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Basic Surf Fishing Tackle and Rigging
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Rod and Reel

Just about any 6-7 foot rod from the 8-12 lb test range can catch fish in the surf on a nice fairly calm day. Many times whiting and other species are feeding just off the shore in a trough that typically forms between the shorebreak and the first sandbar maybe 30 yards offshore and the required weight needed to hold the rig in place is a 1 ounce pyramid weight. I have fished like that for years and still do because I do catch fish. In fact, if you are going to throw 1/4 ounce pompano jigs tipped with shrimp into the nearshore trough just off the shorebreak for pompano and whiting, you can use the same 7 foot spinning outfit with 8 to 12 lb test described for use in the lagoon section of this website very effectively. It's also great for using a small silver spoon when the glass minnows are in close and schools of spanish mackerel or bluefish are hounding them. Great light tackle sport!

However, if you do enough surf fishing there will come that day when a school of 50 lb tarpon or other gamefish come busting through a school of mullet 40 yards beyond your maximum casting range, and the "real" surf fishermen with real surf rods will be having the time of their lives while you stand there holding your little stick. Or the pompano that day may be feeding beyond that first offshore sandbar and if you attempt to cast there, you land instead on top of the bar. Not where you really want to be. Again the fish will be out of your range. Then there are days when the surf is fairly rough and the side currents are sweeping through the inner trough and washing all but the heaviest rigs right up on the beach, but the fish are still there and the smaller rods just can't handle the weight required to keep your bait in the water for any length of time. A good quality surf rod is designed to handle the sometimes extreme environment of surf fishing (sand, salt spray, etc). It is also designed to cast the heavier weight lures and rigs designed for fishing the surf. In addition it will have a longer butt section to allow for the wider hand placement required for distance casting and a medium to fast action. A 9 to 10 foot rod rated for 12 to 20 lb test line and a lure weight of 1-4 ounces, matched with a good quality spinning reel such as a Penn Spinfisher model 650ssm loaded with 250 yards of 15 lb test is a good start and will handle most of the conditions you will find while fishing for everything from whiting, pompano, bluefish, to snook and redfish along with many other species that patrol the shorebreak and just beyond the first bar.

For a little more reach, go to a 11 to 12 foot rod rated for 15 to 40 lb test and lure weights of 3 to 8 ounces. Match this with a Penn Spinfisher 850ssm or 950ssm filled to capacity with 20 lb test and with practice and the right casting action, you can throw your rig quite far, which may make the difference if tarpon, snook, jacks, or other gamefish are busting into schools of mullet just outside of your casting distance with the 9 ft rod.

Note; Understand that the above reccomendations are based on my experience alone regarding Penn Reels. I have used them for years and for the most part they have served me quite well. There are some other fine quality reel makers out there. Many of the opinions I have heard about the Shimano and the Okuma line of reels sound very interesting. Also, if you decide to really get serious about surf fishing, you will find that different rods of the same length will have different actions or how they react to a force on the line. A medium action rod will bend evenly from about the halfway point all the way out to the tip under stress of casting and playing a fish while a faster action will concentrate the bend more at the tip, which may be better if using artificials. There is a great Florida surf fishing forum at Florida Surf Fishing.com where you can ask questions and learn from some of the best surf anglers in the state, and its free to join.

Bait and Terminal Tackle

Surf fishing with bait requires a bit more rigging than fishing the lagoon or freshwater. This is due to the fact that you will almost never be surf fishing without wave action on the beach and you will soon find your rig being washed up on the shore before the fish you are seeking can find it. Even if it doesn't wash up it will be moving all over the place making it difficult to detect a strike. For this reason a pyramid sinker is all but mandatory. There are exceptions to this when the mullet are running along the beach and the larger gamefish in the area are in hot pursuit but that will be discussed later in this section.

First we will discuss the required terminal tackle for fishing for two of the three most popular surf caught species in this area, pompano and whiting, then later on this page we will cover bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and larger game species such as snook, tarpon, jacks, etc.

