While it may be one of the most popular forms of ocean angling, surf fishing is definitely not the easiest.
This article will walk through some of the best tips and tricks for surf fishing so the next time you go out, you can stick your toes in the sand, relax, and bring home a couple of big ones.
Surf fishing can come in handy in a lot of different applications. Read on to discover more about this activity.
What is Surf Fishing and Why is it so Popular?
Surf fishing is a form of ocean angling that involves catching fish from the shoreline or while wading in the surf. However, surf fishing is a loose term. It generally applies to any fishing that involves casting from the shore, whether on a sandy beach, rocky shoreline, or even a pier.
In some areas of the world, beaches are covered with surf anglers. Some prefer to keep their rod in hand, wading into the salty water, while others invest in rod holders they can stick in the sand, allowing them to relax in beach chairs until there's a tug on their line.
Surf Fishing Tips
Before you head to the beach, read through our favorite tips and tricks. The more prepared you are, the better your chances are at snagging your next catch.
Watch the Weather
One of the first steps you should take before planning a day of fishing is to check the weather forecast. Lighting, temperature, wind conditions, etc. can all have a dramatic effect on where the fish are.
In general, fish tend to shy away from very clear water. This is especially prevalent when lighting is harsh, so on bright sunny days, you’ll probably have to cast to lower depths to find the fish. Likewise, when seas are calm, fish are less likely to venture close to shore. If you’re tied to fishing during the day, strong winds and low atmospheric conditions are more likely to produce better chances of a catch.
At night, weather conditions matter a little less. Because of low lighting, fish are more likely to brave trips closer to the shore because there is less predator risk.
Survey the Water
The best surf fishing anglers know the area they hunt in very well. While you may not be a local to your designated fishing area, that doesn’t mean you can’t work to familiarize yourself before starting your hunt.
Try to get out to the beach at low tide to survey the area. Explore the curves and contours of the fishing grounds, making note of some particulars. Keep an eye out for gullies, hollows, and banks. Check for shellfish beds and note which kinds. Look for patches of rough ground and seaweed. Also, generally make note of the nature of the seabed, paying attention to any major changes.
Having this data can give you better information as to where the fish will be when the tide is in, just make sure you remember where your survey took place. It may even be helpful to make sketches to ensure you remember to the best of your ability.
Read the Surf
Keeping the previous tip in mind, make sure that you’re also making an effort to read the surf. The ocean continually changes and high water can be really disorienting, even to an angler who has fished in the same area for years.
There are many indicators you can view from the shore to tell you where the fish might be hiding. For example, take a look down at your feet. Is the sand fine and tightly packed? Or is it coarse or gravelly? Fine, tight sand is often found on a beach with a gradual slope.
Currents and winds also affect the surf, scalloping the beach, and forming deep points. Well-defined deep points from strong winds and currents can be a total hotspot for fish looking for a safe place to rest, similar to how structures attract fish.
Be There at the Right Time
In the same way that humans like to eat at specific mealtimes, fish also have preferences for feeding, and you’ll have better luck fishing at these times than others. It can be tough to find the perfect slot for getting your hands on a couple of great catches, but timing is everything.
One solid rule to follow is to fish two hours before high tide and two hours afterward. The other golden rule is to head out at dawn and dusk when fish appetites are strong and fish are a little more emboldened to come closer to the shore. If you fish with baitfish, these are the golden hours.
When in doubt, always take note of the lighting. Low-light conditions are always better for fishing than full sunlight, as they feel less vulnerable venturing into shallower waters (closer to you).
Match the Hatch
A very important aspect of attracting fish in the ocean is to select the correct bait. That’s why we recommend “matching the hatch,” which means to try to imitate the prey your desired catches would naturally go after. If you’re not sure what this is, talk with the employees at the local tackle shop about the prey that frequent the area— they usually know best.
Many ocean anglers prefer using live bait over lures because live bait is very tempting for ocean fish, especially if it is in their natural food chain. Bloodworms, shrimp, anchovies, and other baitfish are all go-to choices to ocean anglers and will likely give you a fair shot at a catch.
If you love using lures, ensure that your pick can accurately mimic the action, shape, and even scent of the natural prey in that area.
It may feel really tempting to cast your bait as far as possible, but super-long casts won’t always be the most effective. Rather, you should be trying to cast accurately to a location where fish are likely to be.
One tip is to shoot for where whitecaps are forming. Whitecaps usually mean there is a sandbar beneath, a place where fish generally like to gather. While you can look for these sandbars when the tide is low, whitecaps are a great indicator. Try to cast your line slightly farther or closer to where the caps are forming for a great shot at a catch.
Also look for brown patches of water, an indicator that heavy surf has been messing with the seafloor. Fish will frequent these dark areas because it usually means that some crustaceans have been uprooted and are easier to hunt.
Remember Your License and Permits
Take the time to read up on the angling rules and regulations in your fishing area. They can vary greatly from country to country and even state to state. Some places require a fishing license to fish from the surf, but there’s no need for one if you surf from a pier.
Anyone over the age of 16 will generally need to purchase a fishing license. Depending on your location, if you fail to purchase a license, you can encounter a nasty fine. Many states also limit the number of fish you can take and the type of fish you can target. This depends on several factors, but if you ignore these regulations, you risk contributing to an unbalanced ecosystem.
To get the best idea of the rules and regulations in your area, contact the state agency that controls wildlife regulation. In most states, it is the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Tie the Best Surf Fishing Rigs
Great surf fishing rigs can make all the difference in a day of angling. Creating surf rigs isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Many times you can even find pre-tied rigs. Here are three rigs all surf anglers should be aware of.
Fireball Rig- This rig utilizes a brightly colored float, which not only keeps the bait from being picked at by pesky crabs and baitfish at the ocean floor, but also tantalizes the fish that hunt by sight.
Fishfinder Rig- This is a setup that allows a bait line to slide up and down the line, which really comes in handy with live bait, as they can swim freely. This can trick the fish into thinking they can swim away with their prey.
Double-Drop Bottom Rig- While there’s not much to say about this rig, it is an old faithful for many surf anglers. It is effective in all kinds of weather conditions, on all kinds of beaches.
Use a Shock Leader
A shock leader is an effective tool that can be utilized in surf fishing. In a basic sense, a shock leader is a heavily weighted line you can attach to your main fishing line to avoid a line break. These are usually recommended for surf angling because the ocean provides a great opportunity for targeting very large, powerful fish that could easily break your line.
Shock leaders are also a great safety precaution. Because they prevent line breaks, they also prevent the risk of you and your pole rebounding back, potentially injuring yourself or somebody else. They also obviously prevent a loss of tackle gear, which can save you a ton of money over time.
Wear Polarized Sunglasses
You should always take care to protect your eyes when on the water, especially at the beach, where light can be really harsh. Polarized lenses are a popular choice for fishing because they utilize a special filter that deflects strike-back light from the water. This both relieves discomfort and reduces glare.
Along with eye protection, polarized lenses also can increase your chances of catching fish, because they increase the visibility of things below the surface. This is possible because they reduce water reflection, allowing clearer view of fish and underwater structures.
One thing to keep in mind with polarized sunglasses is that they can reduce the visibility of LED screens, so don’t plan to take along your cellphone or laptop with you. But when used for strictly outdoor activities, polarized glasses are an important tool that can be a huge assistance in the long run.
Surf fishing is a super-fun angling activity that only gets easier with time. With these tips and tricks fresh on your mind, head out to the beach and try your best. Odds are, you’ll end up with a tasty catch to bring home. Happy fishing!