more success after the water starts to warm up in the spring. Peak striped bass fishing happens in the summer in San Francisco Bay.
Try to plan a surf fishing trip earlier in the morning when the beach is not as crowded. Sunrise and sunset are great times because the tides will be in a great place to bring the fish closer to shore.
The relationship between the sun, moon, and Earth causes tides to occur and allow you to predict the fish activity in your area.
When the beach is at high tide or very low tide, there will be little to no water movement. In turn, there will be little action from your bait and game fish.
It’s ideal to fish during the last two hours of incoming tide or the first two hours of an outgoing tide.
Fish are often more active during the sunrise, sunset, and nights with a full moon. I would recommend trying to fish during this time, it’s not always a guarantee to catch fish, but you’ll have a high rate of finding one.
Overcast weather has been very successful for me, not only for striped bass but also for other species like Surfperch.
I would recommend avoiding surf fishing when there is heavy rain. These storms can kick up the waves and potentially make it more challenging to stand in the water.
Best Wind Speed To Surf Fish For Striped Bass
Winds affect where and how the fish will populate an area by bringing them closer to shore or pushing them back. Wind can also affect the speed and accuracy of your casting.
Go surf fishing on a day the weather is bearable, with low winds and calm waves. Below 15 mph is my preferred when surf fishing. I would not recommend fishing over 15 mph. It’s way too windy for me.
You can still fish on days with a brisk wind, make sure to use a heavier lure that can stay put in the water after you cast it.
Move Another Spot Until You Find Them
Do not stay in one spot for two hours. If you don’t get any bite, I would recommend moving to another spot either on your left or right for at least 15 to 20 meters.
One of the mistakes that I’ve made when I was new to surf fishing is I always stayed in one spot. But, after I tried to move to another spot every 30 to 40 minutes, I started catching more fish.
Surf fishing takes a lot of practice to learn and master. But, to get started, all you need is some durable equipment, water-resistant clothing, and a little bit of patience.
Visit your local beach in various conditions to learn the shore and discover which weather and wind work for you. Then, it’s always a great help to make friends with other local anglers to soak in all the knowledge you need.
I hope you found this article helpful. Now go out and catch some fish! Have fun and take care.