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Basic Surf Fishing Tackle and Rigging
about any 6-7 foot rod from the 8-12 lb test range can catch
fish in the surf on a nice fairly calm day. Many times whiting and other species are
feeding just off the shore in a trough that typically
forms between the shorebreak and the first sandbar maybe
30 yards offshore and the required weight needed to hold
the rig in place is a 1 ounce pyramid weight. I have fished
like that for years and still do because I do catch fish.
In fact, if you are going to throw 1/4 ounce pompano jigs
tipped with shrimp into the nearshore trough just off the
shorebreak for pompano and whiting, you can use the same
7 foot spinning outfit with 8 to 12 lb test described for
use in the lagoon section of this website very effectively.
It's also great for using a small silver spoon when the
glass minnows are in close and schools of spanish mackerel
or bluefish are hounding them. Great light tackle sport!
However, if you do enough surf fishing there
will come that day when a school of 50 lb tarpon or other
gamefish come busting through a school of mullet 40 yards
beyond your maximum casting range, and the "real"
surf fishermen with real surf rods will be having the time
of their lives while you stand there holding your little
stick. Or the pompano that day may be feeding beyond that
first offshore sandbar and if you attempt to cast there,
you land instead on top of the bar. Not where you really
want to be. Again the fish will be out of your range. Then
there are days when the surf is fairly rough and the side
currents are sweeping through the inner trough and washing
all but the heaviest rigs right up on the beach, but the
fish are still there and the smaller rods just can't handle
the weight required to keep your bait in the water for any
length of time. A good quality surf rod is designed to handle
the sometimes extreme environment of surf fishing (sand,
salt spray, etc). It is also designed to cast the heavier
weight lures and rigs designed for fishing the surf. In
addition it will have a longer butt section to allow for
the wider hand placement required for distance casting and
a medium to fast action. A 9 to 10 foot rod rated for 12
to 20 lb test line and a lure weight of 1-4 ounces, matched
with a good quality spinning reel such as a Penn Spinfisher
model 650ssm loaded with 250 yards of 15 lb test is a good
start and will handle most of the conditions you will find
while fishing for everything from whiting, pompano, bluefish,
to snook and redfish along with many other species that
patrol the shorebreak and just beyond the first bar.
For a little more reach, go to a 11 to 12
foot rod rated for 15 to 40 lb test and lure weights of
3 to 8 ounces. Match this with a Penn Spinfisher 850ssm
or 950ssm filled to capacity with 20 lb test and with practice
and the right casting action, you can throw your rig quite
far, which may make the difference if tarpon, snook, jacks,
or other gamefish are busting into schools of mullet just
outside of your casting distance with the 9 ft rod.
Note; Understand that the above reccomendations
are based on my experience alone regarding Penn Reels. I
have used them for years and for the most part they have
served me quite well. There are some other fine quality
reel makers out there. Many of the opinions I have heard
about the Shimano and the Okuma line of reels sound very
interesting. Also, if you decide to really get serious about
surf fishing, you will find that different rods of the same
length will have different actions or how they react to
a force on the line. A medium action rod will bend evenly
from about the halfway point all the way out to the tip
under stress of casting and playing a fish while a faster
action will concentrate the bend more at the tip, which
may be better if using artificials. There is a great Florida
surf fishing forum at Florida
Surf Fishing.com where you can ask questions and
learn from some of the best surf anglers in the state, and
its free to join.
Surf fishing with bait requires a bit more
rigging than fishing the lagoon or freshwater. This is due
to the fact that you will almost never be surf fishing without
wave action on the beach and you will soon find your rig
being washed up on the shore before the fish you are seeking
can find it. Even if it doesn't wash up it will be moving
all over the place making it difficult to detect a strike.
For this reason a pyramid sinker is all but mandatory. There
are exceptions to this when the mullet are running along
the beach and the larger gamefish in the area are in hot
pursuit but that will be discussed later in this section.
