Best Surf Fishing Bait: Ultimate Guide for Top Results

Surf fishing is an exciting and accessible way for anglers to catch various fish species along the shoreline. Finding the best bait for surf fishing can significantly increase our chances of a successful beach day. 

During the early morning or late afternoon hours, we may find fish feeding more actively and closer to the shore, making low and high tide some of the best times for surf fishing. 

Additionally, it’s essential to consider the specific fish species we’re targeting and their personal preferences regarding bait.

Live baits like sand fleas (mole crabs) found burrowed in the sand where the water meets the shore can be an effective bait option for attracting larger fish. 

Live shrimp are also popular among surf anglers as they work well for many fish species, making them a versatile and reliable option. 

For those seeking a more convenient and accessible alternative, using frozen natural bait like shrimp or squid can also yield great results for surf fishing. 

When fishing with live or natural bait, utilizing a fish finder rig or a circle hook is helpful to present the bait more naturally to predatory fish in the area.

Although live and natural baits are highly effective, artificial lures can also play a significant role in surf fishing, especially when targeting fish in deeper water or farther from the shore. 

In this guide best surf fishing bait, we will discuss all this and much more. So read on to learn about the best baits for surf fishing and some tips, tricks, and techniques to help you catch more fish from the shore.

Understanding Surf Fishing

Fishing poles lined up at the beach

Surf fishing is a popular recreational activity that involves catching fish from the beach or shoreline. It’s a great way for anglers to enjoy the outdoors and catch various fish species. 

When it comes to surf fishing, understanding factors like tides, baits, and techniques is essential to achieving success. In this section, we’ll discuss the impact of tides, best baits, and techniques in surf fishing.

Low tide and high tide play a significant role in determining the best time for surf fishing. At low tide, anglers can access shallow water, making catching smaller fish such as mole crabs, sand fleas, and smaller game fish species easier. 

High tide, conversely, brings more water and potentially larger fish closer to the shore, making it a prime time to target bigger fish like red drum, black drum, and predator fish like Spanish mackerel.

Choosing The Right Bait

Choosing the right bait is crucial to surf fishing success. Natural baits, such as live shrimp, sand fleas, mole crabs, and cut bait, attract various fish species well. Artificial lures, like bucktail jigs, soft plastics, and diamond jigs, can also produce great results if matched to the target fish’s preferred prey. 

During the summer, live mullet and fiddler crabs are excellent choices, while fresh shrimp and finger mullet work well in other seasons. 

It’s a good idea to check with your local bait shop for the best live bait options and specific recommendations based on the time of year and water conditions of your surf fishing location.

The Right Technique

Techniques like long casts, using the fish finder rig, and employing a pyramid sinker help improve surf fishing results. The fish finder rig is designed to keep the bait close to the seabed while allowing it to move naturally with the current, attracting fish to the bait. 

Using a circle hook with this rig is beneficial as it reduces gut hooking and increases successful hookups.

As surf anglers, we must know the elements affecting our potential catch, such as tidal cycles, bait selection, and techniques. Understanding and implementing these factors can increase our chances of catching multiple fish species and making the most of our time on the beach.

Best Natural Baits for Surf Fishing

A container of bait shrimp

In surf fishing, choosing the right bait can make all the difference. We will discuss some of the best natural baits for surf fishing and share helpful tips on using them effectively.

Shrimp and Crab

Shrimp and crabs are great baits for various fish species in different coastal areas. Available at local bait shops, live shrimp provide excellent results when matched with a fish finder rig or a circle hook.

High and low tide are good times to use shrimp as bait, but the best time may vary depending on your target species. Fiddler and blue crabs are excellent bait options, particularly for larger fish like red and black drums.

Sand Fleas and Clams

Sand fleas, also known as mole crabs, are another effective natural bait for surf anglers. These tiny crabs usually burrow in the wet sand near the shoreline. 

They can be collected at low tide, especially during the summer months. Use a pyramid sinker and a small circle hook for the best results when fishing with sand fleas.

Clams, like sand fleas, are most effective during high tide when predatory fish venture into shallow water seeking food. The best way to present clams as bait is by using a bottom rig or long cast to reach deeper water.

Cut Bait and Whole Baitfish

Cut bait, such as herring, mackerel, or mullet, is popular among surf fishermen targeting bigger fish species. Finger mullet and other small fish can be caught with a cast net and used fresh or frozen. 

