The Top 7 Surf Fishing Tips

This week on the blog, we’ve talked a lot about surf fishing, including the fish species you can catch, tips on where to find ‘em, and the gear you need for surf fishing. Today, we’re putting together a definitive tips list for surf fishing. What are the tips?

Here are our top 7 surf fishing tips:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Plan your fishing trips according to the tides
  • Have a license or permit (if required)
  • Know how to make a shore rig
  • Treat released fish with care
  • Avoid over-casting
  • Use live bait when possible

Ahead, we’ll expound on each of the 7 exemplary surf fishing tips above, providing pointers and more information so you can improve at surfcasting or help a fellow fishing buddy do the same. Keep reading!

The 7 Ultimate Tips for Surf Fishing

Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings

This first tip might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but we beg to differ. 

It’s one thing to pay attention to your surroundings when fishing in a lake or river. That’s easy to do because those surroundings rarely change. 

The water current moves, but the trees don’t. Maybe some birds pass or a squirrel scurries about, but you can expect things to stay about where they are.

When ocean fishing, it’s the opposite. Nothing stays as it is. The waves are washing in and out, the sands are shifting beneath your feet, and the tides are inevitably changing. You must keep your wits about when you surf fishing. 

This is for your own safety! Hazards abound on the shoreline to a much higher degree than when doing your basic lake or river fishing. 

A stingray or jellyfish could wrap around your legs or feet, stinging you. Your day of fishing would be over very quickly if that happens. 

Much more seriously, your health and even your life could be at risk. Wearing shoes is recommended when surf fishing so you have fewer exposed surfaces that could get bitten, scratched, or stung.

Watch out for traveling shells as well as nearby coral or rocks, as these hazards can easily cut you. Even stray fishing hooks from other surfcasters can be incredibly painful as the tide pulls them and sends them past you. 

Plus, we have to mention sharks. Some surfcasters enjoy catching sharks, but many more do not. We wrote a great post on avoiding sharks that will help you be better prepared anytime you go surf fishing. 

Plan Your Fishing Trips According to the Tides

Are you used to waking up before the sun so you can hit the river or lake early, beating out your competition? Once you transition to ocean fishing, it’s not as much about the time as it is the tide. That will be your guiding factor for when you’ll go surf fishing.

Some of the best periods for surf fishing are two hours before high tide and then two hours after the tide shifts to high. Slower, more inactive tides are the last thing you want, as the fish are less likely to be active too. 

Now, don’t get us wrong, your old fishing habits of awakening before the sun can still come in handy when surf fishing. 

The fish are usually feeding at dawn, so if you arrive at the beach just as the sun shows its full glory, you’ll enjoy a beautiful natural spectacle and usually catch some fish as well.

Don’t sweat it too much if you miss the morning rush though. Dusk is another period when fish feed heavily, so you could have your shot then.

That said, we caution you against staying until after dark. You can’t see two feet in front of you, which means it’s impossible to tell what threats may linger in the ocean. Plus, if you’re pulled into the sea, rescuing you would be a lot more difficult! 

Have a License or Permit (If Required)

This is a topic we may explore further on the blog in a future post. If you live in or are fishing in a state that requires a surf fishing license or permit, then you certainly want to have a current one on your person before you begin casting out on the surf.

The rules vary by state, so please read up on your local rules. 

When along the Atlantic Coast in Florida, you don’t have to pay for a license. You only have to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to get yours. Then you can fish on the shoreline.

Other states may charge you for a license, but the fee should be available online so you know what you’re paying before you’re charged.  

Related Reading: Do Kids Need a Fishing License?

Nonresidents will usually have to pay for a saltwater fishing license regardless. They can usually buy a surf fishing license for several days at a time. Since they’re nonresidents, there’s no need for a longer-term or even a more permanent license unless they decide to move.

Even if a state doesn’t require you to obtain a license, you might need a registration. That’s how it’s done in New Jersey. You must register through the New Jersey Saltwater Recreational Registry Program.  

Know How to Make a Shore Rig

When surf fishing, you shouldn’t just throw out your line with a hook attached and some bait on the hook. Instead, you need a shore rig. 

You can craft a shore rig in a variety of styles depending on how you like to fish or at what time. For example, a high/low-tide rig includes a dropper loop with a straight-shank hook attached, then six inches further down the line, another dropper loop. 

After another six inches still, there’s a surgeon’s loop tied to a sinker. The entire rig is on a monofilament fishing line that’s rated for up to 40 pounds.

You can also make a fish-finding rig with a fishfinder rig attached to a pyramid shaker, a barrel swivel, between six and 30 inches of fluorocarbon (rated for up to 60 pounds), then a snell-knot to the leader, and finally, a circle hook.

You’re free to choose your own surf fishing rigs, and we recommend you try as many as you can. You can use the examples above or even come up with your own shore rigs if you’re feeling extra creative.

As different as they can be, the best shore rigs share the same traits. The rig is aerodynamic so you can cast it long distances. The hooks are presented so they can catch a fish but don’t interrupt the flow of the rig. The rig should also allow the bait to naturally float or linger on the seabed.

Treat Released Fish with Care

Some oceans may have rules that you must return the fish to the ocean after catching them. Others might give you the choice between releasing the fish or taking them home. If so, then that’s a decision you’ll want to make before you head out fishing for the day.

If you do decide to let fish go back into the ocean after hooking them, you want to take certain precautions to ensure the health and longevity of the fish.

First, moisten your hands before handling a fish. Dry hands can pull off the fish’s protective slime coating, and you don’t want to do that. 

Hold the fish with a firm grasp. Then pull your hook out in one fell swoop. Keep your grasp on the fish and carry it closer to the surf. Don’t throw the fish if you can help it, as it could hit hard surfaces such as rocks and packed sand.

If you don’t hurt the fish, then you could kill it. 

What if you put the fish back in the water but it doesn’t take? Gently push the fish towards the water, even submerging it if you must. Hold onto its belly as you do this with one hand. 

Once the fish is in the water, it should regain its strength and be able to swim back into the sea.

This won’t always happen, though. A struggling fish is yours to take if you’re allowed. Otherwise, it will become food for a bigger fish or even some hungry gulls. 

Avoid Over-Casting

Have you ever seen an angler casting very long distances when surf fishing just for the heck of it? It can kind of become a contest in who the toughest or coolest angler is. 

Long casts are okay, but when you do it, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Do you have to cast a long distance to reach a fish or are you just trying to look like the most impressive angler out of your group? 

If it’s the latter, then over-casting isn’t necessary. You’re also straining your surf fishing gear when you over-cast, which means you’ll have to turn around and replace it sooner. Cast as much as you need only for what the situation calls for. 

Use Live Bait When Possible 

Artificial lures are an option when surf fishing, but they’re not more effective than live bait. In the turbulent tides of the ocean, a spinnerbait or jig can get lost in the shuffle. A fish doesn’t see the glimmering lights or hear the sounds. 

Plus, there is no smell to attract the fish, and that’s big.

Live bait has the smell that can pull a fish in even when that fish was already swimming away from the line. We’ve talked about this elsewhere on the blog, but live bait like shrimp and sand fleas is going to get bites.

You can also use chunks or cuts of dead bait. Fresh dead bait is better over frozen, but if keeping your dead bait on ice reduces its stench, then go for it. The fish will still bite once the bait has thawed out. 

Related Reading: What is the Best Bait For Surf Fishing?

Final Thoughts

Successful surf fishing is about timing your fishing to the tides and when fish are most active, staying aware of your surroundings, and making an exceptional shore rig that can stand up to the surf. 

We hope these tried and true tips help you accelerate your surf fishing game!

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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