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What Is Surf Fishing? All You Need To Know

What Is Surf Fishing? All You Need To Know
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When you are ready for a fun way to get out on the water and spend the day fishing, no choice is better than spending some time surf fishing, which isn’t your traditional way to fish. By learning the steps to successful surf fishing, you can bring home a fish worthy of a tale.

Surf fishing is an activity that involves catching fish from the shoreline or surf. It is done mostly in saltwater, and depending on the location, can find a wide variety of fish, including sharks. Surf fishing is, in essence, saltwater fishing without boats.

Surf fishing is a unique type of saltwater fishing. Consequently, it has specific techniques and dedicated equipment.

This article presents detailed explanations of these techniques and equipment, the right tides to surf fish, and some dangers beginning surf anglers might encounter.

What Is Surf Fishing?

Surf fishing is a fun sport of catching fish while standing on the shoreline or wading a bit into the surf.

This is a general term that sometimes includes casting a bait or lure, and it may consist of lots of different types of shore fishing.

You can choose to partake in surf fishing from a fishing pier, on rock jetties, and the beach.

For the most part, surf fishing is done in saltwater. The most common misunderstanding about this type of fishing is the idea that to see success. You need to cast out as far as possible.

At beaches on the west side of the United States, along with most beaches around the world, you only need the bait to land knee-deep, and you are good.

Surf fishing is often confused with pier fishing, though the two are different methods. Surf fishing requires you to get right out in the water, while pier fishing allows you to stay nice and dry. 

Surf anglers can use both live bait and artificial lures. Since surf fishing happens mostly in saltwater, the fishermen need to pay attention to their location’s undertowsOpens in a new tab. and waves.

These can cause injury and death to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. One well-known technique that makes surf fishing and pier or shore fishing different is called surfcastingOpens in a new tab..

The fishing rods used for doing this are long, usually somewhere between 9 to 15 feet. When casting, the fisherman must use both hands. To get the most distance out of their throws, they need to use their entire bodies.

The reason that all this effort is needed is that you must fight against the currentOpens in a new tab. and tide. Even if you aren’t trying to get out deep, it takes some effort to get the bait to the right location. 

However, there is a record for the longest surfcasting. This is held by Danny Moeskops, who cast 313 yards. If you are going to try and beat this record, make sure that no one else is around.

The powerful casting, combined with the sharp hooks, can make this a dangerous process if others are nearby.

Essential Gear You Need For Surf Fishing

Stripped down to the basics, surf fishing is much like lake fishing. You may get a few bites here and there, with the same equipment you would use while fishing for catfish or carp.

However, a successful day on the beach will require gear made specifically for fishing in the surf zone. Surf fishing gear includes surf rods and reels, lures and bait, waders, rigs, and fishing tools. 

How To Choose A Rod For Surf Fishing?

Unlike regular rods, surf fishing rods are longer; they range from 8 to 15 feet. Longer rods enable anglers to cast out the bait and lure 100 to 200 yards from the shore and over the crashing waves.

While longer rods allow anglers to cast further out, surf fishing beginners may require some practice to wield them. Consider the following when selecting a surf rod:

Your height: Longer rods work better if your hands are equally long. 

Comfort: You will wield the rod better if it is comfortable in your hands.

Rod power: Otherwise called rod weight, this refers to the rod’s strength. It ranges from ultra-light to heavy. Heavier rods are for fishing in the deep sea and surf fishing as well.

Rod action: Rod action refers to how the rod bends when you cast. Fast action rods bend at the tip, while slow action rods will bend closer to the handle. Fast to medium action rods are best for surf fishing, as they provide more distance when castingOpens in a new tab..

The handle: Rods with longer handles are best for surf fishing as they allow you to hold the rod with two hands and cast further. 

Reel seat: Regular fishing rods have reel seats made of metal, but seawater is more corrosive than fresh waterOpens in a new tab.. As such, choose rods with graphite reel seats, as these do not corrode.

Novice anglers are best served by surf rods between 8 to 11 feet, with medium to heavy power and medium action, as such rods aren’t too difficult to handle and will serve well in most situations.

What Reel Is Best For a Beginner? Spinning Reel or Baitcasting Reel

You can choose a baitcasting reel or spinning reelOpens in a new tab., although the spinning reels are less complicated and better suited to beginner surf anglers.

Whatever choice you make, ensure that it’s a high capacity saltwater reel. 

The primary difference between saltwater reelsOpens in a new tab. and their freshwater counterparts is the former’s resistance to corrosion. Saltwater corrodes faster than freshwater.

