Sandy beaches are a big summer attraction for those who live in or near, or visit, coastal communities. Most hit the beach in hordes at the height of the day to soak up the sun and splash in the surf. Others prefer the off hours, not only for the solitude, but for the sport. The reel action starts when the sun sits low or is absent altogether, the beaches clear, and the crowds now form just beyond the breaking waves. Here are a few tips if you want to hit the beach during off hours.

Saltwater Fishing for First Timers 


Rod and Reel - Most any spin-casting outfit will work for surf fishing but there are certain set-ups better suited to the task. Surf rods are typically longer - 7, 8 or 9 feet - depending on the conditions or type of fishing you plan to do. A fast action 7' rod might be better suited for smaller fish in estuaries, and lighter lures. An 8' fast action rod is better suited to medium lures - up to 30 ounces - while a medium to heavy 9' is a better choice for the open beach, heavier lures or bigger fish. For flyrods, a 9 for 9 should get the job done.

In any case, you’ll want a rod with a long, stiff butt, but a soft tip. The latter will help you slingshot plugs and lures longer distances while also better revealing a soft bite on a bait rig. The former also helps with launching lures and battling bigger fish. In addition to giving greater leverage during the cast, long butts also provide a sturdier base when using sand spikes - basically a length of PVC tube with an angled cut on one end to drive into the stand and hold your rod when bait fishing. The most popular reel for surf fishing is an open-face spin-casting type in the 3000-5000 class, depending on the situation.

Line - Braided line allows you to go heavier than you could with monofilament or flourocarbon, and you’ll want to go heavy because you never know what might bite your hook. Stripers can get up to 40 or even 50 pounds and sharks bigger still. Somewhere in the range of 30-40 pound test is a good average depending on circumstances and targeted species. Heavier line also offers more abrasion resistance around reefs and rocks. Onto this add 3-4 feet of lighter mono or flouro leader for leader-shy fish and a little more flex during the fight.


Your options for terminal tackle are limited mostly by circumstances and conditions. Casting plugs is a popular method where you’ll want floating poppers or shallow diving plugs. You’re fishing mostly shallow water and you don’t want something that’s constantly hanging up on the bottom. More popular baits include chunk bait, seaworms, clams or eels. Clams, worms and chunks are usually fished on a surf or hi-lo rig with two hooks above and a sinker below. Live bait like eels or finfish (if available) work best on a slider rig with an inline sinker above the bait. 


Circumstances dictate what else you might need. A pair of shorts and sneakers or boat shoes might suffice in warm conditions but chest waders allow you to wade out farther and provide protection against the cold. You’ll want the aforementioned sand spikes if you’re bait fishing. If it’s a casual excursion, a small tackle box with a few plugs or flies will suffice. If it’s more of an expedition, you may want a cart to tote your tackle or where practical and allowed, you can simply drive out on the beach. Just make sure you have a vehicle capable of doing so.


Most any beachfront will work but some are better than others. Current and turmoil confuse baitfish, and predators like stripers and bluefish often cruise the shoreline in search of an easy meal. Out on the open beach, fishing is often better when the surf’s up. Low tide is a good time to survey an area to look for holes, pools, pockets and bars, then return at high tide and fish these areas when they’re underwater. River mouths can be a great option as the rivers flush bait into deeper water where predators lie in wait. Some river and estuary mouths also have jetties that provide structure where bait will concentrate.


The above is at best, a primer and enough to get you started. Time and experience will teach you the best locations and the best tackle for each. And unlike the sunshine crowd that grumbles at the noisy family who sets up right next to them on an otherwise sparse beach, most beach anglers are welcoming to polite company and eager to share tips and advice - so long as you give them their space.

-Bob Humphrey