Surf Fishing 101


Surf fishing is a great past time, whether you drive your gear onto the beach or just lug it on.  Surf fishing is an art like any other type of fishing.  There are techniques you learn as you go.  It can be difficult at times.  The Atlantic ocean is  HUGE and your standing on the edge.  A beginner can outfit for surf fishing for under a hundred dollars.   Your freshwater gear is not really adequate for surf fishing.   However we do use our smaller 7 -foot boat rods in the surf for casting lures.  We even use some of the freshwater spinners, such as a mepps or panther martin for small bluefish and striped bass in the summer.

 Surf Fishing Rods

Surf fishing reel and rod with sand spike this is a typical surf fishing set up.
Surf fishing reel and rod with sand spike this is a typical surf fishing set up.

A good medium action 10 -12 foot surf rod is perfect for this area.  It’s easy to cast and not too heavy to use.  Pick a decent action you feel comfortable with medium is the best for a beginner.  When  the weight is holding bottom or you are using a  fish finder, action from the fish hitting can be “seen”.   These are good rods to use after you have advanced and need more gear.  We fish 4-6 rods at a time.   Your first surf fishing rod will probably be in your arsenal for a long time.


The reel choice will depend on the angler. Surf fishing reels have stainless ball bearings and are built larger and more durable than their lighter cousins.  They are geared higher for a faster retrieve.  I watched a guy pull a 41 inch Striped bass  last year.   Having a fast retrieve means less wear on the fish and angler. Use what feels comfortable and balances the rod well.  You may be using this for years to come.  I recommend finding a decent rod and reel combo at your local bait shop.  You can test and feel the balance better.  You can get great deals on rod combos at end of year/season sales in most coastal areas.  Good to know down the road when more gear is needed for your new surf fishing hobby.  It’s also a good excuse to go back to the beach in the fall and catch Striped bass/Rockfish.  CLEAN your reel after every trip the wind can put sand in strange places.

Fishing Line

Your rod and reel surf fishing combo will most likely come with twenty pound mono-filament fishing line.  I highly recommend dumping half that line and refilling with a heavy braided line; 20 – 30 pound test braid is perfect.  It will cost a few more bucks but the casting is much smoother and farther when you need it.  Line is the anglers preference and always will be everyone likes different line for different reasons.  Use what you like.  There are pros and cons to both types of fishing line.

Rigs and weights

Rigs are cheap enough these days and you can buy the few you will need.  It’s only cheaper to make your own rigs when you know what you need and can buy the parts in bulk.  Weights or fishing sinkers will be governed by the movement of the tide and the surf strength and height.  The most popular surf fishing weight is the pyramid sinker.  It is the easiest to use to hold bottom.  Flat sinkers are perfect for calm days and then as conditions worsen you upgrade to a pyramid and so on.

Holding bottom refers to keeping your rig in one place with the fishing sinker.  Once a pyramid sinker can no longer hold bottom you will need to move into the bigger oddly shaped fishing sinkers; storm sinker, frog tongue, surf claw sinker, and sputnik sinker.

There are many types of rigs.  Modified Mullet rigs and kingfish rigs are good for the summer seasons.   During the fall season you will want larger rigs for the bigger bluefish and striped bass.  Information on rigs and weights needed for the surf are in our fishing report section. 


Casting any fishing rod is just  like a golf swing, we all have our own form.  Some much more hysterical than others.  I can not stress enough learning how to cast a surf rod.  It is the one thing many beginners never practice.  Just take a two ounce bell sinker or bank sinker and cast in a nearby field.  The you will be ready for the beach.
First and foremost, you don’t have to wade out to your shoulders to cast “out there”.  For two reasons, One, the fish are usually within the first two swells, thirty feet in front of you and two, you lose all leverage for transferring energy to the rod.
  There are a few ways to cast surf fishing.  If you like to sidearm cast please make sure you have a lot of room.  Casting over your head is the best.  Hold the bottom of the rod in your left hand and the above the reel holding the line with your right hand.  let about 3 feet of line out or a third of the rod length.  CHECK your line and make sure it is not wrapped around the tip!!!!  Casting like this will snap the line if it is tangled and launch the rig out to sea  Shift your hips into the cast and put your dominant foot forward in the direction your casting.    I let the sinker drag in the sand behind me.  Start the cast slow lift the rod into the casting motion and finish fast let the line go as soon as the rod is at a twenty degree angle from top center or about 10:30.  keep the rod tip up and pointed in the direction cast..  Let the line tighten up as you walk up to the sand spike.  Place the rod in the sand spike, and tighten the line for the rig you are using.  Always keep the line tight and make sure you are above the waves (hence the tall rod). 
Then you have to learn to pay attention to the rod tip and distinguish between wave action and fish strikes.  This will come with more experience from surf fishing.  Wave action is a smooth movement of the rod tip, back and forth.  A fish strike will look like quick jerks and exaggerated.  Grab the rod and set the hook, unless you are using circle hooks.

Sand Spikes

Many brands and types of sand spikes are available.  For this lesson you will just need the generic PVC holder like the picture at the top of the page.  These are cheap at any bait and tackle shop.  A strong spike keeps your gear out of the sand from large strikes.  I have seen brand new poles dragged right out to sea in a matter of seconds.    If you decide to really get into surf fishing a good sand spike will save you lots of money and aggravation in the long run.  Sand gets into your gear no matter what you do from the wind alone.  The larger sand spikes from Soo Phat Outfitters do very well.


Different types of plugs
Different types of plugs

Like with freshwater fishing, there are saltwater fishing rigs and lures that are good for surf fishing and not other places.  That is true with the rigs for surf fishing but spoons and bucktails do well everywhere.  Small spoons during a bluefish blitz will produce more and faster than throwing double baited rigs.  Big bucktails and Tsunami swim shads work well.  Just keep the soft plastics to a minimum.  During bluefish season soft plastics do not abide your wallet too well.  Hopkins lures are great in the surf.   Many surf casters change the treble hooks out on their plugs for a better release for them and the fish.
If you already fish you probably have a few of these things in your gear.  Try them out before you start buying even more gear.

Reading the Water

Learning to read the beach is key to help fish fish.  Polarized sunglasses are a must for surf fishing.  It is bright out there and  helps cut the glare.  Birds working the water are a good sign fish are in the area.  Osprey are great to keep an eye on they watch and follow schools of fish.  The eagles even make an occasional appearances.   Schools of fish will look like cloud shadows on the water moving randomly along.
Bluefish will leave a slick behind them  more so than other fish.  These slicks look like smooth wakes from boats running the fish highway along the beaches.  Fish in these schools tend to surface and are easier to spot, appears like the water is boiling.  Look for jumping baitfish in the surf just before the waves turn over.  If baitfish are jumping something is feeding on them.  Cast nets come in handy to catch the baitfish the bigger fish are feeding on.
Lots of sand fleas in the surf mean there could be a lot of flounder feeding on them.   Large fish will make swells in the waves on calmer days these are easier to see. One of the best ways to read the water is to look to your neighbors and see what they are using and catching.  People generally are friendly on the beach and will share information.  Fishing is the great equalizer.

I hope this helps you enjoy surf fishing and pick it up as a hobby.  It’s a great time for kids and the whole family.  If you are in an area you can drive onto the beaches I highly recommend doing just that.   Hope to see you out there and have fun.  It’s fishing, you never know what you will catch and with surf fishing the variety can be large.

Fish On!

Rich King

Read The Beach Find More Fish 

Reading The Beach To Surf Fish 

Catching Flounder In The Delaware Surf