It should not be that hard to pick the right bait, right?
Well, unfortunately, things can be a little tricky. What may be considered a good bait one day may not produce any bites whatsoever the next day. Conditions change. And so, does the fish.
This is why the answer to the question, “What bait should I use?” is often in the form of another question, “What fish do you want to catch?”
However, not everybody is going to be fishing for specific fish. Sometimes you may just want to go out to the beach and catch whatever fish there is in the water.
You might not want to worry about the weather and water conditions, about the bait and everything else.
What is the best bait for surf fishing in general? The best baits for surf fishing are strips of squid, whole shrimp, cut bait, sand fleas, sandworms, eels, and clams. There isn’t one universally best bait for surf fishing. But these baits will attract many different species of fish and will produce high amounts of bites when surf fishing.
If you want to learn more about what is the bait that will give you the best chances of catching fish from the surf in general, you are in the right spot.
Below, I will go into extra detail about how to use each bait, expanding the list even more.
The 10 Best Baits for Surf Fishing
Below I have listed the best baits that, in my experience, will give you the best chances of catching fish while surf fishing. These are not necessarily arranged in order of importance, although to a certain extent, they are.
The good thing is that a few of these, as you will find out, you can easily scavenge from the beach while you are surf fishing. So you will not be left at the mercy of the local bait shop.
Squid is one of the most popular baits anglers use.
There are hundreds of different types of squid, but generally speaking, they all have a body and a head from which ten tentacles are extended, with two being longer than the rest.
Many anglers swear by the squid’s superb fish attracting qualities.
There are a few various ways you can use squid as bait.
Depending on the fish you are going for, you can use the whole squid as bait. But if you are targeting smaller fish, you can cut the squid in chunks or strips.
Every piece of the squid can be used as bait when surf fishing.
Most anglers prefer using the body of the squid. They will remove the cartilage and the guts and cut it into little strips or rings. But the head and the individual tentacles can be used too.
There is also what is known as dirty squid and clean squid bait.
A dirty squid is when you are using squid that has not been cleaned or gutted, thus preserving its natural aroma and scent. Many people believe this attracts fish even more.
Clean squid is known as squid bait that has been cleaned and gutted – think squid that has been prepared for human cooking and consumption.
Squid is like an everyday snack that every fish will bite on. You can catch different species of both freshwater and saltwater fish with a squid, like a snapper, catfish, halibut, bass, whiting, pollock, rays, dogfish, and many more.
With all that being said, squid also does have its own disadvantages. If you are dealing with frozen squid, it will leave a nasty sticky residue as it thaws.
To prevent that, certain anglers opt for an alternative storing method, which involves salting the squid. When salted, the squid will stay fresh for longer, and you will not need to freeze it.
Fresh squid is going to be universally a lot better compared to old and frozen squid. So whenever you can go with a fresh one.
Squid can be bought from your local fishing tackle and bait shops. It can also find it in grocery stores.
Shrimp is like a universal bait that almost all fish like to munch on. You cannot go wrong with shrimp and squid when surf fishing.
You can buy shrimp from your local tackle and bait shops. The size of the shrimp can vary a lot, ranging from small shrimps to large jumbo shrimp.
The best results are usually achieved with fresh and alive shrimp, especially if you do not kill it as you hook it. It creates a lot of noise and water movement, which will almost certainly attract the fish found nearby.
Fresh dead or frozen shrimp is also a good bait that fish will take.
Shrimp will die pretty quickly in the summer when the temperatures are high, if not kept in fresh moving water.
An excellent way to keep shrimp alive for longer is to place them in a bucket with a mix of ice cubes and cold water. That way, you can keep the temperature of the shrimp down.
Fresh shrimp is a little harder and will stay on the hook for longer.
In comparison, old and frozen shrimp tends to get mushier and tends to fall from the hook easier.
And do not use cooked shrimp – fish are not impressed by it.
3. Sand Fleas
Sand fleas – also known as sand crabs or mole crabs – are probably going to be one of the best baits for general all-purpose surf fishing. These are the little crablike critters that like to dig into the sand on the beaches.
They do well for snapper, sheepshead, pompano, snook, surfperch, striped bass, and many other fish species.
The good thing is that they are very easy to get. You can catch them while you are on the beach.
So technically they are not just an excellent bait; they are also entirely free.
Just go to the beach near where the water waves break in the sand, and as the water recedes, look for these little bumps in the sand. The best way to catch them is just to dig for them. Alternatively, you can also use a rake to scoop them up.
Using this method, you can easily catch hundreds of them in just a few minutes, especially during low tide, when you may even be able to get some of the bigger sand fleas.
For the best results, it is best to catch them and use them immediately.
They don’t stay alive for very long, and when they die, they do not make for a good bait.
You can also catch them and keep them in a cooler full of moist cold sand. That way, they can usually be kept alive for a few days.
However, you can always freeze the extra ones that you have for later use.
Some of the sand fleas may have a softshell or even eggs on them – both of these things attract fish even more. The only downside to soft sand fleas is that they can easily fall off the hook.
When you hook them, you can just get the hook through their body and try to have the tip of the hook where the eggs are, because this is what the fish will usually go for.
4. Cut Bait
Catching baitfish and using it as a cut bait works well, and you can catch a wide array of different fish species like ladyfish, stingrays, whiting, and more.
You can use whatever fish is available in your area. This is an effective way to catch fish for one simple reason. You are readily presenting to the fish the same food that it hunts and eats.
