Surf Fishing 101 - The Basics
By Fisherman 57
I am FAR from being an authority on surf fishing, but I thought I'd share a few things to help those that are thinking about trying it.....
I also need to give credit to my friend Bill Varney, who is without a doubt the master of light line surf fishing. If your new to this type of fishing, you can give yourself a HUGE advantage by checking out Bill's website http://www.fishthesurf.com . Bill has some great products for surf fishing and I highly recommend his book to everyone!
"Fisherman 57" - "Bill Varney" - "Wingnut"
Neoprene waders will keep you much warmer but I prefer "breathable" waders as they seem to work well for me all season.... do a little on-line research regarding prices, you'll find a good deal if you look hard enough.
I have a couple different types of waders, but I like the Hodgman Weir Breathable Zip-Front Waders best. I also wear a pair of "Deep See" brand booties as "shoes"..... (available at Sports Chalet).... your waders will come with sewn in waterproof neoprene stockings, but you'll be best served to wear some type of a shoe over them. I think you'll find most any "dive bootie" will work as a surf fishing shoe as long as it has a sturdy sole.
Here's a pic of the type of waders and booties I use:
Here's a link for more info on the waders...
Once the warm weather and warm water arrives, I fish in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt! While on this subject, I will mention this: It's widely believed that Corbina have incredible eyesight. I know quite a few friends that when targeting Corbina make a huge effort to make themselves as "stealth" as they can. In order to "blend in" a little better, they even wear sand colored shorts and sky blue t-shirts as they try to become part of the natural background landscape colors.
In fact, along with not wearing bright colors, some anglers "crouch" down" when after Corbina in order to not be as easily seen. I could write a whole lot more on Corbina, but the point to all this is, when it finally warms enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt.... you might want to consider not wearing bright neon colors when surf fishing.
I also like a product called the "3rd Grip Holster"... this "holster" allows you to get a hand free to help with unhooking your fish or re-rigging. IMO it's one of the most critical pieces of gear I have..... use it to hold your pole while you perform other tasks, or it allows you to bring a additional pole rigged differently for targeting something else quickly.
The newest version has a wider pocket to holster your fish gripping tool (I like the new Berkley "Tec" fish gripper) and has an added "D" ring on the top strap to tether accessories to. The holster also has a place for a pair of needlenose.. ( I prefer "X-Tools" FLOATING needlenose) and a good pair of hemostats.
Here's a link to take a look at the "3rd Grip Holster"...
You can purchase it at:
Here's "Wingnut" working the surf up against a jetty (an ideal place for a Halibut).. he's using a "3rd Grip" as well as a pair of Hodgman Waders....
Note: When you use the "3rd Grip Holster", you have the option of wearing it a couple different ways.... the pole holder is angled, so it will either angle your rod forward or backward depending on your preference. I like to wear mine angled back like Arthur is doing in the photo below. The belt is very adjustable and even fits big guys like me.
As for a tackle box... you have quite a few options... remember, you want to be easily mobile and as light as possible and able to work the entire beach without be bogged down with a heavy pack or a box that you have to keep picking up and moving.
I use a light fanny pack and load it with the essentials. Hooks, weights, swivels, beads, pre-tied leaders, carolina keepers, artificial baits and lures, nail clippers, soft measuring tape, pocketknife, scent, etc... maybe even your camera, cell phone and a small hand towel.
* Use a water resistant or waterPROOF fannypack.
* "ziplock" bag your cell phone, camera, wallet and any kind of bait "scent" before they go into your pack or pockets. You'll be glad you did.
Once you've been out a few times, you'll have a better idea as to what YOUR "essentials" are and you'll be able to streamline your bag content.. your rule of thumb should be to carry ONLY what you feel you'll need for THAT day. Leave the extra stuff at home or locked in the trunk of your vehicle.
Get yourself a couple Plano MINI tackle trays like this one... this particular one measures about 4" X 3" and fits nicely into pockets, fanny packs, and vests. You'll be amazed at how much gear you can get into a couple of these.
