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How to Surf Fish With Light Tackle? A Complete Guide.

Light Tackle With Perch
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Surf fishing with light tackle is one of the most popular forms of this age-old sport since the fish you catch offshore are usually on the smaller side. Light tackle is an excellent way to take advantage of being able to fish off the beach without bringing a bunch of unwieldy gear with you.

When surf fishing with light tackle, it’s essential to know which species of fish you’re going to be going after. You want to know which type of bait or lure to use, and what kinds of environments they prefer.

When beginning to surf fish with light tackle, you need to consider the following:

  • The weight of your lure for casting against the surf
  • The strength of your rod
  • The type of bait or lure you’ll be using
  • The types of fish you’re trying to catch
  • Optimal time and weather conditions for surf fishing
  • Finding a good location to fish

Surf fishing with light tackleOpens in a new tab. has a bit of a learning curve, but once you know the basics, it isn’t that difficult. To find out more about how to be successful at fishing in the surf with light tackle read on.

Choosing Lightweight Fishing Rods for Surf Fishing

When using light tackle, such as ultralight line and small lures, you’ll also want to go with a lightweight fishing rod. Light action or lightweight rods are designed for smaller species of fish, which are plentiful in surf fishing.

The lack of stiffness in these rods means that they can present a lure lightly in or on the water and are flexible to use, but these rods are unsuitable for larger fish.

Take a little care to use small lures with a lightweight rod, as larger surf fish can easily snap lighter rods.

Larger fish tend to stick to deeper water, so most of the species found in surf fishing are smaller fish that travel in schools, such as surf perch.Opens in a new tab.

These kinds of fish are also referred to as “panfish” because they are typically cooked whole and pan-fried.

These small fish are fast and agile, so the best way to catch them is by using a light rod and reel rather than a rig meant for more substantial fish.

Not only is a weightier fishing rod more challenging to transport and cast on-shore, but it is also harder to achieve the nuanced flicking motions that are attractive to surfing schools of panfish.

Here are some of the best lightweight fishing rods for casting light tackle in surf conditions:

Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod:Opens in a new tab. These rods are one of the best lightweight fishing rods you’ll find under fifty dollars. Ugly Stiks are rated for fish up to seventeen pounds, which means they can handle practically anything you would come across while surf fishing other than a shark.

St. Croix Triumph Spinning Rod:Opens in a new tab. This ultralight spinning rod is only 2.4 ounces and comes in an easily transported four-piece model, which means it is perfect for tucking away in a light tackle bag when you head out to the beach. These rods also come with a five-year warranty just in case you come across any problems.

G. Loomis Trout and Panfish Series:Opens in a new tab. While this is the priciest rod on our list, it is one of the best lightweight rods designed specifically for going after panfish and other small-sized fish that are common in surf fishing environments. The lightweight construction of this rod means that the angler feels even the lightest nibble on the line.

When fishing in the surf, you’ll want to consider the kinds of fish you’re going after, you’ll want to think of your comfort, too. To reach the best surf fishing spotsOpens in a new tab., you’re not going to want to haul a ton of heavy rods and tackle.

Investing in light-but-strong carbon fiber rods and reels will give you the most enjoyable experience when trekking around the beach to find the ideal spot.

Bait for Surf Fishing with Light Tackle

If you are going to choose live or dead bait with your light tackle while surf fishing, you have to be conscious of the bait size.

You don’t want to use large bait on a lightweight rod, as you might attract a fish that is bigger than your rod can reasonably handle, risking damage to your equipment.

The goal when surf fishing with light tackle is to go after smaller types of fish that can be successfully reeled in on a lightweight rod, so when choosing bait for these conditions, smaller is better.

Here are some of the bait types suitable for surf fishing:


When choosing sardines for light tackle surf fishing, it is best to chop them up for cut bait or use them as chopped bait in conjunction with a flashy artificial lure to utilize their oily scent to attract fish in the water.

Sardines can also be used live to catch larger ocean fish, but this is not a good idea on light tackle.


Any kid would recognize these small mussels that can be found on the ocean’s shores whenever the tide goes out. Pipis are one of the easiest types of bait to procure on-site while surf fishing and can be rigged for live bait.

Pipis are a good choice because they are the natural food source of much smaller surf fish.


Live shrimp can be used for catching larger ocean fish, but for surf fishing, it’s probably best to use shrimp as cut bait, either raw or cooked.

Using a live shrimp might attract a fish too large for light tackle, so you’ll want to stick to trying for panfish or other small-to-medium sized surf fish when using this kind of light setup.


If you don’t mind doing a little sand fishing before you tackle your actual surf fishing, sandworms are one of the best natural baits for attracting surf fish in areas where they can be found.

