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Very few angling experiences rival that of a surf beach for exhilaration and pure enjoyment, the noise of the waves pounding the beach coupled with the vast horizon filled with ocean, it’s easy to feel awed by the sheer power of the sea. But, what’s happening under the water and where are the fish feeding?
Surf fishing has spawned something of a cult following and a booming market has grown up around this popularity, with a huge range of specialist tackle and rods produced. There are many species of fish to be found on a surf beach and these will vary from location to location. The tactics employed to snare these fish will be similar in nature as most species tend to be found inside the surf line are generally closer to shore than you might expect.

Surf fishing isn’t one for the angler that prefers to be static. Surf is always on the move as the tides and conditions change, it’s taking advantage of this changing nature that will determine whether or not you’re successful or not. Some of the most popular surf beaches have seemingly featureless landscapes, sporting on sand and waves. On some days the surf won’t be present, leaving a vast expanse of glassy ocean. But when the water comes alive and the winds begin to stir, the seabed is disturbed and it’s this that gives many species of opportunistic feeders the chance to have their fill.

The clarity of the water in many surf beaches is hugely influenced by the silt, sediment, and sand on the seabed and what’s feeding into the water from the surrounding shorelines. This will also dictate what species you’re likely to encounter.

It’s important to understand that not all surf will contain fish. The wind and tide will influences how the food and therefore the fish are distributed along the shoreline. Any food brought up by the surf won’t necessarily be pushed towards the shoreline, instead, it’ll often travel along the shoreline and accumulate in hot spots created by natural occurring gullies and holes. It’s these spots that the fish will tend to gather.

Experienced surf anglers will tend to read the surf and adjust their tactics accordingly. In many surf beaches around the world, brown water created during heavy surf is the preferred target for anglers. It’s important to consider your fishing spot, the ideal location is not always where you parked your car.
Many surf anglers suggest it is possible to read the surf and, in many parts of the world, brown water in heavy surf is targeted. In the UK it is important to give your choice of fishing spot some thought – the best fishing is not always in front of your parked car.

Surf Fishing for Beginners

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Beginners looking to take up surf fishing are often surprised by the huge variety of fish that can be caught just a few feet from the shoreline. Nearly every saltwater species, with the exclusion of deep sea game, such as marlin, can be caught from the shoreline.

Surf fishing is not difficult to learn, a small amount of knowledge and the right gear is enough to get you started. Tactics may change depending on the weather, type of shoreline, tides and the species of fish you’d like to catch, but the basics remain the same.

Tackle to Get Started

You can, of course, the head of to the beach with a six-foot rod, some hooks, a weight and some bait, and you may have some limited success, but chances are it’ll end up being an exercise in frustration and lost tackle.

Many experienced surf fisherman will turn up on the beach with a variety of rods, plenty of tackle and a range of baits as well as more than a few tools. Taken to the extreme, some will take enough gear to equip half a dozen fishermen.

However, as someone that’s just starting out, you don’t need all of this. Get yourself a decent 12 – 15 foot long with large line guides and pair it with a large saltwater spinning reel  and some 25-pound test line. Something along the lines of this would work well.

Armed with just this equipment, you should be able to make a cast that exceeds 100 yards. An experienced angler can make a cast that is more than 200 yards.

If you have the means to do so, you can employ a smaller rod to make casts that land closer to shore, allowing you to cover a bigger range of ground.

There are a ton of rigs you can employ as a surf fisherman which are largely dependent on the conditions and the fish species targeted. I would go as far as to say that there is probably a distinct rig designed for every sort of saltwater species. As a beginner, you don’t need to worry too much about this. Employing a basic two hook leader coupled with a four-ounce sinker and some Khale hooks should cover 90% of the conditions and species you’re likely to encounter.

Small tip, invest in a sand spike as soon as you can. They are inexpensive PVC pipes that are sharpened at one end, the sharpened end is driven into the sand and will allow you to rest your rod inside. These will obviously keep your rod and reel out of the sand and water, but they are a must have for when you land a fish, acting as another pair of hands while you deal with the messy end.

You’ll also need a bucket, knife, needle-nose pliers, a cooler for storing your bait and a hook remover. If you want to get serious about the bobby then it’s well worth investing in a dedicated tackle box and possibly even a cart for lugging your gear down the beach.

Bait and Lures

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As a beginner is best to keep things simple and sticking to the most popular baits such as mullet, shrimp or squid. Shrimp is great as it’ll attract almost every species that you’re likely to encounter, the downside is it’s easily sucked off a hook. Mullet and squid are better at staying on the hook, the downside is that some species ignore them. Combining both shrimp and squid is a great option.

