Surf Fishing: How to Catch Fish from the Beach

Surf fishing can seem like the perfect combination of activities — you get to relax on the beach, enjoy the sunshine and the waves, and catch some fish to toss on the grill or in the fryer.

This sounds like a cinch if you’re used to a low-key fishing experience, but you’ll need a healthy dose of patience and plenty of persistence if you want to fill the cooler by the end of the day. Here’s how you can ensure surf fishing success.

Have the Right Tools for the Right Job

For surf fishing, you’ll need a spinning reel that’s sealed to prevent saltwater damage. 

Look for a reel sized in the 6,000–8,000 range with a sturdy drag system. You’ll need a long line, so make sure your reel can hold at least 500 yards of 25-pound line. You may encounter some large fish (three feet or more), so you need to be prepared.

As for the size of your rod, you’ll want to look for something in the 10–12-foot range or possibly up to 15 feet if you want to fish in heavy surf.

Check the power and action characteristics to ensure that your rod is as strong as your reel. A medium-heavy power will provide sufficient strength, and a moderate action will resist bending during a struggle with a particularly stubborn catch.

The line itself needs to be similarly stout, so you may want to use a braided line. Make sure your knots are secure, as braided line can get quite slippery and come undone. 

Lastly, use a sinker to keep your line from drifting in the waves. You can tie on pyramids (the most popular option), coins, wedges, or sputniks — your choice. Also, consider investing in a ground spike to hold your rod. That way, you can monitor your line without holding it all day.

Choosing the Right Bait

When it comes to surf fishing, you’ll get the most success using live bait.

The bait you use should be native to the coastline you’re angling. If you’re using bait fish, rig through the nose or other non-lethal area. You’ll want to let your bait fish swim as freely as possible, so don’t put it right next to your sinker. Give it a zone of freedom.

If you don’t want to deal with live bait, fresh or frozen bait will work well too. Just be aware that you’ll need to modify your rig to accommodate the particular bait (fish, shrimp, squid, etc.) and type of catch you’re looking for (trout, flounder, shark, striped bass, and more).

Find the Right Spot at the Right Time

Rather than just plunking down at the most convenient place on the beach, do a little scouting.

Your best bet is to look for sand bars, which can be congregation areas for the fish you’re after. An outflow or rip current is a spot where the sand bar breaks and is a common place for fish to spill through as they look for a place to feed.

You also want to look for areas of coarse sand with numerous shells, as these areas can have deep holes that fish love to hide in.

High tide brings in more fish eager to feed, but don’t worry if you miss it. There are plenty of species that prefer low tide. While fishing during overcast weather might be less fun, it can help your chances of success. Less sunlight means dimmer underwater conditions, which can hide your rod and line from the fish you want to reel in.

Cast for Success

Step into the waves and cast from the water, letting your bait sink completely. Make sure it hits the bottom so the waves won’t carry it away.

Once the line is settled where you want it, let it out slowly and back up onto the shore, then close the bail, set your rod in your spike, and wait for a nibble. Use two poles to improve your chances!

Play the Waiting Game

Successful surf fishing takes time. The fish likely won’t start biting right away, but good things come to those who wait. Just make sure you have plenty of space in your cooler and watch for any shorebirds that might want to steal your catch.

Try Surf Fishing for Yourself

The only way to get good at surf fishing is to get out there and give it a shot. The best part is that even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll still enjoy a day at the beach. That’s quite a consolation prize.

Have something to add or correct? Please let us know by clicking here.
* See disclaimer in the footer of the site for use of this content.

Latest Posts

Don't Miss

Our Newsletter

Get the latest boating tips, fishing resources and featured products in your email from!