The wriggling action of beach worms makes them attractive to all kinds of fish. You can dig them on the beach during low tide. One of my favorites baits for surf perch.

Sand Fleas

These are small crustaceans found on almost all beaches across the world. They are natural prey for most surf fish.

This makes them great bait because their look and scent are familiar to the fish, which triggers their feeding instinct. You can collect a few of these for bait when you first arrive at the beach.

One of the advantages of using bait versus using lures is that you will utilize smell as well as appearance to attract fish.

Fish are also more likely to strike a type of prey they are already familiar with, which makes pipis and beach worms a great choice.

Light Tackle Lure for Surf Fishing

When using light tackle for surf fishing, you’ll want to use lures that are attractive to the kinds of fish found in surf environments and tiny, lightweight lures suited to a light rod and reel.

You need a lure that is small enough for your tackle, yet substantial enough to be cast against the surf.

There are many kinds of lures that are suitable for fishing in most surf environments, regardless of which beach you’re fishing from.

Here are some of the general types that you can find success using with light tackle while surf fishing:

Spoons Lure

Spoons LureOpens in a new tab. are oval-shaped, slightly concave lures that are usually constructed out of metal or shell.

They attract fish with their erratic movements and reflected light.

These lures take advantage of the surf’s currents to create a flicker that attracts fish.

Jerkbait lures

Jerkbait luresOpens in a new tab. are long and designed to mimic the appearance and movements of an injured or dying baitfish.

These baits are great for attracting strikes from the more sizable species of fish found in the surf zone.

Tube jig lures

Tube jig luresOpens in a new tab. have a bulkier metal jig head and are typically fringed in the end. They attract fish through their movement in the water.

These tube lures usually come in a variety of flashy colors for added intrigue to draw in fish.

Topwater poppers

Topwater poppersOpens in a new tab. are similar to crankbaits and operate by mimicking an injured baitfish skipping along the surface of the water.

Topwater poppers are also a good choice for any surf fishing areas where there is a lot of topwater covers, such as seaweedOpens in a new tab., as these lures are good at avoiding snags and breaking cover.

Soft Baits

Soft BaitsOpens in a new tab. are very versatile and easy to use lures made from rubber. They can be used in almost all types of water. They are great for catching any fish that has even slightly aggressive tendencies.

Some look like baitfish or crustaceans, and their thin rubber parts move easily in the water, creating attractive action for predator fish.

The best soft baits also have scent and fish attractant added during the manufacturing process, creating a highly attractive lure for fish. Don’t forget to grab a jig head to pair with the soft bait lure.

Lures are one of the best choices for surf fishing because they eliminate the need to deal with live or dead bait.

Fishing lures can also be collected and maintained for years until you have eventually accumulated a tackle box full of trusty tricks suitable for almost any kind of fishing conditions.

Fish to Target While Light Tackle Surf Fishing

Surf Fishing With Light Tackle

When surf fishing with light tackle, it’s essential to know which species of fish you’re going to be going after. You want to know how to identify the fish, which type of bait or lure to use, and what kinds of environments they prefer.

If you plan on keeping the fish, you will want to know which species suits your taste. Here are some of the most common species of fish you’ll find if you go surf fishing with light tackle:


Pompano is one of the most popular sport fish. They populate beach sandbars and tend to remain smaller in size, with most caught being under four pounds in size. This makes them the perfect species to go after with light tackle while fishing off a beach.


BluefishOpens in a new tab. are found along the beaches of many countries around the world. This fatty fish goes rancid quickly, which means the best way to eat it is straight off the beach.

Bluefish are known for being strong and aggressive fighters, which means anyone wanting to surf fish a bluefishOpens in a new tab. school with light tackle better bring sturdy gear.

Spotted Sea-trout

Spotted seat-rout is found along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and are commonly found at the mouths of estuaries.

This toothy fish prefers shrimp when it is small, which makes shrimp a suitable cut bait for fishing sea trout in their native habitats. Spotted seatrout can reach up to fifteen pounds.


Flounders, also known as flatfish, are one of the most commonly recognized species of surf fish due to their odd demersal shape. These fish forage the ocean’s bottom in the surf, cockles are a desirable choice for baiting these fish. Like halibut, a similar demersal species, flounders are famous for their sweet, delicate flavor.

Red drum

Red drum is a six-to-eight-pound surf fish that is part of the perch family. These fish are named for the drumming sound they make when in distress and are commonly found along Southeastern coastlines in North America. Red drum fish are most frequently found around humanmade structures such as piers and jetties.


Mainly found in the northeast Pacific, these fish range in size from 4 to 19 inches and are generally light in weight. Sand fleas and shrimp make a great bait to catch these fish.

