How to Find Fish in the Surf

It doesn’t matter which of the oceans covering the earth’s surface we’re talking about here. The ocean is a vast place. When going surf fishing, you must have a target destination (ideally, several) in mind for where you’ll catch fish. How do you find fish in the surf?

Here are some options for finding fish in the surf:

  • Ask the locals
  • Contact your fishing buddies
  • Check social media and fishing forums
  • Visit nearby fishing stores
  • Use a fish finder
  • Look for spots where anglers are congregating
  • Watch for birds
  • Learn the tides

This guide will be chock full of useful information for finding fish in the surf. Whether you’re brand new to surf fishing or you’ve been out a few times and you’re eager to improve, there’s something for you ahead. Make sure you keep reading! 

Related Reading: Top Surf Fishing Tips

8 Excellent Tips for Finding Fish in the Surf

Ask the Locals

You’re visiting a beach for the first time in the hopes of going surf fishing. Who can provide you with the information you seek? The people who live there, of course.

You’re not going to go door-to-door asking random strangers if they can help you find a spot in the surf to go fishing. That would be weird and very invasive of their privacy.

Rather, as you’re out and about, see if there’s anyone you can organically strike up a conversation with. Mention that you’re not from around here and you’d love to know where the best surf fishing spots are.

Most locals will be happy to help you out, but keep in mind, the reaction can be sort of mixed. Some locals might not want out-of-towners fishing in their oceans, so they might not be as helpful. 

Whether a local is willing to share tips or not, you want to remain cordial. Know when to drop the matter, as you have plenty of other options you can use if this one doesn’t work out. 

Contact Your Fishing Buddies

For instance, you can lean on your fishing buddies. 

They may have visited this beach before or know a friend of a friend who has, so they’ll have some information to share with you. 

More so than just recommending which spots on the surf to target, their intel could go deeper.

Your fishing buddies might be able to tell you which fish species propagate in this part of the beach. They can indicate what kind of rig they used as well as the types of lures, be that an artificial one or live bait.

These are your friends, after all, so they’re happy to help you succeed. Just remember this the next time you find an exclusive fishing spot. Be sure to pass along what you know to your buddies to keep the relationship two-sided. 

Check Social Media and Fishing Forums

Perhaps none of your angling friends are into surf fishing. You also tried asking around the neighborhood, but no one was that helpful. In that case, it’s time to go online.

Ideally, you want to do this before you plan your day of surf fishing, as you need time to gather as much info as you can. We recommend doing some deep research.

If you type the name of your beach into a search engine like Google, we’re sure you’ll get some telling results. Random forum and social media posters might have shared their experiences, which can in turn benefit you.

Keep in mind the date the post was made. If a post is more than several years old, then you can’t be sure that spot on the surf is still a viable option for fishing. 

Try signing up for fishing forums and joining a few Facebook groups to get the low-down on current fishing spots along the surf. 

On a forum, it’s okay to just ask your question outright. However, on social media groups, you want to provide valuable information where you can before you ask people for something in return. Respond to other posts within the group and answer questions that are in your wheelhouse.

Don’t ghost the group once you get the information you’re looking for. If anything, report back after your day of surf fishing so you can share your experiences. They could just help other anglers someday! 

Visit Nearby Fishing Stores

This is the last tip we have that involves others, we swear. Few people in the local town know the beaches better than the fishing store owner or manager. Pop on in to the store and have a look around.

We would recommend buying something so you can have a natural conversation with the store owner. Plus, they might be more willing to tell you what they know if you’re parting with some of your hard-earned money.

You don’t need to buy something expensive like a new fishing rod or fishing line (unless you need it, that is). Even purchasing a new artificial lure is enough for you to walk up to the checkout line and chat a little. 

The store owner might even be able to recommend the right lures to use as well as the appropriate fishing line and other equipment and gear! 

