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Surf Casting Rigs: Long Casts, Tough Leaders, and Sharp Hooks

Last Updated: November 21st, 2020
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Fishing from the beach offers unique challenges, and we’ve covered the specialized tackle that dominates the surf before. If you’re not sure what you need to get started, please check out our articles on the best surf casting rods and reels

Make no mistake: in addition to specialized rods and tough reels, surf casting demands extraordinary rigs. Ultra-long casts are the norm. Tide and current threaten to drag your rig away from where you want it. And monster fish with razors for teeth will tear standard leaders to shreds.

To make the most of your time on the sand, you’ll need rigs that cast well and hold fast, and if you fish for species like blues or shark, you need leaders that are literally as tough as nails.

If you’re looking for the best surf casting rigs, we’ve got you covered; so keep reading!

Related: Surf Fishing Tips

Gear Up For Surf Casting Rigs: A Complete List of Supplies

Irwin Vise-Grip Long Nose Pliers

If you’re going to be working with wire leaders, crimping and cutting your rig into shape, you’ll want a serious wire-working tool. And while angling pliers can usually get the job done, they’re just not designed to cut heavy wire leader material.

Reach for the real deal--you’ll be glad you did!

IRWIN VISE-GRIP Long Nose Pliers, 6-Inch (2078216)

Amazon 

Rio Powerflex Wire Bite Tippet 40Lb

For toothy fish like blues, nothing beats tough nylon-coated tieable wire.

Rio’s Powerflex is simply awesome for creating nearly indestructible leaders, and when I’m fishing for species that sport a mouth full of sharp teeth, this is what I reach for.

Rio Fly Fishing Tippet Power Flex-Wire Bite Tippet 40Lb 15'. Fishing Tackle, Clear

Amazon 

Malin Wire Leader

For bigger, meaner fish like shark, I recommend ultra-tough wire leader. Malin is a name you can trust, and their leader material is built to take everything a shark can dish out.

It’s tempting to go for a pre-tied leader with a built-in swivel and clip, but trust me--many brands are not able to deliver on the performance they promise, breaking well under their rated test strength.

If you want to be sure that the shark, wahoo, or king mackerel you tie into will end up on the beach, tie your own leaders from superior material!

I recommend using American Fishing Wire Single Barrel Crimp Sleeves in the size that’s right for the wire you choose. I look for sleeves with slightly larger interior diameters than double my line diameter.

For instance, if you run #15 wire with a diameter of .036”, look for a sleeve size that’s close to (but bigger than) .072”. In this case, I’d select the closest larger size: .082”.

Malin Wire Leader| King Mackerel Wahoo Shark Rigging (#10 (131lb) 163' roll)

Amazon 

Gamakatsu Circle Hooks

For surf casting, where linen lengths are going to create weak hooksets, nothing beats a circle hook. Essentially self-setting, they do the job for you if you rig them correctly.

Strong, sharp, and utterly dependable, Gamakatsu hooks are as good as it gets. Available in sizes from 8 to 8/0, they’ve got the right size for you whatever you’re after in the surf.

Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hooks Offset-Point (25-Pack), Black, Size 2

Amazon 

Eagle Claw 8 mm Beads

Beads are an important component for some surf-casting rigs. Placed between a sliding sinker and a barrel swivel, they can protect your line from the pounding of all that lead.

Eagle Claw A8BEAD20R Plastic Beads, 8 mm, Red, 20 Piece

Amazon 

Ice Sea Sinker Slides

When you need a big sinker to slide freely, a slide is essential. And because of the clip, it’s easy to change sinker weights as conditions change.

ICE SEA 25-50pcs Fishing Line Sinker Slide with Duo-Lock Snap Blue High-Strength Sinker Slider Stainless Steel Snap Kit (Light Blue, 25pcs)

Amazon 

Bullet Weights Pyramid Sinkers

An old fashioned pyramid sinker enables long casts and holds well, keeping your surf casting rig where you want it. As it lays over onto its side, the points and flat at the top grip, fighting tide, current, and waves.

