Successful Surf Fishermen Prepare for the Beach

We are off to a wild surf fishing spring already.  Halibut—and some big ones—have been in the counts for months and fishing on both the beach and bay has been outstanding. 

To be ready for the upcoming surf fishing summer, here are a few tips I’ve put together to get you ready for the surf.

Start preparing the night before.

Being well organized and properly prepared will ensure that your fishing will provide you with the best opportunity for success.  Check your reels for smooth operation (especially the drag, which is critical in maintaining control of the fish on light-line).  Also, make certain your line is in good condition.  

Being well organized and properly prepared will ensure that your fishing will provide you with the best opportunity for success.

Get your bait ready. 

Don’t waste time fooling around with your bait at the beach.  If you’re using clams or mussels, shuck them and put them in small zip top bags before you go.  You don’t want to be fiddling with a knife in the dark when you could be catching fish.  If you have live ghost shrimp, put them in a small container of cool salt water.  Place a frozen bottle in the water overnight and you will have lively, crisp shrimp in the morning.  If you have collected sand or sidewinder crabs, flush them with cool salt water twice per day and keep them in a cool place until use.  When it comes to grubs and artificial lures, know in advance what you want to use.   

Pre-tie leaders. 

Tie several lengths of leader with different sizes and types of hooks.  Use leader material appropriate for the areas you will fish and the target species. Organizing these on leader holders will keep them from getting tangled and make it easy to replace broken or knotted leaders.  Fewer knots to tie on the beach equals more time for fish on the line.  I use six-pound fluorocarbon leader material. 

Get your camera and batteries ready. 

I like to use a plastic zip bag to carry my camera in.  This helps keep the sand and salt off your equipment.  Always clean your lens the night before with an appropriate lens cleaning paper or cloth to be sure there are no spots on the lens to obscure your pictures. 

Organize and put your tackle in a tackle bag. 

I like to use a small bag that straps around my waist or a tackle wallet that hangs from around my neck.  Inside the bag I’ll have: 

Check the beach conditions. 

Look at fish, weather, wind and swell reports on sites like:,,,, and many others.  From these sites you’ll learn how to plan for the beach based on the conditions.  For example, if it is going to be windy, I would look for a spot near a jetty protected from wind, or on a day with strong surf, I might start fishing in a sheltered area or protected cove.  It’s smart to check out a live web camera which focuses on the beach you will be fishing the day (or several days) before you go.   This way you can see the size of the surf, know when it gets crowded and the probable forecast for morning and afternoon wind conditions. 

It’s smart to check out a live web camera which focuses on the beach you will be fishing the day before you go.

Check the swell conditions. 

The size of surf is always important to surf fishermen.  You want the surf to be between one and five feet.  If the surf is too small, little water will be moving and you’ll find few fish.  Waves over five feet will create a current that makes catching fish much more difficult.  You will also want to determine the direction of the swell.  If the swell is from the south, you can assume it will be pushing warmer water up the coast (which is good) but may also make some areas unfishable.  Take time to familiarize yourself with your favorite spots during different swell conditions.  By checking websites like Windy , FishWeather and Surfline , you can use graphic forecast models to predict swell size and direction days before heading down to the beach.   

Check the tides. 

Sites such as are great for finding out all of the relevant info for the beach you are intending on fishing.

Only the use of sharp hooks is more important than this one.  Knowing the best tide for your spot will be the difference between catching fish and getting “skunked.” I use a tide graph so I can see the tides over a seven-day period at a glance.  This makes it easier to know when the right tides are for the best fishing and will allow you to plan ahead with confidence.  I’ve found that if the beach has never been dredged and has natural structure (like kelp and rocks) it can be fished at both high and low tides.  But in areas that have been dredged, I often fish between two hours before to two hours after the high tide.  This is when the greatest amount of structure is covered by water and provides inshore troughs that hold fish.  When fishing for corbina, a low tide going to a high tide is a good time as the fish regularly come up and over the crab beds to feed.  When fishing for perch, I like a high going to a low tide to drag my bait down the sand into their trough.  For halibut, the best tide may be at peak high and peak low tides when the water is most calm.  “Them’z lazy critters!” 

Check the weather.

Find out if a storm is coming or if the wind is going to be up.  There’s no reason to go to the beach as waves of rain roll in–but there are times, just hours or days before a storm, when the change in barometric pressure caused by the approaching low triggers a signal for fish to eat and then go wide open! 

Ira was born and raised in Portland, Oregon where he first found his love of fishing with trout, salmon, and steelhead. Over the years he grew to target any species he could find in the Pacific Northwest including albacore, musky, and sturgeon. After graduating high school, Ira moved to San Diego to...