The "hang tab" shown on this one is easily cut off if you prefer.
"City Dad" uses a fly fishing vest when surf fishing and I think this is a great suggestion and could work for some of you. Here's a pic of the vest "CD" uses, this vest keeps everything close at hand and up high enough to keep everything dry.
Here's a link with more info on the vest:
Get yourself a good pair of polarized sunglasses and wear them. Glare reduces your ability to see underwater structure and spot fish. It also causes eyestrain and fatigue. None of which will make your day on the water more productive or more enjoyable. There are all sorts of choices when it comes to sunglasses, but the bottom line is, get a pair and wear them when you go surf fishing.
Here's a link with some good information on sunglasses and how they can make you more effective..
As for a pole... well, to each his own.... I have quite a few, but if you're new and dont want to invest a lot of money and just want to get the feel for it, I'd suggest something like a inexpensive Shimano Sidestab 2500RE spin fishing reel and Shimano Scimitar 6.5ft spin fishing rod.
This reel features a lightweight corrosion resistant graphite frame, diecast aluminum spool, 3 stainless steel ball bearings, 1 roller bearing, Dyna-Balance rotor system, Super Stopper anti-reverse, Power Roller reduces line twist, 5.2:1 gear ratio, rear drag and a line capacity of 6lb/200yds. 8lb/140yds. and 10lb/120yds.
The rod is model# SMS-66M-2, 2 piece, medium action fast, sensitive graphite composite blank construction, 5 aluminum oxide guides, comfortable cork handles, hook keeper, and is rated for 6-14lb. line weight, 1/8-5/8oz. lure weight. It is an excellent combo for light freshwater or saltwater fishing.
This set up is not ideal for everyone, BUT I like it for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, it can be had on eBay or other places for about 39.99-49.99... without fail, you'll find that once in a while a wave soaks your reel. or worse yet, it gets dropped or gets sand in it... THAT is when you'll be thankful you didnt spend a arm and a leg for your set up.. and while I prefer a light action pole, this combo transfers over very good to freshwater.... so you get more for your money really as you get a combo you can use at the beach or at the lake.. anyway, like I said, to each his own!
I usually spool my reel with 6lb XXX Izor Line or 6lb P-Line as I like them both... again, you'll figure out what works best for you and what you prefer... be sure to pre-tie some leaders as it will save you a ton of time at the beach. I like using a flurocarbon leader when I'm fishing for the "beans".
You're gonna want to "carolina rig".
Depending on conditions, I'll use a sliding egg sinker anywhere from 1/4oz - 1oz ..... the better the conditions, the lighter the weight...... for instance if the current is strong, go to a heavier weight to keep your bait in the "strike zone" longer.......
Here's an example of a BASIC carolina rig....... here I used a 1/2oz sliding egg sinker, followed by a 6MM red bead.... (BTW, I usually prefer a bright ORANGE bead as it simulates the color of sandcrab roe)...... and a quality #12 barrel swivel...
One note on the swivel... I attended Bill's seminar and he mentioned that he uses a black swivel as it matchs the environment better. The closer you can make your presentation to "natural" the better, so go with a black swivel instead of the brass shown here.
As for a leader, again it depends on the conditions. If the surf is light, I use a longer leader, if the surf is bigger and heavy, I shorten it up........ here I started with a 18" leader..... you'll find that your line will get "fouled" if you use a long leader in heavy surf.
There are all sorts of ways to hook up your baits and I use a couple different ways myself, but here's a pic of a Gulp Camo Sandworm hooked on a #6 Owner Mosquito hook. Remember, Im just giving you some basics and there are better ways to present the bait.
In this case, I was using a 6" Gulp "Camo" sandworm... when I use the 6" version, I cut them into 2" pieces... these days however, Gulp sells a 2" version.
