Baits that are effective in surf fishing reflect the natural food sources at the shore that fish are accustomed to eating. In some cases, you can scavenge for live bait on the beaches before you start fishing. Otherwise, check with local seaside bait shops for good bait products.
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Saltwater species love to eat live or dead shrimp, which are attractive bait for blue fish, red fish, grouper and other popular sport fish. If you must use dead shrimp, remove the heads and the tails before baiting them up on your hook. This approach appears to be more successful. Otherwise, bait your hook with a live shrimp. Hook the shrimp through the dorsal back plate so that it remains alive and can move its legs.
Mullet is a species of fish that many sport fish eat in the wild. Cut it into chunks for casting, and discard the head and tail. Use a net to catch mullet to use as bait before starting to fish.
Small crabs are excellent bait for nearly every sport fish at the shore. Trap your own crabs by attaching a piece of raw chicken to your fishing line. Throw the chicken part into a small, shallow bay or pool, or just park it on the edge of the beach near dune grasses. Small crabs will come running. Gather them by hand and keep them in a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Punch holes in a lid for ventilation, but be sure you keep the lid in place to prevent escape. Cast the whole crab, or cut it up for chub bait.
Sand fleas, or mole crabs, are small, crablike animals that often wash ashore in waves and then dig into the sand. Dig out sand fleas with a small rake, and store them in a bucket with a wet cloth over the top. Throw some wet sand in the bottom of the bucket first, but don't submerge the sand fleas in water. Bait up your hook with the sand fleas intact.
Menhaden is another baitfish that works well with sea trout, striped bass and blue fish. Buy menhaden at most seaside bait shops on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Cut up the menhaden into chubs and hook them.
Many saltwater fish see squid as particularly delectable bait. You can buy squid fresh or frozen at most saltwater bait shops near the shores. Use small, whole squid, or cut up larger squid into strips.
Clams make great bait, but they have a short shelf life unless you buy or dig for fresh clams. As clams die, they will deteriorate and slide off your hook. Frozen clams work but are also more apt to slide off the hook than fresh meat. Remove the clam meat from the shells, of course.