A Beginners guide to Surf Fishing

Santosh Kolwankar
Articles / A Beginners guide to Surf Fishing
Posted on: 2017-09-23 13:08:45 +0530 (IST)

A Beginners guide to Surf Fishing


A Beginners guide to Surf Fishing

(By Santosh Kolwankar)

Before we start, let’s ask us a question, why some of us love going to the beach?

Is it the waves with one of nature’s most relaxing sounds?

The moist salty air?

Seagulls, shells, crabs and Dolphins?

The place where you can do everything or do nothing?

A place to enjoy with friends and family?

A sunset over the ocean?

The shinning moonlight on water?

Or is it one of Mother Nature’s most awesome powers, the ocean that draws us in?

Whatever it is, for me there is no other place more beautiful than a nice lonely beach. And if I am able to catch a few fish and at the same time allow myself to sit back, relax and enjoy the entire above, well nothing like it.

Our country is blessed with a vast coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches of the world.

A lot of anglers have a misconception that surf fishing is for the lazy type, and spinning constantly, keep moving, walking on the rocks is fun.

The truth is, surf fishing is not only lot more challenging and rewarding but also affordable to many seasoned and a new angler as minimum amount of angling gear is required. I also believe that the potential in India for surf fishing is barely scratched.

Also note that surf is the only place that cannot be netted indiscriminately by commercial fishermen. From Whiting to Cobia and with proper tackle, timing, location and surf fishing techniques an angler can target all known inshore game fish in India with lots of success.

Spot selection, using correct bait, presentation of bait and tackle / tactics is a vast subject. However, here are few important points that I will like to share with my fellow anglers.

  1. Target Species
  2. Tackle
  3. How to read the surf
  4. Selecting correct bait
  5. Safety
  1. Target Species:

One can target vast variety of game fish from the surf, all of them tough fighters that will test your angling skills. Some commonly caught ones on the Indian coast are;

  1. Mangrove Jack / Lutjanus argentimaculatus

Search FishBase

Mangrove jacks are like street fighters, Hooligans, very aggressive feeders. A priced catch for many surf anglers.


  1. Blubberlip Snaper/ Lutjanus rivulatus

Search FishBase

Another street fighter and are known to beat anglers at their own game. They give hard, fast and powerful short runs.


  1. Stingray: Three main species of Stingrays are found on the west coast , the Leopard Stingray / Reticulate Whipray or Honeycomb Stingray (Himantura uarnak), Dasyatis pastinaca / Common Stingray and Dasyatis centroura / Roughtail Stingray

Pound to pound the hardest fighting fish in the surf; go heavy if you wish to target them. I have seen an angler’s legs tremble and hands shiver during a fight with a big Ray.


  1. Shovelnose Guitarfish, Rhinobatos Productus

Most cooperating of all surf fish, if nothing is biting, they will to entertain you. However, do not make a mistake of thinking that they will be equally nice once hooked, as the big ones are capable of destroying your tackle and ego.

  1. Trevally:

Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis)

Blacktip / Yellow Fin trevally (Caranx heberi)

A price catch, the big once are rarely caught on dead bait so keep that spoon or popper handy as I have seen some monsters feed very close in the surf.


  1. Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Good hard and fast fighters, they grow over 100 Lb. The best time catch one is early winter and late summer.


  1. Malabar grouper / Estuary rock cod (Epinephelus malabaricus):

Angry, hungry, designed to ambush and kill. Don’t give them anything, if you do, say goodbye to your rig and fish.

  1. Croaker (Johnius dussumieri)

Monsoon (also just before and after) is the best time to catch them.


  1. GHOL (jewfish)
    Scientific Name: Protonibea diacanthus

   Monsoon (also just before and after) is the best time to catch them.


  1. Tackle



There is nothing like one gear for all type, however a good rod of 10ft + of Med / heavy action capable of casting sinkers of 3 oz plus will cover most of surf fishing requirements. Plenty of models to choose from, for beginners I would recommend Penn Spinfisher or Powerstick rods.


A good saltwater Surf reel with / without bait runner that can hold 300 yards of 20 Lb Mono or 30 Lb braid. Penn Slammer 760L or Shimano 12000D bait-runner are decent reels.


Selection of sinkers should be based on the type of ocean floor and the level of current.

Following are the two most common types of sinkers:

Pyramid type sinkers dig in to the sand and work well if you don’t want your bait to drift and depending on your rod and casting ability one can chose a sinker from 2 to 6 oz.

Bank sinkers work well with fish finder rigs and if the bottom is rocky. Again 2 to 6 oz sinkers will cover most of the conditions.

During surf fishing, an angler can lose lot of sinkers. It is a good idea to make your own sinker moulds and save money.

Homemade sinkers

Sinker mould


Good quality 3 x and above in strength and size 1/0 to 5/0 circle hooks are commonly used by most of us surf anglers while targeting predatory fish or fish that feed aggressively. Circle hooks help to reduce gut hooking and actually have a higher hook-up ratio than regular J hooks. The important thing to remember is to never execute a strike while using circle hooks like you would do with J hooks. Your sinker weight and line pressure will usually set the hook when the fish grabs the bait and tries to swim off.