These bait fish work well with a fish finder rig or bucktail jig, especially during periods of high fish activity or when the water temperature rises.

To target specific species like pompano, redfish, or black drum, it’s a good idea to use whole baitfish on a pompano rig or similar setup. 

Fresh baitfish often generate better results, but they can also be effective if the local bait shop provides quality frozen options.

Remember, the best bait for surf fishing may vary according to personal preference, target species, and surf conditions. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different combinations to find what works best for your fishing adventures.

Best Artificial Baits for Surf Fishing

a pile of artificial lures

Finding the best artificial bait for surf fishing can greatly impact your success. Let’s explore various categories of artificial baits that work great for surf fishing: soft plastic lures, spoons and metal lures, and topwater lures.

Soft Plastic Lures

When targeting smaller fish species, surf anglers often prefer soft plastic lures during low tide or in shallow water. Some notable options include the Berkley Gulp! Shrimp, Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad and Gulp Alive Sandworms. 

These lures mimic natural bait such as mole crabs, sand fleas, and fiddler crabs, making them an excellent choice for surf fishing.

Using a fish finder rig or pompano rig with soft plastics can help attract larger fish such as red drum, black drum, and predatory fish. Long casts and retrieval techniques are essential for getting the best results with these lures. 

Remember to check the water temperatures and conditions to decide which soft plastic lure to choose, as some work best during specific times of the year or in certain surf conditions.

Spoons and Metal Lures

Spoons and metal lures are effective for surf fishing, especially when targeting game fish species like Spanish mackerel, bluefish, or striped bass. 

Examples of spoons and metal lures include the Sea Striker Surf Spoon, Luhr-Jensen Krocodile Spoon, Acme Kastmaster Bucktail Teaser, and Diamond Jigs.

Due to their heavier weight, these lures are known for their ability to cover long distances and stay in deeper water. 

Using a pyramid sinker with these lures can help maintain their stability in strong currents. Don’t forget to match the size of the lure to the target species and the overall bait fish size in the area.

Topwater Lures

Topwater lures can be a thrilling choice for surf fishing, as they often trigger dramatic surface strikes during feeding frenzy situations. Some top picks for topwater lures are the Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Popper, Heddon Zara Spook Topwater Plug, and Tsunami Popper.

Fishing with topwater lures typically yields the best results during high tide, early mornings, and summer months when fish feed near the surface. 

Check surf conditions and water temperatures, as these factors will influence the fish’s feeding behavior and help you choose the right lure for the situation. Experiment with different retrieval techniques to find the best way to entice fish to strike.

The selection of artificial bait for surf fishing largely depends on factors like tides, fish species, water conditions, and personal preferences. 

Armed with various soft plastic lures, spoons and metal lures, and topwater lures, we increase our chances of success in surf fishing.

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Choosing the Right Bait for Your Target Species

Striped Bass

When surf fishing, choosing the right bait for the specific species you want to catch is essential. This section will cover the best baits for various popular surf fishing targets, including Pompano and Whiting, Striped Bass and Bluefish, and Redfish and Flounder.

Pompano and Whiting

For Pompano and Whiting, natural bait is often the best choice. Sand fleas (mole crabs) and fresh shrimp are the most effective bait options. 

The best time to catch these species is during low tide, as they come closer to the shore to feed. Long casts are not always necessary, as these fish can be found in shallow water near the sandbars. 

Always check with your local bait shop for the latest recommendations based on surf conditions and water temperatures.

Using a pyramid sinker and a fish finder rig is a good idea to keep your bait in place during strong currents, especially at high tide. Using live shrimp, use a circle hook to ensure a proper hook set without damaging the bait.

Striped Bass and Bluefish

Striped Bass and Bluefish are larger, predatory fish often found in deeper water. We recommend using cut bait, such as bunker or mullet, or artificial lures, like bucktail jigs and diamond jigs. 

Long-distance casts are beneficial when targeting these game fish, and using heavier tackle and longer rods can improve your chances of reaching them.

When fishing for these species, the best time is usually during the summer months or the mullet run in the fall. During this time, the baitfish they feed on become abundant, and a feeding frenzy can create an excellent opportunity for surf anglers.

