Choosing the best rig for surf fishing depends on what you’re fishing for and where you’re fishing. There are a myriad of common species of fish in the surf and each species has it’s own set of unique feeding tendencies.
After choosing the best bait for surf fishing, selecting the right rig is next on the list. Some of the main things to consider when selecting a surf fishing rig are the depth of water you’re fishing, where in the water column you’d like to present your bait, the type of structure you’re fishing and amount of structure you’re fishing etc.
We’re going to break down the 6 best surf fishing rigs and when to use them. We’ll also break down the exact tackle you’ll need to make these rigs. But, keep in mind, you may want to change the weight/tackle size depending on your target.
The Carolina Rig is a personal favorite for not only myself, but for the vast majority of surf anglers along the west coast. I won’t spend too much time talking about the mechanics here as I’ve already written an entire piece on why I think the Carolina Rig is the Best Surf Fishing Rig. I encourage you to give that a read if you haven’t already.
Where and When to Use the Carolina Rig
The Carolina Rig is easily the best surf fishing rig for open water/sandy beaches. It’s streamline, simple, sensitive, and strong. I like to run about 2.5 feet for my leader but anywhere between 1.5 and 3 feet is considered the norm.
What Types of Fish with the Carolina Rig?
Given that we’re likely using this rig on sandy beaches and open water, the traditional set of common surf species applies per your area. Think of the types of fish that feed on or near the bottom. On the west coast, that’s corbina, surf perch, yellowfin and spotfin croaker, etc. Think about the food source living within or on the sand, then think about what fish eat that food source. If that’s your target, the Carolina Rig should be your go to surf fishing rig.
The fish finder rig is another great rig for surf fishing. It’s quite similar to the Carolina Rig in it’s anatomy. Instead of the sliding egg weight utilized earlier, we swap that for a 2-3 oz pyramid attached via a sinker slide clip. Here’s the breakdown:
As for where you would use the Fish Finder Rig, the answer is in the same exact places you would use the Carolina Rig. The Fish Finder Rig is great at sandy beaches/open water. Now, the “when” and the “what” will determine which of the two rigs you should use.
If the current is too strong, or the surf is too rough and you can’t seem to keep your bait in a good place, the fish finder rig is ideal. By utilizing a pyramid weight and the sliding sinker clip, your bait will hold in one spot more easily and for a longer period of time than if you were using a sliding egg weight. Additionally, we typically use heavier weights when fishing a fish finder rig.
What Types of Fish with the Fish Finder Rig?
The other reason I might use a fish finder rig was explained in a previous article titled, “A Strange Method for Halibut Fishing“. That’s right, I love this rig for halibut fishing. It can be used actively or with bait and wait style with frozen anchovy, grunion, or similar bait. It’s good for many other species too though. Read the mentioned article for more on how to use that rig.
The drop shot is another common rig for surf fishing and many other types of fishing. Like the C-rig, it’s very versatile and can be used for stationary baits as well as retrieving lures/baits. The main reason you might use a drop shot rig is if you want your bait to remain just off the bottom. You have a lot more control over this while retrieving, but it can also be achieved with proper tension in bait and wait especially if you twitch it here and there for good tension and reset tension.
Where and When to Use the Drop Shot Rig for Surf Fishing
This rig is commonly used in bays and the surf alike. Bay fishermen like the drop shot because they can run their weight right through all sorts of vegetation while keeping their lure just off the bottom, usually peeking through the vegetation in prime striking position. The same methods can be used in the surf and similar results can be achieved.
What Types of Fish with the Drop Shot Rig?
If you want to present your bait a little bit above the bottom, the drop shot is a great option. Think halibut and all the other species in your area that like that middle-to-lower section of the water column. Typically, the drop shot is used for moving baits and most commonly, soft plastics, but again, fishing rigs are very open-ended in meaning and utilization.
Our first two rigs were fairly similar and the next was a so called “hybrid”. These next three are going to be similar to each other, but very different from the first two and more similar to each other than to the drop shot.
The dropper loop rig seems to have essentially been named from the knot itself. It’s quite simple, and I want to clarify… technically speaking, you don’t need a barrel swivel for any of the bottom 4 rigs on this list. It comes down to whether you want a different type or rating of line for the leader section or not. It’s also important to understand that many people have slightly different variations of all these rigs so the variation you may know, might be different from these.
Where and When to Use the Dropper Loop Rig
This rig is actually most commonly utilized by offshore fishermen, but many surf fishermen use it too. In my opinion, all of the bottom three rigs are used in similar environments for similar reasons. They’re all great for rocky areas and usually in areas with a little more depth. The anatomy of these surf fishing rigs helps to prevent snags if the correct weight is used. The bank weight is a great choice for these situations.
What Types of Fish with the Dropper Loop Rig?
Given the location that this rig is most often utilized, the commonly caught species are those that hang out in deeper areas along the shore and typically in and around rocks and reef or other structure and vegetation. Things like rockfish, bass, sheephead, and the more exotic types of surfperch.
This rig can be tied in a near identical manner to the dropper rig. It can also be tied in many other ways. But, It’s also commonly used in rocky areas as well as sandy areas. It offers a clear advantage in that you can attach different hooks at different depth-placements of the rig.
Where and When to Use the High Low Rig
Of these bottom three best surf fishing rigs, the High Low Rig is likely the one that’s most commonly used in open water as well as areas of heavy structure. If you’re fishing an area where you’d like to present bait in multiple sections of the water column, this is a go to. It also gives you a little more confidence, knowing that you have multiple baits in the water.
What Types of Fish with the High Low Rig?
Since this rig is commonly used in many locations, I can’t pinpoint a specific set of fish you’ll use this rig for. But, that’s the beauty of it. It’s very versatile and certainly one of the best surf fishing rigs out there.
Alright, so what the heck is a spider hitch rig? I was in the same boat until a friend of mine by the name of “Werfless”, or “Coach”, introduced me to this rig and much more. He’s actually the guy in the video down below on castandspear’s YouTube channel and he’s quite knowledgeable.
Like the Dropper Loop Rig, the Spider Hitch Rig was essentially named after its knot. Essentially, it’s a stronger version of the dropper loop. While utilizing the correct type of weight in rocky terrain can minimize snags, they still happen. For this reason, we tie a slightly weaker type of knot for the weight attachment point in the Surgeon’s Knot.
The idea with this rig is that like the Dropper Loop Rig, it’ll keep your bait above the rocks and reef etc., and if you do happen to get snagged, you can snap your weight off without losing the rest of your rig.
Where and When to Use the Spider Hitch Rig
I think I said enough in the paragraphs above, but for clarity, it’s a great rig in heavy structure like rocks and reef. It allows for your bait to sit up above the heavy structure and keeps you safer from snags.
What Types of Fish with the Spider Hitch Rig?
Again, given the location that this rig is most often utilized, the commonly caught species are those that hang out in deeper areas along the shore and typically in and around rocks and reef or other structure and vegetation. Things like rockfish, bass, sheephead, and the more exotic types of surfperch.