Rigging for Pompano, Whiting, Margate, Croaker, Other Bottom Feeders.
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Rod and Reel ||| Bait and Terminal Tackle ||| Rigging for Pompano , Whiting ||| Rigging for Blues, Spanish Mackerell ||| Artificials for Blues , Spanish Mackerell |||Snook , Tarpon, other large gamefish
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Sinkers; A pyramid sinker is so called because it is shaped like an upside down pyramid when attached to your line and will work very well in areas with a sandy bottom like most of the Space Coast beaches. After the cast it will drop through the water column and anchor itself in the sand. This will allow you the chance to take up the slack and feel a bite. They come in sizes from 1-6 ounces or more. I usually use the smallest pyramid sinker that will keep the rig on the bottom with my line tight enough to feel a strike. This will be based on three things, casting distance desired, wave conditions and the pound test rating of the line you are using. On many of our beaches the fish are not really that far out, feeding within a trough that forms just beyond the shorebreak at high tide, but the heavier the line you are using combined with the wave action can also dictate weight requirements, as heavier line, being thicker, provides more resistance to wave action. If fishing with lighter line of about 12 lb test in fairly calm conditions, start with a one ounce sinker. With 20 lb test, 2 ounces, and work from there.

Hooks; I use two different hooks for surf fishing depending on the primary target(s).
If Pompano are the primary target, and they are running strong use a size 1/0 circle hook. Pompano typically are cruising along the beach faster than the other species caught with the bottom rig and take the baits at a faster rate in order to keep up with the school. These hooks help to reduce gut hooking and actually have a higher hookup ratio than a regular "J" style hook. The secret to using circle hooks is to not "set" the hook with a sharp pull during a strike like you would a "J" hook. Pressure on the line as the fish grabs the bait and tries to swim off will usually set the hook for you.
If Whiting is the primary target, or the surf fishing is more of a mixed bag with margate, croakers and other bottom feeders in the mix, use a standard #2 size "J" style hook. For these species I believe a circle hook offers no real advantages as these fish tend to be more "stationary" feeders, or feed at a slower pace. You will have to "set" the hook for these species with a sharp upward sweep of the rod tip as you feel them on the bait. Using this type of hook does not stop you from catching pompano, it just that when using a circle hook during a pompano run you will have a higher hookup ratio for pompano, but a lower one for the whiting and other species. Just below is a series of step by step instructions for making a standard pompano or whiting surf fishing rig and works well with both hook styles.

This rig requires one or two hooks, based on your preferences, and a pyramid sinker. For pompano, whiting and most of the other species you will likely catch using baits for these species a leader is not usually required so it can be tied directly on the end of the fishing line. It consists of one or two dropper loop knots (A) positioned about 12 inches apart with the lower one being about 12 inches above the weight. End loops (B) compress the dropper loop and help to secure the hook, while the weight is tied on with an improved clinch knot (C). You can also tie a snap swivel in place of the weight and attach the weight with the snap to allow for faster weight changes. The knots for the dropper loops (A) should be spaced about 12 inches apart and the bottom one about twelve inches from the weight when finished. With practice this can be rigged in about a minute or so. Instructions for each knot are just below and I find it easier to do if the weight (C) is tied on first.
The Improved Clinch Knot (C above) is a real basic knot used to tie hooks, swivels, weights, etc. to the end of the line whether fishing in freshwater for bass and bluegill, or in the lagoon for reds and trout. I don't use it for artificial lures because it impedes the action of the lure too much. When surf fishing I use it to tie pyramid sinkers to form the bottom of a surf rig. As mentioned above, I find it easier to start here first, then work your way up.
Step 1. To tie it, just put the end of the line through the eye of the hook or lure about eight inches, then while holding the line on both sides of the hook with one hand, twist the hook or lure about eight times. Then put the end of the line through the little loop of line just above the hook and route it through the upper loop you just formed.

Step 2. Pull the line leading back to your pole to tighten.