Redfish and Flounder

Redfish and Flounder can be caught using a variety of baits, with live bait such as finger mullet, fiddler crabs, and live shrimp being top choices. When targeting these species, focusing on deeper water and areas where baitfish congregate, such as near structures, sandbars, or drop-offs, is crucial.

Personal preference and local conditions can influence bait selection as with other species. Using the right bait, like natural bait, cut bait, or soft plastics on a jig head, is key to attracting your target species. 

Visit your local bait shop or consult with experienced surf fishermen for the best advice tailored to your specific area and the current conditions.

Factors Affecting Bait Choice

View of the ocean at the beach

The bait you choose is crucial for success in surf fishing. Several factors can impact your bait choice, and understanding these factors can help you make informed decisions and increase your chances of a great catch.


As surf anglers, we know the time of year significantly determines the best bait for surf fishing. Different fish species are active during different seasons, which affects their preferred food sources. 

For example, during the summer months, live shrimp and sand crabs can be excellent bait options, while cut bait, such as finger mullet, might be more effective in the early summer or late fall.

Water Conditions

Water conditions, such as temperature and clarity, also influence the choice of bait. Some fish species are more active in warmer water temperatures and may prefer live shrimp or sand fleas, while others are more attracted to cut bait or artificial lures in colder or murky waters.

Tides play a role as well, with high tide being the best time for beach fishing due to deeper water access and low tide being optimal for targeting species that feed on smaller fish and crustaceans close to shore.

Local Food Sources

Understanding the local food sources in your surf fishing spot is vital for selecting the most effective bait. Fish species will naturally be attracted to their preferred food sources found in the area. For instance, if sand or mole crabs are abundant, using these as bait may yield the best results.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to check with local bait shops or surf fishermen for recommendations, as they might have valuable insights into the most effective bait options based on their experiences.

In conclusion, paying attention to factors such as seasonality, water conditions, and local food sources can significantly improve your bait choices and ultimately increase your chances of success in surf fishing. 

So, the next time you hit the beach with your surf rod, consider these aspects and choose the right bait for the target fish species and conditions.

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Tips for Successful Surf Fishing with Bait

Keeping Bait Fresh

As surf anglers, ensuring our bait is fresh can significantly impact our success on the water. Low and high tides are the best times to collect natural bait such as sand fleas, mole crabs, or sand crabs. 

During the summer, fiddler crabs can often be found on the beach, making them an ideal choice for beach fishing. If you prefer, purchasing bait from your local bait shop is also a good idea. 

Live shrimp and cut bait are great options for attracting various fish species. Keeping your bait in a cooler or 5-gallon bucket will help maintain its freshness and effectiveness when surf fishing.

Proper Rigging and Hook Size

Using the appropriate rigging and hook size is crucial for effectively using our bait during surf fishing. Fish finder rigs, circle hooks, pyramid sinkers, and mole crabs are popular among surf fishermen. 

Smaller hooks work best for smaller fish, while larger hooks should be used for targeting larger fish species. The water conditions, target species, and bait size will help guide our choice of hook size and rigging style, so staying informed and adapting as needed is essential.

Matching the Hatch

Matching the hatch refers to using bait that closely resembles the natural food sources of the fish we’re targeting. In surf fishing, knowing the types of fish found in shallow water can help us determine the best bait. 

During summer, popular fish species such as black drum, red drum, and Spanish mackerel are frequently found near the shore. Using bait like live shrimp, cut bait, and finger mullet can be highly effective for these species.

It’s important to remember that matching the hatch also applies to using artificial lures. Soft plastics, bucktail jigs, and diamond jigs are great options that have produced strong results for many surf anglers. 

Using The Right Combination

When using the right bait or artificial lure, combined with the proper rigging and equipment, such as surf fishing rods, long casts, and surf conditions, the chances of a successful surf fishing session significantly increase.

Ultimately, our success in surf fishing largely depends on three key factors: keeping our bait fresh, using the proper rigging and hooks, and matching the hatch based on the fish species we’re targeting.

By being prepared and adapting to changing conditions, we increase our chances of catching various fish and creating memorable experiences on the water.

Conclusion  – Best Surf Fishing Bait

Now you should have a good idea of what types of bait work best for surf fishing. Using these baits and techniques, you will have a better chance of catching the limit of whatever fish you target.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. We love hearing from our readers. Until next time Happy Angling!

Cory is a content writer-editor and founder of Tackle Box Talk. Favorite Quote: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

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