First we will discuss the required terminal
tackle for fishing for two of the three most popular surf
caught species in this area, pompano and whiting, then later
on this page we will cover bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and
larger game species such as snook, tarpon, jacks, etc.
|Rigging for Pompano, Whiting, Margate, Croaker, Other
|Sinkers; A pyramid sinker is so called because it is shaped like an
upside down pyramid when attached to your line and will work
very well in areas with a sandy bottom like most of the Space
Coast beaches. After the cast it will drop through the water
column and anchor itself in the sand. This will allow you
the chance to take up the slack and feel a bite. They come
in sizes from 1-6 ounces or more. I usually use the smallest
pyramid sinker that will keep the rig on the bottom with my
line tight enough to feel a strike. This will be based on
three things, casting distance desired, wave conditions and
the pound test rating of the line you are using. On many of
our beaches the fish are not really that far out, feeding
within a trough that forms just beyond the shorebreak at high
tide, but the heavier the line you are using combined with
the wave action can also dictate weight requirements, as heavier
line, being thicker, provides more resistance to wave action.
If fishing with lighter line of about 12 lb test in fairly
calm conditions, start with a one ounce sinker. With 20 lb
test, 2 ounces, and work from there.
Hooks; I use two different hooks for surf fishing depending
on the primary target(s).
If Pompano are the primary target, and they
are running strong use a size 1/0 circle hook. Pompano
typically are cruising along the beach faster than the other
species caught with the bottom rig and take the baits at
a faster rate in order to keep up with the school. These
hooks help to reduce gut hooking and actually have a higher
hookup ratio than a regular "J" style hook. The
secret to using circle hooks is to not "set" the
hook with a sharp pull during a strike like you would a
"J" hook. Pressure on the line as the fish grabs
the bait and tries to swim off will usually set the hook
If Whiting is the primary target, or the surf
fishing is more of a mixed bag with margate, croakers and
other bottom feeders in the mix, use a standard #2 size
"J" style hook. For these species I believe
a circle hook offers no real advantages as these fish tend
to be more "stationary" feeders, or feed at a
slower pace. You will have to "set" the hook for
these species with a sharp upward sweep of the rod tip as
you feel them on the bait. Using this type of hook does
not stop you from catching pompano, it just that when using
a circle hook during a pompano run you will have a higher
hookup ratio for pompano, but a lower one for the whiting
and other species. Just below is a series of step by step
instructions for making a standard pompano or whiting surf
fishing rig and works well with both hook styles.
rig requires one or two hooks, based on your preferences,
and a pyramid sinker. For pompano, whiting and most of the
other species you will likely catch using baits for these
species a leader is not usually required so it can be tied
directly on the end of the fishing line. It consists of one
or two dropper loop knots (A) positioned about 12 inches apart
with the lower one being about 12 inches above the weight.
End loops (B) compress the dropper loop and help to secure
the hook, while the weight is tied on with an improved clinch
knot (C). You can also tie a snap swivel in place of the weight
and attach the weight with the snap to allow for faster weight
changes. The knots for the dropper loops (A) should be spaced
about 12 inches apart and the bottom one about twelve inches
from the weight when finished. With practice this can be rigged
in about a minute or so. Instructions for each knot are just
below and I find it easier to do if the weight (C) is tied
|The Improved Clinch Knot (C above) is a real basic
knot used to tie hooks, swivels, weights, etc. to the end
of the line whether fishing in freshwater for bass and bluegill,
or in the lagoon for reds and trout. I don't use it for artificial
lures because it impedes the action of the lure too much.
When surf fishing I use it to tie pyramid sinkers to form
the bottom of a surf rig. As mentioned above, I find it easier
to start here first, then work your way up.
1. To tie it, just put the end of the line through the eye
of the hook or lure about eight inches, then while holding
the line on both sides of the hook with one hand, twist the
hook or lure about eight times. Then put the end of the line
through the little loop of line just above the hook and route
it through the upper loop you just formed.
Step 2. Pull the line leading back to your pole to tighten.