The Dropper Loop
To make a drop loop, after attaching a pyramid sinker to the end of your line using the improved clinch knot above, Grab a the line about 1 foot above the sinker with your right hand and another section about 1 1/2 feet above your right hand with your left.

Step 1. Bring them together so that the line between your hands form a loop.

Step 2. Then using your index fingers to keep a small separation between the lines twist the lines around each other three or four times and put the loop you have formed between the separation at your index fingers.

Step 3. Using your third hand, (mouth, big toe, whatever) keep the loop from pulling back through the separation while using your real hands to pull outward, tightening the knot.

Step 4. The resulting loop should be about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Grab the base of the loop (near the knot) between you thumb and index fingers and run them outward along the loop compressing it. Once you have found the true end of the dropper you are ready to make the end loop (below) to attach the hook. If you wish to make a two hook rig, repeat steps 1-4 about 12 inches above the first dropper.

The End Loop is used to keep the larger drop loop somewhat compressed while you fish.

Step 1. Bring the end of the drop loop around and over the rest of the drop and through the resulting loop. Don't tighten it but position the new loop so the knot will be about 2 inches from the end.

Step 2. Put the end through the loop again.

Step 3. Hold the dropper on either side of the knot and pull apart to tighten.

To attach the hook, compress the end loop, put it through the eye of the hook, then spread the loop and put entire hook through the loop, pull line to tighten. One advantage of this rig over most pre-made rigs from a tackle shop is that changing the hook for the species available is easy. Simply push the loop back through the eye of the hook, loop the line from over the hook and replace with the another hook.

Fishing the Coquina Ridges; When fishing from Patrick Air Force Base south to Indialantic, you will encounter coquina ridges that form a reef structure. These areas are harder to fish due to the high probability of snagging on the rocks but can be worth the effort. These ridges and the Sabellariid Worm Reefs that form upon them can greatly increase the variety of fish found in the area. Margates, whiting, pompano, croakers, sailers choice, sheepshead, black drum, redfish, and snook all patrol these ridges looking for smaller fish and crustaceans that hide among the ridges just like they would a coral reef. Many of these ridges will be exposed at low tide (If they haven't been covered by truckloads of sand during beach re-nourishment projects). The Bank Weight Rig, (pictured below) will decrease the probability of snagging, but will not entirely eliminate it. It can be made using the instructions for the pyramid sinker rig (above) simply by replacing the pyramid sinker with a bank sinker (below). However, there is an option that will negate the need to replace the entire rig should the sinker become snagged in the rocks. You can also go to using lighter wire hooks. That way if the hook snags on something you may be able to pull hard enough to straighten the hook out, pulling your rig free. Then you can restore the bend with a pair of pliers and continue fishing.

To make a Sinker Break away option for a bank weight surf fishing rig you need four items. First of all you need a small spool of cheap fishing line that tests less than the line spooled on your fishing reel. For instance if you are fishing with 20 # line, get a small cheap spool of 12 # line. The other three items are a bank sinker (far left), a three way swivel (near left), and a hook.

Step One; Trim a 16 inch length of fishing line from your reel and tie to one eye of the three way swivel.
Step Two; Trim a 20 inch length of line from the lighter test spool of leader material, tie this to another eye of the swivel.
Step Three; Tie the third eye of the swivel to your fishing line from reel.
Step Four; Tie a bank weight to the other end of the lighter line from step two.
Step Five; Tie hook to the other end of the heavier line


Interesting note; Recently at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, it was a very calm day and low tide. I decided to fish with my 7 ft 8 lb test rig. Even though the bottom was sand where I normally use a 1 ounce pyramid sinker, I used instead a 1 ounce bank sinker as I didn't really need the holding power of a pyramid. At the first tap of a whiting or croaker hit, I would begin reeling slowly, dragging the rig along the bottom, and continue until I felt the firm pull of a fish on the line. I didn't have to set the hook once and caught almost every fish that hit.

