How to Surf Fish (A Beginner’s Guide in 2021)

Fishing Guides:

How To Surf Fish

Surf fishing is one of the most fun and accessible types of fishing you can learn. All you need is a few pieces of gear, a beach, and a little knowledge. On the other hand, surf fishing can also be incredibly frustrating if you don’t know what to expect and don’t know a few key tricks to help you find fish.

In this guide we’ll go over:

  • The Basics of Surf Fishing
  • Expectations Surf Fishing
  • How to read the surf
  • Some pro tips and tricks to help you on your way
  • Best gear choices

Let’s get started.

Chapter 1:

The Basics of Surf Fishing

Essentially, surf fishing is just fishing from a beach in the surf zone.

Some guys go out with a ten-dollar combo and stand chest-deep and wait on bites. Others have hundreds of dollars in the equipment they drag out every time.

The simple definition of surf fishing means you can experience it in a way that suits you, and all you need to up your chances is some knowledge. 

What You Need to Know to Get Started

You’ll want to know what kind of fish are in your area, what kind of bait is working, where to cast your line (more on that in a later section), and what kind of gear fits your fishing style. 

For surf fishing, some things are rather widespread smart choices. For instance, some baits are a reasonable choice no matter where in the world you are. Shrimp and freshly-caught baitfish are likely to get some attention from any number of species. 

Longer rods have better casting range than short ones, and ten to twelve foot rods are pretty standard for surf fishing. In some places, you’re going to have the best success getting your bait a hundred yards from the sand, and to do that you’re either getting wet or need tremendous casting distance. 

When you boil it down, surf fishing itself is easy. You choose a good bait, cast it to a good spot, and then wait on your rod tip to begin jerking. Knowing which bait is best for any given fish species, where to cast your bait, and how to be more successful is all a matter of experience and knowledge. We’ll go over a lot of that as we go further into the article.

Chapter 2:

What to Expect

We need to get a few things out of the way expectation-wise, so you know exactly what you’re getting into with surf fishing. It’s a good way to avoid disappointment but also lets you be more prepared for what you’ll actually experience. 

What You Won’t Catch

Unless you’re in Hawaii on a volcanic rock or fishing from a barely protruding seamount, you aren’t going to catch any big offshore pelagic species from the beach. You might get some tuna, but it’ll be bonita not bluefin. 

You won’t go out and catch thirty (insert your target species here) every trip. In fact sometimes you might have days where you only get a few nibbles or some catfish and whiting. Especially if you aren’t actively moving to better spots around the beach. 

What Can Happen

None of that means you can’t end up in fierce battles with monster fish. In fact, some of the hardest fighting fish I’ve fought were hooked in the surf. They just happened to be sharks, bull redfish, and 6-foot wide stingrays instead of a tuna or marlin. You’ll have days where every cast catches a fish,or you’ll catch something tasty for dinner. Just like with any kind of fishing, if you want results you have to use your head and work for it. 

Before you go out, you should temper your expectations. If you’re wanting to target a species then you should research how to target it If you just want to have a peaceful day and catch a few fish, then you can throw a line just about anywhere. It’s important to decide what you want out of the surf before going out, so you can have a much more enjoyable day.

Chapter 3:

Reading the Surf

You can honestly find success just pulling up anywhere you want on a beach, plopping yourself down, and waiting for a bite. This kind of approach, while easy, is more of a feast or famine approach. You might get lucky and plant your bait right in a busy fish highway, but you also might end up being in a dead zone. We’ll go over a few tips to help you read where you’ll find more fish and what to look for.

Where to Fish

The best places to fish on the beach are the inside and outside troughs of the sandbars, cuts in the sandbars, the middle of rip currents, and potholes. These are high traffic areas for fish, whether it’s a place they tend to spend time like a pothole or their typical travel route like a cut in a sandbar. 

Fish tend to use the sandbars as highways, swimming up and down the beach in the deeper troughs to either side. Cuts in the sandbar are easy access to the waterways inside the bar and see a lot of fish swim through. Predator fish will also sit in deeper bowl-shaped holes in the sand and wait for baitfish to be washed into them. Nearly all fish take advantage of currents and tides to wait for prey to be swept by them, making rip currents a great place to look for fish.

What to Look For

For the most part, identifying the sandbar and its troughs is pretty easy. I recommend a good pair of polarized glasses, since they make it much easier to see objects under the water. Even if it’s deep, the sandbar off your beach is going to be a lighter color than the darker water surrounding it.  You’ll want to cast into the darker water as near to the lighter colors as possible. 

On the off chance you can’t visibly see a sandbar, watch where the waves begin to gain height and topple over. The start of the sandbar is higher than the seafloor the wave has been traveling over, causing it to begin breaking (which you can identify by it seeming to rise up and foam along its top.

