Best Surf Fishing Baits (Complete Fishing Guide)

Surf fishing is one of the most accessible forms of fishing, all you need is your rod, reel, bait, and a beach. The best thing about surf fishing is you can do it anywhere there is a beach. You’ll want to try to look for rip currents and sandbars along beaches, as these areas both attract fish and are the general path fish take through the water.

Accessibility is also important. Beaches you can drive on or have easy access to make it much easier to get to the water and fish. The U.S. has some of the best surf fishing in the world, with species of all sizes on both coasts possible to catch.

Surf Fishing Basics

How to read the surf (importance of tides when surf fishing)

There are a few things that help you find more fish when surf fishing. You need to be able to read the water and find the travel lanes fish will be swimming through as they go by. This lets you put your bait in the best position for it to get picked up and eaten.

Beaches typically have two sandbars that form troughs where the water becomes deeper and shallower. During low tides, you want to fish on the inside and outside of the furthest sandbar, while during high tide you’ll usually fish on the outside of the nearer one.

Look for breaks in the outer sandbar when fishing. These are essentially highways for fish to come in and out of the trough to reach deeper water. This is also where rip currents normally form, and you can see the water running outwards in these areas. 

If you’re having trouble finding these spots, look for where waves form and then die before forming again. This action indicates a hole or deeper spot on the bottom. Throw a bait in to see if any fish may be sitting in the hole.

What to look for when choosing the best surf fishing baits

Fresh bait is usually better than frozen bait. This is because frozen baits tend to become mushy from being frozen and then thawed out, making it harder to keep it on the hook.

Look for baits that are natural for your area. You want to use things that the fish you’re targeting would be feeding on normally. This gets you more bites, as fish are much more likely to take the easy meal when it’s normal for them to come across.


Choosing the Best Bait for Surf Fishing

Regardless of the species, you hope to catch, you need the right bait to get a bite.

Typically, you want to use bait that is a natural food for the fish in your area or the species you’re targeting. Thankfully, many of the best baits are common foods for many kinds of fish across the world.

Figuring out which bait is best for you can be tricky with so many different kinds out there. We’ve put together this guide to help you weigh the benefits of different kinds of bait, and how well they should perform on your next surf fishing outing.

1. Shrimp

At some point in their life cycle, most fish feed on shrimp. Many of the tastier species inhabiting the surf eat shrimp as a large part of their diet. Shrimp works best for fishermen targeting pompano, bluefish, striped bass, whiting, and most other species of fish.

Advantages

  • Fresh, live, or frozen can work
  • Most fish species eat shrimp at some point
  • Stays on the hook well if rigged properly

Rigging

Frozen shrimp are notorious for the fact that they can easily fall off the hook when casting long distances in the surf. Try to always use fresh shrimp, as their bodies are much less mushy.

Run the shrimp over the hook down the center of its body if you plan to use a whole one. A great alternative is to cut the shrimp into chunked sections and slip that over the hook. This is especially effective rigging for catching species with smaller mouths.

What Species to Expect

Shrimp will work on a variety of species. In the Atlantic, you can expect to catch bluefish, striped bass, and flounder. In the Gulf of Mexico shrimp is the best bait to use when fishing for pompano and whiting. In the Pacific, shrimp is a solid bait for small lingcod and mackerel.

2. Sand Fleas

Mole crabs, or more commonly called sand fleas, are found on beaches around the world burrowed in the sand where the water meets the shore. You can fish them out with a sift, colander, or special sand flea rakes and fill up a container to use for bait for the day. They make a great budget option for fishermen targeting the species that feed on them. 

Advantages

  • Catch them fresh before casting out any lines
  • Completely free and available on most beaches
  • Stay on the hook well but die easily

Rigging

Rigging sand fleas is tricky since to get them on the hook you’ll typically need to puncture their shell or you’ll accidentally injure them. If you want to use live sand fleas, you’ll need to swap out the dead ones pretty frequently. 

The best way to rig them is to use smaller ones, and run your hook through the rear end of the sand flea so it lives as long as possible. You can alternatively hook them through their body as you would with a worm, however, they will die very quickly.

