Surf Fishing Tips and Techniques
Top Tips For Surf Fishing
A compilation of some great surf-fishing tips to help you find and hook lots more fish.
- How to find the fish you are after
- Tips on rigs and bait for some popular surf fish
- Types of rigs
- Types of bait
- Tips on cost-effective fishing equipment
Definition of "Fishing"
fish*ing (fish`ing) n. The art of casting, trolling, jigging, or spinning while freezing, sweating, swatting, or swearing.
Surf Fishing Tips: Finding the Fish
One of the the best tips for locating fish is to go and check out your chosen beach at low tide before your expedition. Make a note of where the dips, hollows, and sandbanks are. This will give you a great indication of where the fish are likely to be feeding when the tide comes in. Look out for points of land that jut out into the ocean; you will generally find fish on either side of these features.
The best time to surf fish is always around high tide, especially if high tide falls at either dawn or dusk.
Another great surf fishing tip is to go and talk to a local tackle shop that is close to the beach you are intending to fish. These places are fantastic for gathering information about the fish species currently being caught, where and when they are being caught, and what baits are being used.
How Far to Cast?
Don't overdo it!
Sometimes the fish are much closer than you think . . .
"All Americans believe that they are born fishermen. For a man to admit to a distaste for fishing would be like denouncing mother-love and hating moonlight."
John Steinbeck -1954
Rigs and Baits for Some Favorite Surf Fish
Surf Fishing Tips for Striped Bass
If you are a surf angler, hooking a sizable striped bass in the surf is one of the most exciting experiences you can have. The secret is choosing the right rig and the right bait for the job. Here are my two favorite surf fishing rigs for this sought-after fish.
The Fish-Finder Rig for Striped Bass
The fish-finder rig (illustrated further down in this article) works well for bass because it allows the live bait to move naturally in the current. Use live bait; eels hooked through the the tail are always the top choice, followed by either menhaden or herring. Leader length between hook and swivel should be around 20 inches. Attaching a weight slide above the swivel will make the bait presentation much better than in a fixed version. Striped bass have excellent eyesight, so try to keep the rig as simple as possible.
The High-Low Rig for Striped Bass
There are also many versions of the high-low rig, but this is the one that seems to catch the most striped bass. This rig works well because smaller bass tend to sit higher in the water while the larger fish will stay closer to the bottom. For this surf fishing rig, tie two 5-inch dropper loops on a 5-foot length of leader, keeping the loops around 12 inches apart, and tie your hooks to the end of the loops. Fifteen inches below the bottom loop attach a weight snap, and 15 inches above the top loop tie on a swivel for the main line. This rig works by getting the fish to hook themselves, so circle hooks will work the best. Try using a larger bait like bunker chunks on the bottom loop, and a slightly smaller bait like blood worms for the top loop.
Surf Fishing Tips For Red Drum
Red Drum Rig
If you are after red drum, you will have to beef up your end tackle. IIustrated below is a rig that should hold most large red drum.
For live baits try using live menhaden or shrimp. Chunks of crab also work well.
Surf Fishing Tips For Bluefish
The bluefish has extremely sharp teeth, so regardless of which rig you choose, a wire leader is advisable. The best bait rig to use is the fish finder rig. The wire leader length should be around 18 inches between hook and swivel. Put a weight slide on the main line and then tie the main line to the swivel. Bluefish have very good vision, so a free-lining rig helps the bait look as natural as possible. Bluefish are ferocious feeders and travel in large schools hunting smaller bait fish, so for live baits try menhaden, mullet, eels, and shrimp. They will also take most cut fish baits, with mullet being a favorite.
Lures For Bluefish
The majority of surf fishermen prefer to use artificial lures to catch bluefish. There are many lures you can use; popular ones are surface plugs, swimming plugs, jigs, and spoons. A fast stop-and-go retrieval will work the best for these fish, especially when using surface plugs. My personal favorite is a heavy silver spoon, which will cast a good distance and retrieve at speed. A good tip is to lace the spoon with a cut strip of mullet or similar fish; this will leave a strong scent trail as you retrieve the spoon. Spraying your lure with menhaden bait spray will have the same effect.
The average size of a school fish is two to five pounds, so light spinning tackle will give you some great sport. The bluefish has very strong jaws and sharp teeth, so when you do land it, take great care when removing the hook; use long-nosed pliers at all times.
Three Popular Rigs for Surf Fishing
Don't spend too much time on end rigs. A good principle for surf fishing rigs is to keep them simple. The less there is to get tangled, the better.
Below are three very popular and simple surf fishing rigs.
The Fish-Finder Rig
The object of the fish-finder rig is to pose as little resistance as possible as your target fish picks up the bait. It is entirely your preference how long to make the leader, but the average length is around 24 inches.
It is very simple to make the fish-finder rig yourself.
The Fireball Rig
The idea of the fireball rig is that the foam balls keep the bait slightly off the bottom. The bright colors and movement in this rig make it a great choice on days when the surf is rough and the water is cloudy.
The rig works well when fished with natural bait.
You can make up the fireball rig yourself but it is a little more involved, so it's much easier to buy them already made up.