Consequently, the reels are made with corrosion-resistant alloys. They also have seals to keep water out of the reel mechanism. 

What Line Is Best For Surf Fishing?

Your ability to reel in a catch depends much on the type of lineOpens in a new tab. you use. A 30-pound test line of braided line is best for most fish you will catch.

Many surf anglers use braid as the mainline because its abrasion resistance and more strength, it cast so well, has a no stretch, and gets the job done. 

In addition to the mainline, you will need a shock leader for surf fishingOpens in a new tab.. Shock leaders help to reduce the strain on the mainline caused by the heavier weights and longer casts. 

By using a shock leader, surf anglers can cast further without fear of damage to the line. Low stretch monofilament and fluorocarbon are commonly used to make shock leaders of different diameters.

What Rig Set Up Is Best For Surf Fishing?

There are several types of rigs for surf fishing. The kind you use depends on the fish, the location you are targeting, and the season.

An arrangement of a two hook leader with 3-4 ounce pyramid sinkers and Kahle hooks is ideal for beginning surf fishers, as these will work in most water conditions and fish species. 

Other popular surf fishing rigsOpens in a new tab. include the fish-finder rig, which is the best rig in my own opinion for beginners, the fireball rig, and the high-low rig.

Fish-Finder Rig

The fish finder rigOpens in a new tab. uses pyramid sinkers and ball-bearing swivel with leaders connected to the hook. The bait line is free to move along the mainline; thus, the live bait can swim unrestricted in the water.

This arrangement offers the least resistance as fish is attracted to the live bait. The leader could be as long as you like, but a typical length is 12 – 24 inches.

High-Low Rig

This rig is also called a double dropper loop rig as it uses two baited hooks, thus increasing an angler’s chances of making a catch. High-low rigs are suitable for large predatory fish.

Novice surf anglers can purchase already assembled units of all three rigs from most bait and tackle stores.

Carolina rig

This rigOpens in a new tab. is ideal for using artificial baits. It’s easy to set up. It consists of an egg sinker, a bead, a swivel, a leader lineOpens in a new tab. (mono or fluorocarbon), and a hook. You can learn more about this rig here. 

Fireball Rig 

The fireball rigOpens in a new tab. is a bottom rig. On one end is a snap swivel attached to a pyramid sinker; the other end has a regular swivel, and between the two swivels are two dropper loops with styrofoam balls just before the hook. 

Consequently, the bait suspends a few inches from the ocean floor and any hungry crabs.

These rigs are ideal for rough and cloudy waters as fish are attracted by the bright colors (usually red or yellow) of the styrofoam balls.


Of the many sinkersOpens in a new tab. available, sputnik and pyramid are ideal for surf fishing. The sputnik sinker has four metal spikes that act as barbs around a circular weight. 

This sinker is used when surf fishing in sandy beaches with strong currents, as a momentary tug on the line will cause the spikes to dig into the sand and thus anchor the rig.

Pyramid sinkers are often the most preferred for surf fishing as they are easy to handle, can withstand strong currents, and remain at the bottom.

Pyramid sinkers that weigh 3 to 6 ounces will serve in most ocean conditions.

To learn more about the different types of sinkers you can use for surf fishing, click hereOpens in a new tab.

Rod Holders: Why It’s Important

As the name suggests, this piece of equipment holds the rod in place when you need to step away from the rod.

Rod holders are available in multiple lengths and made of different materials, with PVC plastic rods being the cheapest.

However, in rough oceans and if you intend to do much fishing, it is best to upgrade to a metal rod holder.

Clothing Equipment For Surf Fishing

You will need some clothing like surf fishing waders, a wading jacketOpens in a new tab., sunglasses, beach-appropriate footwear, and a hat.  

Waders are fashioned from waterproof materials and worn over the angler’s clothes to remain dry. There are three styles of waders available; 

  • hip waders, 
  • waist waders, 
  • and chest waders.

Hip waders come up to the angler’s hip, so they can only be used in shallow waters that do not rise above the knee.

Consequently, hip waders are not suitable for surf fishing, as to catch bigger fish, surf anglers often need to cast their lines past the breaking waves and may sometimes need to wade into the water to do so.

The choice between waist and chest waders depends on the dept of the water.

Chest wadersOpens in a new tab. are more constricting and need not be worn when the water does not rise above the waist. 

Boot foot or Stocking Foot waders?

After using both, I prefer to use boot foot waders, especially when fishing in sandy beaches. Stocking foot also great for surf fishing. Make sure to use a quality wading shoe to pair with it.