What Species to Expect

In the Atlantic, sand fleas work best for large drums, striped bass, and trout. In the Gulf of Mexico, you should expect redfish, pompano, and whiting. Sand fleas work better offshore in the Pacific, catching snapper and grouper most often.

3. Fish Bites

Fish Bites come in all kinds of flavors from shrimp and sand flea to bloodworm and clam. They’re made by layering the “bait” onto a thin netting that holds it all together. You simply cut off pieces and put them on your hook, either as an addition to cut bait to make it more appealing or on its own. This works best for fishermen who’d rather not get fish guts and slime on their hands while rigging but is a great option for any angler.

Advantages

  • No mess, just cut off pieces to use as bait
  • Artificial bait, but made to smell and taste like real bait
  • Multiple varieties to choose from

Rigging

Fish bites are simple to rig, cut off square pieces or slightly longer sections and hook them. You can use just Fish Bites and still get some results, or use a piece of fish bites while using other natural baits to make it more appealing.

What Species to Expect

The species you’ll catch vary by the kind of fish bites you’re using and your region. Typically, try to match up the flavor with the bait you’re using, like shrimp Fish Bites with a piece of shrimp. Fish Bites are durable and dissolve slowly, so you can continue using a piece even after catching a fish, just switch your other bait.

4. Squid

Many species of fish feed on squid as a consistent part of their diet. Many people also eat squid, and like shrimp, they can be found in local grocery stores fresh or frozen. It makes squid an incredibly accessible and versatile bait for any fishermen in the surf.

Advantages

  • Stays on the hook super well
  • Larger species feed on squids like sharks and jacks
  • Relatively low price per pound, and hold up well to being refrozen after a trip

Rigging

Cut an inch or two-inch sections of the squid bell, and double it over on your hook. You can leave some off so it flaps in the current, or just ball it up on the hook, either way, just make sure to use a small enough piece for the fish you’re after. Fish two pieces on a double drop rig to get a better smell traveling in the current.

What Species to Expect

Squid works well for most species, but you can expect to hook into some larger species as well. Sharks are more likely to eat squid than shrimp on a hook, even some medium-sized ones. You also can run the risk of hooking turtles who do feed on soft-bodied species like squid.

5. Mullet

Mullet are typically vegetarian fish that are a prey species for other marine predators. During their spawning season, they make up a huge part of the diet of sharks, large fish, and birds. Mullet works around the world for most fishermen targeting larger predatory fish in the surf.

Advantages

  • Small, live mullet are target prey for many predators
  • Scale size of baitfish to size of fish you want to catch
  • Fresh better than frozen to avoid mushy meat

Rigging

You can either use mullet as live bait or cut pieces of larger mullet off to attach to your hook. Make sure to hook through the skin twice with the meat side facing out of the gap of your hook. Ensure the hook point is sticking out as well. Mullet works best on Carolina rigs laying on the bottom.

What Species to Expect

Since mullet grow to be larger and are prey fish, you can expect bigger fish to take your bait. Look for sharks and stingrays to join in, as well as other predator fish like drums, striped bass, king mackerel, speckled trout, and snook.

6. Bloodworms

Bloodworms aren’t something you’d expect to catch much fish, since they aren’t natural prey but fish love them. The centipedes are a bright red color because their translucent skin lets you see their blood inside, and a combination of color, smell, and movement drives fish wild. A favorite bait in the Mid and North Atlantic, bloodworms are a great choice for fishermen in these areas.

Advantages

  • Watch out for bites from live worms
  • Survive on hooks for extended periods
  • Expensive at stores, but can be caught in mudflats

Rigging

You want to find the wider end which is the head, and run your hook through the head and down the body an inch or two before puncturing the worm. This leaves a section of the worm off the hook that will wiggle and attract fish. Remember that bloodworms are centipedes, not worms, and can bite when being handled.

What Species to Expect

Bloodworms are primarily used by fishermen in colder waters, but they can work anywhere. They’re a great bait for catching bluefish, kingfish, striped bass, and weakfish. If you specifically want to catch a spot, perch, or catfish, this is your go-to bait.

