Surf Fishing How To – Tides, Times, And Everything Else Surf Fishing

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surf fishing
Surf Fishing

Looking to start surf fishing? You’ve come to the right spot. This website was built to teach you everything about surf fishing. From So Cal specific knowledge to general surf fishing tips and tricks. On this page, we’ll talk about the best beaches, common species, best times and tides, proper gear and tackle, reading the surf, and much more. If you’re looking to get a first-hand experience catching leopard sharks or even an epic light-tackle experience, Book a Guided Surf Fishing Trip with Me Today.

Surf Fishing Gear and Tackle You’ll Need

Bottom Line:

  • 7-9 foot rod
  • 4000 series reel
  • 10 to 15-lb line
  • Carolina rig or LC lure directly to mainline
My Light Tackle Set-Up:
My Lure Fishing Set-Up:
My Shark Fishing Set-Up:

A lot of time and research went into this page so I’m familiar with everything listed. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. This page (linked in the image above) will outline all the gear listed above and give you insight as to why I use it.

If you’d like another opinion, check out Jon Stenstrom’s recommendations for surf fishing gear. Jon is the creator of the popular fishing blog, “Cast and Spear”, and he’s an experienced spear fishermen, surf angler, and offshore angler. In this article, he covers everything from rods and reels, down to your terminal tackle and accessories like hooks, line, pliers, and backpacks.

What To Use For Bait

So, you’ve got the gear and tackle part figured out, but what about bait. Well, the best bait for surf fishing is usually going to be live bait or cut bait. In Southern California, sand crabs are the number one bait. Sand crabs will offer you the best shot at catching fish consistently and in large quantities.

Luckily, during the summertime, you can catch sand crabs using a colander or a net, very easily. I’ve taken the time to put together an entire article on surf fishing with sand crabs and I even made a video outlining the process in detail so be sure to check that out.

Some other bait options include mussel meat, squid, anchovy, sand worms, fishbites, etc. The list goes on and you can be certain I’ve written an article on the alternate baits to sand crabs but I hate to spam the page with so many links. So, if you’re curious about other baits, utilize the search bar either in the top right corner (desktop) or at the very bottom of the page).

Throwing Lures

Lures are also an option in the surf. Depending on which part of the world/country you’re fishing, the predators will vary in species. Here, the main targets when fishing lures will be halibut, calico, white seabass, surfperch, and other similar species.

We use a combination of hard plastic and soft plastic lures, but fir a comprehensive list and review, read my article on the best lures for surf fishing and why.

Tips and Tricks

Two helpful links: How To Fish the Surf | How To Read The Surf

Below are some tips and tricks that will up your game and help you to become more familiar with the surf. Practice these tactics a few times as you read the surf and you’ll gain familiarity over time.

We’re going to cover how to spot structure in the surf like troughs, rip currents, scallops, deep pockets and holes and much more. Then we’ll dive into surf fishing tactics that’ll help you target fish with better results.

How to Spot a Rip Current

Rip currents are significant in light-gear surf fishing as the fish follow the bait. A rip current occurs when water initially crashes towards the beach and then begins to recede. As the water recedes, it pulls anything in its general vicinity out deeper. So when a strong enough rip current takes its course, sand crabs are pulled out from under the sand and become exposed. Fish will scour these areas waiting for opportunities to feed. You should fish these areas as much as you can! They’re pretty easy to spot too. Look for areas where sand is churned up and where white water is seen flowing outwards towards the deep.

How to Spot a Trough in the Surf

A trough is an indent in the sand that usually continues parallel with the shoreline. Fish will cruise through these troughs looking for food and staying out of sight in some cases. The most effective way to find troughs and holes is to arrive at the beach at low tide. Here, you can spot the troughs and scallops while they’re still exposed. Then, later on when the tide rises, you’ll have a good idea of where the troughs are and where to fish.

Sometimes you don’t have the time to scout your location but it’s possible to locate troughs while they’re still submerged! The key is watching the water as it recedes. While it’s receding, flat areas will allow the water to flow smoothly back into the ocean uninterrupted. If troughs are present, the water will ride the landscape accordingly as it molds to the sea floor. It will look a bit choppier than the surrounding water. The water will also seem to flow back faster as it dips in and out of the scallop shaped troughs.

If you enjoy the content thus far, be sure to enter your email address in the box below to receive weekly notifications when new fishing reports are published. I’ll let you know what’s biting, and what tactics to use to optimize your chances of catching your dream fish!

How to Spot a Deep Pocket in the Surf

Although most underwater landscape will appear similar, deep pockets will show differently. The waves will crash less frequently when riding over a deeper pocket. The water coloration will hold a deeper blue than the areas around it. It will appear more rippled and in general it’ll look like a really great spot!

It may take some time to familiarize yourself with these tactics for reading the surf, but with time, these skills will likely become second-nature. Remember that every day differs and that structure will fluctuate day-by -day so don’t get caught up at one spot. Be prepared to walk up and down the beach in search of a productive spot each day. Sometimes that ‘s the difference between a skunk and good day of fishing, so don’t waste your time!

Tactics for Surf Fishing

There are so many different aspects that contribute to being a more successful fisherman. It comes down to your ability to put it all together. Learn your structures, study the best times, tides, and conditions to catch fish, and perfect your hook sets! These are all practices that will undoubtedly help you catch fish. At the same time, I strongly believe that there is one under-rated practice when it comes to surf fishing San Diego. It’s called “sight-casting”.


