What Type of Fish Can I Catch in the Surf?

Surf fishing, which entails standing on the shoreline or in proximity to it, is not going to bring in your common panfish or catfish. You’re going to catch ocean fish, so which species can you expect to reel in?

The following are fish species you might catch in the surf:

  • Pompano
  • Red drum
  • Flounder
  • Spotted seatrout
  • Bluefish
  • Striped bass
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Sharks

This guide to surf fishing species will provide plenty of pertinent information so you can begin preparing your baits and lures. You won’t want to miss it! 

9 Fish You Could Catch When Surf Fishing


The pompano is a deep-sea-dwelling fish belonging to the Trachinotus genus with more than 20 identified species. 

You can identify a pompano due to its round face, lateral compression, and straighter ventral profile. The average pompano weighs eight pounds and reaches lengths of 25 inches. 

To catch more pompano when surf fishing, wait until the surf is moderately active. If the crustaceans that live at the bottom have been dragged nearer the surface of the water, then now you want to strike.

Mole crabs, aka sand fleas, are a great source of live bait if you can get your hands on some. Pompano loves mole crabs. 

Make sure you eat what you catch. Pompanos are utterly delicious according to many anglers, so don’t toss them back!  

Red Drum

The red drum is sometimes referred to as the spottail bass, the channel bass, the puppy drum, or the red. This game species is fishable from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Although the red drum and black drum are related, the two are not the same fish. That said, they are known to breed and create hybrid drum fish. 

The red drum is indeed reddish. Near the tail are two dark eyespots that make this fish easy to distinguish from other species. At their biggest, red drums reach sizes of 40 inches long. 

On the east coast, you’ll have to wait until the autumn for the red drum to show up. When they do migrate, it’s in huge schools. You may see as many as 30 of these fish at a time. 

Use live bait or recently dead bait in big chunks, especially mullet or bunker. You can even freeze the bait and then thaw it when you go surf fishing. 


If you want to reel in a fish when surf fishing that you can hold with two hands, flounder won’t disappoint. Bigger flounders can reach sizes of nearly 24 inches long, so make sure your fishing buddy has their camera ready.

The flatfish known as the flounder lives nearer the ocean’s floor. You may also spot this fish in estuaries. 

The North Pacific is native to olive flounder and halibut (which is technically a flounder) and the Western Atlantic features winter flounder, summer flounder, southern flounder, and gulf flounder.

Live minnows that are about three inches long ought to help in your quest to find more flounder when surf fishing. If you’d rather use dead, cut bait, then slice mackerel, sardines, menhaden, or mullet into pieces no bigger than three inches each. 

Spotted Seatrout

Lingering in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the speckled or spotted seatrout lives in inshore waters and estuaries. You can also sometimes reel in these fish in coastal rivers, especially if you’re still fishing into the winter. 

Weighing anywhere from three to 17 pounds, an average spotted seatrout is 19 to 37 inches long, so it’s quite hefty! The trout features canine teeth, a brownish to goldish coloration, and a long dorsal fin complete with scales.

The diet of a spotted seatrout consists of crustaceans, especially shrimp. Thus, shrimp make a great live bait choice. 

Fresh shrimp might elicit a better response from the seatrout than frozen. If all you have is frozen shrimp though, that should be okay.

Don’t cut the shrimp. Just thread a whole live or dead shrimp on a J-style hook. A soft plastic jig also makes for an excellent artificial lure choice. 


The bluefish is the remaining Pomatomidae family member that favors the temperate marine waters of the pelagic zone. You will not find this fish in the northern Pacific Ocean though. 

The bluefish is not purely blue, but it does have strips of blue across its body. The rest of the coloration is grayish to whiteish. 

Bluefish can be incredibly plentiful. A female can lay anywhere from 400,000 to two million eggs, so once a bluefish settles somewhere, the population lasts for a while!

These are sizable fish too, often reaching lengths of 39 inches and weighing up to 31 pounds. 

Where can you find bluefish schools, you ask? Check for sandbar cuts, as bluefish will be hungrily noshing on smaller fish around there.

When the tide changes, the smaller fish that bluefish feed on can linger near a beach’s trough, which will in turn bring the bluefish closer to the shore. 

Striped Bass

On North America’s Atlantic coast lives the striped bass, which some anglers call the rockfish or Atlantic striped bass. Of all the surf fish we’ve discussed so far, the striped bass is the biggest, as it can weigh 77 pounds and reach lengths of five feet.

