Surf Fishing Rigs 101 For Beginner Surf Fishers

The waves are undeniably a marvel to look at. For surfers, it’s an invitation to a ride that will be remembered for a long, long time. On the other hand, anglers can pull in catches along the shoreline without necessarily needing to surf the waves at this time of year.

Professional surf anglers are aware that using the best rigs will increase their success rate. You’ve come to the right place if you’re new to the sport and want to know what fills each surf fisher’s bucket.

Here are some simple pointers to help you become more familiar with fishing even on land, including how to choose the best surf fishing rig for you.

All about surf fishing

Have you ever heard of fishing on land? Sounds quite impossible, but you can catch fish even without going into the water through surf fishing. This is done by standing on the shore or paddling in the surf.

Surf fishing is an umbrella term for all types of shore fishing such as angling on sandy and rocky beaches, fishing piers, and stony quays. Surf fishing may or may not include lure or bait casting.

Most surf fishing is done in saltwater where surf fishers use 12ft to 16ft fishing rods. Hence, when doing surf fishing, you need to have enough experience and proven skills for long-distance casting and handling longer rods.

One downside of surf fishing is that your location is limited. When you are angling on a boat, you are given more mobility and fishing locations. You can change position and explore all the other areas at your whim. 

With surf fishing, you are bound on the shoreline, with your movement only moving from left to right. Thus, if you wish to try surf fishing, a thorough study of how weather conditions, environmental conditions, and even behavioral mechanisms of your target species are crucial for a successful and enjoyable fishing trip.

Additionally, many pro surf fishers do their thing at night. That means you also have to consider nighttime differences between the aforementioned conditions during the day in addition to your utmost safety. Notorious hazards include but are not limited to huge waves, tidal changes, rocks, and visibility.


Unlike the regular casting technique, surfcasting or beach casting connotes casting a fishing line from the beach, into the surf, or near the shoreline. Since you are from a point farther from your target area than when you are on a boat, the overhead casts are longer so those fish hiding in troughs, rocks, and sandbars are not missed out. Aside from that, the basics of regular casting are more or less the same when surfcasting.

It can be pretty hard for first-time surf fishers to accurately cast the line at a good speed rate. That’s nothing to be ashamed about as firsts are always the most daunting. One way to ensure you can go safely and as best as you could be is to practice.

Place your bait where you wish it to fall, step into the surf, and position your rod parallel to the ground. When the rod is in your line of sight, quickly cast your line back and let it go. You can adjust as necessary to increase your accuracy after seeing where your rig has landed.

Do remember that your target fish may be closer to shore where you are at than you could imagine. You do not need longer casts all the time but it will take time to hone your discernment when it comes to casting your line. Do not be afraid to test out the waters and adjust your rig until you get it right!

Surf fishing rigs

Aside from practice, it is no secret that your angling equipment can make or break your trip. One of the many parts of a fishing setup you need to choose well is your surf fishing rig.

There are actually plenty of surf fishing rigs available in the market, but we chose the six rigs we’ve tried, and performed exceptionally for us.

Get to know each of them and why they would be the right rig for you!

Carolina rigs

  • What: Basically, a Carolina rig consists of any plastic you choose, a weight like a barrel load, egg sinker, or huge bullet sinker, a hook, and a swivel with a leader line. It is robust, responsive, sleek, and uncomplicated.

Delve deeper into Carolina rigs here!

  • Where: Use this surf fishing rig when you opt for the open waters and/or sandy beaches.
  • When: Anytime! You will receive a bite if you mark fish holding on a point or hump. Work these areas from one side to the other even without a sonar.
  • Why: On the west coast, Carolina rigs can get you your corbina, surf perch, yellowfin, spotfin croaker, among many other bottom feeders. 

Fish finder rig

  • What: Almost identical to a Carolina rig except that the egg sinker is replaced with a 2oz to 3oz pyramid on a sinker side clip.
  • Where: You can also use this alternatively with Carolina rigs on open waters and/or sandy beaches.
  • When: Use this when your bait could not sit still due to rough currents and raging waves. The pyramid weight and sliding sinker clip will help keep your bait where you want them to be and longer than a Carolina rig could hold them.
  • Why: This is best when using bigger baits to hold off biting fish until they can “ingest” your bait. If you fancy flukes, stripers, to brown sharks, this type of surf fishing rig, along with its many size variations, might be your best pick.

Drop shot rig

  • What: Drop shot rigs have lines connected to a hook, a trailing leader, and a weight at the end, with the weight at the bottom and both the hook and bait above. This is quite adaptable and can be used for both stationary baits and retrieving lures/baits, just like the Carolina rig.
  • Where: Surf fishers usually use this in bays and surfs. 
  • When: Use this when going to locations where vegetation is thriving. This can still hold off your lure just beneath the surface and be ready for any bite while going through any obstruction without worry.
  • Why: This is the ideal surf fishing rig if you intend to keep your bait stay just above the water’s surface. Drop shot rigs give you more control of your rig during retrieval if paid with the right tension on your bait. Halibuts and other mid to low-water species are prone to drop shot rigs.