You should be able to see cuts in a sandbar as well, however, if you can’t then you can find them by watching water currents. When waves come together and seem to meet in the middle, sloshing into one another to become one, that’s one good indicator of an outwards sucking current (or rip current).

Chapter 4:

Pro Tips for Surf Fishing

1) Fish with more than one rod.

In general you want to get as many lines out as possible to get a good bait spread. This lets you fish different zones (distances from the beach or spots) where fish are likely traveling so you can hone in on where they are. The more lines you fish, the higher risk you run from tangling them if a bigger fish gets hooked and takes off. Typically two or three is sufficient for finding hot zones, and is manageable even if big fish run off.

2) Use a light drag,

Even if you’re fishing for pompano, whiting, or other smaller surf species it’s best to keep your drag light when waiting on a bite. There are big fish in the surf that hit hard and if your drag is locked down they can snap your line on the take. Not only will you miss out on a good fight. Sizeable redfish and sharks will run a good bit of line off your reel right after taking the bait. You could also lose the chance to get your leader back or remove your hook from a fish it could harm. It isn’t too uncommon for a sea turtle to grab a piece of squid on your hook, and it’s best for the turtle to remove that hook. 

3) Keep an extra rod on hand for casting lures.

You’ll likely be spending a lot of time sitting and waiting on a bite. Keep your eyes on the water up current if you know which way fish tend to swim along the beach. Schools of game fish like bluefish and jack crevalle will come by every now and then, and if you spot them and are ready you can get some great action by tossing a lure in front of the school. It’s also a good way to pass the time when you’re just waiting to give a spoon or sabiki a few throws and see if anything is interested in it. 

4) Be Mobile

Some of the best fishing spots are farther away from crowds of tourists and parking lots. To find them, look for those cuts in the sandbar, riptides, and potholes that normally hold fish. If a spot isn’t producing, don’t just sit there and waste your time. Moving up and down the beach to find better spots will make your trip much more enjoyable and successful. 

5) Try a TON of baits.

There are a lot of common surf fishing baits like shrimp, squid, and sand fleas. These work great, but they might not always be the most effective option. Try to bring multiple kinds of bait with you, or catch small baitfish to use as well. Fishing multiple kinds of baits goes right along with using multiple rods to figure out where the fish are running. Here you’re just figuring out what the fish are most likely to bite on that day.

Chapter 5:

Surf Fishing Gear Recommendations

In this all-new guide you’ll learn:

Let’s get started.

Best Rods for Surf Fishing

Shakespeare TideWater 12 foot Heavy

Shakespeare Tidewater Spinning Fishing Rod
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My all time favorite surf fishing rod. It’s fairly cheap, but it’s an absolute beast of a rod. The length and extra flex in its tip give you plenty of casting power, and with the right weight and practice can easily get your bait a hundred yards out. It’s also a strong enough rod to handle massive fish like those six-foot wide stingrays and larger sharks. Eventually, the ceramic eyes in the guides will fall out, but you’ll get a couple thousand casts out of these rods before you run into any problems. In fact, the only weak point of the rod is the guides, since the actual rod hasn’t ever failed me.

Fiblink Surf Spinning Fishing Rod

Fiblink Surf Spinning Fishing Rod 2-Piece & 3-Piece & 4-Piece Carbon Fiber Travel Fishing Rod with Noctilucent Tips (12' - 2Pcs - Blue)
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Alternatively, this Fiblink is another good choice in a surf rod. You can get a variety of sizes and styles for it, even getting a four-piece rod if you travel often or have trouble storing a 2-piece one. It has stainless steel guides, a comfortable handle wrap, and the carbon fiber blank is really light. It even comes with a year warranty for any defects. 

Best Reel for Surf Fishing

Penn Spinfisher LongCast

Penn Spinfisher VI Long Cast Fishing Reel
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If you want to get serious about casting distance and reel power then this is the best reel you can get. The long cast spool is shallower and taller, allowing line to come off the spool more smoothly without losing line capacity. It casts a mile, is sealed against saltwater, and has a ton of drag for reeling in monster fish. The 5500 will work great, though if you run into larger fish more often than not go for the 7500 model. 

Best Line for Surf Fishing

SpiderWire Stealth Braided Fishing Line

SPIDERWIRE SCS30G-125 Stealth, 125-Yard/30-Pound, Moss Green
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In my experience you get more bang for your buck in the surf with braided fishing line. If you play it correctly with your drag you can land fish over 100 pounds with a thirty pound line. This SpiderWire Stealth is an excellent choice, since you can choose a color to match the water you’re fishing and reduce its visibility for the fish. 

Chapter 6:

Final Thoughts

When it comes to surf fishing, you generally get out of it what you put in. You need to use a good bit of knowledge to have the most success. After reading through this guide you should have a decent understanding of surf fishing and be able to get started. Remember that if something works for you, keep doing it, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Tight lines!