If you live near the coast, one of the easiest ways to go fishing is to drive to the beach or nearest pier (even for sharks!) and cast into the surf. There are many large saltwater fish that enjoy living near the breaking wave as the surf adds oxygen into the water. This oxygen attracts small sea life that many surf fish like to eat. Depending on where you’re located, striped bass, red drum, halibut, sharks, bluefish, mako sharks, and snook could all be waiting in the waves looking for a bite to eat, and the fish finder rig could be the best way to catch them.
But what’s the best fishing rig to catch these saltwater fish? We recommend using the Fish Finder Rig. In this article, we’ll cover what exactly a Fish Finder Rig is, how to make it, and how to fish it. It’s effective in many different surf fishing conditions and works well for many different-sized fish. The Fish Finder Rig also works particularly well for large predatory fish, like redfish or tarpon.
So what are you waiting for? Get ready for surf fishing success with the Fish Finder Rig!
What is a Fish Finder Rig?
A Fish Finder Rig is one of the simplest, yet most effective saltwater bait rigs for surf fishing. The rig can be used with various size hooks, lines, and weights, but the overall idea is the same: having the ability to cast your bait very far out into the surf and have it settle onto the bottom without being washed away.
The Fish Finder Rig accomplishes this with the following components:
The rig is weighed down by a large (often lead) pyramid sinker. The heavier weight allows the bait to be cast very far out into the surf, and the pyramid shape helps it stay put in the sand. The sharpness of the pyramid weight digs into the sand and prevents the waves from pushing the bait back into shore.
The Fish Finder Rig uses a heavy leader that prevents aggressive saltwater fish from biting through the line when attacking the bait. The thicker line also helps the bait bounce along the bottom which attracts fish. Be sure to use saltwater fishing pliers to remove hooks out of fish with dangerous mouths (like sharks!). If you’d rather use steel, our favorites are these 19″ 100 lb test leaders.
The pyramid weight is attached to your line by a sinker slider that sits flush up against a bead and snap swivel. This allows the bait to connect directly to your line so when a fish bites you’ll feel it.
Adding a barrel swivel will prevent your sinker slider from sliding all the way down to your hook. It’s a crucial component that is easy to forget!
How to Make a Fish Finder Rig
There’s a specific order you need to follow in order to make a proper Fish Finder Rig. Lucky for you, we’ve outlined the exact methodology below. You can also watch the video at the beginning of the article for more detail on each step.
- First, we are going to make the leader part of the rig. Either buy a 19” 100 lb test steel leader with a snap swivel on each side or cut one out of your monofilament. Tie your circle hook to one side (size 5/0 and up) and a snap swivel to the other. That’s all you need to do!
- Next, slide your sinker slider onto your fishing line and attach your pyramid weight to it (4 oz and larger work best).
- Thread your plastic bead on after the sinker slider (8mm is our favorite).
- Tie the open snap swivel side of your leader to your line.
- Add surf fishing bait and you’re ready to go!
Tackle Needed for Your Fish Finder Rig
The type of rod and reel needed for Fish Finder Rig fishing depends on the size and type of fish you’re going for. Most surf fishermen use a large saltwater spinning reel. We’ve put together a solid buying guide for surf fishing reels that takes into consideration durability, price, and much more. We also recommend getting a pair of surf fishing waders if you’re serious about it.
As far as rods go, just make sure it can withstand 30 to 50 lb line and up to 25 lbs of drag.
We recommend buying one of the rods from our surf rod buying guide. Most anglers enjoy a long, heavy-action rod for surf fishing. The long length of the rod helps cast your bait far out into the surf and keeps you covered if you hook into a monster.
Best Bait for Surf Fishing
Many different types of bait will work well for surf fishing depending on your location. For the east coast, we recommend using bunker, herring, squid, or sardines. The further south you go, you can use crustaceans and shrimp along with the above baitfish. Be sure to secure your bait firmly to your circle hook.