Dropper loop rig

  • What: Dropper loop rig has loop branches stemming from a length of line and a bottom loop with a weight. This is one of the most popular loop rigs.
  • Where: Some fishermen who do offshore fishing use this rig too but whether you are on or off the shore, this rig can serve its purpose. The Dropper loop rig is useful in rocky areas and deeper waters.
  • When: When fly fishing, the dropper loop knot can be used to make multiple hook setups, keep your hook off the bottom, or fish with two flies at once. In other words, you can connect sinkers, hooks, or flies using this knot.
  • Why: Use this surf fishing rig if you are aiming for fishes in the deeper shore areas or hang around the rocks such as rockfish, bass, and sheepshead.

High low rig

  • What: High low rig is tied quite similarly to a dropper rig, but the hooks on a high low rig are spaced out above the weight. This has a huge edge given that you can affix various hooks at the same time on the same rig and at different rig-and-depth placements.
  • Where: Anglers frequently use this in rocky areas too, as well as sandy shores and both shallow and deep water. You may encounter minimal issues if also used in open water or areas with many obstructions.
  • When: This can be your go-to surf fishing rig when using small and soft baits like clams and worms. A high low rig’s fixed weight can be problematic when paired with heavier baits.
  • Why: The versatility it offers can surprise you as the possibility of catching all of the aforementioned fish species under specific rigs can be caught with this surf fishing rig too! They range from stripers, bluefish, fluke, bass, and more!

Spider hitch rig

  • What: Spider hitch rig, like dropper loop and high low rigs, was named because of its knot. This is an upgraded version of a dropper loop rig as snags are minimized, although they are not ultimately prevented, and your rig can be salvaged even when you get trapped between rough rocks and tricky reefs.
  • Where: This can also excel in waters with rocky terrains, reef-filled areas, and other locations where structures are expected to keep you from having snag-free fishing.
  • When: Use this rig when you need to create a stronger, double-line connection for fishing with light tackles.
  • Why: Deepwater fish like rockfish, bass, and sheepshead are also prominent catches of this surf fishing rig.

These are just six of the many rigs surf fishers use. If you are still testing out the waters on surf fishing, these are the best places you can start. Once you are familiar with them, you can start using other surf fishing rigs until you find one of a few that ideally matches your style, equipment, and technique. 

Constant practice and application with the right gear can lead you to discover your own surf fishing style. In the future, it will become one of the many angling skills that will lead you to both planned and spontaneous fishing trips without worry!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are circle hooks good for surf fishing? 

Without a doubt, they are! The best circle hooks for surf fishing are. For inexperienced surf fishers and those who desire to release some of their catches alive, they offer automatic hook-sets sans gut hooking the shark. Additionally, circle hooks are made to avoid snags when casting in dense cover and to shield the line from species with sharp jaws.

If you’re also planning to catch sharks in the future, the easiest method for catching sharks is by using circle hooks! That is because they frequently snag the shark’s lip, making it simple to remove the hook. 

Additionally, they significantly lessen the damage you do to the sharks you catch, increasing the likelihood that those you release will survive. Select a size that corresponds to the baitfish you plan to use for a greater success rate. Typically, hooks between 6/0 to 10/0 perform nicely for most sharks.

Select the right shark rig for surf fishing with this collection pro tips and tricks!

What is the best size rod for surf fishing?

Despite the fact that surf fishing rods can range in length from 9 to 14 feet, longer rods can be difficult for beginners to use and aren’t usually necessary unless you want to make longer casts. 

Commercially available surf fishing rods range in length from 9 to 14 feet but the best all-around surf rods are any between 10 and 12 feet long.

What is the best bait for surf fishing?

Many anglers will echo with us that live baits are undeniably your best option for surf fishing. Like many other factors, where you plan to fish will determine what live bait you should use.

Generally speaking, live shrimp and squid have a tested and proven track record. With excellent success, you can also utilize finger mullet, minnows, and herring.

If you are after sharks and flounders, cut baits like squid strips, mullet strips, and shrimps are our most recommended live baits. You can also try using sand crabs, clams, greenbacks, and sandworms.

There may still be a few anglers who will tell you artificial lures are fairly fine for surf fishing. We do not really suggest not using them, however, they proved to be less productive than when using live baits. 

Still, if you are more comfortable with carrying dead baits, you can try jigs, soft plastic baits, spoons, and topwater poppers. 

The reason soft plastics are most useful is that their pungent aroma attracts predators. Jigging around objects will keep you occupied if you prefer to do your precise fishing by hand.

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