The beach isn’t just a perfect spot for relaxing on a sunny day— it’s also a prime location to hunt one of the most diverse selections of fish the world has to offer. Striped bass, albacore tuna, redfish, and so many more are just beyond the shoreline, waiting to be caught. If you’re new to the art of surf fishing, there are quite a few tips and tricks that can help you through your first attempt. This article will walk you through the dos and don’ts of surf fishing.
What is Surf Fishing?
Surf fishing is a form of saltwater angling that involves casting and making catches from the shoreline of a beach, a pier, or as the name suggests, in the surf. This recreational activity has gained a respectable amount of popularity for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent being accessibility. Because there’s no need for an expensive boat and there are over 12,000 miles of coastline across the U.S., a wide array of anglers can participate. If you have some fishing gear and a beach, you’re all set.
As mentioned in the intro, there are several popular species of fish that can be targeted from the shoreline. Flounder, tuna, bluefish, and redfish are among the most readily hunted. When it comes to surf casting, there are a few techniques that are unique, as the goal is to achieve long casts, rather than make short, accurate strikes. The farther you can cast bait, the more fish you’ll have access to.
Surf fishing is slightly unique, as it’s almost equally considered a nighttime activity as much as a daytime sport. While you may see more anglers on the beach while the sun is out, there is a sizable community of surf anglers that prefer to head to the beach after dark, equipped with headlamps and flashlights. Many saltwater fish species have active nocturnal feeding habits, so it can be easier to make the perfect catch at midnight rather than noon.
Surf Fishing Gear Tips
If you’re completely new to surf fishing, your first step will be to get some new gear. While it may be tempting to use the same gear from freshwater angling, you should probably do some research first. Here’s a couple of tips:
Boots, Boots, Boots
If you’re planning on wearing those well-loved but ancient sneakers to the beach, do yourself a favor and think again. Fishing boots are important outerwear gear that will keep you safe from potential slips and potentially painful underwater obstacles.
Go For Trusted Brands
Unsure where to start when buying new stuff? Start with brands that have a good reputation. Sporting goods store employees or friends should be able to point you in the right direction.
Don’t Be Afraid to Splurge
It’s always tempting to go for a cheap price over quality, but in the case of surf fishing gear, it’s important to get products made with high-quality materials that will last. More often than not, this might result in a slightly higher price point.
Buy As You Go
If you’re preparing for your first surf fishing trip and you don’t have every piece of gear you think you might need, don’t sweat it! After a couple of trips, you’ll realize what is truly essential and what isn’t.
Surf Fishing Tackle Tips
Lures, fishing line, hooks, and more all fall into the overarching category of “tackle.” Here are some aspects that you should focus on:
Choose Line Wisely
There are three main lines types used for surf fishing: monofilament, braided, and fluorocarbon. In the interest of pulling in larger fish, go for a braided line— it’s super tough. If you’re worried about knot-tying, monofilament or fluorocarbon is best.
Sharp Hooks Are Happy Hooks
Despite what you may think, hooks can dull quickly, and it can seriously affect your fishing results. Always bring along a couple of extra, in case yours become worn or damaged.
Think About Bait
Whether you decide on live bait or lures, you should plan ahead. Live bait requires a lot more work, especially if you’re planning on keeping it fresh and healthy. Decide what will work best for you and plan ahead.
Maintain Lures and Line
The best way to keep your lures and line in good shape is to perform occasional maintenance. Rinsing your tackle in freshwater after every use in saltwater is the easiest way to prolong its quality.
Surf Fishing Rod Tips
A surf fishing rod is one of the major keys to success. Often longer than a traditional rod, they’re made for casting long distances. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
The Longer, the Better
Surf fishing requires lengthy casts, and those come easier with a longer rod. A rod that measures over nine feet is ideal for casting far into the ocean.
Graphite Versus Composite
Rod material is an important consideration as it has a huge effect on sensitivity and strength. If you’re seeking a super-sensitive rod for smaller bites, go for full graphite construction. If you need something with a little more power, a graphite composite is more well-suited.