The only thing I don’t like about the stocking foot wader is that the sand goes in between the wading shoe and the stocking foot. It also wears out quickly when using on a sandy beach.

Different Types Of Baits and Lures You Can Use For Surf Fishing

You will need to have bait or lures if you hope to catch any fish. There are many types of baitsOpens in a new tab. and lures, and the choice will depend on the kind of fish you hope to catch and the location.

Additionally, local tackle stores can provide pointers on the best bait or lures to use. 

What Bait Is Best For Surf Fishing?

There is not a single bait that will work for all conditions and fish. Still, some baits are better than others in that they attract more types of fish.

Bait for surf fishing includes shrimp, sand fleas, cut bait, sandworms, eels, squid, and clams. Any of these baits will produce many bites when surf fishing.


Squids will attract a wide variety of saltwater fish. Depending on the size of fish you hope to catch, you can use the whole squid or cut it into chunks for smaller sized fish.

Most anglers prefer to use just the squid’s body, but the head and tentacles will work as well.

Cut Bait

Cut bait fish like mullet, menhaden, and perch work well to catch a wide variety of fish like stingrays, ladyfish, bluefish, and sea trout. The best baitfish are those native to the fishing area, as they will attract their natural predators.    


Because of their slippery bodies, eels may prove challenging to handle. Nonetheless, live eels are excellent bait choices and will catch species like cobia and striped bass.

Sand Fleas

These are the best last-minute choice if you are out of bait and low on money. Otherwise called mole crabs, these creatures are readily available along the shoreline and attract many different species, like pompano, snook striped bass, snapper, etc. 

You can find some of your own by digging through the sand near the ocean wash. They can attract many different fish species as well.


You may find clams a bit tricky to hook and use, as their porous bodies can easily fall off the hook. Still, if you succeed in hooking one, it will attract a wide variety of saltwater species.  


Shrimps will attract nearly all types of saltwater fish, so most bait shops have them on hand. Choose fresh shrimp over the frozen ones, as the flesh of frozen shrimp is not so tough.

It will become mushy and will fall off the hook after some time in the water. Also, the struggle of a living shrimp will attract any nearby fish better.    

Oysters and Clams

These are sometimes tricky to get on the hook. However, they will attract many species. Stock up on these since it is very easy for them to slide right off the hook in rough conditions.

Ragworms and Bloodworms

These are easily available, inexpensive, and work well on most types of fish.


This is one of my favorite bait for surf fishing, you can catch them easily on the beach. Sandworms are one of the best, if not the best, bait to catch surf perches.

These are just a few baits that you can use for surf fishingOpens in a new tab.. It’s not necessary to have them all. You only need to know what is working for the specific species that you are trying to catch.

There are many choices in the bait you can choose. Anglers can choose to use traditional bait sources, with live bait being the best choice—some of the different choices available for surf fishing do particularly well.

What Lure Is Best For Surf Fishing

An advantage of lures over bait is that lures do not require any preparation before you rig them. Also, as lures can be used multiple times, they are more economical in the long run. 

It is essential to select lures made specifically for saltwater as freshwater lures will quickly rust from exposure to the corrosive salt water.  

The most popular types of lures for surf fishing are gold spoons, bucktail jigs, topwater lures, and soft plastic flukes.

Gold Spoons

Gold spoons are the most commonly used lures and are available in different sizes and colors. Brightly-colored ones attract fish better, especially in cloudy and murky water.

Bucktail Jigs

These artificial baits attract many fish, thanks to the tails, which gives them the appearance of real prey like squid and baitfish as it moves in the water.

Topwater Lures

These are floating types, stirring the water as they move. The stirring attracts fish to the surface. Topwater lures are great for fishing in areas where there is much topwater activity.

Soft Plastic Flukes

Plastic flukes work exceptionally well for catching bass; they are available in several sizes and colors.

Gulp sandworms, Swimbaits, and Saltwater Lucky Craft 

If you are trying to catch for surf perch, try to use one of these. These are effective for Surfperches. You can find them at your local tackle store.

Tools And Accessories

Besides the surf fishing gear, you will need some other tools whenever you head to the beach. There is an extensive list of tools you could take for a surf fishing expedition, but a toolbox containing the following will serve:

  • Sharp knife for cutting lines and bait, and to clean fish.
  • Needle nose pliers for removing hooks and cutting lines.
  • A cooler to hold any fish you catch.
  • A flashlight, headlamp, or light stick for fishing in low light conditions or at night when nocturnal species are the target.
  • A cart to carry all the fishing equipment to and from the beach. 