Yes, five feet. We hope you brought a second or third person and that your fishing boat is plenty big!

Surfcasting for striped bass requires a braided fishing line rated for 20 or 30 pounds. Use a leader material between your plug and the braid and ensure the leader is three feet. Tie a uni or Albright knot.

Related Reading: What Pound Test Line is Best for Bass Fishing?

Some anglers swear that using certain colored artificial lures will bring in more striped bass. Is that true? 

No, but you still want to be choosy about the lure colors you use. If it’s dark or the conditions are dim, use yellow and white. 

During the day, you can favor darker lure colors such as purple, blue, black, and yellow as well as silvers. 


Now here’s a much-coveted fish that every angler hopes to find on the end of their fishing hook when surf fishing, the tuna. Living exclusively in saltwater, tuna has 15 species across five unique genera. 

Did you know that not all tuna is huge? It’s true! 

Smaller ones are 1.6 feet, such as the bullet tuna. Larger tuna species include the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which reaches lengths of up to 15 feet and can weigh 1,508 pounds. You’re not likely to catch that fish without some seriously heavy-duty specialty equipment!

Tuna has a special ability to keep its body temperature warmer than the waters it swims in. The fish has a streamlined shape that makes it capable of easily hunting through the seas. 

It’s also a speedy swimmer. The yellowfin tuna can reach speeds of 47 miles per hour!

You will have your work cut out for you if you hope to catch tuna when surf fishing, but don’t worry, it’s doable. You’ll have to research your local oceans to see which tuna species live there, when they gather, and–most importantly–where. 


Although salmon is known to congregate in North Atlantic tributaries, the fish can be spotted at times around the Pacific Ocean. 

Once you have a live salmon on your fishing line, you’re in for many luxe meals of fried or grilled salmon fillets or even sushi!

Salmon don’t spend their entire lives in the ocean; not even close. They’re born in freshwaters, endure years in the ocean when they migrate, and then return to their homes when it’s time to mate. Some species never live in saltwater, which will limit your options when surfcasting.

Regardless of species, catching salmon is always awesome. These fish are 22 to 26 inches long and can weigh eight pounds each. 

So what kind of setup do we recommend when surf fishing for salmon? You should invest in a bait rod if you don’t already own one. The rod should be at least 12 inches, but up to 15 inches is fine. 

Artificial lures that resemble minnows will certainly do the trick. Metallic lures will glimmer under the water, and between that and the natural motion that you create with the lure, the salmon will get curious and swim on over. 


This last fish suggestion is not for the faint of heart! We wrote a whole post on avoiding sharks when surf fishing, but some surfcasters don’t want to avoid them. They want to catch sharks. 

Are you likely to find sharks in the surf? When the creature is feeding early in the morning and after sunset, we’d never say never. 

If you do intend to surfcast for sharks, you must have a 10-foot surf rod with a heavy power rating. Use a spinning reel or a casting reel, with the former more preferable but the latter okay if you can’t find a spinning reel.

The reel must be capable of retaining 300 yards of fishing line. The line should be a braided fishing line rated for 65 pounds or more. Tie the hook to a monofilament rated for 300 pounds, as the monofilament will be the shock leader. Produce six pounds of leader.

Related Reading: Does Surf Fishing Attract Sharks?

An eight-ounce sinker will prevent the bait from moving too much. Add the sink to the monofilament.

Use a circle hook, as it can easily connect with the shark’s lip and come right out. Since you’re releasing most sharks you catch, you don’t want to injure them, and you certainly do not want to kill them. We’d recommend a 6/10 or 10/0 circle hook. 

A rod holder will come in handy, as you could be waiting for quite a long time to catch a shark. Make sure you invest in a pair of pliers too to remove the hook from the shark’s mouth. You don’t want to do that by hand!

As for bait, we’d suggest whole fish if you can swing it. Bluefish, menhaden, and squid will certainly attract a shark’s attention.

We can’t stress enough that you’re trying to fish for a live shark. Although you won’t catch a huge shark when surf fishing, any live shark is dangerous, even the smaller ones. You must take extreme caution when removing the circle hook too or getting near the shark in general. 

Final Thoughts

Surf fishing is a whole new world if you’ve only ever fished in lakes, streams, and rivers. The saltwater fish you can catch in the sea are usually large and include some premium fish such as sharks, salmon, bass, and tuna.

We hope this guide helps you catch more surf fish! 

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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