Best Times and Tides for Surf Fishing: How to Plan

I figured it was about time for a refresher here as we jump right into peak season for surf fishing. This article will overview the best time for surf fishing, along with the best tides and other conditions. The goal here is to get you ready to plan a session on your own. For many anglers, surf fishing wasn’t the first style they learned and for more, it’s still a world of unknowns. If that sounds like you, then get ready for a life-changing experience and be prepared for surf fishing to be your new “number one”.

Whether you’re coming from a bass fishing background or a trout fishing background, fly fishing, or whatever else, surf fishing is a different animal. There’s a lot to look at in terms of conditions and planning, so here’s a detailed write-up on how I plan my sessions whether I’m guiding or just fishing for myself.

This article might sound familiar to a few of you who have been following this site for a while now, but I think you’ll agree that these points are worth reiterating. In this article, I’ll cover the following:

  • Common Theories
  • Planning/Conditions to Look For
  • Gear and Tackle
best times and tides for surf fishing
best times and tides for surf fishing

If you’ve read up on surf fishing and planning for a session or even researched what the best conditions are, you’ve likely heard the following (or something similar).

  • Fish the incoming tide.
  • Arrive at low tide to scope out the beach and look for exposed structure so you can fish it later when it’s submerged.
  • The best time to go surf fishing is (from) two hours before a high tide until an hour after high tide.

Overviewing Common Surf Fishing Theories

None of these are bad ideas. Quite honestly, they all stem from really good ideas with solid reasoning. Fishing the incoming tide through high tide is a good idea because, at low tide (especially during the summertime), sand crabs and other bait-critters might be out of reach from fish as they’re burrowed under dry sand above the water-line. This might cause fish to stop feeding and wait for high tide. Similarly, the bait that’s still in the water will be helped closer to shore by the rising tide as well.

Arriving at low tide is a cool idea and it’s a really good way to see structure that might be fishable later. Realistically though, not everyone has the time to show up at low tide and either come back or stay for however long it takes to be submerged again. If you do have the time just once or twice, I recommend trying it as it’ll help you learn how to read the surf. Even better, show up at high tide and fish through low tide. This should help a lot with learning how to read the surf as it’s kind of like taking a test and then seeing all the answers afterward.

Best Time for Surf Fishing

When is the best time to go surf fishing? I absolutely love this question! Have you ever heard the saying, “The best time to go fishing is whenever you have the time.”? Few people have the flexibility in their schedule to fish on only days with overall great conditions.

But, to be frank, the best times to go surf fishing are early morning (at the crack of dawn) and sunset (from an hour before sunset until last light).

Now, granted there are some days when it simply isn’t a good idea to go surf fishing. For instance, every once in a while, we’ll have a big storm roll through that’ll heavily affect the surf. Sometimes, the surf is over 8 feet! That’s just something you should stay away from.

This leads to another important point that is worth mentioning. With all things, safety first. High tides and high surf are just a couple of things to keep in mind. More than half the time I spend on the sand, lifeguards are NOT present. They get on around 9:30 am and usually leave just before 7 pm. For that reason, come prepared with a first aid kit. My preference is Surviveware’s Waterproof First Aid Kit. For more on that, watch this video review. It’s pretty incredible how they organized everything into this kit.

Best Conditions for Surf Fishing

In general, the best conditions for surf fishing are:

  • Low surf
  • Corresponding water temp to peak season
  • Low wind
  • Corresponding tides to your selected beach’s ideals
  • Zero seaweed
  • Minimal current
  • Fairly clear waters
  • Not too cold or hot out

Factors that are most important:

  • Surf height (predictable)
  • Tidal Data (predictable)
  • Seaweed (unpredictable)
  • Current-strength (unpredictable

To better break down fishing to the conditions, I’m going to walk you through exactly how I plan a surf fishing session:

Surf Height

So, for surf height, generally, Magicseaweed will predict slightly lower than Surfline will, and usually, the actual outcome is somewhere in the middle. So, if I see a drastic difference in surf height between one day and the other, that will push me in the direction of the day with lower surf heights. If I only have one day to choose from, I’d lean towards the beach or beaches with lower surf height(s). I took the time to write an entire article on surf height and how waves affect surf fishing.