When it comes to lures, keep things simple. A silver or gold spoon can probably catch just about anything, but it’s well worth asking a local tackle shop about what works in the area you intend to fish.

Guide to Seasons and Conditions

The two golden rules of fishing for saltwater species is that fish are nearly always on the move and you might be surprised by what you catch. Just like land animals, fish are influenced by the seasons, temperatures, weather and additionally the tide. It’s these factors that will influence what fish will likely be hanging around your favorite fishing spot.

Many species are actually migratory and will move north or south as the waters warm and cool, depending on which side of the equator you’re living on. Some species will move toward the shore as the tide begins to come in, while others wait until the sun begins to set. Other species will base their movements on the temperature of the water, preferring to keep the surrounding water within an optimal range, which means moving into shallower or deeper water to meet those needs.

An incoming tide will more than likely bring in more fish compared with an outgoing tide, additionally, dusk and dawn are likely to be far more fruitful compared to fishing at midday. Moreover, early summer, late spring and the fall months are going to provide a greater opportunity to land a larger variety of fish. This is primarily due to migratory patterns bringing fish closer to shore.

Reading the surf conditions is a skill that is finely tuned over time, but there are a few general tips that can make your life easier. Try to cast between the waves, along the side of sandbars, within rip currents or in areas where there’s a large drop-off.

Keep an eye out for bird activity or fish rising. If fish are in a feeding frenzy, then you’ll likely see them breaking the surface of the water. Diving birds such as seagulls and pelicans can give a good indication of plenty baitfish in an area, if there are baitfish, there will be larger predatory fish as well. Lastly, look out for other people fishing. If there are a bunch of surf fisherman in one area, chances are they are there for a reason. Don’t feel shy about getting in on the action.

Casting, Hooking and Reeling in

I’m assuming that you already know how to cast, in which case you should have no problems surf casting. For surf casting, you may wish to concentrate on accuracy and distance and don’t worry too much about learning a new casting technique. If you’re brand new to fishing then check out the video below for a few pointers.

When you’re using bait, make sure you wait for the weight to hit the sea floor before flipping the bail. Once you’ve tightened the line, wait a few minutes to make sure that everything is set and secure.
I would recommend holding onto your rod as a beginner as this will allow you to get a good feel for what a bite feels like. Just remember, fish make take a few nibbles before they actually commit to taking the whole bait.

Once you know what a fish strike feels like, you can start to use the rod holder, just make sure you keep an eye on the rod tip that could signal a nibble.

As soon as you set a hook, let them take the line for a bit. This will allow you to get an idea of how big the fish is and you can then adjust the drag accordingly to avoid line breakage.

When you hook a fish, let him fight a bit before reeling it in. Get a sense for how big he is and determine if you need to adjust the drag to ensure that it does not break your line.

Learn from other anglers in your area. A local tackle shop can contain a wealth of information, and many of them are more than happy to give you some pointers. Check to see if there are any local fishing clubs and maybe team up with a more experienced buddy. You don’t have to go with someone every time, but learning from someone else at least initially can make your life much easier.

Surf Fishing Tips

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If you’re looking to take your fishing game to the next level, then these surf fishing tips are a sure fire way to maximize your chances of success.

It’s frequently tempting when you’re fishing a beach to try and cast as far as you can on your first cast, and then just hope that you’ll have success. It’s not always the best tactic. How much more efficient and effective would you be if you knew what the seabed looked like, where the fish are likely to be hanging out, and what time of day they’re going to be feeding?

In our tips section, we aim to give you all the information you need in order to answer these questions and much more besides.

Carry out a Low Tide Survey

Our number one tip is to take a stroll along the surf beach while the tide is out, ideally during a spring tide. During your walk think about the exposed landscape you’re seeing and take a mental or actual note of where the hollows, banks, and gullies are. If you look out over the water, can you see anything protruding from the water that’s been exposed by the low tide? Does the seabed change the further out you go, stones, pebbles, rocks, sand or mud? Can you see any signs of life, mussels, worms, cockles? Are there any significant patches of seaweed or rock formations? Are there any objects that will likely rob you of your tackle but could attract fish?

If you want to take this a step further, cast out a line with only a weight attached from the low water mark. As you begin to reel it in you should be able to feel how the seabed changes. Sand feels very different from rocks or pebbles. Take photographs to reference later on with easily identifiable landmarks within the photo frame so you can later identify where things are at high tide.

All of this is valuable data which you can later use to place your bait where you think the fish will be. Remember, interesting underwater terrain tends to invite more fish compared to smooth sand.

Understand the Surf

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Bear in mind that the seabed is an ever-changing landscape. Storms, tides, currents, and waves can quickly change the underwater landscape, moving sandbanks and weed beds around in a matter of hours. At high tide, it’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly where something was at low tide, especially when one piece of the sea can look quite similar to another.

