In this article, I will be sharing my top 3 rigs with baits to catch fish in the surf. From surf perch to striped bass & halibut. I’m also going to share my journey and how fishing for largemouth bass helped me with presenting these baits to predatory surf fish and increase the chances of hooking up.
I grew up pier fishing and surf fishing in the late ’90s and early 2000s for food with my dad. In 2012, I started a bass fishing channel on YouTube and learned so much. It was all catch and release fishing for largemouth bass. Fast forward to 2016, I met my wife- who is a pescatarian (she only eats fish). Needless to say, the catch and release days are all but over and instead of buying preprocessed fish at the store, why not have fun while putting food on the table. I enjoyed sharing our journey with, what has now grown to a great YouTube community and a Facebook group known as Hook2Cook and Hook2cook Family. The techniques I picked up in bass fishing have not been a waste! Here are some species for you to target from the surf while using the bass techniques that work on them!
The first fish I targeted to put food on the table was the barred surfperch. These fish can be found up and down the west coast. They are so much fun to catch because they really know how to use their tall bodies against the surf to really pull on that line!
The bass technique that can produce quality, as well as quantity is the Carolina Rig. You can use anything from the Gulp sandworm to grubs, small paddle tail swimbaits like the crappie slider, or a true bass lure- the Z-Man Crusteaz.
Let’s focus on the Z-Man Crusteaz. What makes this bait so effective in the surf is the look. It resembles a sand crab- which is a staple in the perch diet. It is also made of elaztech- which is arguably the most durable soft plastic baits made. One downside, you cannot store this bait with other soft plastics, it will create a chemical reaction that will melt them together in a slimy sticky mess (I’e heard)….
When throwing the Carolina Rig I use is a spinning setup that can cast 1-2oz sliding weight, with 8lb line going to a 6lb leader. I like the leader to be long- about 5 feet to let the bait move freely in the current and look as natural as possible. I like to use a size 2 or 4 straight shank worm hook- to keep the bait straight and I add a drop of superglue to the shank to keep the bait attached. With this tip, you can literally use one bait through the whole session and catch a whole limit just using one bait!
The retrieval method is as slow as you can bring the bait in, while keeping the line tight. You should be able to feel pressure as the fish picks it up and starts to move away.
The next bass technique is using a jerk bait in the surf. This is very effective for all the surf species mentioned above- perch, striped bass and halibut. The Calissa 110 or Lucky Craft flash minnow are hard to beat. It’s a lure that perfectly mimics the small baitfish you can find in the surf zone. Usually, when these types of baitfish are in the surf zone, they are easy targets. They are susceptible to injury in the crashing waves and those surf predators see our lures as easy pickings.
Don’t just depend on a straight retrieve with this lure. If the current allows, impart pauses, twitches, and allow the lure to pause as the waves pull back on it. There are two mistakes anglers often make when fishing with these lures. One is not closing the bale immediately before the lure hits the water on a cast. When done correctly, you don’t have to make up slack in the line by winding your reel and your lure immediately dives. Otherwise, your lure will be getting pushed in by the next wave and you’re not able to maximize the full length of the retrieve. The next common mistake is rushing the end of the retrieve, especially when a wave is catching up behind your lure at the end of a retrieve. If you see a wave coming behind your lure, it is possible to slow or stop the lure. You begin by raising the rod tip, letting the wave come over it, and start the retrieve again. I’ve caught countless perch and striped bass in this zone, utilizing this method. The old me would have just rushed the retrieve to move on to the next cast.
For jerk baits, I prefer a salmon steelhead rod 8-10 ft with a lure rating of 1/4oz-3/4oz paired to a 3000-4000 size reel. 30LB braid to a 25LB leader joined by an FG knot (I know this sounds like overkill, but when you’re whipping a $20 lure, you’ll want that extra security.) Plus 30Lb braid is close to the same diameter as 10LB monofilament line. From the leader to the lure, I use a 50# tactical angler clip to easily swap lures out.
Bonus: If you anticipate catching bigger fish with this lure, swap out the stock hooks with VMC size 4, 4x strong hooks, and only run the front and back hook. Remove the middle treble to reduce snags and keep the lure around the same stock weight, the 4x strong hooks are heavier than the stock hooks.
The final technique I will share with you is geared toward halibut. It’s possible to catch them with a faster-moving lure like the Calissa or Lucky Craft. However, when the fish are holding tight to the bottom and won’t chase, the Dropshot is my favorite method to get finicky halibut to bite. The biggest advantage to the drop shot is the ability to create action in a small area and keep the lure in the strike zone longer. You want to work this rig in calmer waters, let the rig hit the bottom, and basically twitch your slack with the rod tip in one area. No bite? Drag the bait a few feet and repeat until you work the area intended.
The setup I use is a 7-8ft Medium-heavy casting rod rated up to 4 oz, with a 200-300 sized saltwater-rated casting reel. I use the same line set up as the jerk bait. My preferred soft plastic is a white zoom super fluke with a 4/0 offset worm hook to keep the presentation weedless. I like to use a 1oz torpedo sinker, with the bait about 9 inches up the line.
Tip: Halibut love to be around grass and structure. Exposed hooks can get snagged and fouled.
All in all, I’m no different than any angler. Taking a little bit of knowledge from here and there along my fishing journey, and evolving those techniques to different species and conditions. By far, the techniques I’ve learned from largemouth bass have translated very well on the surf. Cheers until the next time.
Written By: Edward Tomilloso