J hooks of size 2 and 1 work better with fish like Whiting or croakers that feed at a slower pace.

The technique for using circle hooks is different than that for “J” hook. With “J” you can bury the point of the hook in the bait; however for circle hook to work, the point of the hook must be exposed.


Leader Material:

Monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material of 40 Lb to 80 Lb. Use of wire leader will result in reduced bites and should be only used while targeting Sharks.


Barrel and three-way swivel rated 40 lb and above.

 Rod Holders:

Simple rod holders can me made using PVC pipes by giving a slant cut at one end to make it pointed. By making it pointed it’s easier to force the pipe deep in the sand to hold the fishing rod securely.

Tackle care:

Salt and sand can damage your tackle. Always wash it with clean fresh water immediately after use.


There are many types of rigs to match different types of surf fishing and conditions.

Below is a sketch of very simple and effective surf fishing rigs.


To read more about saltwater rigs CLICK HERE


How to read surf:


The key is reading the beach to locate sections of beach that are most likely to attract fish.

Picking your spot and timing it right is important.

One has to read the surf by studying the line of breakers off the beach. Often they're formed by second and third sandbars, where a line of waves break.

Watch for a break and where the water flows back out to sea. All of that water from the waves has to return and this excess water going back is called rip currents. This same current draws natural food out to the fish, and that's where your bait should be.

Incoming tides are often best, especially early in the morning and evening, when the light is low and game fish prowl close to the beach. In certain cases when you are fishing deep holes, I find that the outgoing tide gives better results.

Remember, no two fishing spots are the same and taking a walk along the beach at low and high tides can give an angler a fair idea on the likely places that will hold fish, and it's easier to locate a deep hole, channel / gutter at low tide, when the sand bars are easily visible.

Beach sand can also be a tip-off about the nature of the ocean bottom. Very fine, tightly packed sand is often found on a beach with a gradual slope. Coarse sand, or small gravel, is typically found on a steep sloping beach.

Fish swim in closer to the shore through a break in the outer bar, it can be easily discovered after watching the waves for several minutes. If there is a break in the bar, a wave will pass over the bar, but will not form a crest. If the occurrence consistently repeats, it indicates that there is a cut in the bar. Fast moving, churning, or discoloured water may also be seen at these breaks when the tide is falling. Fish come into the deep holes through these breaks and the fast moving water around these breaks will often form rip currents that send food to the predator fish which line up in front for a good meal.

Currents and weather patterns can also affect the beach and form points. Most often, the water is deep on one side of a point. Also a good place to cast your bait.

The key is to concentrate your efforts in locating the spot that is just a bit different from a normal flat beach.

Estuary mouth can be an incredibly productive location to fish the surf. On an outgoing tide, the small baitfish and other sources of food are swept out, providing a natural chum line that will attract fish from far away.

Structures such as jetties, bridges, are also very good locations and are home to many fish.

There are also many locations on our coast that have reefs near the shore or reefs close to the beach, the most productive location for surf fishing.

4) Selecting correct bait

A quick visit to the local fish market or fishing harbour reveals what bait fish is moving.

The all-time best baits and the ones that are easy to source are Shrimps, Sardines, Squids, Indian mackerel and Mullets. Crabs are also very productive and the ones that are found around the beach have caught me some fantastic fish. Use of fresh bait is the most effective.

If you're after big predators such as sharks, then use a big chunk of sting ray or a big fresh Indian Mackerel on a size 5/0 + circle hook with a meter long wire leader.

Another important aspect of surf fishing is Bait presentation, baiting the hook in a correct manner.

Many times I have seen anglers overlooking the bait presentation aspect. Bait will fall off during casting, pulled out by small fish or currents, if not properly secured on the hook. Elastic bait threads are very cheap and effective.

Always keep your bait fresh and store it in an ice box, something most fish will appreciate. Stinky bait and circling flies is the last thing an angler or his quarry wants to notice on a beautiful beach.

As for artificial baits, spoons are always good and Top Water lures / poppers are great on feeding fish.


5: Safety:

Surf can be a very dangerous place if you ignore the basic warnings.

Never venture too deep if you do not know the beach well. Rip currents have tremendous pull and even if you are a good swimmer you will find it difficult to negotiate your way back. Wearing a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) is a must if you wish to walk further in to the water to cast.

Below is a picture of how to negotiate your way back from a rip current.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Field Research Facility at Duck, NC

Always, and I repeat ALWAYS, wear waders or proper footwear, stingrays and jellyfish can leave you in considerable pain.

While you are handling your catch, ensure that proper handling methods are employed. This not only increases the chances of fish survival if you are a C&R fisherman but also saves you from unexpected accidents and injuries.

Do not fish on a crowded beach, heavy sinkers and hooks can cause serious injuries to unsuspecting as well as to curious people around you.

Watch out for floating debris while wading, it could be ropes and discarded nets, your worst nightmare. Always keep a knife strapped with your belt for such emergencies.

Never wade inside the water if you are fishing alone and always wear a head lamp while going inside the water at night.

Always remember that caution is the better part of valour.