One of the most misconceived notions of fishing the surf is that you HAVE to cast as far as you can. The most common bait found in the surf and even in the stomachs of fish in the surf are sand crabs. These (for the most part) are found in shallow water; even in the sand above the waterline. So, while there are fish out deeper, the shallows might be a better bet! Look for the backs of corbina, spot-fin croaker, and surprisingly, guitar fish. These fish scour the shallows for sand crabs. Sometimes you’ll actually witness them beaching themselves! In the shallows, fish will form a v-shape in the water as they search for their pray in the shallows. Sometimes you’ll notice that “v-shape” dart back into the water as they sense the water becoming too shallow.

If you fish the surf in SoCal long enough, you’re bound to have fish run into your feet. Why? Because they scour the shallows for their food… sand crabs! I actually caught a guitar fish by hand once! It found its way into less than half an inch of water right next to me; my point being, with experience, you should be able to confidently fish the surf in even just inches of water.

Stalking and Placement

Again, corbina, guitar fish, and spot-fin croaker (although Spotfin less frequently) tend to show exhibit this type of behavior. The key to successfully sight-casting is your placement of bait. Ideally you don’t want the fish to know that the bait just showed up.

Stalk your target and get a general sense of direction in which the fish is headed. This way, you can predict where it will be in the next 10 seconds or so. Cast your bait into the projected path and wait. Fish will sense the breakage in water surface if you cast to close to them. More so, they’ll sense your weight hitting the sea floor. So be precise and time your casts accordingly. This is one of the most underrated surf fishing tips you’ll get for surf fishing in So Cal!

Best Time to Go Surf Fishing


When it comes to the tides, I’ve caught fish in all sorts of different highs and lows. You’ll hear that you want to fish 2 hours before a high tide and 2 hours after the high tide. In my experience, tides aren’t a “tell-all” predictor of your fishing productivity to come. Aside from that, the tides can affect what parts of the beach are accessible.

If you find that certain spots are productive at different tides, it is important to remember that. Regardless, tides are still important and you should pay attention to the conditions that work best for you. The best tides for surf fishing depend on the conditions, the beach, the structure, and the target. Read the linked article for an in-depth review on the how tides affect surf fishing.


If you spend any time on San Diego surf fishing forums, you’ll here a lot about what some people think are the best conditions for surf fishing. There’s a whole lot to consider if you really want to get into it. When the surf is high and/or there happens to be larger differentials in tides, seaweed tends to get churned up and makes a pest of itself. I’ll also tell you that if you plan on fishing for leopard sharks, a medium tide with a minimal differential is ideal. An example would be a high tide of 3 feet with a low of 2 feet. 


There’s a lot that goes into explaining the best tides and times for surf fishing. If you’re looking for a detailed explanation that will help you determine the best tides and times when you go out, read the linked article. I can’t explain tides in one paragraph. In general, the most productive times to fish will be dusk and dawn. Fish will also be much bolder during overcast mornings as opposed to a clear sunny day. All that being said, I hope your San Diego surf fishing experience is the best it can be!

Best Beaches for Surf Fishing San Diego

San Diego has an unparalleled selection of beaches to choose from. If you’re looking to get started, click the link below. I’ve put together a list with detailed reviews about some of the best fishing spots in San Diego.

Every beach is different so when you come to notice and understand the unique characteristics of each one, you’ll be able to target different species with great success. For instance If you want to target Leopard Sharks, between the selection of beaches San Diego has to offer, some beaches will provide a much better opportunity for success. Same goes for Corbina, Spotfin Croaker, Guitarfish, Soupfin Shark, Perch, Halibut and so on. Read up on the link above and if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the contact us page.

Common Species

Below, is a list of the common species you can catch while surf fishing in San Diego. When fishing the surf, most fish can be caught year round, but there are general seasons and peak seasons in which your chances are better. The best time of year for surf fishing in SoCal is usually Summer for the majority of fish, but there are exceptions! Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, but click the hyperlink for each species below to learn more about fishing tactics and species tendencies.

Common SpeciesPeak SeasonGeneral Season
California CorbinaJun-AugMay-Oct
Spotfin CroakerJun-AugMay-Oct
Yellowfin CroakerMay-AugMay-Oct
Barred SurfperchNov-AprYear-Round
Walleye SurfperchNov-AprYear-Round
Shovelnose GuitarfishJun-AugMay-Oct
Sting Ray (Round Ray)Jun-AugYear-Round
Bat RayJun-AugYear-Round
Leopard SharkMay-AugApr-Oct
California HalibutJan-MayYear-Round
Soupfin SharkMar-JulYear-Round
Common Species and Peak Seasons for Coastal Species on West Coast

Surf Fishing Rods

Your surf rod may be the most personalized item in your arsenal. So do some digging before you buy. Here’s my in-depth review of the best surf fishing rods and why. Make sure you purchase the correct rod in the specs I recommend.

Surf Reels

Your surf reel, although not as personalized as your rod, might be the most expensive item in your arsenal. So again, do your research and check out my article on the best surf fishing reels and why. I list the best specs for each type of surf fishing and I’m always available if you need advice.


One last thing! After you’ve read up on surf fishing and brought home your catch, you’re going to need some great A recipes! Here’s a list of some really good recipes for the fish we catch in San Diego’s surf.

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