Surf Fishing in Southern California - SC Surf Fishing

Surf Tackle: The Long and Short of It

What's the best way to assault the suds? Different techniques require different tackle. Here's a brief rundown on what's best to use and when to use it.

There are basically two ways to fish the surf. Out here in sunny SoCal, one of the few freedoms that we have left to enjoy is being allowed to fish with as many rigs as we want on any state beach. The only limit is that there may be no more than three hooks on any one leader. So, the ideal way to go out here is with a long rod for the biggies, and a light rig for the up close stuff. I'm not sure about any other states, so check your local regulations before you go, because fines these days are getting pretty stiff everywhere.

Mike pulls out the big guns for the big fish.

The low-down on light lining has already been laid out here admirably by Catfish. I could add from my own experience that heavier lines, in the 10 to 12 lb. range, will also work fine for the most common surf dwellers. Also, I have caught many nice corbina using the celebrated motor oil colored perch grubs, and if there are any other species about, these grubs are indeed about the best thing you can have in the water.

Sand crabs are also one of the best baits, but I myself have not had much luck with them. But they are often there for the taking, and they are a natural part of every fish diet, so they are certainly a good choice. Mussels, shrimp, and even squid will all work when the bite is on, and still-fishing these baits takes less attention than using swimbaits, but you still have to keep an eye on the waves in order to keep your stuff out where the action is.

Any old rig will work for the light line scene, but I have a better time when using 8 or 9 foot rods. This longer length makes it easier to avoid the waves and seaweed that always play the devil with your line, and it is also easier to make repeated longish casts over the breakers and out where the fish are. Probably my favorite setup is a 9 foot steelhead rod with an Abu 5000 reel and 12# mainline. I have used such a rig for years and have beached countless barred perch with it, and it never fails me. Of course, spinning tackle works just as well here, and it is really a matter of personal choice as to which is best.

In contrast to flinging lures, we have the heave-it-and-leave-it technique. Here, I would consider 10 foot to be the minium length of rod. You must use 3 and 4 ounce lead when fishing this way, and casts of at least 50 yards are necessary to get the bait out into the Fun Zone, where the biggies are. I usually use 11 and 12 footers though, because hauling out a whole squid 70 yards takes a bit of effort, and the longer the rod the farther the cast. However, there are many great surf rods on the market now, and the graphite models are ridiculously light and put little strain on the average angler. And there is always a certain amount of satisfaction in laucnhing a large bait and watching it sail up and over the swells to within a few feet of where you were aiming.

Fish that weigh well over 100 lbs, like this monster
bat ray, can be pulled from the surf.

So, once your goods are out in the water and you have your big rig properly nailed down in its sand spike, you can either sit and wait and watch, or take your little rod and go popping for perch. I will usually arrive at the shore in the early morning, throw in my big gear, wait for a half-hour or so, and then go perching. These first crucial moments after sunup will often bring good action, and sometimes I will find myself running ragged trying to keep up with bites in both zones.

While your take from the suds can yield fish up to several pounds, the large beasties swimming farther out can run all the way up over 100 lbs. I have wrestled with dozens of bat rays of this size over the years, and it is always a thrill. A good-sized bat will often run you out well over a hunderd yards, so it goes without saying that large, good quality reels strung with at least 20# line are in order. And I can heartily recommend Trilene Big Game line as the best all around choice for large fish. This line is strong, thin, and casts well in spinners - and it is even less expensive than most.

Sharks, big bass, dogfish, huge crabs, white sea bass, and shovelnose are often lurking out beyond the breakers as well, and although light lining yields many rewards, with even the smallest fish often striking with surprising violence, there is simply nothing to compare with wacthing your giant surf rod suddenly double over in its holder, and then hear your reel scream in agony as some mysterious, hidden sea monster grabs your bait and heads for the horizon. It really is a shock to see this happen, and sometimes your are a little hesitant to pick up the rig and involve yourself in the fray. But one must do what one must do, and when you finally manage to get things squared away and start to get the goods on the monster, you may find yourself in for a truly epic battle. I have seen fellows tangle with large fish for over an hour on the beach, and I myself have been spooled more than once by what must have been incredibly large goliaths, leaving me mumbling to myself and wondering just what sort of freight trains they have running out there anyway.

But it sure beats the hell out of watching the tube, eh?


Article written by:
Mike Burian (aka Reeler)

Want to add your 2 cents? Discuss this article here!