Fishing the Surf: The Basics

Fishing the surf is an age old pursuit that offers great exercise, as well as an opportunity to catch a wide variety of popular gamesters.

There are quite a number of anglers who either by choice or circumstance do not fish from a boat but nonetheless are passionate onshore anglers. Land-based platforms such as wharfs, docks, piers and jetties may be popular with many of them, but those who regularly fish the surf tend to be an independent breed of their own.       

Getting To the Fish

Surf fishing anglers come in all varieties but can be just as fanatical as any other anglers.

What some of them lack in the way of a boat they more than make up for in their beach vehicle. Some of these four-wheel-drive units are as well equipped as any offshore cruiser when it comes to carrying enough tackle and fishing equipment to get the job done. In some areas, experienced surf anglers are permitted to cruise for miles down remote stretches of beach while looking for telltale signs of activity, such as for birds working a school of baitfish, or fish feeding on the surface. 

Rods and Reels

Because surf fishing is a very specialized type of angling, it requires appropriate tackle that matches the type of fishing you plan to do. Most surf rods are generally from 10 to 13 feet long and are capable of slinging your bait and a 6-ounce lead weight up to 100 yards beyond the breaking surf. A heavy-duty spinning reel that has the same line weight specifications as your rod is the best choice.

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Weights and Sinkers

The weights used when fishing the surf may vary depending upon the surge or current. Many anglers prefer the pyramid sinker, which digs into the sandy or muddy bottom and tends to hold your rig more securely in the area that it has been cast. Some prefer flat sand sinkers that will move slowly along with the current, or torpedo sinkers that are shaped more aerodynamically and allow for longer casts.

In the end, the best sinker to use is the one that fits your immediate needs. Always carry a variety in your tackle box.    

Baits and Lures

Baits can range from live bait fish found in the area to invertebrates such as bloodworms, shrimp or small crabs. For some species, cut bait or sand fleas are the ticket. Anglers targeting striped bass often opt for live eels. Artificial baits are also effective and can sometimes even out-fish live bait. Productive lures in the surf include spoons, topwater plugs and diving minnows, as well as a variety of plastic baits that can be fished on jig heads or drop shot rigs.    ​

Where Can I Fish?

Surf fishing is popular ​world-wide, and can be done from large inshore rocks or boulders, tidal pools and jagged promontories above the pounding waves just as productively as when it is done standing on a sandy beach. Whether wading chest-deep casting to Spanish mackerel in the clear shallows of Hilton Head Island or standing near a bonfire on a volcanic cliff on the Kona coast waiting for a 40-pound Ulua to take your bait, always take the opportunity to enjoy new surf fishing options when they present themselves. In the end, shorelines may vary, but tactics will be the same.

The Bottom Line

If you don't have a boat but still have a strong desire to catch some fish, perhaps even a few big ones, give surf fishing a try.  It is fun, relatively inexpensive and offers a little healthful exercise as well. One of the best aspects of a successful day fishing the surf are the delicious rewards that it brings to the dinner table.