The High-Low Rig
The high-low rig is one of the best natural bait rigs there is. The rig works extremely well for most large predatory fish, and gives you the advantage of having two baits in the water. The rig can be made up fairly easily, or can be bought ready made from your tackle shop.
Video: How to Tie Your Own Dropper Loop for Making Rigs
Video: How to Tie the Rapala Knot (Slightly More Difficult)
Surf Fishing Bait Tips—Which Baits for Which Fish?
Mole crabs (also called sand crabs) are one of the most popular baits used for surf fishing. Dig them yourself, and keep them in some damp sand. Will catch most species, but best for redfish, whiting, pompano, striped bass, blackfish, and black drum.
Squid are great bait for surf fishing. Buy them fresh or frozen, and use whole or cut into strips. Good for bluefish, striped bass, and redfish.
Sandworms or ragworms are another great bait for surf fishing. Dig your own or buy from your local tackle shop.
Good for: rockfish, striped bass, flounder, whiting, blackfish, porgy, sea trout, and surf perch.
Shrimp are a good all round bait, will catch just about any kind of fish! Can be used dead or live.
Mullet are excellent bait and will catch a variety of fish. Use whole, dead or alive, for larger fish or cut strips for smaller species.
Good for: bluefish, striped bass, tarpon, redfish, and sea trout.
Use crabs whole, or use pieces for smaller fish. Soft-shell crab tends to get more takers than hard-shell crab.
Good for: black drum, tarpon, redfish, and snook.
Dig your own bloodworms, or buy them from your tackle shop.
Good for flounder, sea trout, striped bass, bluefish, porgy, and whiting.
Surf Fishing Lures: Surf-Fishing Tips For Artificial Bait
Always pack a good selection of plugs, spoons, and other forms of artificial baits.
Depending on what you are after, artificial bait can be just as good as, if not better than, the real thing. Find out from local anglers which lures are taking fish.
Three Lures Every Surf Angler Should Have
Surf fishing lures are a topic of much debate among surf anglers. The multitude of different sizes and colors make choosing the right one a little confusing. Here are three surf fishing lures that every surf angler should have in their bag.
The large metal spoon is supposed to resemble a large bait fish such as menhaden or mullet. Most are chrome or bright silver in color. Most surf fishermen using a large metal spoon are after bluefish, but almost any fish will take them. These streamlined two- to four-ounce spoons will reach most outer bars with ease. Jigging the spoon on a medium fast retrieval tends to bring good results. If you are after bluefish remember to attach a 12-inch wire trace before the lure.
Lead-Head Soft Plastic Tail Jigs
The great thing about this type of lure is the variety of combinations available. The action of the lure on retrieval will vary with your choice of tail, so always carry a few different colors and sizes in your bag for a quick change. Changing your choice of tail is a simple matter and can be done quickly and easily. You can use many types of retrieval when using the combination jig, but employing a slow and steady retrieve will see the most takes. Heavy monofilament line will affect the jig's performance, so try and use a short length of lightweight leader.
Small Metal Lures
The smaller metal surf fishing lures are great for use with light spinning tackle. A seven- to nine- foot spinning rod and a reel loaded with 10- to 12-lb mono-filament main line will allow you to use this type of lure to its full effect. The lure itself is designed to resemble a minnow, and when used on a fast retrieve will attract small to medium-sized bluefish. A very slow retrieve keeping the lure close to the bottom will produce trout and smaller striped bass.
There are many more surf-fishing lures available, but these three lures will ensure you have a lure that will produce fish on almost every occasion.
Other Surf-Fishing Equipment
Surf Fishing Tips - Your Equipment - Less Is More...
The beauty of surf fishing (or any type of rod and line fishing for that matter) is that you do not need much equipment to get started. Everything you need for a day of surf fishing will fit into a small to medium-sized tackle box.
You can set yourself up with everything you need for about $120, and rod-and-reel combos start at around $60, but as with most things you get what you pay for. Spend as much as you can afford on a quality rod and reel; properly looked after, they will last you many years.
Three things I always take surf fishing:
- Torch (flashlight)
- Nail clippers
- Cell phone (in a sealable plastic bag!)
The Surf Fisherman's Friend
I've tried many blades, pliers and pocket knives over the years, but this little tool has served me well.
A handy size, lightweight and very strong, an excellent addition to any fishermans kit.
Top quality stainless steel and highly visible.
A Quick Surf-Fishing Checklist
- Surf-fishing rod (ten- to twelve-foot medium action rod, with silicon carbide line guides and non corrosive reel seats)
- Reel (open-faced with a bail arm; choose the best you can afford)
- Live Bait Rigs (four or five, ready-made)
- Surf lures (a small selection)
- Artificial bait (a small selection)
- Spare hardware (sinkers, hooks, swivels, etc.)
- Tools (needle-nose pliers, knife)
- Miscellaneous (rod spike, rags, plastic bags, baitbox/bait bucket)
You really don't need tons of gear. The barest essentials will catch just as many fish as box loads of tackle!
Above all be safe and have fun!
Many thanks to all who have commented, it's greatly appreciated. :o)