Many people at the beach love nothing more than napping on the sand and enjoying the sun. However, if you’re an avid angler, you’re probably more interested in what’s under the waves. With surf fishing, you can enjoy both. By casting your line from the shore, you can catch fish species you might not find in other environments. Don’t let its simplicity fool you, though. Surf fishing requires patience and understanding of the ocean but can be very rewarding if you have the right equipment and learn the basics.
Surf Fishing Equipment
Fishing in the ocean bears little resemblance to lake or river fishing, so you’ll need specialized equipment to increase your odds of landing the big catch. In this section, we’ll cover the specifics of what you need.
Rod and reel
Surf fishing rods are typically long, anywhere from 9 to 15 feet, to let you cast farther. The length helps you cast beyond the breaking waves where fish are likely feeding — more on this below. Your rod should be strong enough to handle the weight of large baits and the pull of strong fish but also sensitive enough so you can tell when you’ve got a bite.
Look for a durable spinning or conventional reel capable of holding at least 300 yards of 15- to 30-pound test line. You’ll want a reel with corrosion-resistant materials, as salt water can be tough on gear. To keep your fishing gear in top shape, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water after fishing.
Surf fishing braid
When you’re fishing from the beach, choosing the right line is critical. You need a beach fishing braid that’s light enough to cast past the surf but heavy enough the withstand an aggressive snook or feisty pompano. The best beach fishing braid is the FINS 40-G, which comes in two weights, 10 to 50 pounds and 65 to 100 pounds. A braid line is made by weaving together multiple strands of synthetic material, which gives the line much more strength relative to its diameter. Surf fishing braid has minimal stretch, allowing for excellent sensitivity. You'll feel even subtle bites, which is a high priority in surf fishing, as the sound of the waves breaking and wind blowing — not to mention beachgoers blasting their music — can make it harder to tell when you’ve got a bite.
Hooks and rigs
The choice of hooks and rigs in surf fishing depends on factors like target species, bait type, surf conditions, and your personal preferences. Understanding which hooks and rigs are best for which species will help you determine the ideal setup.
Circle hooks are designed to hook the fish in the lip rather than the gut, making it easier to catch and release. You can use J hooks when a more aggressive hook set is needed. They’re versatile but may lead to gut hooking.
Here are some popular rigs you can consider:
- Fish-finder rig: This rig consists of a sliding sinker, a swivel, a leader, and a hook. It allows the fish to take the bait without feeling the weight, offering a natural presentation.
- Double-drop rig (pompano rig): With two hooks suspended above the sinker, this rig lets you present multiple baits at different depths. It's great for targeting various species simultaneously.
- High-low rig: This rig features two hooks, one higher and one lower on the leader line, allowing you to cover different parts of the water column.
- Carolina rig: Often used with soft plastic lures, this rig consists of a sliding weight, a bead, a swivel, a leader, and a hook. It offers a sensitive connection to detect subtle bites.
- Pulley rig: Designed to minimize snags, the pulley rig keeps the hooked fish away from rough bottoms. It's used in areas with lots of rocks or other obstructions.
- Three-way swivel rig: This rig uses a three-way swivel to attach the main line, leader with hook, and a drop line with a weight. It’s great for fishing in strong currents.
Accessories and protective gear
If you’re planning to set up several rods or leave yours unattended, you’ll want some rod holders. You’ll also need standard gear, such as nets, a fishhook remover, weights, a knife, your tackle box, and anything else you’d normally take fishing. Don’t forget a sunhat, gloves, and other protective gear.
Surf Fishing Species and Bait
There’s an astonishing variety of marine life thriving near the shore. Though it’s the most studied ocean area, we still don’t know exactly how many species live there — estimates range from 178,000 to over 10 million.
Thankfully, you don’t need to know or prepare for all of them, but preparing the right rig for the species you want to catch will greatly increase your odds of success. Here are some of the most popular types of surf fish:
- Striped bass: Found along the Atlantic coast, striped bass are prized for their fight and flavor. They often feed in the surf zone, especially during migrations.