The Dropper Loop
To make a drop loop, after attaching a pyramid sinker to
the end of your line using the improved clinch knot above,
Grab a the line about 1 foot above the sinker with your
right hand and another section about 1 1/2 feet above your
right hand with your left.
Step 1. Bring them together so that
the line between your hands form a loop.
Step 2. Then using your index fingers
to keep a small separation between the lines twist the lines
around each other three or four times and put the loop you
have formed between the separation at your index fingers.
Step 3. Using your third hand, (mouth,
big toe, whatever) keep the loop from pulling back through
the separation while using your real hands to pull outward,
tightening the knot.
Step 4. The resulting loop should be
about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Grab the base of the loop
(near the knot) between you thumb and index fingers and
run them outward along the loop compressing it. Once you
have found the true end of the dropper you are ready to
make the end loop (below) to attach the hook. If you wish
to make a two hook rig, repeat steps 1-4 about 12 inches
above the first dropper.
The End Loop is used to keep the larger
drop loop somewhat compressed while you fish.
Step 1. Bring the end of the drop loop around
and over the rest of the drop and through the resulting
loop. Don't tighten it but position the new loop so the
knot will be about 2 inches from the end.
Step 2. Put the end through the loop again.
Step 3. Hold the dropper on either side of the knot and
pull apart to tighten.
To attach the hook, compress the end loop, put it
through the eye of the hook, then spread the loop and put
entire hook through the loop, pull line to tighten. One
advantage of this rig over most pre-made rigs from a tackle
shop is that changing the hook for the species available
is easy. Simply push the loop back through the eye of the
hook, loop the line from over the hook and replace with
the another hook.
|Fishing the Coquina Ridges; When fishing from Patrick
Air Force Base south to Indialantic, you will encounter coquina
ridges that form a reef structure. These areas are harder
to fish due to the high probability of snagging on the rocks
but can be worth the effort. These ridges and the Sabellariid
Worm Reefs that form upon them can greatly increase the variety
of fish found in the area. Margates, whiting, pompano, croakers,
sailers choice, sheepshead, black drum, redfish, and snook
all patrol these ridges looking for smaller fish and crustaceans
that hide among the ridges just like they would a coral reef.
Many of these ridges will be exposed at low tide (If they
haven't been covered by truckloads of sand during beach re-nourishment
projects). The Bank Weight Rig, (pictured below) will
decrease the probability of snagging, but will not entirely
eliminate it. It can be made using the instructions for the
pyramid sinker rig (above) simply by replacing the pyramid
sinker with a bank sinker (below). However, there is an option
that will negate the need to replace the entire rig should
the sinker become snagged in the rocks. You can also go to
using lighter wire hooks. That way if the hook snags on something
you may be able to pull hard enough to straighten the hook
out, pulling your rig free. Then you can restore the bend
with a pair of pliers and continue fishing.
make a Sinker Break away option for a bank weight surf fishing
rig you need four items. First of all you need a small spool
of cheap fishing line that tests less than the line spooled
on your fishing reel. For instance if you are fishing with
20 # line, get a small cheap spool of 12 # line. The other
three items are a bank sinker (far left), a three way swivel
(near left), and a hook.
One; Trim a 16 inch length of fishing line from your
reel and tie to one eye of the three way swivel.
Step Two; Trim a 20 inch length of line from the
lighter test spool of leader material, tie this to another
eye of the swivel.
Step Three; Tie the third eye of the swivel to your
fishing line from reel.
Step Four; Tie a bank weight to the other end of
the lighter line from step two.
Step Five; Tie hook to the other end of the heavier
|Interesting note; Recently at Playalinda Beach at
Canaveral National Seashore, it was a very calm day and low
tide. I decided to fish with my 7 ft 8 lb test rig. Even though
the bottom was sand where I normally use a 1 ounce pyramid
sinker, I used instead a 1 ounce bank sinker as I didn't really
need the holding power of a pyramid. At the first tap of a
whiting or croaker hit, I would begin reeling slowly, dragging
the rig along the bottom, and continue until I felt the firm
pull of a fish on the line. I didn't have to set the hook
once and caught almost every fish that hit.