Baits; Now that your surf rod is rigged, you are ready to bait the hooks and cast out. For pompano, whiting, croaker, margate, black drum, etc. fresh cut shrimp, fresh caught sandfleas, and fresh cut clams all work. Its easiest to just buy a package of frozen shrimp and they do work but fresh live shrimp is better if the fish are being finicky. Cut the shrimp into pieces about the size your index finger from the tip to the first knuckle and string a single piece on the hook.

Die hard pompano fans swear by sandfleas (mole crabs) fresh caught at the shoreline of the beach, after all, its why the pompano are there in the first place. Bait shops do sell frozen sand fleas but fresh is definitely better and they aren't hard to catch. Stand at the waters edge where the waves rush up the sand after they break on the beach. As the break water recedes back into the sea a colony of sand fleas will reveal themselves by leaving a patch of tiny V shaped ripples in the water with the point of the V in the direction the water is coming from. Check this out and upon closer inspection you will see what looks like little antenna protruding up from the sand. Get too close and they will disappear into the sand. The sandfleas are buried just under the sand with filter feeding apparatus extending up into the water catching microorganisms for food. Back off and let the next wave come in. As it washes out and the patch reappears, rush in, scoop up as much sand in your hands as you can and throw it up on the beach. If successful you will see these guys scurrying around and trying to dig back into the sand. Grab them (they can't hurt you, no pinchers) and place them in a bucket with some water and sand. Die hards use a device called a sand flea rake which is a rectangular wire mesh basket attached to a pole with a blade along one edge for digging into the sand. They pull this like a hoe, filling up the basket with sand which washes through the mesh, leaving the crabs. Another option is to use a plastic 5 gallon bucket with many 1/4 inch diameter holes drilled into the bottom and lower sides. With a shovel, scoop sand into the bucket and then lower the bottom of the bucket into the water to strain the sand. Once you have enough to fish with, insert the hook through the top of the shell near the back of the crab and thread the point forward into the body.

