Peninsula Fly Fishers

Surf Fishing 101

by Doug Weber

March 2002

What Does It Take To Fish In The Surf?

Successful fishing in the surf does not include catchingundefinedit means you can come home safely. Proper preparation for the surf includes: equipment, flies, investigation, timing, and reading the water.

Surf Zone

This is the water from six inches to four feet deep. Most surf species are opportunistic feeders, especially targeting small crustaceans. We wade in surf only up to to mid-thigh. The surf zone includes tide pools, but in most circumstances, you will not have to wade the pools in order to catch fish.


You can use anywhere from a 6 to 9 weight fly rod in the surf. Most surf species are smaller, and a rod with muscle in the butt section will be able to handle an occasional opportunistic larger fish. The distances you will cast are normally up to sixty feet. Beyond that distance you are wasting energy. Most catching is done as the lure is tumbling in a range of six to twelve inches from the bottom.

Lines can be floating, sink-tip, full-sink, and shooting-heads. A sink-tip works well in the surf. If you will be throwing the line into a hole, where there is a deeper bottom, a sink-tip or full-sinking line may be best. Leaders are minimal in the surf. You can use a short, heavy butt-section with a two-foot tippet, total length about five feet. Otherwise, use a two or three foot tippet on the end of your line. The fish are NOT leader shy.

Waders are a must, unless you wish to wear a wetsuit while fishing. Boot-foot waders, if you have them, seem to work best. If you only have stocking-foot waders, protect the foot with a plastic bag as you put it in the boot. The bag will keep sand from abrading the wader's boot foot inside your boot. You can also wear flats booties with collars to keep out the sand. Wear a raincoat over the top of the waders. If there are breathing holes and flaps, duct tape them closed, to keep the water OUT. Put a towel around your neck under the raincoat. Duct tape the arm closured closed. Bring a change of clothing and a dry towel.


  • Crazy Charlie in bright colors and weighted heavily, from size 6 to 2
  • Pacific mole crab imitations in size 6 to 2
  • small, red crappie tube jigs
  • Surf Percher red or orange in sizes 8 to 4
  • Ken Hanley's Crab Creature in size 2 to 0/2
  • There are other options, but these work well in our coasts.


It seems that anytime you can get to the beach and fish the surf is a good time. Fish are more wary during daylight hours. Dusk or dawn is a prime feeding time, so try them. A low tide combined with low light conditions may be best. Try fishing the incoming tide beginning at dawn and continuing for three or four hours.

Reading The Water

Talk with for a longer explanation. We look for depressions in the beach. These funnel food, so fish will be there. We also cast from shallower to deeper water.

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