At first look, one section of surf might look identical to any other… but is it really the same? If you take the time to really examine the surf, you might notice swirls as the waves move around and over a rock, you might see the tips of seaweed poking up.

Shallow sand backs will normally have short breaking waves, while smoother flatter water might indicate the presence of deep water. If you couple this visual up to date information with the evidence you gathered during your previous survey, you should have a good idea as to what’s going on under the waves and where you should place your bait.

Keep an Eye on the Weather

You might prefer to fish when there is a strong offshore wind, as it makes it much easier to cast. However, offshore winds also tend to calm the waves, especially when atmospheric pressure is high, smaller waves and calmer seas produce clearer waters.

If the water is clearer, fish will tend to stick to deeper water further offshore during the hours of daylight, only venturing close to shore once the sun has set.

Conversely, days in which the wind is blowing onshore with low atmospheric conditions can produce monstrous waves and rough seas. In turn, this will stir up the ocean floor, resulting in more food being available and you’re far more likely to see results when surf fishing during the day.

Timing is Everything

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Timing is incredibly important when it comes to surf fishing. On nearly every surf beach in the world, the two hours leading up to high tide and the two hours following a high tide will see the most action. This is doubly true for spring tides. However, during the period of high water, when the tide isn’t really coming in or going out, you’ll often find that bites are rare.

For example, if high tide takes places at 12 noon, then you’ll probably find that between 11:30 and 12:30 there won’t be much action. But within the two hours leading up to 11:30 and the two hours after 12:30, you’re in with a much better chance of catching some serious fish.

Nearly every fish species is more active when the light levels are low, which makes dawn and dusk especially good times to cast your rod. Combining a high tide that takes place at dawn or dusk is the optimal solution and will maximize your chances of success.

Fish nearly always feed better in low light conditions, making dawn and dusk particularly prolific times.

Understand the Tide Tables

We’ve covered how you can use tides and times to your advantage when surf fishing, but you’ll also need to know how to read a tides table and when high tides fall into the Goldilocks zone of dawn or dusk.

Your first step should be to mark on the table when a high tide takes place roughly at dawn or dusk. Next circle the days when a spring tide is going to take place.

A spring tide takes place when the moon, earth, and sun are in a line, this means the moon and the suns gravity are amplified which means higher tides. They normally take place one or two days after a full moon or new moon. When one of these spring tides takes place at dawn or dusk, your chances of catching something while surf fishing is greatly increased.

Tie a Great Rig

The perfect surf fishing rig must have three qualities:

  • Be streamlined in order to allow for long casts
  • Present the bait naturally on the sea floor
  • Firmly hold the bait without distracting fish with hooks yet still allow for the hook to be set in the fish’s mouth.

Creating streamlined or aerodynamic rigs are easily accomplished with a paternoster rig or one if it’s variants. It’s essentially a lead weight with one or more hooks attached on short lines. Any of the popular shore rigs will meet this goal, for example, wishbone rigs, pulley rigs or flapper rigs.

Learning to tie one out of a book can be tricky, but there is an easier way. Simply buy a professionally made one in the style you like and copy it. It’s worthwhile investing in some fluorocarbon line for use in your rigs, it may cost a little bit more than standard line, but you’re only using it for rigs so it should last you a long time. When fluorocarbon is immersed in water it becomes practically invisible, which could make the difference between a catch or failure.

Avoid Crack-Offs when you Cast

Anyone that’s been surf fishing before has probably experienced a crack-off at least one. In order to prevent this from happening, a shock leader should be used, these dramatically reduce the chances of a crack-off from happening. Crack-offs aren’t just about avoiding the loss of gear, they can be dangerous for other beach users or yourself.

Shock leaders must be used when surfcasting – without one, a crack-off is far more likely. Of course, crack-offs don’t just represent a needless loss of fishing gear, they are also highly dangerous for any other beach user.

As a general rule of thumb, if your lead weight is 4oz, then a 40lb shock leader should be used, 6oz weight should use a 60lb leader etc. The shock leader should be 10 times the lead weight, but rather ounces, it should be changed to pounds, 4oz = 40 lbs.

You should use monofilament line for the shock leader, but avoid using normal monofilament. General purpose mono which you use for your main line is very stretchy be design, which makes it less than ideal for a shock leader. This is because as you cast, the energy imparted by your rod action will be translated into line stretch, which will rob your cast off power and distance.

You can buy a mono line that has been specifically designed for use in shock leaders, it’s less stretchy and abrasion resistant, which ensures all the power of your cast goes into propelling your rig towards the horizon.