First Aid Kit

Bring along a first aid kit to take care of minor injuries from handling the sharp hooks, knives, and other tools. 

How To Find The Best Spot When Surf Fishing? 

Finding the right spotOpens in a new tab. to surf fish is just as important as catching the fish. As a beginner, you probably think you can just cast your line and hope to catch a big one.

Don’t make the same mistake that I did when I was starting. It took me a while before I caught my first fish due to not knowing how to find the best spot and read the beach.

These are the things that you need to look for to find a good spot:


Is underwater terrain with a slope where the top of the crest will be above the water or just under the water. When the crest is under the water, this is the perfect place to fish.

A good place to start is to wade into the first sandbar, it will be fairly shallow here, and then cast the line down the slope.

This area will have deeper water, and many fish will come to feed.


This is the deep water that is in between the sandbars. This includes calmer water. You want to cast your line directly into this point. You will always catch bigger fish when the water is deeper.

Look for a slight discoloration in the water because this is the quickest way to tell where the deep water is present.


This is a good place to find fish because it is where they easily ambush baitfish that go through. The water over the rip will not crest-like on a sandbar.

You will notice that they continue to flow onto the beach. The current results will wash smaller crabs and fish back into deeper waters, where bigger fish are waiting for them.

Pockets and Holes

these are deeper parts of the sandbar or the trough, though you may sometimes find them near the beach.

Fish, including those who want colder water and bottom dweller fish, will go right into these pockets and holes to stay hidden.

You may be able to persuade them to come out with the right bait.

Take some time to study the waves to see where the fish are. Look for darker spots, or where you notice breaks between the waves at least 50 yards wide.

This indicates a spot where the water is deeper. These areas have the most fish and are good places to cast your line.

Do not fish in an area with lots of people. Surf fishing has sharp hooks and some powerful casting. If something goes wrong, you could injure another person.

Look for a stretch where there aren’t any swimmers or surfers present. There are likely fewer fish in highly populated areas anyway.

What Tide Is Best For Surf Fishing? High tide vs. Low tide:

The best tide to fish is a moving tide. High tide is better than low tide between the two, mostly because of the increased depth of water around the shore.

As the moving water carries baitfish, crabs, sand fleas, and other crustaceans as it comes or goes. 

Incoming Tides

An incoming tide or rising tide is one that ushers in the high tide. Water that comes in from the ocean has a lower temperature, increased oxygen, and carries tiny organisms that the baitfish and crustaceans like to eat.

The combination of these factors entices various species to the shore. Besides, the fish make use of the rising water to enter the baïnesOpens in a new tab. to feed.

Outgoing Tides

As the tide begins to recede, game fish stay around the exit of inlets and baïnes, waiting for the outgoing currents to sweep out baitfish and crustaceans. The currents will also move your lures and baits toward the awaiting predatory fish.

What Time Is Best For Surf Fishing?

The type and number of fish you’ll catch are affected by the time of the day and the time of the year that you visit the beach.

The best time of the day to surf fish is two hours before dusk and two to three hours after dawn, as these are the times when fish come out to feed.

The night is when you will find the larger predatory fishOpens in a new tab. feeding. It would help if you asked the local anglers to know more about the fish in the area.

Spring and fall months are the best time of the year for surf fishing. This is due to seasonal migration, as species tend to move north for the summer and proceed south for the winter. 

However, this does not imply that the beaches will be empty or fishes in the summer and winter, but the migrating species in the spring and fall significantly increases the number of fish in the water.

What Weather Condition Is Ideal for Surf Fishing?

Onshore breezes are ideal for surf fishing as they lead to upwellingOpens in a new tab., bringing more fish to the shoresOpens in a new tab.. However, stronger breezes can have detrimental effects as they reduce water clarity. 

When the extreme winds last for more than a day, you will need to give the fish time to adapt to the changes before returning to the shore after the bad weather has passed.

What To Look For When Surf Fishing?

You have to read and interpret the ocean waves before you cast your lures and baits, as random casts will yield poor results if any.

Reading the ocean involves identifying certain features in the water that will indicate the presence of fish.


Sloughs are deep troughs, running parallel to the beachOpens in a new tab.. On one side of the slough is the beach; the other side is a sandbar.

A slough is a great place to cast lures and bait as fish swim through the throughs searching for food like crabs, sandworms, and other smaller fish. 

Sloughs are easier to spot during low tide, as the sandbars are more apparent.

In high tide, watch for waves that break offshore but subside as they reach the beach, these are often signs of underlying sloughs. 