Bullet Weight’s sinkers are available in weights ranging from 1 to 6 ounces, making them a versatile choice in any condition.

Dr. Fish Cigar Float

Pesky crabs can ruin live bait on the bottom. But a cigar float can keep your hook afloat, keeping you in the game longer.

Dr.Fish 30PCs Fishing Cigar Float Cylinder Cork Float Foam Float Spinner Crawler Harness Orange Chartreus

Amazon 

Riptail Barrel Swivels

Barrel swivels are another rigging essential, and you’ll need some strong options for surf casting. Riptail offers swivels in sizes that are rated for everything from fluke to specks to sharks.

Riptail Barrel Fishing Swivels – Steel with Corrosion-Resistant Finish, Size #8 (45lb) - 100 Pack

Amazon 

Thundermist Lure Company T-Turn 3-Way Swivel

While some anglers like to tie their double-hooked rigs, a three-way swivel is more effective at preventing tangles and allows your live bait to swim more erratically, attracting more bites.

T-Turn Thundermist Black Nickel

Amazon 

Breakaway Super Sinker

Breakaway Super Sinkers are available in standard surf casting weights, offering better grip and a breakaway design for anglers who face rocky bottoms that threaten to snag every cast.

Breakaway Super Sinker 4oz

Amazon 

Fishing Lure Float Balls

For Fireball Rigs, these float balls can’t be beat. Available in 12 and 18 mm sizes, they’re just right to keep a hook buoyed off the bottom.

Fishing Lure Float Balls,100Pcs EPS Foam Buoyancy Ball Fishing Float Bobbers Drift Ball Strike Indicator Fishing Tackle Foam Indicator

Amazon 

The Best Surf-Casting Rigs

The Fish Finder Rig (A Modified Carolina Rig)

fish finder rig modified carolina

Among surf casters, there’s no rig more widely used than the Fish Finder. Essentially a Carolina Rig modified for longer casts and tide-bucking grip, the Fish Finder is a versatile, effective option every angler should know how to assemble.

Pretty much the only situation in which the Fish Finder Rig will let you down is when you’re confronted by an angry horde of crabs! Then, depending on your live bait option, they’ll have access to your hook and steal a meal as quickly as you rig it.

To assemble a Fish Finder Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line.
  2. Follow it with a bead stop. 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 wire for species with aggressive teeth.
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a 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.

For shark and other large fish with a mouth full of razors:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line.
  2. Follow it with a bead stop.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a size 4 or 5 barrel swivel.
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end. If you run very heavy mono, it’s probably easier to crimp than tie.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of heavy wire leader.
  6. Run the wire through the eye of your hook, slide on a single barrel connector, and crimp it down tightly with pliers.
  7. Crimp the wire leader to the barrel swivel.

The Floating Fish Finder Rig

floating fish finder rig

The Floating Fish Finder Rig is an exceptional option for holding live bait off the bottom at a known depth. Not only does this put it right where hungry fish can find it, but it also prevents pesky crabs from stealing your bait.

To assemble a Floating Fish Finder Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line.
  2. Follow it with a bead stop. 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 wire for species with aggressive teeth.
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a 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.

For shark and other large fish with a mouth full of razors:

  1. Slide a sinker sleeve onto your main line.
  2. Follow it with a bead stop.
  3. Using a Uni Knot, attach a size 4 or 5 barrel swivel.
  4. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end. If you run very heavy mono, it’s probably easier to crimp than tie.
  5. Cut 18 to 25 inches of heavy wire leader.
  6. Run the wire through the eye of your hook, slide on a single barrel connector, and crimp it down tightly with pliers.
  7. Crimp a split shot or two 3 to 4 inches back from your hook.
  8. Slide a cigar float onto your leader.
  9. Crimp the wire leader to the barrel swivel.

The High/Low Rig

high-low rig

The High/Low Rig is among my personal favorites, and I’ve caught coolers full of croaker, specks, and flounder on this versatile rig.

Ideal for running multiple jigs or live baits, it can help you hone in on what’s triggering bites that day, as well as giving you a second chance to attract a strike.

