Ever shown up to fish your spot with the expectation of sand crabs being readily available, only to find… well, none? Yup, I have too. In fact, this past week (8/2 – 8/8/2020), sand crabs were running on the scarce side at a couple (not all) of local San Diego beaches. I was persistent enough to find them at both beaches, but not without sparing 30 minutes or so. But without further ado, here’s a list of some of the best surf fishing bait.
I’m a firm believer that come May, when sand crabs have already been seen at our local beaches, you can ALWAYS find them. It just might take a while sometimes. But, it’s always good to have a back up at the ready.
I keep a bag of Gulp! Sandworms with me at all times. As an artificial soft plastic, this bait is the real deal. These guys work for everything sand crabs work for but I’d say just not as productively. It’s interesting to see how every once in a while, for whatever reason it may be, Gulp! Sand Worms out perform sand crabs. Not all the time, and not most of the time either, but to out perform a live, natural bait, even once, is impressive.
They aren’t my favorite bait to use as they absolutely wreak, but they don’t need to be refrigerated or frozen. I would however, recommend keeping the already sealed bag of these worms in a quart size freezer Zip Lock baggy. The scent can leak and stink up your entire tackle bag.
Fishbites: Bait Option #2
For this option, I actually put together an entire article on using Fishbites in the surf. When I first tried them, I was very skeptical as their appearance wasn’t very impressive. I read up on them some more and found some interesting aspects that went into the engineering process and it really intrigued me. My first time trying these resulted in success and ever since, I’ve been a strong believer in using Fishbites in the surf. They are engineered with chemicals that essentially induce feeding (if I understand the concept correctly). Read my complete article on which Fishbites baits and colors work best in the surf and purchase your own here.
Clam Meat: Bait Option #3
Clam meat, in my opinion, actually rivals sand crabs for best bait. Sand crabs tend to be more readily available and less of a process, but I’d be curious to compare these on a large scale. I’m a little biased towards sand crabs just because of their proven track record for me, but, I’d be open to either being “the best”.
I say this because with the few times that I’ve luckily come across a legal pismo clam, I’ve had luck with at least one of the chunks. The most common product of my limited experience using clam meat has been corbina and croaker (both spotfin and yellowfin). Clam meat is easily a best surf fishing bait.
Aside from my experience, I’ve come across some very successful fishermen at mission beach who used clam meat. They had buckets full of corbina and croaker ranging from small through medium and a couple that were decently sized. Not that keeping so many fish is a good idea, but there’s no denying the success there. At the very least, I’d say clam meat is worth a shot and that you can cast with confidence when using.
Mussel Meat: Bait Alternate #4
Both freshly shucked, as well as store-bought frozen, mussel meat is my go-to winter bait. Perch will devour mussel meat! If using freshly shucked meat, I like to hook it through and through (2 times) to ensure that it stays on well. For the frozen (store-bought) mussel meat, you can find these packs at local seafood markets and they’re priced by the pound. An important factor with the store-bought version, is that it’s vital to keep these baits as frozen as possible. As they thaw, they become too soggy and too loose to stay on your hook.
Mussel meat, as mentioned above, works well for perch. It can also catch corbina, croaker, and even halibut (if you’re lucky). It’s catch-range is again, similar to sand crabs, but still, less reliable.
Squid: Bait Alternative #5
Most surf fishermen in Southern California have tried this one, and for good reason. Squid can produce just as well as any other bait. I’ve even had limited success sight casting for big spotfin croaker with squid.
It’s cons include the following: it absolutely wreaks, it catches lots of rays and it catches lots of medium-sized sharks. It’s pros are as follows: it absolutely wreaks, it catches lots of rays and it catches lots of medium-sized sharks. For certain targets and for certain beaches, at certain times, squid can be the perfect bait. Other times, it won’t be incredibly productive for your desired target (if targeting corbina or croaker or even larger sharks).
Nonetheless, I can’t bag on any fisherman for using squid, as it’s generated success for me in the past. Just like the others, you can pretty much catch anything with squid.
Anchovy: Bait Alternative #6
If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m not necessarily ranking these in any order. More so, I’m explaining what each is best for. Anchovy (typically frozen as live bait-fish are tough to come by for surf anglers) are a surprisingly productive option to use when targeting halibut. The primary way of targeting halibut is by throwing a lure of sorts, but anchovy works well too.
Sometimes, you’ll run your lure through a spot 30 or 40 times, and afterwards, you’ll throw a frozen anchovy out for a couple minutes and wham! You’ve got your butt! Other times, the same is true of the inverse equation.
For this “bait-choice”, there’s so much to be said. I’ve written a completely separate article (linked here) on using Lucky Craft and other bait for Halibut. And, while it’s absolutely terrific for all things Halibut and other predatorial fish, I recently caught this 23.5″ corvina in the surf with the anchovy color. In the article, I’ve referenced my go-to’s for color, but anchovy and pearl white are the new hot-hand.
Look at the teeth on this thing! Corvina, commonly confused (by name) with the California corbina, are typically caught using top-water lures in bays and even lagoon mouths and such. A catch from the surf isn’t nearly as common.
Additionally, my fishing buddy, Kyle, caught this 24″ corbina (slightly foul-hooked but still incredible). They don’t get much larger than this tanker. Well done Kyle!