The Best Baits For Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is one of the most popular forms of fishing. It is inexpensive and easily accessible, making it a top choice for fishermen around the world.

But, there are always some things you need to get right before heading out. The first is having the perfect surf fishing rod.  Choosing what bait to use for surf fishing is also key to your success.

Here are some of the best baits for surf fishing.


Shrimp are one of the most popular baits for surf fishing and are eaten by almost all species of fish. You can use either dead or live shrimp and each one needs to be rigged differently. You should be able to buy frozen or live shrimp from your local bait shop or a supermarket.

When rigging live shrimp on your hook, it is important to put the hook in the right place to ensure the shrimp stays alive for as long as possible. You can either put your hook in the front of the tail of the shrimp.

When rigging it in the front, you want to avoid the brain as the shrimp will die. The brain is located behind the eyes in the first ‘meaty’ section, you should see a dark spot. You want to put your hook in between the brain and the eyes. Put the hook through the side of the shrimp near the top of the body, just under the horn. Gently and slowly push it through to the other side so the barb doesn’t cause any damage.

When hooking a shrimp in the tail, you want to put the hook through the last section, just before the tail. Push the hook gently from one side to the other through the center of the body. Shrimp swim tail first when running away from prey, which makes rigging like this so effective, as the shrimp will swim naturally.

When you are using dead prawns, you have 3 options.

  • Push the hook through the prawns head, again between the eyes and the brain, starting at the bottom and driving the hook out the top, right next to the horn of the shrimp.
  • Remove the head and brain from the shrimp and run the hook through the meat of the shrimp. Make sure your hook is in the center and slowly slide the shrimp around the bend in the hook. Once it is around the bend, poke the hook out of the underside of the shrimp. It should now sit straight and naturally on the hook.
  • Remove the tail and the section next to it and repeat as above. Slide the hook through the center of the meat and pop it out after it has gone around the bend.

Bait Fish

One of the best baits out there is of course baitfish. You can use them as live bait, whole dead baits or cut into chunks. Frozen fish are less effective than fresh dead fish or live bait. The best species to use are Menhaden or ‘bunker’, mullet, sardines, mackerel and bluefish.

When fishing a live bait, simply hook the fish in the back between the dorsal fin and the tail, near to the top of the fish. You do not want your hook to be deep inside the fish as it will cause it to die faster and will stop you from getting a good hook set.

If you want to use a whole dead fish, rig the hook through the bottom of the lips and up into the top. Make sure the hook is set quite shallow for a good hook up. You don’t want it to be too deep or your hook will get stuck in your bait instead of in the fish you want to catch. Some people worry that fish can see your hook, but this isn’t something to be too concerned with.

If you are fishing chunk bait, the first step is to slice up your fish. The first chunk should be cut just behind the gills, removing the head. The next chunks should be an inch or two wide, depending on what size you prefer.

The best bait for big fish is the head. You may not catch any little fish with it though, so bear that in mind. When rigging the head, push the hook through the lips from bottom to top. Make sure it is very shallow so a lot of the hook is exposed and is not covered by the bait, this will make sure you get a good hook up.

Next, are the chunks. Experiment with size here, if you are missing fish on a big chunk, try using a smaller piece. To put a chunk on your hook, just slide the hook through the top part of the chunk from side to side, again not too deep, twist the hook and come back through.


Clams are an excellent bait for surf fishing and for catching striped bass in particular. You can either buy your clams from a bait shop or you can dig for them. When digging for clams, look for a coin-sized depression in the sand with water spurting out of it. Once you have found a spot where you think a clam is hiding, dig directly down and pull out the clam. Put the clam in a bucket with seawater and keep going until you have enough bait for the day.

One of the most important factors in using clams as bait is removing them from the shell, also known as ‘shucking’. To open the clam, you’ll need to carefully cut two muscles. Slide a sharp knife carefully down each side of the shell making sure not to cut the body of the clam. Once the muscles are cut, the shell should open quite easily. Once the shell is open, you will see two membranes, attached to each side of the shell, the body of the clam, and the stomach. You want to use all of this as bait and the most important part is the stomach. The stomach has all the smelly bits in it and will help attract the fish.

