While saltwater fishing is usually thought of being done from a boat, surf fishing from shore can produce a range of saltwater game fish, including flounder, drum, bluefish, whiting and stripers. The strong, churning surf requires heavy-duty and specialized gear to withstand these challenging conditions. Properly setting up your surf fishing rig before you hit the beach will make your excursion more enjoyable and, potentially, more rewarding.
Get the Right Rod and Reel
When selecting a rod for surf fishing, look for a fairly rigid rod that is between 10 and 15 feet in length. This size rod will handle weights large enough to cast into surf effectively. Look for rods with reinforced guides that can handle heavier line weights more easily. Choose from either a large spinning reel or casting reel. While casting reels will cast farther than spinning reels, they require more skill to handle. Improperly used, casting reels can become easily tangled, known as a backlash. Spinning reels, while unable to cast as far, are easier to use and a good choice for beginners.
Select the Right Weight
When surf fishing with live bait, it's important to keep your bait on or near the bottom. Using a sufficiently heavy weight, usually around 3 or 4 ounces, will do the job. Pyramid weights work well to anchor fishing rigs in active surf. Pancake weights are good for calmer waters, will not roll your line, as a rounded weight is prone to do, and can be moved more easily, if need be. Use only as much weight as you absolutely need to keep your bait in place.
Tie a Proper Knot
A surf fishing rig is only as strong as the knot you tie. Ensure that the knots in your rig are specific to what they're being used for. For instance, a Palomar knot or Snell knot are excellent choices for tying on hooks, while a dropper loop is great for adding weights or side leaders, and a Surgeon's knot can be used for joining two different lines. Practice tying fishing knots so your rigs are as strong as they can possibly be when the fish are biting.
Know What's Biting
Keep an eye on local surf fishing reports. If you know what's biting, you can adjust your rig and bait to accommodate. For example, whiting are fond of dead shrimp and can be caught on two-hook bottom rigs, while striped bass may prefer live eels presented on a single weight and leader, and flounder can often be caught by working artificial lures. Adjusting your surf fishing rig to suit available game fish will improve your chances.
When you first hit the beach and you're not sure what's biting, use an inexpensive two-hook bottom rig, available at any good tackle shop. Put on two different types of bait and cast the rig out. When you start catching fish, check to see what they're biting on. Swap the other bait for the successful one to improve your odds.