There are all sorts of baits that will score BSP's from the surf, they are a very abundant fish and will strike most any bait when presented properly.... maybe start off with the "Gulp Camo Sandworm" and then try something like a Big Hammer or a Kalin Perch Grub... you'll find that a MORF color (Motor Oil Red Flake) will work well in most conditions. Add some scent to the grubs if you can.
There are various colors of Gulp Sandworms, but like I mentioned before, you'll probably evolve into other baits and lures, but the Gulp "Camo" Sandworm is a proven "Perch Locator".
I prefer the 2" CAMO version shown here:
I mentioned "grubs" earlier, these are just soft plastic lures that will draw strikes from a variety of fish. I've found that one of the most productive color grubs is the "Motor Oil Red Flake" variation, also known as a MORF grub.
Here are some great examples of "Perch Grubs".. (Big Hammer) brand.
Need more tips on Perch Grubs?.... Click below:
I like adding a scent anytime I'm using plastics, I prefer UniButter or Pro-Cure.... as Ive had success with both products.
I also keep a couple different "Kastmasters" in my bag. I prefer the 1/8oz and I have had some good success with the Chrome/Blue and the Chrome/Green colors.
You'll find that a variety of fish will hit a Kastmaster, including Halibut. This is a great lure to throw right after a Grunion run.
Another great lure to throw in the surf is a Kroc "spoon". I like the blue or green mackeral pattern. Here's an example of the green mackeral pattern.
When soft shell sand crabs are available, that should be your bait of choice!
Sand crabs usually start showing up on the beach when the water reaches about 60 degrees. Ideally, you want to find and use "soft shell" sand crabs.
When you're able to locate some good "soft shell" sand crabs (also known as mole crabs), they are without a doubt the best bait you can use! Sand crabs start to "molt" (lose their shell) when the water reaches about 64 degrees. While in between hard shells they make an ideal bait for surf fishing. Even better are the ones that are carrying eggs (roe).
Sand Crabs are usually found in soft sand near the high tide mark. Look for small "V's" in the sand or watch for birds that are pumping the sand in a specific area for a continued amount of time, these are all indicators of possible sand crab beds..
Here's the type of crab you're looking for:
And here's the underside of one carrying eggs (note the orange area):
Sandcrabs bury themselves in the sand and when "beds" are visable, the crabs are usually buried similar to this:
Obviously there is a TON of California coastline to fish and most all beaches hold some type of fish for you to target, so start exploring and you'll soon find your list of favorite surf fishing spots to be very long!
Google Earth is a great way to look at the coastline for potential spots.... here's a shot of a small section of Bolsa Chica State Beach.
This tool can make it easy to see the beach terrain, jettys, piers, big structure etc....... even good places to park! You can zoom in closer than this shot in most cases.
Here's another great shot of a California beach and point. This area IMO has some great potential as it shows a multitude of possible areas that could hold fish.
My point to all of this is.... use every available tool you can to educate yourself and you'll soon be increasing your odds to a fun and productive day of surf fishing.
Learn how to read and use tide charts.. in fact, there are even websites with LIVE beach cams that show up to the minute conditions, and THAT can be very helpful. Ive left home on a sunny day and found miserable overcast conditions upon arrival at the beach.
Take a few moments before you head out the door and look at the live conditions if you can, as it can make or break a good day.
Here's a tide chart example.... looking at January 3rd, the high tide for this area was at 5:25AM..... and low tide was at 1:05PM..... remember tides are specific for the area, so be sure to choose a tide chart that relates to the area you intend to fish.
I like fishing BOTH the incoming tide as well as the outgoing tide.... usually I like starting a hour before high tide and then fish right thru until an hour after... others prefer a slightly different schedule, but thats usually mine.
I also like to fish the days with the highest amount of variance between the low and high tides and if that variance is in close proximety in terms of the time of day.... even better. But try to fish the days where there's a lot of water movement in terms of high and low tide.