Baits; Now that your surf rod is rigged, you are
ready to bait the hooks and cast out. For pompano, whiting,
croaker, margate, black drum, etc. fresh cut shrimp, fresh
caught sandfleas, and fresh cut clams all work. Its easiest
to just buy a package of frozen shrimp and they do work
but fresh live shrimp is better if the fish are being finicky.
Cut the shrimp into pieces about the size your index finger
from the tip to the first knuckle and string a single piece
on the hook.
hard pompano fans swear by sandfleas (mole crabs) fresh
caught at the shoreline of the beach, after all, its why
the pompano are there in the first place. Bait shops do
sell frozen sand fleas but fresh is definitely better and
they aren't hard to catch. Stand at the waters edge where
the waves rush up the sand after they break on the beach.
As the break water recedes back into the sea a colony of
sand fleas will reveal themselves by leaving a patch of
tiny V shaped ripples in the water with the point of the
V in the direction the water is coming from. Check this
out and upon closer inspection you will see what looks like
little antenna protruding up from the sand. Get too close
and they will disappear into the sand. The sandfleas are
buried just under the sand with filter feeding apparatus
extending up into the water catching microorganisms for
food. Back off and let the next wave come in. As it washes
out and the patch reappears, rush in, scoop up as much sand
in your hands as you can and throw it up on the beach. If
successful you will see these guys scurrying around and
trying to dig back into the sand. Grab them (they can't
hurt you, no pinchers) and place them in a bucket with some
water and sand. Die hards use a device called a sand
flea rake which is a rectangular wire mesh basket
attached to a pole with a blade along one edge for digging
into the sand. They pull this like a hoe, filling up the
basket with sand which washes through the mesh, leaving
the crabs. Another option is to use a plastic 5 gallon bucket
with many 1/4 inch diameter holes drilled into the bottom
and lower sides. With a shovel, scoop sand into the bucket
and then lower the bottom of the bucket into the water to
strain the sand. Once you have enough to fish with, insert
the hook through the top of the shell near the back of the
crab and thread the point forward into the body.
|Fishing with this rig and feeling the strike; It
is important after you have cast your rig into the surf to
keep a tight line to detect a strike. Many people use a sand
spike which is a hollow tube of PVC or metal sharpened to
a point on one end. Push or hammer the sharpened end into
the sand until it is secure and the butt of a rod can be placed
in it. Other's prefer to hold the rod themselves. Either way,
the slack line after the cast must be reeled in for you to
have any chance of detecting a strike. If holding the rod,
I will keep the index finger of my rod hand on the line just
in from to the reel. As a wave rolls in you will feel the
line tighten as a wave rolls in, and then relax after the
wave has broken on the beach. A strike will feel much different
as a series of sharp irregular "taps" on your line.
If using a sand spike, cast the line, place the butt end of
the rod into the spike, then turn the reel handle to take
up the slack until the wave action can be seen in the rod
tip. You will see the tip bow to each incoming wave and then
straighten as the wave crashes. A hit will result in the rod
bowing over with a distinct pulsating action. If using the
"J" hook, grab rod and set the hook with a sharp
upward or back sweep of the tip. If it's a pompano on a circle
hook rig, fish is on.
Jigs; Pompano jigs can be very effective for pompano
and whiting. Pompano jigs typically are round headed with
a relatively short bucktail or nylon tail and come in sizes
ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. Tip the hook with a small
piece of cut shrimp and fished with a standard 8 to 12 lb
test spinning outfit it will catch most of the species that
the above described surf rig can catch. Cast and retrieve
by bumping the jig along the sandy bottom and it will put
up little puffs of sand, attracting pompano.
|For Bluefish, a leader is essential. It is easiest to buy
a pre-made rig designed for them available at virtually any
local tackle shop. They will include the hook(s) and have
a snap at the bottom for attaching a pyramid sinker. But they
can also be readily made. There are several configurations
that can be used, and none of them are very difficult to make.
