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The Fish Finder Rig: Maybe the Best Surf Fishing Rig Ever

Written by: John B
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Anglers who chase fish in the surf know they need a rig that does more than just hold live bait. 

It needs to have enough weight to allow long casts when necessary, hold the bottom against tide and current, and offer the option of a tough leader tied to their hook.

The Fish Finder Rig offers all of this, explaining its enduring popularity from Maine to Texas, California to Alaska.

If you want to know the advantages of the Fish Finder Rig, learn to assemble it in a snap, and discover a modification that can save your bait from crabs, keep reading!

Related: Best Fishing Rigs

What is the Fish Finder Rig?

fish finder rig

A staple of surf and pier fishing, the Fish Finder rig uses a strong barrel swivel to connect your main line - holding a sliding pyramid sinker - to your leader. 

Designed to allow easy, long casts and to hold the bottom exceptionally well, it’s simply an amazing rig for presenting live or cut bait.

Why Use a Fish Finder Rig?

When you’re fishing from the beach, you often need a rig that provides enough weight for long casts, but you always need a rig that can stay put in the face of surging tides and heavy currents.

Pyramid sinkers are ideal for holding the bottom, and since they range in size from about one ounce to massive five-ounce options, you can always find the weight you need for your conditions and needs.

pyramid sinkers

Used in tandem with strong leader and a good hook, it’s an ideal rig for catching everything from croaker to flounder, blues to reds.

How to Assemble a Fish Finder Rig

Fish Finder Rigs come together in just seconds, and if you tie one up once, you’ll remember it forever:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line. Attach a pyramid sinker to the clip.
  2. Follow it with a bead. This will protect your barrel swivel from the heavy sinker.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a barrel swivel
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of leader using 20-pound mono or prepared stainless steel leader for species with aggressive teeth. Most prepared leaders already come with a barrel swivel.
  6. Using a Uni Snell Knot, attach an offset circle hook to one end of the leader.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Using a Uni Knot, attach the other end of your leader to the barrel swivel.
  9. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

Hook Size

As is almost always the case with live bait, you want to size your hook to your bait as carefully as you can. Nothing deters bits like a huge hook with a small bait, but a hook that’s too small will allow fish a free meal.

I generally prefer circle hooks for my Fish Finder Rigs, especially if I’m using sand spikes or rod holders. The reason is simple.

Circle hooks are self-hooking, so they don’t require you to react immediately to a strike and set your hook. Instead, they turn as the fish takes the bait, driving through the corner of their mouths automatically. 

Not only does this result in a greater hook-u percentage, it cuts down on swallowed hooks and dead fish, too.

If I’m fishing croaker or spot, I’ll use a #6 or #8 Gamakatsu offset circle hook. A bit of cut bait or a piece of shrimp fits perfectly on a hook this size, and when the croaker grab that bait off the bottom, they’re done for!

For flounder, I tie on a 3/0, 4/0, or even 5/0 Gamakatsu offset circle hook. They’re exceptionally sharp, and by the time you grab your rod, they’ve already done all the work needed for an ideal hookset.

For mackerel, snook, reds, and blues, I’ll throw a 1/0, 2/0, or 3/0 Gamakatsu offset circle hook, sizing my hook to match my live bait of choice.

 

2 Gamakatsu circle hook

Use a circle hook and you’ll notice an immediate difference in hook-up percentage.

Line Choice

If I’m fishing around pilings, rocks, or other debris, my choice of line is definitely tough mono like Berkley Trilene Big Game.

As we’ve discussed at length - and tested - mono is amazingly abrasion resistant, inexpensive, easy to tie, and awesome for shock absorption when you hook a big snook or red.

If you want the full run-down on line abrasion, check out this article:

Best Fishing Line - Monofilament vs. Fluorocarbon vs. Braid

If I’m fishing croaker, spot, or other small fish, I’ll tie on 15-pound Big Game. While that’s more line than I really need, you never know what might hit your line, and if I do get a flounder, I want enough strength to win the fight.

If I know I’m targeting flounder, and the bottom is sandy and clear of debris, I’ll consider switching to an excellent braid like Sufix 832 in 20- to 30-pound test. But you’ve got to be careful: one warp around a barnacle-encrusted piling and your line is done. 

If I stick with Big Game, I’ll typically spool up 20-pound test for flounder.

For mackerel, snook, reds, and blues, I almost always use 20-pound mono, unless I know the bottom is clean, in which case I’ll swap the Big Game for 30-pound Sufix 832.

My leader choices are pretty basic.

I’ll either run heavy Big Game in the neighborhood of 20 pounds or use a prefabricated stainless steel leader.

The Big Game has plenty of shock absorption if I’m running braid and hook a big fish, and it’s more than tough enough for species that don’t have a jaw full of razors.

Fishing Leaders, Fishing Tackle, Fish Line, Stainless Steel Wire, Fish Gear Kit, with Swivels Snap Connect, for Lures Bait Rig Or Hooks Green (3 Size Test 40 Lb)

Amazon 

Tough stainless steel leader is ideal for bluefish and other species with lots of aggressive teeth.

Stainless steel leaders are a must with fish that can cut line with one pass of their teeth.

Just remember that if you choose prepared leader like this, it comes with a pre-tied barrel swivel, so you can skip that step as you assemble your rig.

One Problem with the Fish Finder Rig

I love the Fish Finder Rig, and most inshore anglers share that affection. 

But if there’s one thing I don’t like about it, it’s the ease with which crabs can spoil your day. Since the bait is lying on or very near the bottom, crabs can attack it mercilessly.

But there’s an easy solution if that becomes a problem!

The Floating Fish Finder Rig

Floating Fish Finder Rig

I switch to the Floating Fish Finder Rig when crabs show up for my bait buffet.

The Floating Fish Finder Rig adds a step or two to the standard version, but it’s easy to assemble:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line. Attach a pyramid sinker to the clip
  2. Follow it with a bead. This will protect your barrel swivel from the heavy sinker.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a barrel swivel.
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of leader using 20-pound mono or prepared stainless steel leader for species with aggressive teeth. Most prepared leaders already come with a barrel swivel.
  6. Using a Uni Snell Knot, attach an offset circle hook to one end of the leader.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Crimp a split shot or two, 3 to 4 inches back from your hook.
  9. Slide a cigar float onto your leader.
  10. Using a Uni Knot, attach the other end of your leader to the barrel swivel.
  11. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

With the exception of that cigar float, which can keep your live or dead bait high enough to avoid crabs, I fish and assemble this rig in exactly the same way as the standard fish Finder Rig.

Final Thoughts

The Fish Finder Rig is my go-to choice for surf casting or pier fishing, and if you try it once or twice, I think you’ll share my enthusiasm for it. 

Easy to cast, simple to rig, and mighty effective on many species, it’s a rig every saltwater angler should learn to master.

I hope that you’ve learned something from this article today, and if you have any questions, we’re here to answer them.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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