Saltwater Fishing Tips

Guide to Surf Fishing Gear

Fisherman surf fishing at sunset

It’s the sun, sand and water that draws most to the coast for vacation fun, but beneath the ocean’s roar another siren song plays. Anglers by the thousands answer that call each year. Surf fishing is one of the most popular types of saltwater fishing. If you’re among those who’ve never fished from the beach, getting started is easy and takes only 10 surf fishing essentials.

Fisherman in Calcutta shirt casting surf fishing rod

Learning how to surf fish is easy when you have the right gear.


Surf Rod with Reach

The demands and stress that calm inland waters put on rods, reels and tackle pale by comparison to those encountered at the beach. Casts are longer and tide, waves and current push light weights around like a schoolyard bully looking for lunch money.

Getting bait to where fish feed, and keeping it there, requires a heavy weight. On a calm day with ideal conditions, you might get away with a single ounce. More often than not, expect to use two to three times that heft. Those loads are well above most freshwater rod ratings. Surf fishing rods, by design, thrive through that structural stress.

They also meet the increased-cast-distance challenge with a longer length—usually at least twice that of their freshwater counterparts. The increased rotational velocity builds more momentum in that heavier weight and delivers bait to fish depth with ease. Good luck doing that with your 6-foot trout rod.  




Matching Surf Reel

A rugged surf-fishing reel is also mandatory. Spinning reels are a surf favorite, and not just because their operation is a familiar one that’s beginner friendly. Spinning reels perform reliably and stand up to shoreline abuse. 

Bear in mind, however, they must spool enough line to outlast those long runs made by the big fish hiding just past the breakers. The line, at minimum, must also be matched to the quarry and anticipated conditions—think 20-pound test, at least.


LEARN MORE: Guide to Picking the Best Fishing Line

Surf fishing rod and reel combo at pier on beach

Spinning reels make a great option for surf fishing. 


Easier Yet—Get a Surf Combo

The easiest solution, and usually the most economical, is to select one of the pre-matched, saltwater rod-and-reel combos available today. Manufacturers carefully balance the rod and reel for surf fishing, often pre-spooling the reel with enough line to tire the hardest fighting fish.

The Seahawk Surf Combo from Calcutta Outdoors is one of the best options today. With a graphite spool, ball bearing drive and T-handle, operation is glassy smooth and the reel comes wearing 20-pound test. Its 12-foot length makes casting surf fishing rigs and lures almost effortless and ceramic line guides minimize distance-robbing friction as it pays out. The rod is made from a rugged, white fiberglass blank and it disassembles into three, easy-to-transport sections.


Tackle Bag

You’re also going to need to tote bait, weights, hooks and other terminal tackle to the water’s edge. There are a variety of solutions available today, but bear in mind freshwater, drawers-aplenty tackle boxes aren’t surfside ideal. Those hard sides can make for a cumbersome parking lot commute. Soft-sided models with shoulder straps are ideal for that walk, which somehow seems so much longer at the end of the day.

If you’re really hauling gear consider a backpack version—like the Calcutta Squall Tackle Backpack—one with enough volume to carry water, beverages and a snack or two. The priority, though, is keeping things organized. Time on the beach shouldn’t be lost to untangling leaders, hooks and line.


LEARN MORE: Best Fishing Tackle Storage Systems


Bait Knife

A good bait knife is also essential gear. Check fishing reports and ask around before heading to the beach and if fresh or frozen bait has been the hot menu item, it will need slicing and dicing.

The swizzle stick that came in your morning espresso won’t get it done. It also won’t handle those unanticipated chores, like trimming line—but a sharp bait knife will.

Surf fishing sand spike with bait knife on beach

Fishing with fresh or frozen bait requires the right bait knife.

Sand Spike/Rod Holder

Holding a 10- or 12-foot fishing rod when the bite’s slow is fatiguing. Experienced surf fishermen, always bring a sand spike or rod holder for that reason.

Sand spikes are convenient, driving into the sand with ease. They are also inexpensive, last for years and make a wise investment that allows you to enjoy the salt air while waiting for the dinner bell to ring.



Fishing Chair

A beach chair is also a key comfort ingredient. Yes, you can sit or lay on the sand and chill, but you’re adding distance and effort each time you get up to check the rod or re-bait. Worse yet, the odds of missing a bite increase.

Relaxing in a Calcutta Outdoors beach chair

A beach chair provides a comfortable place to wait for the bite.

Sun Protection

Even if you’re planning to work the surf exclusively at dawn and dusk, sun protection is critical. That starts with sunscreen. Remember, the water reflects those damaging rays, potentially doubling their effect. Application early and often is the best medicine. 

Wear sunglasses, a hat and clothing that breathes while minimizing UV exposure. Today’s high-performance fabrics and coatings do an incredible job and look good doing it. Calcutta’s Long Sleeve Performance Hoodie in Mossy Oak Cloudbank is a great example of what’s available today.


LEARN MORE: How Performance Shirts Protect You from the Sun


Soft Cooler

Not all tackle bags have spare room for drinks and snacks. If yours is tight on space, consider adding a soft-sided cooler to your kit. When the day’s been a productive one, you’ll also need a way to keep that catch cool, fresh and haul it back to the vehicle.



Miscellaneous Items

Needle nose pliers or a pair designed specifically for fishing are also a must. An appropriate pair of gloves isn’t a bad idea, either, particularly when you’re new to surf fishing. 

And don’t forget to charge that smartphone, ensure the camera is working and bring it along. Even if you release that big catch, there’s no reason to let the memory fade away forever.


Surf and Beach Cart

How are you going to get all this stuff from your vehicle to the water’s edge? Easy—you load it in a surf and beach cart. Fishing carts with balloon tires, such as the Sea Striker Balloon Tire Fishing Cart, are designed to move all your fishing gear across soft and loose sand beaches. Surf carts feature multiple rod holders and the ability to hold up to a 55-quart cooler, plus additional gear. They save you valuable time and energy, allowing you to focus on what matters most—the fishing.



More Resources

Best Fishing Tackle Storage Systems

Guide to Picking the Best Fishing Line

How to Fillet a Fish

The One that Got Away: Six Ways that Anglers Lose Fish

Essential Fishing Tools for Your Tackle Box

Fisherman’s Guide to Pliers

Strategies to Optimize Your Fishing Tackle Storage

How to Spool a Fishing Reel

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