How to Surf Fish: A Guide to Fishing from the Shore

Published on 05/17/2023 · 7 min readFrom best gear to best location, Fishing Expert Michael Matey details everything you need to know in order to land some big ones when fishing from the shore!
Michael Matey, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Michael Matey

Photo by Stephen Hocking

Surf fishing is one of the most easily accessible saltwater fishing types. Anyone who lives near the coast can grab a rod and head to the beach for a fun day of fishing. You don’t need an expensive boat or fancy equipment to catch quality fish! That said, you can use many techniques to increase your chances of success during a day of surf fishing. This guide will cover everything you need to know to start your surf fishing journey.

Choose the Right Rod and Reel

Having surf fishing gear is essential for ensuring success. You first need to know what type of fish you’re targeting. You’ll need a much different setup if you’re fishing for flounder versus giant bull sharks! I’d recommend researching your area to see what people are catching this time of year from the beach.

Once you know what you want to catch, you can make a more educated decision on the rod and reel to use. Generally, a surf fishing rod will be much longer than a typical one (9-12ft in length). The longer length helps with two things. First, it’ll allow you to cast further past the sandbars where the breaking waves are, where game fish tend to be. Secondly, when you set your rod in a rod holder, the line stays higher out of the surf, so your bait isn’t moved around.

The Daiwa Coastal Salt Pro Surf Spinning Rod is a good all-purpose surf rod. It’s over 10ft long and strong enough to hold up to larger fish. This is just one example of a general surf rod. Obviously, if you’re fishing for something like large sharks, you’ll need something with a bit more backbone.

When choosing a reel, your decision should be mostly based on the size of the fish you’re targeting. If you’re fishing for snook, redfish (red drum), flounder, pompano, or any smaller fish in the 5-25lb range, you’ll want a 3,000-5,000 sized spinning reel. If you’re fishing for larger fish, such as tarpon or sharks, you’ll need a more heavy-duty spinning reel in the 6,000-10,000 size.

Different Types of Lures

One of the easiest ways to start surf fishing is by using lures. However, there are many different options, so deciding which lures can be overwhelming. Therefore, I will introduce you to a few of the most tried and tested lures to maximize your success.


Spoons can come in many different sizes and colors, but generally, your best bet will be using a silver or gold color in a 1/8-1/2oz size, depending on conditions. The VMC Rattle Spoon is a super versatile option. Spoons are great for surf fishing because they create a ton of flashes and vibrations in the water that saltwater fish can’t resist.

Paddle Tails

A simple jig head with a paddle tail is the next lure that works wonders for surf fishing. Paddle tails create an action in the water that emulates baitfish that the predator fish are eating. Try matching the paddle tail color with the color of the baitfish you see in the surf for the best results. The VMC Boottail Jig comes prerigged with a jighead and paddletail of matching colors which takes one less variable out of the equation to figure out.

Top Waters

The Berkley J Walker lure

A top water bait such as a “popper” or a “walk the dog” plug-style lure is a great tool to have in your arsenal. A great example of a walk the dog lure is the Berkley J Walker. These are some fun lures to use during surf fishing because you see the fish come up from the depths and eat your artificial bait.

Surf Fishing With Live Bait

Fishing with live bait will dramatically increase your chances of succeeding while surf fishing. One option is to buy live shrimp, sand fleas, or crabs from your local tackle shop. Almost everything in the ocean eats shrimp, so using them as bait is always a viable option. An even better bait is live bait fish you catch in the spot where you’re fishing. Live bait fish could range from pilchards and pinfish to mullet, croakers, and more. You’ll need a cast net to catch these. There are many great guides on how to use a cast net that you can find with a quick Google search.

When cast netting, you’ll want to look in the water to see if you can find any bait fish swimming nearby. You can sometimes see the bait fish splashing at the surface as well. They will look like raindrops on top of the water. A solid pair of polarized sunglasses will help to cut through the glare from the sun tremendously.

When using live bait, you’ll need some rod holder to keep your rod in while you wait for a bite. The most common rod holder for surf fishing is a sand spike. Essentially, a sand spike is a PVC pipe shaved down at one side to make it easier to push into the sand. They are super cheap and work great for keeping your gear out of the sand and saltwater.

What Line and Terminal Tackle to Use

Using the right line is super important while surf fishing. You’ll want to use braid as the mainline to spool your reel. Something like the Suffix 832 Advanced Superline would work perfect. Braid makes for the easiest casting and has the most sensitivity for feeling bites. At the end of the braid, you should tie on a couple of feet of fluorocarbon leader. The Berkley Trilene 100 Fluorocarbon Professional works great as a leader. Fluorocarbon is clear, so it’ll be much more difficult for the fish to see in the water. This lack of visibility will increase the number of bites you get due to fewer spooked fish. Fluorocarbon is also very abrasion-resistant, so toothy fish will have a harder time biting through it.

You’ll want to use a surf fishing rig when fishing with live bait. Surf fishing rigs almost always use a circle hook.I’d recommend theVMC 7385 Tournament Circle Hook. It is designed to set the hook into the side of the fish's mouth with no intervention from the angler. This design is much safer for the fish and much more convenient for the fisherman. A few feet up the line from the hook, you should tie a swivel and then a pyramid sinker. Pyramid sinkers are fantastic for surf fishing because they will lodge themselves into place in the sand. Keeping your bait from washing up in the surf or being carried away from the current is essential.

How to Find the Right Fishing Spots

You can have all the gear in the world, but if you're fishing where there’s no fish, you’re not going to have a productive day. When choosing a spot to set up along the shoreline, there's a few things surf anglers take into account. The first is structure. The ocean is big, and most of it is an empty desert. Fish tend to congregate where there is something different. This can take many forms, such as a fishing pier, dock pilings, grass, rock piles, etc. The important thing is to find an area different from the rest of the beach.

Photo by Oliver Sjöström with markings by Michael Matey

Next, you’ll want to find the current. Fish love holding up in current because it brings bait to them, making their job easier. The less energy they have to expend to find food, the better. The tides create current. When water is rushing into high tide or out to low tide is when the current will be the strongest. Lastly, you’ll want to find the area least populated by people. It actually makes a huge difference. People splashing around in the water will scare fish away, so avoiding spots with lots of humans is best.


Photo by Midia

Having confidence in what you’re doing is half the battle. If you put all the knowledge you’ve gained from this guide to use, you can surely have a great fishing trip next time you head to the beach. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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