The slough’s width is a function of the distance between the sandbar and the beach.

The width may also determine the type of fish present in the slough, as larger fish will prefer broader and deeper troughs.

Deep Areas

Generally, fish will congregate at points along the shore where the water is deeper.

The beach sand can tell you much about the ocean bottom, fine closely packed sand is often a feature of a gently sloping beach, while coarse and spaced sand is associated with deep slopes.


When birds and other animals gather in a spot along the beach, they often feed on a passing school of fish. Cast your bait in the direction of the birds, and you would likely catch something.


The edge of an inlet is a great place to cast bait and lures, as small baitfish, crabs, and other crustaceans get swept out of the inlet as the tide falls, thus attracting a variety of species waiting to feed on them.

Nearby Structures

Fish will usually congregate around structures along the beach like piers, bridges, and jetties. Casting in the direction of these structures will not be unwise.

The Species You Will Catch

The fish you catch will depend on the beach, as different speciesOpens in a new tab. are native to different waters.

Barring location, you can catch virtually any species except perhaps the greater sharks, whales, and dolphins (which aren’t fish).

You will catch flounder, spotted sea trout, black drum, and red drumOpens in a new tab. along the Atlantic coastline, you may even catch one of the smaller shark species.

In contrast, the pacific ocean beaches will have yellowfin croakers, red tail, California halibutOpens in a new tab., striped bass, and surf smelt.

Dangers in Surf Fishing

There is a potential risk Opens in a new tab.of bodily injury caused by the metal hooks’ sharp points and the lures. As such, care must be taken when handling the equipment.

Powerful waves and rip currents can cause serious injury and death in extreme cases. Accordingly, scout the area during low tide and take note of potentially dangerous spots that will not be visible when the tide comes in.

Tips for Beginners 

Pick somewhere secluded to fish, but let others know where you are in case you get lost.Remember to bring something to carry all of your gear with you when you hit the beach.

Most beaches will not allow you to drive on them, so you will be responsible for carrying all of the gear to shore.

Pack some extra hook cutters, live bait, line, and anything else you may need to make the fishing trip more enjoyable.

This Shurhold 2451 White 5 Gallon BucketOpens in a new tab. is a great option to make carrying your items easier.


Before packing up your gear, first head over to the beach and have a look around, take note of sand bars, sloughs, and other areas that will be great fishing spots when the tide comes in. Also, take note of potentially dangerous areas.


Although lures will work well for surf fishing, beginner surf anglers rarely have the experience to use them for good results. On the other hand, the movement and possible blood from live bait are sure to attract fish. 


Casting your line further into the water is not always the most productive route to take, as the fish may be in nearby deeper waters. 

Observe the Locals

An excellent way to determine functional fishing areas is to observe where the local fishermen cast their lures in unfamiliar beaches. Pick a spot close by but do not crowd them and cast your bait in the same direction. 

Additionally, most anglers are often friendly, and you can ask them about the best bait or lures to use, and other risky areas to avoid.


Caution is advised when wading into inlets, or waking over the surrounding sandbars as they can quickly disappear in the face of the incoming tide.


Always take sunscreen with you, even in cool weather and overcast days, as the water and beach sand increases the sun’s intensity by reflecting sunlight at you.  


Be on the watch for swimmers and other beachgoers, ensure that the immediate vicinity is free before you cast your lures to avoid accidents. 

Casting Techniques For Surf fishing

Beginner surf anglers can use the basic overhead cast to get their lure and baits over the crashing waves and into the waters where fish feed.

The overhead cast can be used for virtually all types of lures and bait.

The pendulum cast is another technique that sends the lures farther into the water.

This technique uses a swinging action instead of casting from the ground, like in the overhead cast.

Pendulum cast is a rather complicated casting style and not for the beginning angler. 

Last But Not The Least, Fishing License.

Most states require a fishing licenseOpens in a new tab. for anyone over the age of 16. You can choose to get a short-term fishing license for just a few days, or an annual license if you plan to fish quite a bit during the year.

Pick out your license ahead of time to prevent issues with games and parks while you are out on the water. Read up on the different rules in any state you would like to fish in.


Surf fishing can be an exciting and rewarding exercise as there is an almost infinite variety of fish you can catch while standing on the shore or wading in the surf.

However, your success as a surf angler depends much on the equipment you use, how well you can read and interpret the ocean waves, and the techniques you employ.

Additionally, consider the season and time of day when you head out to fish and be cautious of the water itself and fellow beachgoers.

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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