Start with these three simple surf rigs and tweak the details to suit your surf scenario.
I love fishing bait in the surf. Just seeing a sand-spiked rod bend deeply toward the waves is enough to get my heart beating fast, even before I make the 5-meter dash across the sand to set the hook.
When setting out to dunk some bait in the surf, just as important as deciding which bait you’ll be throwing is deciding what kind of rig you’ll be presenting it on. There are two main options available, but you’ll need to tailor your rig to the location, the time of year and bait, and you will undoubtedly hook and land more fish.
The simplest rig out there is the fish-finder rig. This rig simply consists of a leader with a hook and a barrel swivel tied to the main line behind a fish-finder weight slide. This rig is well suited for presenting large pieces of bait, because an angler can “drop back” to a biting fish and give it time to ingest the bait. Fish-finder rigs can be effective for everything from fluke to brown sharks, but you’ll want to adjust your hook size and style and your leader length to the fish you’re targeting. Remember, the longer the leader, the more wind resistance, and the less casting distance you’ll be able to achieve.
With fluke, casting distance is rarely an issue, as these fish will generally set up shop right in the breakers. I’ve seen ospreys pluck fluke out of only inches of water at the surfline. For these fish, I’ll use a long leader of about 30 inches to allow the bait to flutter and entice the hungry flatfish.
When it comes to fishing stripers, the location will determine the length of the leader. If a long cast is needed to reach the fish, leaders can be as short as 6 inches (red drum surfcasters down south fish leaders even shorter than that). This will keep the weight and the bait close together during the cast, allowing you to get the maximum distance. If the bass aren’t far from shore, leaders from 24 to 30 inches will work best. Though this isn’t always the case, I usually find myself using a longer leader with clams and a shorter leader with bunker. This is because when I’m fishing clams, I never want my bait too far beyond the breakers, because this zone is where the wave activity will naturally break up the shellfish, and bass prowling through this area are often looking for an easy meal of crushed clams. The longer leader will also allow the clam and its trailing pieces to be washed around with the swell, which is a more natural look for the bait.
This rig is well suited for presenting large pieces of bait, because an angler can “drop-back” to a biting fish. Fish-finder rigs can be effective for everything from brown sharks to fluke, but you’ll want to adjust your hook size and style and your leader length to the fish you’re targeting. Remember, the longer the leader, the more wind resistance, and the less casting distance you’ll be able to achieve.
With bunker, depending on the location, a little extra distance usually helps, so I pin the weight right on top of the bait. I find it less important for the bunker to be moving about on the bottom, especially since too much motion might cause the bait to spin, which will look unnatural and unappealing to cruising stripers.
When targeting big bluefish, wire leaders are often necessary to prevent bite-offs. With sharks, a wire leader is absolutely necessary, in conjunction with a long heavy-duty mono- filament leader to protect against the shark’s sandpaper skin.
This rig is used by anglers hoping to double their odds by presenting two hooked baits off the same rig. Unlike the fish-finder rig, where the weight is above the hook, in a high/low rig the hooks are spaced out above the weight. The obvious advantage to this rig is the ability to offer two baits at once, but the down- side is having a fixed weight. Whereas an angler using a fish-finder rig is able to drop back to a biting fish and feed it line without having to worry about it feeling the weight, anglers fishing a high/low rig need to set the hook quickly or risk the fish dropping the bait after feeling the unnatural tension from the weight. For this reason, high/low rigs are more effective with smaller, softer baits such as clams or worms.
High/low rigs are great options for early- or late-season stripers, small bluefish or scup. Hooks will depend, of course on the species. For stripers, I like baitholder or octopus-style hooks with the clams and worms. For scup, tiny Aberdeen hooks are the ticket to presenting worms to these feisty panfish.
They also allow you the chance for a double-header, and decrease the odds of having your bait stolen. When tied properly, it should remain tangle- free. Using straight-shanked hooks, as opposed to hooks with down-turned eyes, will reduce tangling.
Whole Mullet Rig
This contraption is quite popular with anglers to our south when targeting big bluefish in the surf. The styrofoam float keeps the bait floating off the bottom, where it’s easier for fish to find, and harder for the crabs. To rig a whole mullet, remove the double hook, push the wire down the center of the bait and out the vent, then re-attach the hook. This rig is perfect for fish like bluefish that are notorious for hitting the tails of baitfish.
For more surfcasting tips and know-how, check out Surfcaster: The Ultimate Surfcasting Guide by William “Doc” Muller.