Using the same tide chart as shown above... MONDAY has the biggest swing in terms of variance between high and low tides.... a high of 6.1 at 7:49am all the way down to a -0.9 at 3:15PM..... so while theres a nice variance in high and low tides, the times are not ideal (close together) ... but still a good day to fish IMO.
In addition, I look for days when high tide occurs near sunrise..... when that's the case, Ill start fishing about an hour before high tide in the "grey light".... and fish right on thru the sunrise.... or Ill do the same with a sunset high tide and fish until very little light remains.
I've had some great days of fishing when I've fished "grey light"..... just use a weather chart for sunrise & sunset times along with your tide chart to gather all the info... the closer a peak high tide occurs in relation to sunrise or sunset... the better IMO!
I like using this website for my tide information: http://www.tidelines.com
For info on weather, sunrise, sunset, winds, etc... http://www.weather.com
Depending on where the wave is breaking, I usually throw in front of the break or between breaks in the white foamy areas, once you get familiar with things, look for holes or trenches cut out by the breaking waves and work those areas hard. The perimeters of a rip tide (the outer edges) are also an ideal area to fish from the beach.
Be aware of riptides and exercise caution when fishing in these areas. Stay aware of your surroundings and watch for rogue waves as they can easily knock you over.
Here's an example of a rip tide and the areas where I would present my bait:
Once your rig is on the bottom, slowly retreive your bait by pulling and then reeling in 3' - 5' foot increments. This will give your bait a chance to be seen and hit. If there's a strong current, you'll see your bait and line move up or down the beach, the best thing you can do is follow it and try to keep it in the "strike zone" for as long as possible.
There IS a difference in the wave action on your line and the actual bite of a fish, but once you experience them both you'll soon figure out when you have a strike.
Learn to read the beach and the surf. Take note of landmarks and you'll find "your spot" much easier the next time. I use a GPS to log spots. You can gain some great information by exploring your favorite beach during a very low tide.
Remember that lots of surf fish hold in very shallow water. Ive caught Corbina in as little as 6 inches of water, so its important to "fish" your bait all the way in. "Beans' will even bump into you from time to time!
I usually start out by casting to my extreme right, and then I slowly keep casting in a "fan" pattern until I've worked the entire area in front of me all the way to my extreme left...... the point being... work the entire area.
If you dont start getting hits after working the area fully.... MOVE and KEEP MOVING and doing the same thing until you start getting bites and hooking fish......
Keep in mind that BSP spawning season is usually January – April. They usually give live birth March – July with young being approx. 2.5 inches in length and average about 30 some fry....
If you hook what appears to be a pregnant female full of babies, I recommend doing your best to keep her in the water while unhooking her. BSP's tend to start dropping babies when stressed and you'll know immediatly when THAT happens!
Best to get them all back in the water asap and give em' a chance at becoming BIG if at all possible.... just my two cents on that issue.
Lastly, please follow all DFG regulations as well as all state, county and city laws and all beach ordinances. Bring a small trash bag with you each time you go out and be sure to leave the beach cleaner than you found it. Set an example!
There's lots more I could add and surely better set ups and methods I could mention, but this should help you with some basics and get ya out there and get ya going!
Last edited by Wingnut; 03-20-2012 at 12:42 PM.
How to tell a male from a female--
The gray markings during spawning are not a sure sign of gender, as Many males will also have these markings.
You can only know for sure by examining the ventral (anal) fin.
This is a male, look at his ventral fin, it is modified to transmit sperm internally to the female.
These are both females. Compare the fins to the one above.
Great article! Surf fishing is excellent.
Dana thanks for all the great info I will be looking back at again since there is so much to take in HT
Then perfect post...
Amazing thread....if every thread was like this there would be no fish left...great job......fishbones
wow great write up......
very helpful and ancious to try some of this knowledge, thanks
i'M WAITING FOR THE WATER TO GET WARMER!!
Nice BSP tactics. I went to Bills seminar at FH. He grew up at Malaga Cove area.