This takes much of the guessing out of the way.
It is recommended to try fishing with differently sized chunks of baitfish.
Most anglers use non-game and smaller fish as cut bait like minnows, panfish, smaller bonito, menhaden, perch, mullet, and other types of small fish.
With that being said, make sure to check and follow the local regulations.
Eels are an excellent surf fishing bait.
Eels are best used as live bait. And while surf fishing, you can catch different fish species with them like, striped bass, cobia, and more.
Eels are very presentable, lively, and tough. Many anglers swear by the effectiveness of eels for catching striped bass.
The only downside to eels is that they like to wriggle a lot, and they are very slippery. What you will find out is that they are extremely hard to hold and catch if you happen to drop them.
Use a towel or a rag to hold the eel as you place it on the hook.
Alternatively, if you are on the beach, you can just place them on the sand. The sand will stick to the eel’s body and will provide you with a better grip.
Eels can be kept alive for hours. Keep them in water or best on ice. Keeping them cold is going to make them a little more lethargic, and you will have an easier time holding them.
Clams are very decent bait for catching fish.
But what is best about clams is that you can find these guys on the beach while you are surf fishing.
All you require to do is a little scavenging, and voila, you have got yourself some free bait that you can use to catch fish.
Normally you can catch a wide variety of different fish on clams, like bluefish, whiting, cod, and more.
Clams can be a little tricky to use and hook because the belly of the clam – which attracts the fish – is very porous and does not stay on the hook well.
The right way around all that is to try using salted clams.
These do not need any refrigeration to stay fresh and are usually a lot tougher, so the clam will not fall off the hook, and fish will not be able to steal it easily.
A word of caution, though. Be very careful about what clams you use as some of these may be protected, and there could be some local regulations.
Razorfish, which is also known as razor clams, is another angler’s favorite. You can use them for catching a wide array of different fish while surf fishing.
These fellows again can be scavenged from the shore, usually on a low tide, and they are relatively easy to find.
They can be found in the northern parts of the Atlantic, and down to the Carolinas, so they may not be available to everyone depending on where you fish.
There is also a Pacific razor clam species, which can be found on the West Coast.
Keep in mind that these may fall under some regulations, too, so make sure to check with your local authorities.
What you do is, look for their distinct holes in the sand, and with the help of a little salt, you can get yourself some tasty fish bait.
After that, all you need is a pair of scissors. You cut the shell open and hook them. You can use either the whole razor fish or cut it into chunks.
Keep in mind that in the same manner as for the regular clams, the body is very mushy, and it can easily fall from the hook. This is why it is good practice to use a little elastic cotton to keep the bait on the hook.
8. Bloodworms, Sandworms, and Nightcrawlers
Bloodworms, sandworms, and nightcrawlers are not the same thing. These are different species of worms, but they will all do for a great bait.
Sandworms are a popular bait for saltwater surf fishing. This is one of my favorites bait. I caught a lot of surfperch using this, and it’s easy to find during low tide.
Sandworms can be used for catching different fish like striped bass, flounder, bluefish, weakfish, whiting, surf perch and more.
The best way to keep sandworms fresh is by keeping them in a cool and moist container.
Bloodworms are another excellent bait for surf fishing that many of us use. These are more commonly used in north-eastern areas.
They have sharp little teeth that can bite you, so you need to be careful around these fellows.
There is a good reason why they are called bloodworms, and that is because they are filled with blood.
If you are wondering, this is precisely why they make for such good bait. They will release all that blood and scent in the water, which is irresistible to fish.
Bloodworms can attract fish like almost no other bait.
A good practice is to combine bloodworms with other bait such as squid strips. That way, you can use the attracting qualities of bloodworms, but also reduce the money you will be spending on bait.
Nightcrawlers are also a different species of worms that you can use.
These are usually readily available free bait, and you can find them on the beach or even in your garden.
Crabs are another perfect bait that you can use to catch fish while surf fishing. As with some other baits on this list, crabs can also be caught on the beach, making them a great free bait.
They are usually found around the wash zone, where the waves meet the sand and in rocky areas.
There is a huge variety of different crabs that you can use for surf fishing like fiddler crabs, blue crabs, sand crabs, and more.
They are tough and stay well on the hook. Crabs can be especially attractive to fish if they have eggs on them, and this is exactly where you want the tip of the hook to be.
Check your local regulations as the local laws may protect some crab species.
10. Artificial Baits
Some anglers do not like using live bait. In fact, it is sometimes even frowned upon.
This is where artificial baits can come in handy.
They do not require any prep work at all. You just take them, rig them, and you are good to go.
In fact, some anglers believe that using an artificial bait is a lot safer for the fish, and there is less chance of killing it.
You can use gulp sandworms, bucktails, swimbaits, crankbaits, poppers, jig heads, and so much more.
All of these perform great, and fishing with them can be very productive.
They are easy to use, and you will save on bait money in the long run.
A Few Points on the Best Bait for Surf Fishing
When deciding on the best bait for surf fishing, consider where you are fishing in the first place. Try to use what is naturally found in your location because this is what the fish is regularly eating.
This does not mean that other types of bait may not work for you.
You probably already know that with surf fishing, conditions change constantly. The best time to go surf fishing always changes, and so does the food fish will be feeding on.
Getting information from the local tackle and bait shops and other people that live in the area is always best.
And lastly, make sure always to experiment to find out what works best.