This is probably the easiest.
one; Slide a sinker slide onto the end of your tag line
(line from reel). This will allow the attachment of the pyramid
sinker to your line. This also allows live bait, if you decide
to use it, to swim away from the sinker if you provide some
slack in your line, to provide a more natural presentation.
two; Thread a small plastic bead that is larger than the
diameter of the plastic sleeve of the sinker slide onto your
tag line. This is called a stopper bead. You will want this
between the sinker slide and the hook rigging in order to
ensure that the sinker does not slide all the way down over
the hook leader and interfere with the bait.
three; Tie the swivel end of a wire leader snelled 3/0
hook, (Eagle Claw model 9140 Snell, size 3/0 hook is a good
choice) to tag line. Use an improved clinch knot (above).
The wire leader will prevent a bluefish or other toothy fish
from biting through the line. While I normally discourage
the use of wire leaders for many species, it doesn't seem
to deter bluefish at all.
four; Attach appropriate sized pyramid sinker to snap
on sinker slide. The sinker (and the bead) should now be able
to slide away from the hook rig but not able to get past the
knot attaching the leader. I would normally start with about
a two to three ounce weight and move up if conditions prove
to be too rough. You want to be able to keep some tension
on the line in order to detect a strike without dislodging
the sinker from the sand. This sinker is designed to implant
itself into the sand after the cast in order to provide holding
|Step five; Bait hook with cut mullet, finger mullet
(alive or dead) and cast into nearest ocean.
|Additional Notes; You can substitute a Berkely or
other style steel leader for the wire snell rig in step three.
These have a swivel on one end and a snap on the other end.
Use the snap to attach a hook. If you go this route use a
size 3/O O'Shaughnessy style hook. I also recommend a leader
of at least 18 inches. The pre-snelled wire leader hooks are
a bit better in my opinion because it reduces the amount of
visible terminal tackle in the rig by one snap, making the
leader a little harder for wary fish to detect. This rig can
also be use to fish a live finger mullet hooked just behind
the dorsal fin and just might be the difference on whether
a Spanish mackerel will hit the bait or not. Spanish Mackerel
will take live bait but only rarely dead bait. They also prefer
cleaner water and are much warier than bluefish, which will
attack just about anything when in feeding mode.
Artificial lures for bluefish and Spanish
|For this section, I've included both bluefish and Spanish
mackerel due to the fact that they will both hit pretty much
the same lures. If they are in pretty close to shore the standard
8-12 lb test spinning outfit used in the lagoon will be a
great outfit for casting lures to these species. Where I recommend
a wire leader for using bait for bluefish, I am going to recommend
about a two foot section of 25 lb test monofilament for this
type of fishing. When using bait, the bluefish is more likely
to engulf the entire bait and the leader will be in contact
with sharp teeth longer. With lures, the hookup is faster
and the body of the lure will take the brunt of the abuse
with the mono leader providing extra insurance. Using a wire
leader with a lure will definitely cut down on strikes, especially
with the mackerel. You still may lose a lure or two but that's
the sacrifice made for actually catching one.
Spoon by Luhr Jensen; As mentioned in the lagoon
tackle section of this website, the Krocodile Spoon is my
all time favorite lure and has been a consistent producer
for me since I moved to Florida in 1967. They come in a variety
of sizes from 3/8 ounces to 1-1/2 ounces and my favorites
are the 3/8 and 1/2 ounce sizes used with 8 to 12 lb test
line spinning tackle. Go with larger surf tackle when using
the larger size lures. Retrieve these fast to imitate a panicked
baitfish and it will draw attention and stimulate a chase
response. Fast predatory fish like bluefish, and Spanish mackerel
are used to having to chase down their prey and when supposedly
live prey does not flee when they approach, they get suspicious.)