Fishing with this rig and feeling the strike; It is important after you have cast your rig into the surf to keep a tight line to detect a strike. Many people use a sand spike which is a hollow tube of PVC or metal sharpened to a point on one end. Push or hammer the sharpened end into the sand until it is secure and the butt of a rod can be placed in it. Other's prefer to hold the rod themselves. Either way, the slack line after the cast must be reeled in for you to have any chance of detecting a strike. If holding the rod, I will keep the index finger of my rod hand on the line just in from to the reel. As a wave rolls in you will feel the line tighten as a wave rolls in, and then relax after the wave has broken on the beach. A strike will feel much different as a series of sharp irregular "taps" on your line. If using a sand spike, cast the line, place the butt end of the rod into the spike, then turn the reel handle to take up the slack until the wave action can be seen in the rod tip. You will see the tip bow to each incoming wave and then straighten as the wave crashes. A hit will result in the rod bowing over with a distinct pulsating action. If using the "J" hook, grab rod and set the hook with a sharp upward or back sweep of the tip. If it's a pompano on a circle hook rig, fish is on.
Pompano Jigs; Pompano jigs can be very effective for pompano and whiting. Pompano jigs typically are round headed with a relatively short bucktail or nylon tail and come in sizes ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. Tip the hook with a small piece of cut shrimp and fished with a standard 8 to 12 lb test spinning outfit it will catch most of the species that the above described surf rig can catch. Cast and retrieve by bumping the jig along the sandy bottom and it will put up little puffs of sand, attracting pompano.
Rigging for Bluefish
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Rod and Reel ||| Bait and Terminal Tackle ||| Rigging for Pompano , Whiting ||| Rigging for Blues, Spanish Mackerell ||| Artificials for Blues , Spanish Mackerell |||Snook , Tarpon, other large gamefish
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For Bluefish, a leader is essential. It is easiest to buy a pre-made rig designed for them available at virtually any local tackle shop. They will include the hook(s) and have a snap at the bottom for attaching a pyramid sinker. But they can also be readily made. There are several configurations that can be used, and none of them are very difficult to make. This is probably the easiest.
Step one; Slide a sinker slide onto the end of your tag line (line from reel). This will allow the attachment of the pyramid sinker to your line. This also allows live bait, if you decide to use it, to swim away from the sinker if you provide some slack in your line, to provide a more natural presentation.
Step two; Thread a small plastic bead that is larger than the diameter of the plastic sleeve of the sinker slide onto your tag line. This is called a stopper bead. You will want this between the sinker slide and the hook rigging in order to ensure that the sinker does not slide all the way down over the hook leader and interfere with the bait.
Step three; Tie the swivel end of a wire leader snelled 3/0 hook, (Eagle Claw model 9140 Snell, size 3/0 hook is a good choice) to tag line. Use an improved clinch knot (above). The wire leader will prevent a bluefish or other toothy fish from biting through the line. While I normally discourage the use of wire leaders for many species, it doesn't seem to deter bluefish at all.
Step four; Attach appropriate sized pyramid sinker to snap on sinker slide. The sinker (and the bead) should now be able to slide away from the hook rig but not able to get past the knot attaching the leader. I would normally start with about a two to three ounce weight and move up if conditions prove to be too rough. You want to be able to keep some tension on the line in order to detect a strike without dislodging the sinker from the sand. This sinker is designed to implant itself into the sand after the cast in order to provide holding power.
Step five; Bait hook with cut mullet, finger mullet (alive or dead) and cast into nearest ocean.
Additional Notes; You can substitute a Berkely or other style steel leader for the wire snell rig in step three. These have a swivel on one end and a snap on the other end. Use the snap to attach a hook. If you go this route use a size 3/O O'Shaughnessy style hook. I also recommend a leader of at least 18 inches. The pre-snelled wire leader hooks are a bit better in my opinion because it reduces the amount of visible terminal tackle in the rig by one snap, making the leader a little harder for wary fish to detect. This rig can also be use to fish a live finger mullet hooked just behind the dorsal fin and just might be the difference on whether a Spanish mackerel will hit the bait or not. Spanish Mackerel will take live bait but only rarely dead bait. They also prefer cleaner water and are much warier than bluefish, which will attack just about anything when in feeding mode.

Artificial lures for bluefish and Spanish Mackerel

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Rod and Reel ||| Bait and Terminal Tackle ||| Rigging for Pompano , Whiting ||| Rigging for Blues, Spanish Mackerell ||| Artificials for Blues , Spanish Mackerell |||Snook , Tarpon, other large gamefish
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For this section, I've included both bluefish and Spanish mackerel due to the fact that they will both hit pretty much the same lures. If they are in pretty close to shore the standard 8-12 lb test spinning outfit used in the lagoon will be a great outfit for casting lures to these species. Where I recommend a wire leader for using bait for bluefish, I am going to recommend about a two foot section of 25 lb test monofilament for this type of fishing. When using bait, the bluefish is more likely to engulf the entire bait and the leader will be in contact with sharp teeth longer. With lures, the hookup is faster and the body of the lure will take the brunt of the abuse with the mono leader providing extra insurance. Using a wire leader with a lure will definitely cut down on strikes, especially with the mackerel. You still may lose a lure or two but that's the sacrifice made for actually catching one.
Krocodile Spoon by Luhr Jensen; As mentioned in the lagoon tackle section of this website, the Krocodile Spoon is my all time favorite lure and has been a consistent producer for me since I moved to Florida in 1967. They come in a variety of sizes from 3/8 ounces to 1-1/2 ounces and my favorites are the 3/8 and 1/2 ounce sizes used with 8 to 12 lb test line spinning tackle. Go with larger surf tackle when using the larger size lures. Retrieve these fast to imitate a panicked baitfish and it will draw attention and stimulate a chase response. Fast predatory fish like bluefish, and Spanish mackerel are used to having to chase down their prey and when supposedly live prey does not flee when they approach, they get suspicious.)
The Got-cha jig by Sea Striker Lures has long been a favorite for bluefish and Spanish mackerel along Space Coast Beaches and the inlet areas. Retrieve them with a series of jerks with the rod. Comes in both plastic (series 100) and metal (series 300) bodies. Get the metal for greater durability. Comes in both an undressed version (shown) and a "dressed" version with a bucktail rear end and a rigid mounted single rigid mounted hook.

