Sometimes fishing can be all about the right timing. A simple thing like this can be the difference between catching a lot of fish or not having a single bite. I have been surf fishing for several years now, and I have had my fair share of unproductive days.
After having a few consecutive days with no bites, I started wondering if I am doing something wrong. So naturally, I decided to do some researching and asking around and see what I can find
So, When is the best time to surf fish?
The best time to surf fish is when the tide is going up and going down. I found 2 to 3 hours before high tide, and 2 to 3 hours outgoing tide is the best time for me. If the high tide happens during the early morning or late afternoon and in the presence of changing barometric pressure, this will provide for even better surf fishing conditions.
As it stands, more factors can determine the outcome of your fishing journey than you might expect.
Below, I will go into more detail about the different factors I wish I knew when I started surf fishing. So hopefully, you will not make the same mistakes I did.
The Best Time of the Day to Surf Fish
Out of all the factors you need to consider the time of the day is probably going to be the first and easiest one.
Sunrise vs. Sunset
Either fishing at sunrise or sunset is good. Usually, the best time for surf fishing is from early morning up to 9 or 10 AM and a few hours before sunset. The hours may vary a little depending on the season, so keep that in mind.
One of the downsides of surf fishing during the sunrise or sunset is that you need to be extra careful about any swimmers and people on the beach. They will be harder to spot during the low light conditions.
Daytime vs. Night-Time
Surf fishing at night can be very productive. In fact, there is a good chance to catch bigger fish as they come closer to the shore and the water surface to feed during the night.
The only downside of surf fishing at night is the darkness. You need to make sure you have enough light to work with, but at the same time, you should not have any bright lights on that can scare the fish off.
On the other hand, surf fishing at night can also be quite dangerous, especially if you want to wade in the water – definitely something that is not recommendable.
From a convenience standpoint, surf fishing during the day is considered to be the best.
Especially if you are working the next day or are very busy in general, one of the downsides of surf fishing during the day is the fact that there can be more anglers or just regular folk who are sunbathing or having a stroll down the beach.
Usually, it is forbidden to surf fish in areas of the beach where people go swimming, so that needs to be kept in mind.
The Best Season of the Year to Surf Fish
The best season of the year to go surf fishing is in the spring and the fall.
There are several reasons for that. And they are all intertwined with some of the other factors I have mentioned in this article.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t surf fish in the summer or winter. The thing is that some fish species during the summer and winter, may be found in deeper water, or it may be a little too lethargic for our liking.
You need to consider the type of fish you want to catch while surf fishing. The different fish species have different behavior and migration patterns during different seasons.
Also, not all coastal areas are created equal. The conditions on the east coast vs. the west coast and the gulf can be very different.
Depending on where you are going to be surf fishing, the chances may be that seasons will not matter as much if at all.
The Best Tide to Surf Fish
The tide is one of the most critical factors that a great many anglers prefer to organize their fishing trips around.
The best tide for surf fishing can vary significantly depending on the other factors I mention here and including your area and the fish species you are after.
Usually, you want to avoid the slack tide. This is when the tide starts to change its direction, and there is not a lot of water movement.
Ideally, you want there to be water movement because this produces more bites. Because of that, you will find out that people often go fishing when the tide is in the process of raising or lowering.
Two to three hours before the high tide is going to be the best time to go surf fishing. And if that high tide happens to be around sunrise or sunset, this can be even better.
Of course, this is not a rule set in stone. You can have just as good results fishing two to three hours before low tide.
The next best time is usually two to three hours after high or low tide as there will again be a lot of water movement, and fish will be on the move as well.
The best thing to do is to experiment and try surf fishing in the different tides to see what will work best in your area.
After all, the most important thing is to be able to cast and keep the bait where the fish are. If you cannot get your presentation in front of the fish, your chances of catching anything will go down significantly.
This is something that can happen if there is too strong of a current. So, in other words, you may need to avoid surf fishing in both extremes of the spectrum (very calm and very fast-moving waters).
The Best Moon Phases to Surf Fish
The moon phases are another thing that may significantly impact the fish’s behavior.
The moon phases change from full moon to new moon and vice versa every two weeks.
Here’s the thing with moon phases.
During a new moon, the night will be completely dark. Because of that, fish may not be able to feed.
Due to the low visibility, fish tend to stay closer to structures and covers where they will feel safer.
Fish will also not be able to see your bait or lure. In that case, you may need to use bigger lures and baits that will displace more water (fish can sense the changes in water pressure). Or use scented baits and lures.
As a consequence, they will be hungrier when the sun starts to rise and frequently go out to feed during the early morning.
Some anglers say during a full moon is the best time to go fishing at night. The full moon reflects more light, and the fish will be able to see better in the water. During a full moon, fish go out and feed more.
Some people also advise avoiding surf fishing the day (or morning) after a full moon because fish would have been able to feed the whole night and will not be biting as much.
These patterns hold true for one to two or three days after each new moon or full moon. During these few days, the moon percentages will slowly be growing or lowering. So, it is not just that one night that matters.
On the rest of the days where the moon percentages will be higher, and there will be varying night visibility, you will encounter sporadic feeding that will be spread out during the day and the night.