They are similar in flavor to rockfish, snapper, and sea bass with the redtail surfperch Opens in a new tab.being the tastiest of the bunch.

Striped bass

Striped bassOpens in a new tab. is also known as striper, linesider, rock, or rockfish and can range in weight from 5 to 20 pounds—so be careful with light tackle. Cut or live bait is great for catching striped bass, use herring, menhaden, or mackerel as live bait.

Anchovies are also a great choice; use them similar to how you would bait sardines. Striped BassOpens in a new tab. flavor is rich with a texture that falls nicely between meaty and flakey—somewhere between the texture of cod/sole and tuna/swordfish.

These fish can be high in PCBs and mercury, so it is advised that men under 18 and women under 45 should not eat them, and those who can eat them should eat two or fewer servings per week.

Many states have guidelines regarding the consumption of these fish. Check out the state of CaliforniaOpens in a new tab. and Maine’s guidelines.

Optimal Time for Surf Fishing with Light Tackle

Dawn and dusk are typically considered the best times of day to go surf fishing with light tackle and for good reasons.

The blaring heat of the midday sun on an unprotected beach can be grueling, and more importantly, the fish aren’t usually feeding much at this point of the day anyway.

Whether you go fishing in the morning or evening is primarily up to personal preference and how early you feel like getting up.

For morning surf fishing, the best time to hit the beach is right before the sun comes up until around nine in the morning.

This gets you out on the beach before the tourists, but you’ll also miss the hottest part of the day.

For those who prefer not to get up at the crack of dawn, light tackle surf fishers will also find success right after dusk, as this is a prime feeding time for fish that live in the surf.

Fishing after sunset also means that you will avoid the interference of lifeguards or other beachgoers.

No matter which time frame you choose to go surf fishing, be sure to pack a bright flashlight in your tackle box, as both of these time frames involve low light conditions and you don’t want to rig bait in the dark.

Optimal Weather Conditions for Surf Fishing with Light Tackle

Because you will be using light tackle, you’ll want to avoid going out onto the beach when the wind and surf are high.

It is much harder to cast light tackle into strong winds, and tumultuous waters stir up the sand and debris beneath, making it difficult to see what you’re doing or where you’re casting.

You’ll also want to look for low barometric pressure times, as fish are known to be more active during these periods.

One thing to have in mind is that if you deal with inclement weather, such as a thunderstorm, the fish will not usually feed until 24-48 hours after any severe weather activity.

Thus, the fishing will not be ideal directly after a storm has rolled through.When considering the weather, you should also take the tides into account. High tide is generally considered the best condition for surf fishing.

However, low tideOpens in a new tab. is a fantastic time to spend scouting out a suitable area to fish, since it will be easier to see where any potential sandbars or other underwater structures might be. This will influence where the fish gather.

Finding A Spot to Surf Fish With Light Tackle

Determining where you plan to surf fish is just as important as deciding when you’re going to do it, and in what conditions.

Because the coastline is such a turbulent area of water, fish naturally congregated in sheltered areas that provide respite from the constant push and pull of the waves, such as sandbars and jetties.

Here are some of the most popular spots for surf fishing:

Near a pier, jetty, or humanmade structure: Good fishing can be had from the pierOpens in a new tab. itself too, but those who want to surf fish can do so from the shore near a large pier, as fish will naturally converge around this area.

Near a sandbar: Often along a coastline, there will be a sandbar further out off the beach, with a deeper trough of water running between the sandbar and the shore—this is often called a “gut” by fishermen. The gut is a prime area for surf fishing, as schools of fish regularly travel this zone, and it is where mid-sized surf fish tend to hunt for forage fish.

Near a school of baitfish: Baitfish can be seen in the water as a large amorphous shadow and can often be detected by the flock of birds usually found hovering over the area picking the baitfish off. Where baitfish are found, larger game fish inevitably follow.

Related post: How To Find The Best Spot For Surf FishingOpens in a new tab.

Anyone Can Surf Fish with Light Tackle

Most of the fish you can catch while fishing from the ocean’s shoreline can be done with a light tackle setup.

This type of gear is perfect for anyone who is looking at getting into this sport as a hobby, especially those who find larger rods and reels too unwieldy.

With the right set of equipment and a little planning for time, location, and weather conditions, almost anyone can be prosperous when surf fishing with light tackle.

Zaldy G.

I love feeling the cool ocean spray every time I hit the beach with a rod and a bucket of bait. I love the thrill of feeling bites on my line whenever I hook a big one. And I especially love the pride that comes with cooking a fresh catch and sharing it with my friends and family. Thank you for stopping by. Let's go catch some fish!

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