How to Surf Fish for Beginners

Fishing from the beach is one of the best family fishing adventures in Southern California. When I am surf fishing, people will always walk up to me and ask, “Do you catch anything here ?” I always point to the over-sized bucket surrounded by kids. Swimming inside are fish ranging from perch to leopard sharks. The adults always gasp as my 6-year-old granddaughter picks up a sand shark out of the bucket to show them. With hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, shore fishing in Southern California is a great way to catch fish. The problem is that most people don’t know how. In this post we will show you the best way to surf fish in So Cal, the gear you will need, and the best baits to use.


Where to Go

Any sandy beach from the Silver Strand near the Mexico border to San Francisco Bay will work. The key is access and not too many swimmers/surfers (they don’t appreciate getting hooked). I like to fish Long Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach. Down south Carlsbad, Torrey Pines, Mission Beach are all great. To the north, Manhattan and Torrance beaches kick out big fish all year and it doesn’t get much better than Malibu. Pismo Beach, Oceano Dunes, and Morro Bay in the Central Coast produce well and northern beaches like those near Pacifica can deliver giant Striped Bass. Basically, any state beach in California can be a good spot to cast a line.

What you will Catch

The amazing variety of fish that you can catch in one surf fishing trip is crazy. We have had evenings at Bolsa Chica where we caught over 30 fish of 10 different species in under 3 hours of fishing. The most commonly caught are sharks and rays. Don’t be worried, the sand sharks are very safe, having only sandpaper-like teeth. Extreme caution is required though when dealing with stingrays, they will sting you if they get the chance. On a trip you can expect to catch a mixture of smooth-hound sharks, shovel-nosed sharks, leopard sharks, round stingrays, bat rays, surf perch, smelt, croaker, corbina, sand bass and halibut.  These fish will come in all sizes too. The surf perch and smelt will be half a pound at best while the bat rays can top 100 lbs. Most sharks are between 18 inches and 3 feet. Halibut must be 22 inches long to keep and are delicious table fare.  About 99% of the fish we throw back. Surf perch make great fish tacos but you will need to catch a bunch. Sand bass must be 15 inches long and that is rare from the surf. My best advice is unless it is a large halibut get the fish safely back in the water as soon as possible.


Best Baits

The number one easiest bait for beginners is frozen anchovies. You can get them at any bait and tackle shop and most liquor stores near the beach will have a freezer with frozen bait. Frozen squid, mussels, clams and shrimp work well too. Fresh large shrimp from the market are a good idea, just ask butcher for 3 dollars worth. Live baits like ghost shrimp and bloodworms can be purchased at some bait shops. The ghost shrimp tend to fly off the hook though. Gather your own bait by digging for sand crabs or sand worms. If you have kids fishing with you, they can be kept busy for hours looking for sand crabs. Purchase a sand rake to make the job easier. Berkley Gulp Alive has some amazing surf baits. The sand worms and crabs fish almost as well as live bait and stay on the hook 100 times better. If you want to cast lures while letting the bait soak, try throwing spoons like Krocodiles and Kastmasters. A 3/4 ounce is a good size. Plastic tails on leadheads can also produce well. Try Gulp Alive Jerkbaits or Kalin Mogambos. Just cast out as far as you can and vary the retrieve speed back. This is a great way to catch large halibut.


Surf Gear

First off, surf fishing is not done while riding the waves. Although fishing from stand-up paddle boards is very popular. You will be casting into the waves from the shore. Unlike the East Coast where they cast out 100 yards, out west we only need to get our baits out about 20 yards. There are small troughs or underwater ditches where the waves break that hold all the fish. So if you already have a 12 foot rod use that but I recommend a medium-heavy 7-8 foot rod rated for 20 lb test with medium action. That is a fancy way of saying a strong yet flexible fishing pole. Do not spend too much on a surf fishing reel as the saltwater and sand will shorten the life span of any reel. I love Big Game Fishing Line in 10 lb test. I have landed many big fish between 20 and 50 lbs on it and feel there is none better. If you are into the braided lines , great, but I don’t see the need to spend more and prefer the stretchability off monofilament.      

As far as tackle, 3 ounce pyramids sinkers and number 1 snelled (pre-tied) hooks are all you really need along with frozen anchovies. Some #4 hook packs are good for sand crabs and bloodworms. A cheap bait knife, cheap needle-nosed pliers, and a 5 gallon bucket to carry it all in. Sea Striker makes some great sand spikes, rod holders, or make your own with PVC pipes. Something tall to help keep your line above the crashing waves. A comfortable beach chair and maybe a battery lantern for night fishing will round out your gear. If you want the ultimate in fishing convenience, check out the Sea Striker Fishing Cart, I love mine as I can get all my gear from the parking lot to the shore in one organized trip.


So there you have it. Everything you need to get started surf fishing at any beach in California. Check our gear list HERE . Please subscribe so you don’t miss out on our informative articles.  “Cast away your troubles, just go fishing.” 


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