Surf Fishing for Beginners: How to Surf Fish

Surf fishing is as rewarding as deep-sea fishing. You can enjoy catching mackerel, flounder, rockfish, and more fish species from the shoreline. Imagine that! You can still reel in fish without a boat and expensive gear. 

So how do you get started? This guide provides surf fishing tips, detailing what gear you need, the best time to go surf fishing, where to find the best fishing spots and much more.  

Larry Stark

Professional fisherman, who loves to review new fishing gadgets.

Table of Contents

What Do You Need for Surfing?

Choosing the right surf fishing gear will make a huge difference in your success in catching fish. The right gear should withstand saltwater fishing, make farther casts, and handle strong fish. To get started, here are five essential pieces of equipment for a surf fishing setup.

Surf Fishing Rods

When choosing the surf fishing rods, consider its length as it affects your cast. We recommend getting at least a 10 to a 12-foot-long rod. Such long rods let you cast bait further over shallow sand beds, inshore waves, and other obstacles. 

Regarding rod power, choose a light or medium-light rod for small saltwater species and a heavy rod power for larger fish. If you are undecided on your preferred target species, get a medium rod power. 

Next, decide whether you need a fast, medium, or slow-action rod. Fast-action rods provide more control, better sensitivity, and casting accuracy. Slow-action rods, on the other hand, are suitable for casting long distances and reeling in big fish. 

Also, consider whether you need a spinning or a conventional rod. Spinning rods are perfect for light tackle and work well with sinking baits and jigs. On the other hand, conventional rods can handle heavy tackle and provide more accuracy while casting further distances. Plus, they are efficient at landing larger fish. 

Another important consideration is the surf rod construction. You should choose a strong material that can withstand abuse from breaking waves, sharp rocks, and flying sand yet is sensitive so you feel the slightest bites. Graphite rods are stiff and sensitive, while fiberglass rods are soft, stronger, and heavier.  

Surf Fishing Reels

A fishing reel is another important piece of your shore fishing gear. Spinning reels are the most popular among surf fishermen as they are beginner-friendly and water- and sand-proof. With time, you can advance to a conventional reel to cast your bait further. Conventional reels are suitable for heavy rigs and fishing in hard bottoms.

Next, consider the reel size rating. The best surf-casting reel size for beginners should be between 4000 and 6000. Saltwater anglers agree that this is the optimal size to catch most fish species from shore. And it can hold at least 200 yards of line on the spool. 

Speaking of line, you want to ensure the reel can hold the line weight you intend to use. Heavier lines are ideal when targeting large fish, but they take up much space. You can start with a 10 to 20-pound line to catch striped bass, pompano, red drum, and flounder. 

If you have difficulty finding the best rod and reel, consider getting a surf fishing combo.

Surf Fishing Lines

Surf anglers prefer the braid line for saltwater surf fishing. Its highly sensitive nature improves hooksets and offers better bite detection and control when reeling in fish. Plus, it is more resistant to wind and currents, and its thin diameter means extra line capacity when making farther casts.

However, braided line is prone to twisted lines and wind knots that are a headache to remove. In these cases, you may have to cut the line.

Terminal Tackle

Surf fishing tackle is the gear that presents bait to the fish. Rather than use the main fishing line, use a leader with the tackle. A leader line protects the main line from breaking and abrasions while also reducing the line’s visibility to promote lure presentation. 

Terminal tackle consists of a swivel, a sinker, a hook, and a rig. Swivels prevent line tangling when casting and hooking fish. Meanwhile, sinkers are attached weights that ensure the lure sinks to the preferred depth.  

Baits & Lures

As a surf fisherman, you should always have the best surf fishing lures and baits. Live bait may lure more strikes, but most beginners struggle with using them to catch fish. So, here is a quick tip when using live bait: Rig your bait in an area that will not kill it, preferably the nose or the top fin. 