- Bluefish: Aggressive and powerful, bluefish are common in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They strike both lures and bait with ferocity.
- Red drum (redfish): A popular target in the Southeast and Gulf coasts, red drum can be found cruising the surf for crabs, shrimp, and baitfish.
- Pompano: Pompano is probably the most targeted species for surf fishing. They’re delicious and found in the surf zone along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. You can usually catch them with fleas or shrimp.
- Surf perch: Along the Pacific coast, surf perch are a favorite target. They're often found in the breaking waves and can be caught using worms or grubs.
- Sharks: If you’re looking for a real challenge, try your hand at catching sharks from the surf, including blacktip and spinner sharks.
- Flounder: Found on sandy bottoms near structures, flounder are masters of camouflage and can be caught using live or cut bait.
- Kingfish (whiting): Common along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts, whiting are often targeted with shrimp or cut bait.
- Halibut: On the West Coast, you may be able to catch halibut with heavy sinkers to keep baits or lures near the bottom.
- Tarpon: Although more commonly targeted from boats, tarpon can sometimes be caught from shore during migratory runs along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
- Cobia: Found in the Gulf and Southeast Atlantic, cobia can be caught from piers and shorelines using live bait or large artificial lures.
- Snook: In tropical surf zones, snook are prized targets. Try catching them using live or artificial baitfish.
Surf Fishing Techniques
Surf fishing involves techniques tailored to the environment, target species, and equipment. Start by making sure you’re fishing in the right place at the right time. Then try some specific bait presentation techniques to attract fish.
Scout out the area
Understanding the local conditions, identifying key features, and planning your approach will help you make the most of your fishing time. Before you set up, look at the surf and identify areas where the waves break less or form channels. This can indicate deeper waters where fish may be present.
Sandbars can also trough where fish congregate to feed on baitfish. Since birds often feed on the same type of baitfish, bird activity can also help identify promising spots.
Scouting out the area lets you “match the hatch” — observe what type of prey is present in the surf and use a similar type of bait.
Fish during the golden hours
Photographers refer to sunrise and sunset as the “golden hour.” It’s not just a great time to take pictures, it’s also a great time to fish. Fish are usually more active during the early morning and evening hours. The beach is usually less busy, too, so they may be willing to get closer to the shore.
Learn how to get past breaking water
One of the biggest challenges to beach fishing is casting past the breaking surf. Learning which braid casts the farthest can help. FINS 40G is braided fishing line that is thinner than traditional line, so it reduces drag and allows a longer cast. Your weight is also important. Pyramid or torpedo-shaped sinkers can cut through the wind and cast farther.
When you’re getting ready to cast, plant your feet firmly in the sand, staggered for stability. Use your whole body, starting with the legs and hips, followed by the torso, shoulders, and arms, to generate maximum power. Follow through to maintain the energy and direction of your cast.
Put your best bait forward
You can’t go wrong with casting and retrieving. Master anglers can make an art out of the retrieve by mimicking the action of prey. However, if you want to get a little fancier, you can try some of the following techniques for bait presentation:
- Bottom fishing with a weighted rig directly on or near the seabed where fish feed
- Drift fishing by letting your bait or lure drift with the current in strong tidal areas
- Using artificial lures called plugs, including poppers, swimmers, and divers for striped bass and bluefish
- Jigging with a weighted lure by casting it and then working it back with a series of jerks and pauses to mimic prey
- Rigging live bait like shrimp, sand fleas, or small fish for a natural presentation
- Chumming with a mixture of fish parts and other attractants to lure fish closer to the shore
Use the Best Surf Fishing Braid
FINS has been producing high-quality, American-made fishing braid for decades. Our braided fishing line has the strength and sensitivity you need to catch surf fish. Our 40G line is available in test weights from 10 to 100 pounds, so you’ll be prepared no matter what size fish you’re angling for.