To remove the clam successfully from the shell, slide your knife between the top membrane and the shell and gently scrape the membrane away. Then do the same between the bottom membrane and the shell. There will be one muscle still attached to the shell in the center, carefully cut it away. At this point, the whole clam should be free from the shell and ready for rigging.

To rig the clam, take the muscle and slide it over the hook, twist it and slide it over the hook again. Repeat this until all the clam including the entrails are wrapped tightly. Then take some thin stretchy cotton, also known as clam line, and wrap it around the clam tightly and tie it off so the clam stays secure when you are casting. Do not use too much clam line as you don’t want the to fish feel or taste it.


Squid is one of the most widely used baits the world over. It is very effective and easy to buy from any bait shop or supermarket. You can use it fresh or frozen, both are just as good, and you can either fish them whole or in chunks. Remember to clean out your bait box as squid gets very smelly quickly, which is probably why it is so good to fish with.

When using a whole squid, the idea is to thread the line through the squid from the top down to the head. You do this by piercing the top with the hook, then twist the hook and come back through the squid, piercing it a bit lower down. Now gently pull the line through. Repeat this until your hook is near the eyes of the squid. Once near the eyes, you should finish by putting the hook through the eyes from one side to another. The eyes hold a lot of ink and the smell will be released in the water and attract fish. To finish off, take some elasticated cotton and bind the squid from the shank of the hook back up to the top of the squid. This will help keep the bait on the hook when you are casting.

If you are using chunks it is easier to cut the squid when it is semi-frozen. Cut the squid into inch wide chunks keeping the head. Now remove the cartilage from inside. This is a clear solid piece inside the squid, it looks a bit like plastic, and it is very hard to get the hook through. When you are ready, take your hook and go from one side to the other, then twist the hook and come back through to the side you started on, and that’s it.


Crabs are a good choice for surf fishing. There are a lot of crabs to choose from and some of the best are blue crabs, pass crabs, mole crabs, and sand crabs. You can spend some time catching them or buy them from your local bait shop. Mole crabs live in just where the sea meets the sand, amongst the breaking waves. The best way to catch them is to use a rake or a big sieve-like bucket, place it in the sand as a wave comes up the beach, let the wave come past you and the let the backwash fill your rake or bucket with sand and hopefully mole crabs.

When you rig a crab for surf fishing your biggest consideration should be where their eggs are. When a fish eats a crab, it will go for the egg section first and that is where you want your hook to be.

First of all, find the eggs. They are usually at the back of the crab on the underside and can be orangey in color. Put your hook through the underside of the crab on the opposite side of the eggs. When the hook is through the shell, twist it and bring it back through the crab to the underside. Be careful not to pierce the egg sack but make sure your hook comes right out next to it, so it is ready for when a fish bites.


There are a lot of types of worms out there and the best ones to use are bloodworms or lugworms. You should always buy these fresh and alive, your local bait shop will have them.

To rig a worm, start with the mouth end. Pinch the worm just before the mouth, this opens the mouth so you can slide the hook through it. Be careful not to let it bite you, they can give a sharp pinch. Slowly slide the hook down through the mouth and be careful not to puncture the skin. Keep going making sure the worm comes over the eye of the hook and up the line until there is about two inches left of the worm. The push the hook through ensuring the barb comes out the other side, this will help hold the bait in place. Once you have a few bites,  you can simply slide the worm down, re-hook it and go again.

Artificial Baits

Casting and retrieving artificial baits is a really fun way to catch fish and is a little more active than waiting for a fish to pick up a real bait.

Some of the best baits are

  • poppers
  • crankbaits
  • jig heads with plastic or big spoons.

Attach your bait on to the trace using a swivel or a loop knot, a perfection loop is a great knot for this and you can find directions on how to tie it here.

Wrapping Up

There are a few different types of bait out there and hopefully, you now know about the best ones and how to rig them. When you go surf fishing, make sure you have the freshest bait you can find and a range of baits with you. You can never be sure what the fish will prefer on any given day, and experimenting with different baits may just turn a slow session into an amazing one. Never leave your baits in the sea for too long, the more time they spend out there, the less attractive they will be to a fish. Make sure to put on a fresh piece every 20-30 minutes.

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