Make Sure It’s Made for Saltwater
Saltwater is corrosive to metal, so make sure your rod is resistant to damage. A rod that is made for use in saltwater will last 100x longer than one that isn’t.
Keep it Clean
Even if your rod is coated with a special corrosion-resistance substance, it is still prone to saltwater damage. For this reason, make sure you clean your rod after EVERY use in saltwater to keep it in working order for as long as possible.
Surf Fishing Reel Tips
A great surf fishing reel completes the perfect combo with paired with a surf rod— when used correctly, a reel can make all the difference in your angling success. Keep the following in mind:
Go For a Spinning Reel
Unless you’re fairly advanced, skip a complicated bait caster and opt for a spinning reel. They’re easy to use, are super smooth casters, and you won’t have to deal with debilitating backlash on windy days at sea.
Seal the Deal
Just like your rod, your reel should be fully saltwater proof. This usually entails having some sealed components. Make sure that the surf reel you choose won’t be exposed to damaging salt buildup or sand.
Consider the Drag
In surf fishing, drag capability is pretty important. Because you’ll be dealing with ocean currents and waves, it’s nice to have a reel with a higher drag capacity so you can have more control.
Longer casts mean using more line. More sizable reels are ideal for surf fishing because they have a higher line capacity, and they can handle the more heavy duty line that you may choose to use.
Surf Fishing Lure Tips
Now that you’ve got your rod and reel down, it’s time to think about attracting your fish. Without a great lure and action, you’ll be left with an empty hook. Here are a couple of tips:
Use Live Bait for Big Catches
If you’ve got your heart set on a trophy catch, you’re better off skipping a lure and using a live mullet fish as bait. There’s little that can beat the natural scent and movement of live bait— just remember to keep it fresh until use!
Try a Mullet Lure
Lures are great as they can be used over and over again. A mullet lure is a great all-around choice for surf fishing.
Get the Action Down
Fish are smarter than they look, and they won’t go after a bait that doesn’t look natural. Practice getting down your action and you’ll be on the right track to a big catch.
Stay Away From the Bottom
Pesky crabs love bait, too. To keep them from stealing your lures and hooks, try using a float to keep the bait suspending where it’s out of reach from other predators.
When to Surf Fish
Timing is everything, right? You shouldn’t leave the beach empty-handed with the help of the following tips and tricks:
Read the Surf
The nature of the surf can mean everything in terms of fish location. If the surf is particularly wild, you’ll probably have more luck casting closer to shore, where fish may have taken cover. Vice versa, on a clear calm day, cast a little farther.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Rain
Overcast, cloudy days tend to assist in concealing line, eliminating shadows that would usually be present. This makes your bait look more natural and appealing.
High or Low Tide
There’s a debate between fishing at high or low tide, but either circumstance has some benefits and downfalls. More fish will come to shore at high tide in search of food, but low tide is useful for identifying structures where fish like to hang out.
Take a Night Trip
Many fish are nocturnal, and are, in fact, more active at night. If you’re up for it, pick up a headlamp or spotlight and head to the beach near midnight and you might have more luck.
Where to Surf Fish
Whether you’re in the Bahamas or California, fish are sensitive to weather, tides, and surf conditions. Keep the following in mind:
Find the Sandbar
Identifying the sandbar can help you find fish— they tend to stick around it, either chasing baitfish behind it or closer to the shore.
Outflows and Rip Currents
These are breaks in the sandbar, the path fish take to hunt closer to the shore. This is a great place to cast your line.
Be a Copycat, But Nicely
When in doubt, do a little spying on the locals— they’ll know the best spots. Don’t overcrowd them, but do your best to find a place among the anglers who know what they’re doing.
Make Notes for Next Time
If you find a spot that is particularly fruitful in terms of fish, make notes about the surroundings. Is the sand coarser? Are there rocks sticking out? This is all valuable information that can be used to your benefit on the next trip.
Surf fishing isn’t as hard as it seems. More than anything, it just takes a little time, effort, and practice. Now that you’ve got some tips and tricks under your belt, finding rods, reels, lures, and other gear should be the last thing you’re worried about. Grab a cold drink and head to the beach for your next big catch. Happy fishing!