Posted by: socalsalty | February 21, 2013

Surf Fishing 101

Graham of Fish Mantra

Graham of Fish Mantra

I’ve tried to surf fish a few times.  It’s never gone well.  Well at least since I’ve been here in Southern California.  I used to kill it as a kid growing up.  My dad would check out the almanac and mark weekends where there would be big tidal swings.  Then we’d rally my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and take a ferry out to the islands for a day of clamming, fishing and feasting.  Really good times.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to figure it out here.  There are times where I don’t have the time to get on a boat, but I’d love to get in a couple hours of fishing.  In my search to find more info, I ran into a great site, Fish Mantra.  Fish Mantra is a blog written by Graham Day.  Graham does a great job of letting you know what’s biting from the shore, and what gear to use to get ’em.  Check it out…

Surf Fishing – Fun, Easy, Peaceful

Great views

Great views

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for wetting a line whenever and wherever possible. I also have that same passion for spending time on the ocean, where the water meets the sand.  For these two reasons, it is only natural that over the years, surf fishing has been my favorite way to fish. If you live in Southern California, surf fishing is an easy, relaxing and fun experience that you can enjoy year round.  All you need is your fishing license, a minimal amount of fishing equipment, a tide book and time. Here’s some of the basic information on tackle, baits, and timing.

Rods and Reels

Basic surf setup

Basic surf setup

I started surf fishing when I was about 8 years old. At this time in my life, I had one rod and reel. It was a light action spinning outfit that my dad gave me as an all-in-one solution. We fished for trout frequently, so it was fitting that I had a 6’ rod with a small reel loaded with 6 lb test. If this is what you have, you are set. These days, my surf fishing gear consists of a 7’ rod with a line rating of 2-8 lb test, an 8’ rod with the same line rating and an 8 ½’ rod rated from 6 lb to l5 lb test. On each rod, I have a 2000 to 2500 sized spinning reel. On the 2 lighter rods, I use 4 lb and 6 lb mono. On my heavier rod I use 20 lb braid. I am also using fluorocarbon leader line. This gear covers all of my bases when it comes to So Cal surf fishing for surfperch, croaker, corbina and halibut.  It also allows me to present all of the types of bait and lures I typically like to use.


Essential surf tackle

Essential surf tackle

If you have only one reel, I recommend filling it with fresh 6 lb monofilament. You can always tie on lighter leader if needed. When it comes to bait or gulp fishing for perch or croaker, I tie on a 4lb fluorocarbon leader using a Carolina rig. When I fish swim baits or hard baits I tie straight on to my main line coming off the reel. Although most of the fish are right at your feet, it also helps to have a set of waders during the winter and spring to keep yourself warm and dry while you fish.


Here are some of my favorite live and artificial baits that I use for surf fishing in Southern California:

  • Live ghost shrimp
  • Live blood worms
  • Live lug worms
  • Sand crabs
  • Berkley Gulp Sand Worms
  • Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 110, Flash Pointer 115 and Pointer 65
  • Soft plastics such as grubs and swimbaits


Tidal movement is essential. The best tides to fish are ones with a lot of movement during the time of increase or decrease. I have the best luck fishing an incoming tide 2 to 3 hours before the peak or outgoing tides one hour past the peak of high tide. The same lunar rules apply to surf fishing as they do all types of fishing. Your best fishing is going to be when there is the least amount lunar gravitational pull.  As for time of day, I prefer to fish first thing in the morning or at the end of the day when water and beach traffic is at its lightest. If you fish at night, watch the calendar for grunion runs. This can be a great time to catch a number of species as they chase these bait fish up on to the sand.

Good places to start and things to look for

Most of the fish you will catch are within 30 feet of the waters edge. This holds true for corbina, croaker, surfperch, and halibut. California’s gently sloping sandy beaches are the perfect environments for these species, which makes most local beaches a great place to fish. Additional things to look for are river mouths and tidal channels, jetties, and bait (such as sand crabs or smelt). In Orange County, I like to fish Dog Beach (at and around Goldenwest Street), Newport Beach (South of the Pier to the Wedge) and Bolsa Chica State Beach. Sunset Beach can also be very productive.

Barred surf perch

Barred surf perch

The elusive corbina

The elusive corbina

For more information on surf fishing and weekly surf fishing reports, visit Fish Mantra!



  1. Nice! I always wanted to see how some of the surf guys in CA did things. Big difference!

    • What’s up Mann? Thanks for stopping by Josh.

  2. enjoyed your article !

  3. Going to teach my son how to surf fish at Bolsa today, thank you for this very relevant article!

    • Louis, it’s been really tough this year. Do yourself a favor and stop at Big Fish & Tackle and get some bloodworms on your way down.

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