For fish heads, hook them through the nose. For the body pieces, hook them through the spine. If you’re not sure what the local fish are eating, swing into a local fishing shop and chat with the workers. You can also often buy the right bait from them as well. And remember, big fish like big bait!
Pro tip: It’s also worth noting that using live bait for surf fishing often doesn’t work well. The baitfish will die after a few minutes of bouncing around on the bottom, so it’s best to kill your bait and hook it effectively.
Types of Fishing Line
We’ve put together a detailed guide on the best surf fishing lines, but here’s a quick summary.
Just like many other saltwater rigs, we recommend using monofilament/fluorocarbon in clearer water with less vegetation and braided for fishing in weeds or near underwater structures.
Braided lines are more resistant to scratches from rocks and have zero stretch, which means you’ll easily be able to feel a fish bite your Fish Finder Rig easier. It also means you can set the hook with much less pressure on the line.
The only drawback of the braided line is that if the water is too clear the fish can see it.
Many anglers choose to use braided lines for their main line and then use fluorocarbon or monofilament for the hook line section. This allows for stealth near the bait, and it’s backed up by the powerful braided line that is attached to the weight.
Using a braided line as your main line and using a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader section also means that your spool will have more line due to the thinner diameter of the braid.
Authors Note: An optimized approach can be to use monofilament for the first 40 ft, then braided for extra backing. If the water is super clear and you’re wondering whether you should use monofilament or fluorocarbon, we’ve detailed the differences between the two.
When tying the hook to the hook length section your best knot choice will be to use a snell knot.
For the two knots needed to connect the main line to the weight, and the hook line to the weight, you can use an old-fashioned double clinch knot when using monofilament or fluorocarbon.
For braided lines, double clinch knots are not a good idea, as the coating of the braided line will cause the line to slip and the knot to fail. Instead, consider using something better suited to braided lines like a power knot.
Power knots are very tough and bulky knots that work very well under heavy strain, it’s actually similar to a double clinch knot, and is very easy to learn.
How to Fish a Fish Finder Rig
Now that you’ve got your fishing tackle set up, it’s time to learn how to fish it.
- Find an area of shoreline that has minimal underwater cover (rocks, weeds, and coral). The surf should be breaking but nothing too crazy. Look for areas in the surf where the waves don’t break as high (deeper water) or where it breaks especially high (shallow water). Both deeper “pools” and shallow “crests” are where predatory fish like to hang out. These spots are favorites of redfish, California halibut, and striped bass.
- Cast your Fish Finder Rig out into the surf as far as you can or into one of the above areas.
- Now you wait! You can either sit and keep your rod in your hand or use a rod holder. If you plan on casting another rod out or doing something else while you wait, don’t hang out too far away from your rod. When a fish takes the bait you’ll want to grab it out of the holder as fast as possible!
- If you see anything weird going on with the tip of your rod, check it out and see what’s going on. A fish might have eaten your bait and you’ll need to reel your Fish Finder Rig in to replace it.
- We recommend checking your bait every 20 to 30 minutes if nothing notable happens. Depending on the type of bait you’re using and the action of the surf, your bait can fall off.
- If a location isn’t giving you any fish, try moving down the beach after an hour or so. This kind of fishing lends itself to having multiple rods in multiple locations. If you want to increase your range, we also recommend getting a pair of surf fishing waders.
- If your bait keeps coming off or you’re worried about crabs and other bottom feeders eating it, you can use a 2 to 3” foam float on your leader to keep your bait off the bottom.
Surf fishing can be a ton of fun. It’s super low labor and can produce monster-sized fish. Feeling lazy? Bring your rod to the beach with your friends, cast it out, and crack open a couple of beers. Dig a few holes in a nearby sandbar and see if you can find some clams. Fishing the Fish Finder Rig is a relaxed style of fishing that can still be very productive. You could even go magnet fishing while you wait for a bite! Catch a massive fish with the Fish Finder Rig? Tell us about it in the comments below!