I’ve also used this rig with a single hook, and it’s just as deadly with little risk of tangles.

If you fish in areas where snags are a constant problem, run a Breakaway Super Sinker or make a dropper line of light-weight mono that allows you to break off your sinker.

Some anglers use a single main line, with Dropper Loops and leaders running from them. For this style of rigging, T-swivels aren’t necessary, but in my experience, tangling can be a real issue.

To assemble a High/Low Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Cut 10 to 18 inches of leader.
  2. Using a Uni Knot, tie your leader to the bottom of a T-swivel.
  3. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  4. Cut 18 inches of leader.
  5. Using a Uni Knot, tie that leader to the top of your T-swivel.
  6. Using a Uni Knot, tie the other end to the bottom of a second T-swivel.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Cut another 18 inches of leader.
  9. Using a Uni Knot, tie it to the top of the second T-swivel.
  10. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  11. Using a Uni Knot, attach the free end of that leader to a barrel swivel.
  12. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  13. Using a Surgeon’s Loop, attach the sinker of your choice to the lower leader.
  14. At the high T-swivel, use a Uni Knot to attach roughly 10 to 12 inches of leader.
  15. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  16. Using a Palomar knot, attach a circle hook or jig head to the end of this short leader.
  17. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  18. At the low T-swivel, use a Uni Knot to attach roughly 18 to 24 inches of leader.
  19. Using a Palomar knot, attach a circle hook or jig head to the end of this short leader.
  20. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

If you’d like to skip this complicated process, you can buy a quality High/Low Rig from Tide Rite that’s made from 30-pound mono leader. Tide Rite uses loops at the hooks, so they’re easy to change if you don’t want the Mustad bait holders they supply.

tide rite high-low rig

For bluefish, you can also buy a wire High/Low Rig and then make leaders from wire for your hooks.

Jasmine makes a nice pre-tied wire rig, and it’s available in one- and two-armed versions.

pre-tied wire rig

The Fireball RigFireball Rig

Fireball Rigs are popular for a reason.

Offering two sharp hooks for live bait, this ingenious rig adds a ball float near each hook, buoying your bait up and off the bottom. You’ll find variations of this rig fished for species like pompano, specks, and reds, explaining why it’s a perennial sight on beaches across America.

You can buy these rigs pre-tied from Topsail Tackle, and they’re equipped with heavy mono leader and 3/0 circle hooks.

pre-tied Fireball Rig

To assemble a Fireball Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Cut 10 to 18 inches of leader.
  2. Using a Uni Knot, tie your leader to the bottom of a T-swivel.
  3. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  4. Cut 18 inches of leader.
  5. Using a Uni Knot, tie that leader to the top of your T-swivel.
  6. Using a Uni Knot, tie the other end to the bottom of a second T-swivel.
  7. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Cut another 18 inches of leader.
  9. Using a Uni Knot, tie it to the top of the second T-swivel.
  10. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  11. Using a Uni Knot, attach the free end of that leader to a barrel swivel.
  12. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  13. Using a Surgeon’s Loop, attach the sinker of your choice to the lower leader.
  14. At the high T-swivel, use a Uni Knot to attach roughly 10 to 12 inches of leader. If you’re fishing for blues, either use 30-pound+ mono leader or wire.
  15. Slide a float ball onto your leader and follow it with a bead.
  16. Using a Palomar knot, attach a circle hook to the end of this short leader, or, if using wire, crimp the hook in place.
  1. At the low T-swivel, use a Uni Knot to attach roughly 10 to 12 inches of leader. If you’re fishing for blues, either use 30-pound+ mono leader or wire.
  2. Slide a float ball onto your leader and follow it with a bead.
  3. Using a Palomar knot, attach a circle hook to the end of this short leader, or, if using wire, crimp the hook in place.

Final Thoughts

These surf-casting rigs are winners, and you’ll see each and every one of them on the beach where you fish. Learn to rig them well, and you’ll have your bases covered when you need long casts, tough leaders, and sharp hooks.

We hope this article has helped you improve your surf casting rigs, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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