Surf Fishing 101: How To Successfully Fish The Beach


Coty Perry

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Surf fishing can evoke visions of you catching that dream fish in one of nature’s most impressive environments, but then reality sits in. You realize that fishing the beach is hard and if you’ve never done it before it’s downright impossible to have success without proper research and knowledge.

It’s easy to set up along a river or pond and catch a few fish without having much fishing experience, but the surf definitely requires extra preparation and understanding. Fishing the surf also requires that you do a bit of work ahead of time, so you’re prepared when you hit the water.

You can’t just set out with your fishing rod. Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know to fish the beach. 

Go Out During Low Tide

If you’ve ever fished a pond or lake, the flags are clear as to where you want to cast because there are so many different signals. You look for brush, stumps, shady areas, etc. When you’re fishing the surf all you see are waves, so it’s impossible to know just by looking, where the fish are hiding.

The only way to truly know where the fish are is to go during low tide and assess the situation before you go out for real. Take a look at where the gullies and banks are in the sand; the fish are using these as their channels to stay out of the surf.

Here are a few things you want to keep an eye out for when you’re scoping things out during low tide:

  • Look for gullies and banks in the sand.
  • Notice differences in the bed; a large area of mud surrounded by sand means that fish could be nesting in this space.
  • Pay attention to any weedy areas that are hidden by the surf. These areas will become money banks for you when the tide rises.

Not only do you want to find out where the fish are hiding but you also want to pay attention to any obstructions that may rob you of your bait when you’re casting.

You can make a mental note of everything, or you can make a marker on two ends of the beach and draw up a diagram for everything in between, though things will look dramatically different once the tide comes back in. 

Pay Attention to the Waves

It may sound bulletproof to make a diagram of everything, so you know exactly where to fish but trust me, when you go out during high tide it’ll almost feel like you wasted your time drawing it up because the surf will look completely different.

The tide may even change the seabed around, so you also want to pay attention to the movement of the waves. They might all appear the same, but if you look closely you’ll notice some minor difference when the waves are bouncing off an underwater rock, or breaking harder and faster when there is an underwater sea-bank.

If you combine this observation with your drawings, you’ll get a good feeling about where you should cast.

Fish at the Right Times

In regards to fishing low and high tides, everyone I have ever spoken with says its best to fish at dawn and dusk because that is when the tides are shifting, and the fish are most active. Of course, the actual time of day this happens varies depending on your location and the time of the year.

Instead of focusing on a specific time go by the sun. My universal answer that simplifies everything and makes every fishing style work is to fish at sunup and sundown. This strategy requires the least amount of thinking, and when you combine all the other tips and techniques, you shouldn’t have to worry as much about the timing.

Surf Fishing Rigging

You have to have the right kind of equipment to fish at the beach, and yes, it can differ from the setup you’re used to using at the lake, pond, or river.

Best Surf Fishing Rod

When you’re fishing the surf the most important decision you will make is choosing a rod length. Stacking the length with the proper weight will determine how far you can cast, and if you cannot cast beyond the breaking waves, you’re out of business.

Surf rods run between nine and 14 feet so they are quite sizable compared to most and you need to take comfort and ability into consideration here. Of course, the larger the rod the further the cast but that doesn’t mean you need to go for the biggest one of the shelf.

As with everything else, get a feel for it and try out a bunch of different lengths and go with what feels most comfortable for you.

Best Surf Rod Action

The next most important thing is the action of the rod. Action refers to the amount of bend the rod has when applying pressure.

If a rod is a fast action, it means it will take more pressure for you to feel it, but you’ll be able to set the hook better. A slow action rod bends up to halfway down the blank and feels every nibble but requires you to pull hard to set the hook.

For surf fishing, you want to choose a fast action rod because the stiffness will give you a better casting ability.

Best Surf Rod Power

Last is the power of the rod which refers to the strength of the rod and its ability to hold a specific weight of line. My motto is always to go for the mid-range here because you’ll get the most versatile option that should hold up no matter what.

When you pair a medium power rod with a mid-weight line, you’ll have enough power to bring in the larger fish without going too heavy for no reason. The power you choose really depends on the size of fish you’re looking to bring in.

Best Sinkers for Surf Fishing

Don’t worry I didn’t forget to talk about this important element of surf fishing if you’ve never fished the surf before you might overlook something like this, but you need something to hold your bait in place against the power of the waves.

Choosing the right sinker is incredibly important, and there are a few different options.


The name speaks for itself, and these are the most popular. The pointed end sinks into the sand and prevents the bait from getting thrown around. The problem I have with these is they easily get hung up on rocks and other obstructions because of their shape.


These closely resemble a standard line weight and they might not stay in place as well as the pyramid, but they are easier to bring in because of their smooth rock-like shape.



These are great for surf fishing because they dig into the seafloor, but they are difficult to retrieve because the top is indented.


This sinker is popular among serious surf anglers because it doesn’t hang up quite as bad as the wedge or pyramid and it uses its wires to dig right into the sand or mud.

Surf Fishing Baits – Best Baits for Surf Fishing

There are many different options for bait when fishing the surf. Here’s a list of everything experts recommend using.

Sand Crabs 

Great for redfish, whiting, pompano, striped bass, blackfish, and black drum


Great for bluefish, striped bass, and redfish


Great for rockfish, striped bass, flounder, whiting, blackfish, sea trout, and surf perch


Great for everything


Great for sea trout, redfish, and bluefish

Best Surf Fishing Lures

Most experts always recommend using live bait when surf fishing but what happens if you run out and still have more time to hit the water? Always carry these lures on your just in case.

  • Metal Spoons
  • Lead-Head Plastic Jigs

A slow-medium retrieval on both of these lures should do the trick for bluefish, trout, and striped bass.

Surf Fishing 101: Wrapping it Up

Fishing rod on beach at sunset, surfing cast.

That’s about it, by this point you should now know where to fish the surf, when to fish the surf, how far to cast, what type of rod you need, and what kinds of bait and lures to use

The last thing you need to do is get out there are get some experience. I will say that surf fishing is 100 times harder than still-water because of the learning curve and habits we have from fishing ponds and lakes all the time.

Have any questions or concerns? Leave a comment below!

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