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Surf Fishing Tips to Help You Catch More Fish: Time, Tide, and Technique

Whether you prefer having the beach all to yourself or like fishing with a few friends, there’s something magical about the sound of the waves on the sand, the anticipation of a big bite, and fighting a keeper through the surf.

Surf fishing is heart-pounding angling, but if you’re new to it, or just having trouble catching from the beach, it can be frustrating instead.

If you’ve been scouring the internet in search of surf fishing tips to improve your game, we’re here to help!

Below, you’ll find a few of our most effective surf fishing tips, all of which will help you catch more fish, more often.

Related: Best Saltwater Lures for Surf Fishing

Surf Fishing Tips

Invest in Quality Surf Fishing Tackle

As simple as this sounds, the right rod and reel makes all the difference for surf fishing.

Surf rods are specialized tackle. Extra long, with fewer guides than you’d expect, and with truly spacious handles wrapped in rubber, they’re designed to load and cast like nothing else. And since your success in surf fishing depends on your ability to cast to where the fish are feeding, you’ll see a night and day difference when you switch to the right gear.

We’ve reviewed the surf fishing rods and surf fishing reels before, and if you haven’t checked out our buying guides, it’s a great place to start.

Our favorite performer is the Penn Carnage II. It’s simply an awesome surf rod, no doubt about it!

As far as fishing line goes, whether you choose mono or braid, selecting the right line is critical to your success from the beach. And with as many myths and rumors as there are about fishing line performance, it’s always worth getting the facts straight.

The best line for surf fishing that we recommend is Trilene Big Game Monofilament or Sufix 832 Braided Superline

Learn to Snap Cast Properly: Technique Matters!

The best surf casting rod and reel in the world won’t cast for you, and mastering proper technique is the first step toward improving your odds when working the beach.

Three rules define proper casting technique with a surf rod:

  • Extend your arms - The first mistake you’ll see on the sand is anglers who keep their arms tight to their body. Instead, you want to extend your arms and keep the rod away from your torso.
  • Twist your body - As you prepare to cast, you want to twist your torso like a spring, unleashing that stored power as you let go. Be sure to follow through as well!
  • Right hand fulcrum - left hand lever and power--Your left hand is the power; your right hand just acts as the fulcrum around which the rod moves. Don’t try to push with your right; instead, focus on the pull with your left.

If you’re looking for casting tutorials, these two videos are an excellent place to start:

Work Time and Tide

Any experienced surf angler will tell you that working the moving water around high tide is a killer tactic to catch more fish. But that’s just as true around low tide, too!

From blues to specks, pompano to flounder, pretty much every species will be more actively feeding when the water is moving.


The currents created by the ebb and flow of the tides stir up sediment and sand, exciting bait fish, as well as pulling and pushing them along the bottom. Simply put, there’s more food in play at these times than when the water is static.

Truly savvy fisherman already know that the hour or so around dawn and dusk are prime feeding times, too. Predatory fish rely on dim light to better ambush prey, and these are ideal times to hunt for more aggressive species.

To make the most of your time on the beach, a bit of planning is essential.

Consult your local tide chart and mark high and low tides that fall near dawn or dusk. Then, plan to hit the surf when the tides are moving--not static--and the light is just right.

surf tide chart

This would be an ideal day for fishing at dusk.

If you fish a moving tide in low light, you’re in great shape to catch your limit!

Read the Beach at Low Tide

Knowing when to fish is critical, but so is knowing where to fish.

It’s worth taking a trip to the beach at low tide for a careful survey, and every great surf angler I know spends a lot of time studying the shore. Storms can change features, sandbars will move, and you need to know the initial 100 feet or so off the sand like the back of your hand.

You’re looking for shallows, sand bars, deep pools, and rocks or other bottom features that provide cover.

When the water’s moving, fish will congregate in low areas, near submerged sand bars (on both sides!), and around these rocks and other features. Knowing exactly where they are is essential, and if you can accurately cast to these locations, you’ll consistently catch more fish.

where to surf fish

This is a fantastic example of the kinds of features to look for at low tide.

Use the Right Rig: Beginner Advice

If you’re just getting started surf fishing, you may be at a loss for a rig that will work.

Tide, waves, currents: they’ll all try to move your terminal tackle, and generally speaking, you don’t want that!

Our favorite general-purpose rig for sandy bottoms is the fish finder rig. It’s easy to make and casts really well.

fish finder rig

The fish finder rig is very effective on sandy bottoms.

The fish finder rig is designed to do several good things simultaneously.

First, the heavy sinker keeps your terminal tackle where it should be, not where the tide and current want to push it.

Second, the pyramid sinker does double duty, agitating the sand and imitating a wounded bait fish.

pyramid sinker

Third, the long steel leader and circle hook bounce your bait along the bottom, attracting attention.

steel leadercircle hook for surf fishing

And finally, this rig is called the “fish finder” because the sinker is attached via a slider, allowing you to feel any action on your hook without the deadening effect of all that lead weight.

sinker slider for surf fishing

That’s a winning combo in our experience!

Looking to learn more? Check out our in depth guide on surf casting rigs

Don’t skimp on quality. Excellent hooks from companies like Gamakatsu really do make a difference!

Sand Spikes: Rod Holders for the Beach

A good sand spike--surf fishing lingo for rod holder--is essential.

Surf casting tackle is heavy, and after you cast and tighten your line, you’ll want to drop your rod into a sand spike rather than hold it all day long.

Our favorite is The Beast, a long, strong, aluminum sand spike that can hold against even the biggest, baddest fish. PVC options can be great options, too, but we prefer the rugged durability of aluminum.

Check our our full buying guide and reviews for the best surf rod holders

Using a sand spike is ridiculously simple: just set it and drop your rod in!

But especially for beginners, it’s important to learn to read your line.

Pretty much anyone can tell when a fish is on and running out or parallel to the beach.

surf fishing tips

Can you tell which rod has a fish on?

But many anglers new to the surf don’t realize that when a fish takes your hook and runs straight toward the beach, the rod and line will go slack.

surf fishing on the beach

Can you tell that this rod has a fish on, too?

Recognizing this situation is important, and lots of novice anglers will miss fish that take their bait and head in-shore!

Learning what to look for will improve your odds.

Surf Fishing Carts

A surf fishing cart is the easiest solution and the best of the bunch make it easy to pull a full cooler across soft sand. Especially if you’ve got a ways to go to get to the best spot - or just to get away from people - a surf fishing cart is going to feel like a godsend.

Check out our top recommendations here: Best Surf Fishing Carts With Balloon Tires

Final Thoughts

Surf fishing is uniquely exciting, but it can also be uniquely challenging for new anglers.

If you follow these sure-fire tips, though, you’ll soon find yourself reeling in more fish, more often.

If they work for you, or if you found this article helpful, we’d love to hear from you. And if you’ve got a tip to add, we’d love to know it!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.