7. Small Baitfish

Whether you want to use life or cut bait, you should always try to use something the fish in your area would feed on naturally. Catching small baitfish with a cast net or sabiki rig is a great option for fishermen to give their kids a chance to catch small fish, use natural bait, and find out what is currently in the area.

Advantages

  • Give kids a chance to catch fish
  • Tells you what small fish are in the area
  • Gives you natural, fresh, and free bait

Rigging

Rigging small baitfish depends mostly on the kind of fish you catch and how long you want it to live. If you want to use the baitfish as live bait, hook it right behind the head while missing any of its organs. This lets it swim away from your weight and live the longest. 

If you aren’t worried about how long it lives or you’ll use it as dead bait, rig the baitfish by either running your hook through the middle of its head or right behind the tail through its center. 

What Species to Expect

Small baitfish work well for predatory fish that would normally feed on them. You can expect to hook into sharks, striped bass, drums, and trout. Remember, the bigger the baitfish the bigger the fish that will take it. 

8. Cut Baits

Sometimes you’ll catch fish you weren’t trying to catch like ladyfish, jacks, pinfish, blue runners, and even whiting. These make excellent bait, as they’re the kind of fish many of the game fish you’re after would be feeding on, and they’re incredibly fresh. This is the best option for fishermen who aren’t interested in taking home some of those species for dinner and who are looking for larger fish.

Advantages

  • Use fish you’ve caught but aren’t keeping
  • One of the freshest ways to get bait
  • Save it for next time in the freezer

Rigging

You’ll usually want to cut up these fish before rigging them unless you’re using a whole fish and hoping a shark takes the bait. Cut off sections of the filet from the fish around the size you want. Run your hook through it twice with the meat side facing away from the hook gap. Make sure the hook point is sticking out and you’re ready to fish.

What Species to Expect

Since you’re working your way up the food chain you should expect larger fish to be taking these baits. Big stripers, sharks, king mackerel, and jack crevalle are common fish to catch with these baits. If you’re using smaller pieces you’ll find success with trout, mackerel, and flounder.

9. Spoons

Okay, a spoon is a lure, not a bait. But, it’s always good when fishing to use a variety of baits and presentations to figure out which one will work best. It’s also common when surf fishing for schools of fish to pass by while chasing down baitfish schools. When this happens, you need to be prepared with a rod ready to throw right in front of them, and a spoon is a perfect lure for this.

Advantages

  • Flashes in water to mimic baitfish movement
  • Can be rigged and at the ready for a school to come by
  • Gives you something to do during downtime waiting on a bite

Rigging

Spoons are simple to rig. You can just tie directly to the attachment point or add some sort of leader between your line and the lure. You’ll want to use a heavier fluorocarbon leader to avoid toothy fish cutting through your line once you hook up with them. 

What Species to Expect

You should expect to catch larger fish with these. When casting into schools you’ll typically catch jack crevalle, stripers, bluefish, and trout. If you’re throwing while waiting on a bite you can catch flounder, trout, drums, and stripers.


5 of the Most Common Surf Fishing Species

Striped bass

Striped bass is voracious eaters that take a variety of baits. You can use herring, bloodworms, shrimp, and mullet when going for stripers, all with great success. When surf fishing, bloodworms, and mullet are your best options, as they tend to stay on the hook better than other baits for long-distance casting.

Bluefish

Baitfish are the best bait you can use for bluefish. Before you start fishing, try to catch some menhaden or finger mullet to use. Bluefish swim in schools, so expect rapid periods of action with lulls in between as the schools travel down the beach.

Fluke and Flounder

The best options for flounder are using small pieces of shrimp or live bull minnows. Flounder can be tricky with their bite, as they tend to mouth the bait before swallowing. If you’re looking for flounder and get a bite, give it a little extra time before setting the hook to let the fish eat the bait.

Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel aren’t picky eaters. That being said, cut mullet, squid, and small silver baitfish are your best baits when targeting them. For a better fight, try to use a light tackle rig instead of a heavier surf fishing rig, as they are much more fun on light tackle.

Spotted sea trout

Live shrimp is the best bait for spotted sea trout. In the surf, you can use pieces of shrimp to catch them on bottom rigs or rig up a live ghost shrimp for the best results. You can also catch them with strips of cut bait like squid, mullet, and menhaden.