7 Tips for Beginner Surf Fishing

Walking a beach, reading the surf, and watching birds work over bait are just a few of the reasons to spend time fishing from the beach. Surf fishing is simple in practice but learning to read the water, time the tides, and choose the best gear can turn a nice day at the beach into an action-packed fishing trip.

1. Streamline Your Gear

Close-up of reels

It all starts with having the right gear, starting with your reel. The spinning reel is the most common for surf fishing and is an excellent all-around choice. Spinning reels are easy to operate and a well-made model is sealed against saltwater damage while providing a stout drag system. If you’re just getting started and want an affordable and reliable option, the PENN Fierce III is a great choice and comes in factory paired combos, with rods that are ideal for surf fishing.

Conventional reels are used for casting long distances with heavy lines and lures. These reels provide serious drag and fighting performance for more experienced surf anglers. Conventional reels are well suited for chasing big game species and casting long distances with heavy rigs. They also perform well when fishing structure and hard bottoms. The PENN Fathom II Star Drag comes in a Casting Special model that is specifically designed to maximize casting distance while in the surf.

When choosing a surf rod, the options can be overwhelming. Jigging, feathering, and other techniques can require a variety of different rods ranging from 6-15 feet with various actions and weights. In general, a good 10-12 foot rod is a good universal option and will handle just about any surf fishing situation. Longer rods up to 15 ft are used in heavy duty surf that demands large weights and enough rod to turn big fish away from hazards. PENN’s Battalion and Carnage II rods are two favorites for fishing in the surf.

2. Always Start with a Scouting Mission

Angler casting off of rock

Fishing successfully off the beach is like solving a puzzle. Luck is always a factor in fishing but swinging the odds in your favor begins with a small upfront time investment. Take a walk at low tide and find the best areas to fish. Some areas can be read in the moment with easy to identify sand bars and troughs, but many are not as easily evaluated and a low tide assessment remains the best method of locating structure and food resources.

Look for rocks, hard ground areas, and shellfish beds that attract bait fish and the bigger fish that prey on them. Make note of obstacles and snags that may steal lures or require special rigging to prevent snags. Bring along a pair of binoculars and really scour the beaches for great habitat to fish when the tide rises.

3. Fish Early, Fish Late

Angler on beach looking at water

The golden hours are pure magic for anglersand hunters in any environment. The first and last couple of hours of daylight are simply unbeatable on most days. Look for high tides and outgoing tides that coincide with these low light time periods and hit the beach early or lateto really dial in the best fishing opportunities. Fish often feel less exposed to predation during these times and are willing to work closer to the beach than under full daylight conditions.

4. Rigging Live Baits

Hand holding live bait

Live bait is the first choice for many surf anglers. Live bait must be caught or purchased. Catching fresh bait is ideal because you can more easily rig mullet, crabs, and other baits while still alive. Fishing a fresh, active live bait is extremely effective but not always easy to accomplish.

Rig your baits through the nose, top fin,or other areas of anatomy that will not kill the bait. A dead bait can still catch fish but the movement of a live bait makes a huge difference in getting bites. With a live bait, use a rig such as a Carolina Rig, that separates bait from the rigging weight in a manner that allows the bait to float upwards. Fishing just off the bottom is a common approach for surf fishing. Using a cast and retrieve technique places immense pressure on live baits, causing the bait to last only a short while. Unless fish are actively chasing live bait for the bite, use a heavy weight and let the fish come to you.

5. The Soft Bait Advantage

Angler holding package of Gulp! bait

Soft baits with embedded scent come with the advantage of convenience.When you don’t have a bucket of live bait ready to go, turn to soft baits. Soft baits are versatile; you can fish them just off the bottom like live bait or a cast and retrieve method is excellent when fished with a jig head or Texas style rig.

Soft baits are also a great choice because they are made to imitate just about anything. Do the research and know what the local fish are biting. Knowinglocaldetails like the proper species, color, or timing for a bait fish can make all the difference. Choose the correct presentation and get your line in the water because soft baits can match or even outperform live baits.

6. Jigging in the Surf

Close-up of hands on reel

Bucktail and marabou Jigs are very effective, especially when working around structure and in areas that require precision depth control. Jigs are ideal when the situation calls for finesse or covering a very specific area. For example, a narrow break between rock formations may act as a corridor for fish travel. Casting and retrieving a jig through this area will cover the entire corridor, including pockets in the rocks where ambush species are located. If you enjoy an active approach rather than a sit and wait situation, consider prospecting for a bite with jigs.

7. Persistence Pays in the Surf

Angler inspecting catch

The most effective surf anglers are the ones who put in the time. Show up early, fish the prime tides,and always keep a line in the water. The ocean is a big place and the longer your bait or lure is fishing, the better your odds of catching a trophy. Some times are better than others for focusing efforts but why not enjoy more time casting into the surf from a beautiful beach? Persistence and dedication make all the difference.

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