There are a wealth of knots available for affixing the main line to the shock leader, but unless you have a strong preference otherwise, I would suggest using the Albright Knot. The issue with any knot is that they can get caught up in the rod guides or tangled in the coils of the line. As the weight rating of the shock leader increases, the larger the resultant knot will be, which increases the chance of the problem occurring.

In order to avoid this issue, you can use a tapered shock leader. For example, if your shock leader is 13 meters in total length, use a 9 meter mono of 65lbs which tapers down to 16lb over the last 4 meters. The advantage of this is that the knot used to connect the shock leader to the main line is much smaller and will have a much smaller chance of being snagged.

Protect your Thumb

If you’re not using a spinning reel but rather a baitcast reel, you’ll have experienced the annoying tendency for the spool to slip under your thumb when you’re casting, especially once everything becomes a bit wet. There’s an easy way to prevent this, cut a finger off a rubber glove and put it on your thumb for some extra grip.

Not only will this give you increased grip, it’ll also give you a level of protection from the leader knot as it zips through.

Don’t Cast To Far

We all enjoy seeing how far we can cast our rig, it’s fun to see this improve over time as your technique improves. It’s not necessarily a bad thing either, but it’s also not often necessary. To be a great surf caster you need to possess three things:

  • Great quality gear
  • Highly accurate and repeatable technique
  • A strong arm. Providing you have the above already, being stronger and being able to cast further than someone with equal gear and ability will work in your favor.

Just because you can cast further than you can see every single time, doesn’t necessarily mean you should be doing it on every cast. Putting the rig exactly where you think the fish will be is far more important and will likely result in much better surf fishing success.

Fish Rough Ground Without Losing Your Gear

Rough ground provides the food and shelter that the fish we’re looking to catch thrive on, from crabs and shellfish to seaweed and rocks. Given the amount of life that these areas support, it’s not something we can easily ignore. However, rough ground can cost a lot in terms of lost tackle, but there are a few surf fishing tips that can minimize any loss experienced.

Most of the time it’s the lead weight that gets caught on something as we’re reeling in a fish. Pulley rigs have been specifically designed to prevent this from happening by using the weight of the fish to pull the weight into a position where it’s less likely to snag on something. Additionally, the following five tips can go a long way in preventing lost gear:

  • Use a length of light line to attach your weight to the rig. If the weight snags on something the lighter line will break allowing you to retrieve the rest of the rig.
  • Use a planning lead weight. These are lead weights that have been designed with rough ground in mind, their design means they lift up off the seabed as they are reeled in.
  • Use old spark plugs in place of a lead weight. They don’t cost anything so you won’t mind if you lose one.
  • Use a reel with a fast retrieve in order to clear the rig of the seafloor quickly.
  • Use a stiffer rod so that you can clear your gear from the seafloor quickly. Softer rods will result in more lost equipment.

Surf Fishing Rigs

When it comes to sending some bait soring over the waves, it’s just as important to consider the rig you’re using to present your bait as it is to decide on which bait to use. There are a ton of rigs available, but we think you should be using one of two options for the majority of your surf fishing, depending on the bait, location and the time of the year.

Fish-Finder Rig

One of the best and easiest rigs to put together is the fish-finder rig. This rig is essentially a leader with a hook and a barrel swivel attached to the main line with what’s called a fish-finder weight slide. We find that this rig is very well suited to presenting a range of bait sizes, and are suitable for almost every fish species, from bass to shark. You’ll obviously need to adjust the hook size and type as well as the leader length to match the fish species you’re targeting. Just bear in mind that a longer leader will lead to increased wind resistance and therefore a reduced casting distance.

However, a longer leader can result in the bait being allowed to flow and move with the movement off the water, which is often far more natural looking and appealing for the fish. A little bit of trial and error can go a long way in identifying the happy balance between leader lengths and casting distance.

High/Low Rig

This rig is great if you want to offer a couple of bait options at the same time. Where the fish-finder rig has the weight above the hook, the high/low rig has the hooks spaced above the weight. The biggest advantage offered by a high/low rig is the opportunity to offer two types of bait at the same time, however, the fixed weight means it’s not possible to feed line to an interested fish. If you’re using a fish-finder rig you can allow fish to take the line out without it feeling the weight, which in turn means you have a longer opportunity for the fish to digest and set the hook. Whereas a high/low rig is statically attached to the weight, meaning you’ll need to be quicker setting a hook or risk the fish dropping the bait due to the unnatural feel of the weight. As such, high/low rigs are best suited to softer bait types such as worms or clams.

Whole Mullet Rig

These rigs are great for targeting aggressive big fish found in the surf. The beauty of the rig is that it keeps the bait off the bottom of the seafloor by using a Styrofoam float, which makes it easier for fish to locate it and keeps it out of reach of crabs.