Best Tides for Surf Fishing

For tidal data, if a rising tide is an option, that’s nice, but I’ll actually pay more attention to the tidal height rather than phases. By this, I mean that I know of a few beaches that have permanent structure (rocks, reefs, jetties, piers, etc.) that are known to hold fish at certain tidal heights (rising or falling).

In the same manner, if I’ve fished a sandy beach in the last couple days which I know to have really nice structure (troughs, scallops, holes, etc.), I’ll fish it again if the tidal heights align to submerge that structure within casting range.

Sandy beaches are very versatile too. With sandy beaches, you can rely on reading the surf as structure can change weekly if not daily. That said, you can show up at any tidal height if you’re confident you can find a good spot with good structure. If you haven’t caught on by now, tides are more than just “rising and falling”, I fish the tides according to the structure more than to the actual directional phase.

How To Plan a Surf Fishing Session

Depending on client preferences, my options become more limited, but when fishing for myself, I purely fish to the conditions. So what do I mean by “fishing to the conditions”?

If I’m fishing with clients, they select the date and time, I select the beach. If I’m fishing for myself, I usually only have one or two days to choose from. In both situations, I have limited control over selecting times, days and even tides that might be overall better than others. That doesn’t bother me much though. That’s because with surf fishing, we have so many beaches to choose from. It’s important to get to know your local beaches and understand what each has to offer at each given set of tidal heights and phases.

Say I have two days to choose from. The first two things I’ll look at are the tidal data and surf predictions. I use magicseaweed.com and surfline.com to plan my sessions. I don’t like tides4fishing as I don’t like the format and I don’t think it’s very accurate.

Other Conditions

Those were the two big factors. If no other condition-sets display any red flags, the tides and surf height can usually determine which beach or which day I select to fish. Wind, precipitation, air temp, water temp (in correlation to season) and water quality can play a role if one or multiple factors are way out of line. For example, crazy winds (above 15 mph), storms, severe air temp, and water quality (not being labeled clean) can all have an impact.

Seaweed and Current: The Unpredictables

These condition-sets are the two factors that can ruin a session no matter how perfect the rest of the conditions are. It absolutely sucks to show up to a well-planned session only to cast into a forest of kelp. Same for casting into a ripping current that doesn’t allow your bait to soak for more than a couple of seconds. In combination, these factors can kill a session.

What to Bring: Gear and Tackle Etc.

With the planning out of the way, let’s cover what to bring. If you haven’t already, take a look at my exact set-up and why I use what I use for surf fishing. In reading the linked page, you’ll have covered rods, reels, line, swivels, weights, hooks, and all the little details of my shark set up too. Next, you’ll need to bring some other surf fishing essentials. Here’s the run-down of what I bring for light tackle session:

Best Time of Year for Surf Fishing

This varies highly depending on which coast you’re fishing. Here in Southern California, summertime is easily the best time for surf fishing. Here’s a chart showing peak seasons for our common species.

SpeciesPeak SeasonGeneral Season
California CorbinaJun-AugMay-Oct
Yellowfin CroakerJun-AugApr-Oct
Spotfin CroakerJun-AugMay-Oct
Barred Surf PerchNov-AprYear Round
Walleye Surf PerchNov-AprYear Round
Shovelnose Guitar FishJun-AugMay-Oct
Sting RayJun-AugYear Round
Bat RayJun-AugYear Round
Leopard SharkMay-AugApr-Oct
California HalibutJan-MayYear Round
Soupfin SharkMar-JulYear Round

Surf Fishing Report

It’s July and the surf has finally started to show some signs of sitting down nicely. The conditions have improved drastically in the last couple of weeks here and I’m excited to see what this month brings. Corbina are the most popular catch right now and there’s no shortage of 20+ inchers out there. Water temp is hanging around at the 68-69F range and it won’t be long before we reach the 70 mark. The early part of this week should hold the highest surf for the next couple of weeks and then it’s supposed to be mellow from there on out. I think we’re in for an awesome next few weeks of fishing guys!

Thanks for reading and Happy Independence Day to Everyone! God Bless America!

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