Use a Fish Finder

No, we’re not talking about the electronic devices known as fish finders that anglers use when fishing in lakes, streams, ponds, or rivers. Rather, you can make your own fish-finding rig for surf fishing. 

We’ve discussed how to put this rig together before on the blog, but here’s a refresher for you. You need a size 5 sinker slider attached to a three-ounce pyramid sinker. We recommend an eight-millimeter red bead in front of the sinker slider, then an 18-inch steel leader.

The leader should be rated for at least 40 pounds, as most surf fish are quite weighty. On the other end of that steel leader is your 5/0 circle hook. 

You might wish to modify your fish-finder rig depending on which fish species you’re trying to catch. 

For example, for cobia, tarpon, snook, red drum, and striped bass, you should use a six-ounce pyramid sinker, a size 6 sinker slide, an eight-millimeter red bead, a 36-inch steel leader rated for 80 pounds, and an 8/0 circle hook. 

A fish-finding rig detects fish in a variety of ways. The bait on the opposite end of the lead bounces off the seafloor. The sinker will drag up sand that makes your bait look like a wounded fish.

Finally, the weight of the pyramid sinker allows the fish-finding rig to move with the current. 

Look for Spots Where Anglers Are Congregating

Okay, so this next option isn’t your best one by far, but it’s still an option, so we thought we’d include it here. 

If you arrive at the beach a little later than expected and you already see a crowd, then make a beeline towards those people. There’s likely a reason they’re gathering in such large numbers. 

It could very well be that a shark washed up to shore, or maybe a large jellyfish or an equally impressive aquatic species. 

Then again, perhaps the fishing is really good right there, which is why so many anglers are surf fishing.

You’re late to the party, so you might not get the premium bites that you were hoping for because the other anglers already did. Plus, the competition is a lot steeper compared to surf fishing with just a few other anglers in the vicinity. 

You wanted to find fish in the surf though and find fish you did. 

Watch for Birds

Do you see a lot of birds in the vicinity? 

This is a good thing, especially if you’re still trying to determine where along the surf to find any fish. It’s especially excellent if the birds are about the same distance as you would cast out to sea.

Should the birds be further out and resting on the top of the surf, don’t settle on a spot yet. That said, don’t discount that spot entirely, at least not quite.

Terns and gulls feeding offshore mean that surfcasting in that area is not a good idea. You can’t cast far enough away to get to the fish. 

Later in the day, as the sun begins going down, fish will move nearer inshore, and birds may sometimes follow. That’s the time for you to begin casting! 

Learn the Tides 

Most people are aware that the ocean alternates between low and high tides. Your knowledge will have to go a lot more in-depth than that if you’re hoping to select a spot for surf fishing.

You can tell the tides apart by the height of the wave crests, but that’s not your only option. Check the condition of the water as well. If it’s clear and the waves are calmer, then you can assume the ocean is in low tide.

Fish will be nearer the shallow water during low tide. Then, as the tides become rougher and murkier from all the sand and detritus being kicked up, the fish will retreat.

You can use adjacent structures to get a gauge for the tides as well. 

Find a vantage point where you can see terrain that’s mostly under the water with a portion lingering above the surface. In low tide, the area of the terrain over the water will stay that way. Once the tides shift, expect the terrain to sink entirely.

Rips are areas where the water goes straight to the beach and generates a current. This is how rip currents are produced, which can be extremely dangerous. Thus, it’s good to have an idea of where rip currents are forming not only for surf fishing but for your own safety as well. 

Do not venture into or even near the rip when surf fishing. That said, if you’re a reasonable distance from the rip, you can cast your line.

Use the sandbar as a guide as well. A sandbar is a raised hill of sand. If the top of the sandbar is right under the water, then you’ve found a good area in the surf for fishing! 

Final Thoughts

You have plenty of options for finding fish in the surf, including asking around, researching online, using a fish-finding rig, watching the birds, or learning the ins and outs of the ocean’s tides. 

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s only a matter of time before you begin reeling in some big catches! 

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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