Best Bait for Surf Fishing: The Complete Guide
Surf fishing is one of our favorite kinds of fishing. It’s as simple as that. It requires very little planning, no boat (but maybe some waders), and you can end up catching monster fish. We’ve spent countless evenings at the beach or local pier with a beer cracked chilling with our friends when a massive shark or striped bass takes our fish finder rig. Fish on! But a question we get asked again and again is what is the best bait for surf fishing. After all these years, we figured it was time to catalog the best bait for surf fishing depending on the kind of fish your fishing for as well as the kind of bait you want to use.
In this article, we’ll go over the best live baits for surf fishing, the best dead baits for surf fishing, and the best artificial baits for surf fishing. We’ll also list out the different fish you can catch with each bait as well as what it’s best for. If you were wondering what the best bait for surf fishing is, look no further!
Best Live Baits for Surf Fishing
The most effective (in our opinion) type of surf fishing bait is live bait. It’s hard to compete against using a predator’s natural prey on your hook. Here’s the best live bait for surf fishing and the species that enjoy them the most.
If you’re fishing in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of Florida, using live mullet as bait is about as good as it gets. And if you’re fishing during the mullet run, prepare for even more epic fishing. Mullet work great from both the beach or when fishing from a pier. We like hooking our mullet through their back or top of their jaw so they can swim around frantically and attract predators. Look for schools of mullet just past the break and cast your bait into the mix. Here are some of the popular sports fish you can catch using mullet as bait.
- Giant trevally
- Mako Sharks
- Blacktip Sharks
- Striped bass
- Speckled trout
- Mangrove Snapper
Another favorite for the best bait for surf fishing is shrimp. Live shrimp are a favorite of many southern Atlantic and pacific fish and work wonders when other lures aren’t getting bites. We like to hook our shrimp through the back so they can still swim and look as alive as possible. Cast your shrimp out into the troughs of the break (where it’s deeper) and wait for a bite. Many species like eating shrimp, but here are the fish shrimp work best with.
Along the same thread as shrimp, small crabs can also be a great choice of bait for surf fishing. We like to look for crabs the day before we go fishing and collect them in a 5-gallon bucket for the next day. Looks under docks/piers and rocks close to shore. Hook your crab through the side edge of their shell so they have maximum movement potential. This part of the shell will also hold the hook the most effectively. The following fish love eating crabs in the surf.
Sand fleas are another favorite of ours for surf fishing, especially since you can often easily catch them right before you go fishing! They live a few inches under the sand and are natural prey for many surf dwelling fish. Its fairly difficult to hook them without seriously injuring them, so you may need to switch out your dead sand fleas relatively frequently. Sand fleas work great for the following fish.
Best Dead Baits for Surf Fishing
Now that we’ve covered the best live baits for surf fishing, let’s get into our favorite cut baits for surf fishing. Cut bait is a great option if you’re not allowed to use live bait where you’re fishing or you don’t have access to catching live bait. It is also easier to store as you can freeze anything you don’t use for another time. Let’s dive in!
Herring is a great option for cut bait and will attract many different species of fish. They’re more common up north and work well for most saltwater sports fish. Here are some of the best species to use cut herring for.
If you didn’t know it already, shrimp also makes a great dead bait! Some species (like bonefish) are protected against using live bait, so a dead shrimp will often be your best bet. Here are the species that you can catch using a chunk of shrimp on your fish finder rig.
We really like using shrimp as a cut bait because it holds onto hooks much better than other bait when the waves are big. Squid is also a great option because you can almost always find some at your local grocery store, either fresh or frozen. Cut your squid up into two-inch long strips and use it with a fish finder rig. Here are the species that love biting squid.
- Blacktip Sharks
- Striped bass
- Pink Snapper
- Speckled trout
Best Artificial Baits for Surf Fishing
If you like casting, artificial bait can also be a great option for surf fishing. There are many variations of the following lure types that work for almost all different types of fish, but we’ll list out our favorite artificial baits for surf fishing and the common types of fish you can catch using them.
Topwater plugs are our favorite type of surf fishing lure to use when surf fishing because they elicit the most aggressive strikes from predatory fish. Plugs will work for almost every fish on this list, which is another reason why a couple deserves a spot in your tackle box. They work well for the below fish.
Soft bait jigs work well in the surf for many of the bottom-feeding sports fish. Try and imitate a wounded mullet or sea worm trying to get out of the surf. We like fishing soft bait jigs in the surf for the below types of fish.
Last but not least we wanted to cover one of our favorite types of lures for snook and redfish – the bucktail jig. Bucktail jigs are a great choice when there might be some underwater cover in the surf or if you’re targeting multiple species at once. Various size bucktail jigs work well for the below saltwater fish.
Surfing Fishing Basics
Before we close, we wanted to cover some surf fishing basics to help you get started. These tips apply to almost all species of surf fish and will help you get more hookups.
- When fishing on a sandbar, try and identify both the crest of the sandbar (where it’s most shallow) and the trough (where it’s most deep). Both of these transition areas can be a good place to cast your bait as it’s often where smaller creatures they like to eat and hang out. Predators will be close by.
- Keep an eye out for birds in and above the water. If birds are diving into the water, that means that there is a ball of baitfish nearby. You should also look for baitfish jumping out of the water or swimming sporadically. This means a predator is hunting them!
- Rocks can also provide shelter for saltwater baitfish and are another good place to cast your lure. This is especially true when fishing grouper or striped bass.
- Be sure to use the correct fishing line for surf fishing. We like to use braided line with a fluorocarbon leader.
When picking out the best bait for surf fishing, there are a lot of options you can choose from. Hopefully, after reading this article, you now know what the best bait for surf fishing is depending on the type of fish you’re going for. Got another type of surf fishing bait that we didn’t list in this article? Let us know about it in the comments below.