Got-cha jig by Sea Striker Lures has long been a favorite
for bluefish and Spanish mackerel along Space Coast Beaches
and the inlet areas. Retrieve them with a series of jerks
with the rod. Comes in both plastic (series 100) and metal
(series 300) bodies. Get the metal for greater durability.
Comes in both an undressed version (shown) and a "dressed"
version with a bucktail rear end and a rigid mounted single
rigid mounted hook.
Saltwater Skitter Pop; Cast into a school of bluefish
feeding on the surface and this plug and other similar plugs
like the Mirrolure Popa Dog will almost certainly draw a
strike. Cast and retrieve with a series of rod pumps to
create a surface commotion that will draw predatory fish
from a distance.
|Tackle for Tarpon, Snook in the Surf
|Tarpon in the surf is some of the most exciting fishing
there is, as long as you have the proper tackle. Of the three
classes of spinning rods described above you would definitely
want to use the larger 10-12 foot rod and a reel filled to
capacity with good quality line. A tarpon is a big strong
fish and the fight will likely last a while if you're lucky.
Rigging is simple. To the tag end of your line attach a strong
barrel swivel, and then about 6 ft of 80 lb test monofilament
shock leader. Attach a 6/0 circle hook to the end of the leader.
Hook a live mullet through the upper lip to allow it to breath.
A dead mullet will also attract tarpon and can be hooked through
the eyes. Do not use a weight of any kind. When hooked, a
tarpon will jump, shaking his head in an attempt to throw
the hook. A weight attached to the line will increase his
odds of doing so. When the jump occurs, bow the rod to the
fish. It will likely be too large for you to throw off balance
when he jumps and keeping pressure on the line will give the
fish the advantage he needs, so as it jumps, point the rod
at the fish and reapply pressure after the jump. Best fishing
for tarpon is during higher tidal phases that coincide with
|Snook can often often patrol the surf and will chase
the mullet schools as they pass through. They also have a
fondness for live croakers and as such, if you catch any on
your bottom rig you now have a great live bait for snook.
Fish either live mullet or a live croaker on a size 4/0 circle
hook tied to at least a 40 lb test leader. This can be fished
with a sliding egg sinker. Just thread a sliding egg sinker
onto the tag line, (line from reel) then follow it with a
small plastic bead. Then using an albright knot attach the
line to the leader. The plastic bead should keep the sinker
from sliding all the way to the hook. If you wish to try artificials
try the previously mentioned Krocodile Spoon or the Rapala
Skitter Pop mentioned for bluefish. Other lures, some of which
are listed below will work as well. Snook fishing, like tarpon
fishing will be best at first light, and at higher tides.
The snook will be feeding in the "trough" just outside
the surf line.
jigs have long been a standard for snook in the area. Unlike
using a jig head with plastic tails, bucktail jigs have a
breathing action due to the hair of the jig reacting to the
water which can create a lifelike look to a gamefish. The
High Tide B52 jig shown at left comes in sizes ranging from
1/2 ounce all the way up to 6 ounces. For snook in the surf,
try anything from the 1/2 ounce to about 2 ounces. Some of
the best colors to try are are white, pink, and chartreuse.
love jumbo shrimp and this is one of the most realistic
shrimp lures out there. While for the lagoon I typically
recommend the 3 inch model, here in the surf I would go
with either the 4 inch 1/2 half ounce model or the 6 inch
one ounce model. Comes in a variety of colors, try the chartreuse
or the Root beer color.
Rapala Magnum is one of the great all time saltwater lures
for large fish and come in both sinking and floating diving
models. The floating model is 7 inches long, 1-1/2 ounces,
and has a plastic lip. The sinking models start at 4-3/8 inches
in length (7/8 oz.) and range to 10-1/2 inches (4-1/2 oz).
I would recommend that for surf fishing, the floating models
would be the better choice, especially if casting these over
the coquina ridges of the Satellite Beach, Indian Harbour
Beach and Indialantic areas.