Mullet is the best live bait for flounder, while herrings effectively catch mackerels. Fresh squid and cut mullet, mackerel, sardine, and bunker will help you catch blue fish. If you are unsure what live bait to use, you can always try fresh shrimp. Squid, frozen shrimp, and cut bait are also perfect when targeting smaller fish.

Alternatively, use artificial lures if you dislike carrying live or dead bait around. Some of the best lures include soft plastic baits, topwater poppers, spoons, and jigs. 

After finding the best bait, it is time to choose surf fishing rigs. The best rigs for bait vary with fish species.

A Carolina rig, for instance, is perfect for saltwater fishing along sandy beaches, thanks to its simple, streamlined, and sensitive design. Meanwhile, a fish finder rig is ideal for keeping the bait in place when the surf is rough or there’s a strong current on the open waters. Plus, it works well with heavy weights. 

A high-low rig is excellent for live baits, whereas ready rigs are good for children and beginners. And if you are pursuing pompano, perch, Atlantic croaker, or spot fish, use Pompano rigs or a bottom rig.

Surf Fishing Setup and Strategy

When you cast your bait or lure, give it time to hit the bottom. When it does, release the line gradually so it doesn’t get tangled in the waves. Then, engage the bail and slowly reel the line until you observe a bend in the surfing rod. 

Sometimes your bait may get washed to the shore when surf fishing. When this happens, add weights to the tackle to promote sinking.

We recommend that every surf angler carry two fishing rods, preferably a short and longer one. Smaller rods are suitable for shorter casts and catching smaller species, while long rods are suitable when casting further distances and landing bigger fish. Also, use PVC sand spikes to hold your rods in place. 

Lastly, get the correct size of rigs. Larger rigs will hold larger species, whereas smaller rigs work well with smaller fish species. 

What Is the Best Time for Surf Fishing?

Dusk and dawn are the best times to start fishing as they feature high tides. Surf fish tend to become more active at these times due to the increased water from the incoming tide, increasing your chances of catching them. However, take note that some species prefer low tide. 

You can also go surf fishing on rainy and overcast days. Shadows from your line become diminished, which makes the bait more alluring, increasing strikes. But do not compromise your safety. Be on the lookout for high winds and thunderstorms.

How to Find the Best Surf Fishing Spots?

You can find the best surf fishing spots using forecast programs and apps or asking local surf anglers. After doing so, scout the surf during a low tide to learn how to read the beach. 

The best surf casting spots to look for are: 

  • Sand Bars: These are a reference point for where the waves start breaking. Sand bars help you establish whether the fish are hunting bait fish closer to the shore or behind them. 

  • Outflows/Rip Currents: The breaks in the sandbars are known as outflows, where predator fish often come to feed on bait fish. You can cast your line here as well as the left and right sides of the outflow. 

  • Troughs: These are areas where waves break as they are close to spots of fast-moving currents. Troughs harbor schools of bait fish, so you are likely to catch sea trout, flounder, and pompano here. 

  • Deep Holes and Jetties: Look for areas with deeper holes, shells, or rock formations during the low tide as they attract both bait and bigger fish. 

  • Fish Schools: Most fish swim in schools, and you can learn to identify moving colored patches from the shore. If you spot openings in the bait schools, know predatory fish are lurking around. 

  • Birds: Observing birds can also help you find the best surf fishing spots. Like gannets and terns, birds circle and dive in spots with baitfish. 

What Fish Can You Catch in the Surf?

The most common fish you can catch from shoreline fishing are striped bass, red drum, speckled trout, bluefish, flounder, mackerel, whiting, and blowfish. However, you must choose the right fishing bait and gear for each target fish. 

We hope that, at this point, you know the best way to surf fish. To summarize, here are five more helpful surf fishing tips: 

  • Use natural baits as they are more effective on different fish species.

  • Store baits in a cooler rather than expose them to the sun.

  • Wear polarized glasses to reduce glare when looking for fish.

  • Always wear a wading belt with chest waders for safety.

  • Read the state’s surf fishing laws before your trip.