During these days, it will be more of a hit and miss kind of situation where you can’t predict when fish will feed.
So, in general, it may be best not to worry too much about the moon during the time between the two phases.
The Solunar Theory
The solunar theory is something that frequently comes up in the fishing community.
So, what is it all about?
According to this theory, fish are affected by the location. And the phase of the moon in relation to the position of the sun. This is a somewhat older hypothesis that was suggested by John Alden Knight in 1926.
According to it, there is a higher fish and animal activity at two specific periods: namely the moon up (or moonrise) and the moon down. There are also two secondary activity peaks, although to a much lesser extent, between the two phases.
It is a theory, after all, and both people agree and disagree with it. Some think it is just a weird version of astrology for fish that holds no bearing on fishing while others do consider it to be relevant.
The Best Weather Conditions to Surf Fish
As if things were not getting complicated already, the weather conditions are also an essential factor.
The best weather conditions for surf fishing are when the surf is not too high, the wind is not too strong, and there is not too much of a water current.
On bright and sunny days, fish tends to get into deeper water as a result of the better and deeper visibility in the water. In clear water, fish will also be able to spot your fishing line and lures or baits easier.
This can be either a good or a bad thing depending on your surf fishing tackle.
On cloudy and overcast days, fish tends to be closer to the topwater and may have a harder time spotting your fishing line.
Many anglers also report more bites when fishing during a rainy day when frequently fish is more aggressive.
Wind can cause higher surf and muddier water, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you will be fishing.
A little wind thus can reduce the visibility in the water, making it hard for the fish to see your fishing line, and it can also drive more fish near the shore to feed.
The direction can also matter in some instances. You may have heard of the old adage:
Wind from the east, fish bite the least; Wind from the west, the fish bite the best; Wind from the north, few sailors, set forth; Wind from the south blows bait in their mouth.
Many anglers still use it, even today. It is true for the most part, depending on your location, but not 100% all the time.
Many people prefer the headwind as it can cause fish to come closer to the shore. The wind can work up and stir up the plankton and other food that baitfish will find of interest. And baitfish will attract bigger predatory fish.
If the weather conditions have changed drastically, this usually will result in fewer bites. In these cases, you may want to skip a day or two, giving enough time for the weather to improve or the fish to adapt to the changes.
But there is one aspect of the weather that can change everything. And this is the atmospheric pressure.
The Best Atmospheric Pressure to Surf Fish
Barometric pressure (or atmospheric pressure) is the pressure created by the atmosphere of the Earth as a result of the gravitational pull.
As a cold front approach, the barometric pressure changes from high to low. And as the hot front approaches, the pressure goes back from low to high.
Ideally, you want to go surf fishing when the atmospheric pressure is in the process of changing. Fish tend to feed more right before the atmospheric pressure starts lowering.
Avoid fishing when the atmospheric pressure has stayed the same for several days.
Fish are affected significantly by the atmospheric pressure because of their swim bladders. The high barometric pressure applies pressure on their swim bladders, which affects their behavior.
Fish with smaller swim bladders are not affected as much as fish with bigger bladders.
I find it easier to think of fish as humans to a certain degree.
What do most people do when it is really hot and sunny outside? Do you go out in the open? No, you stay at home.
The same thing happens with fish. They become more lethargic, don’t move around a lot, and are overall very tight-lipped because of the high pressure.
As a result, the odds of them going to the surface of the water to feed are very low.
Many people report that it is better to surf fish when the barometric pressure is on the decline. Or in other words, when the weather is changing from clean and sunny to rainy, windy, and overcast.
A few days before a cold front or a rainstorm, the atmospheric pressure will start changing. As it goes down, the fish start to feel better and become more active. They haven’t been eating for a few days, so you can reasonably expect them to begin feeding and biting more.
Another example is how fish can behave after days of rain and low pressure. This can cause fish to calm down a bit. Eventually, as the pressure starts going up, fish usually can get more active again.
If there have been several days where the temperatures were very high, and the weather has been extremely hot and dry, this may lead to better bites after a storm passes. Because before the storm, there may be less food that fish can feed on in the water.
What Is the Best Water Temperature to Surf Fish?
The rule of thumb is always to know what fish species you will be targeting.
The best all-around water temperature for surf fishing is going to be around 35 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The different fish species prefer and feel best in different water temperatures. Your chances of catching a particular type of fish in waters that are too hot or cold for it are going to below.
- The Red Snapper prefers temperatures between 55 to 65 degrees F.
- The Surfperch likes temperatures between 51 to 76 degrees F.
- The Bluefish likes water temperatures between 66 to 73 degrees F; and
- The Pompano prefers temperatures between 70 to 80 degrees F.
- The Striped bass prefers temperatures between 55 to 69 degrees F.
Not everybody will have the chance to go surf fishing when the conditions are optimal. And that is understandable.
This is why even when being armed will all that knowledge, I still consider the best time to go surf fishing whenever I can. Even if the conditions are not right and the chances for fish biting are low, they are much better than not going to the beach at all.
Don’t get too dependent on all these details. If you are always waiting for the best time, you may never be able even to reach the beach