Rapala Saltwater Skitter Pop; Cast into a school of bluefish feeding on the surface and this plug and other similar plugs like the Mirrolure Popa Dog will almost certainly draw a strike. Cast and retrieve with a series of rod pumps to create a surface commotion that will draw predatory fish from a distance.

Tackle for Tarpon, Snook in the Surf
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Rod and Reel ||| Bait and Terminal Tackle ||| Rigging for Pompano , Whiting ||| Rigging for Blues, Spanish Mackerell ||| Artificials for Blues , Spanish Mackerell |||Snook , Tarpon, other large gamefish
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Tarpon in the surf is some of the most exciting fishing there is, as long as you have the proper tackle. Of the three classes of spinning rods described above you would definitely want to use the larger 10-12 foot rod and a reel filled to capacity with good quality line. A tarpon is a big strong fish and the fight will likely last a while if you're lucky. Rigging is simple. To the tag end of your line attach a strong barrel swivel, and then about 6 ft of 80 lb test monofilament shock leader. Attach a 6/0 circle hook to the end of the leader. Hook a live mullet through the upper lip to allow it to breath. A dead mullet will also attract tarpon and can be hooked through the eyes. Do not use a weight of any kind. When hooked, a tarpon will jump, shaking his head in an attempt to throw the hook. A weight attached to the line will increase his odds of doing so. When the jump occurs, bow the rod to the fish. It will likely be too large for you to throw off balance when he jumps and keeping pressure on the line will give the fish the advantage he needs, so as it jumps, point the rod at the fish and reapply pressure after the jump. Best fishing for tarpon is during higher tidal phases that coincide with first light.
Snook can often often patrol the surf and will chase the mullet schools as they pass through. They also have a fondness for live croakers and as such, if you catch any on your bottom rig you now have a great live bait for snook. Fish either live mullet or a live croaker on a size 4/0 circle hook tied to at least a 40 lb test leader. This can be fished with a sliding egg sinker. Just thread a sliding egg sinker onto the tag line, (line from reel) then follow it with a small plastic bead. Then using an albright knot attach the line to the leader. The plastic bead should keep the sinker from sliding all the way to the hook. If you wish to try artificials try the previously mentioned Krocodile Spoon or the Rapala Skitter Pop mentioned for bluefish. Other lures, some of which are listed below will work as well. Snook fishing, like tarpon fishing will be best at first light, and at higher tides. The snook will be feeding in the "trough" just outside the surf line.
Bucktail jigs have long been a standard for snook in the area. Unlike using a jig head with plastic tails, bucktail jigs have a breathing action due to the hair of the jig reacting to the water which can create a lifelike look to a gamefish. The High Tide B52 jig shown at left comes in sizes ranging from 1/2 ounce all the way up to 6 ounces. For snook in the surf, try anything from the 1/2 ounce to about 2 ounces. Some of the best colors to try are are white, pink, and chartreuse.

Snook love jumbo shrimp and this is one of the most realistic shrimp lures out there. While for the lagoon I typically recommend the 3 inch model, here in the surf I would go with either the 4 inch 1/2 half ounce model or the 6 inch one ounce model. Comes in a variety of colors, try the chartreuse or the Root beer color.

The Rapala Magnum is one of the great all time saltwater lures for large fish and come in both sinking and floating diving models. The floating model is 7 inches long, 1-1/2 ounces, and has a plastic lip. The sinking models start at 4-3/8 inches in length (7/8 oz.) and range to 10-1/2 inches (4-1/2 oz). I would recommend that for surf fishing, the floating models would be the better choice, especially if casting these over the coquina ridges of the Satellite Beach, Indian Harbour Beach and Indialantic areas.
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