Best Bait for Surf Fishing

Are you planning on doing some surf fishing soon? This page covers everything you need to know about the best bait for surf fishing and what kinds are most commonly used by anglers who fish most days of the year.

My usual bait of choice while surf fishing is either some sort of live baitfish, cut bait, or live shrimp. I'll also bring crabs if I'm fishing in a spot where they're close by and I can find my own without too much trouble.

Using live or cut bait is my favorite way to fish in the surf, from a pier, or even offshore fishing. There's something more natural about it. Something that triggers my inner caveman a bit more than using artificial lures. Let's have a look at the many different types of live bait you can use to catch fish while surf fishing at your favorite beach.

List Of The Best Bait For Surf Fishing


Live Shrimp In A Bait Bucket

For the first few years as I was learning how to fish in saltwater, my usual routine was to stop by a bait shop and pick up three or four dozen shrimp as big as they had and go to the beach or pier and fish until I had nothing left.

That's a great strategy because when you have that much bait you never really run out. You'll catch plenty of fish that can be used as bait to catch other fish. So, literally, you can stay out there all day and have an excuse for your significant other when you get home. 'But I didn't want to waste bait!'

Live shrimp is the ultimate saltwater fishing bait. When fish see one swimming alone, they can't help attacking it. The bigger the shrimp, the better chance the bait-stealers won't get to it before the bigger sport fish. I like the big jumbo shrimp the best, and they catch the biggest fish so I always buy those if they're available. Yes, the price is outrageous these days, but what are you going to do?

Fishing with shrimp in the surf, you can catch all kinds of fish like reds, black drum, pompano, snapper, bonefish, flounder, grouper, jacks, snook, sea trout, whiting, sheepshead, mackerel, and even tarpon.

You can see why it's a popular live bait for surf fishing, and most bait shops have it because they know they'll sell out. Shrimp are a major driving force for saltwater fishing across the USA and many other areas of the world!

Not only are shrimp easy to find at most saltwater bait shops, but they are easy to rig up for fishing. They can be used with a variety of techniques including High/Low Rigs, Carolina Rigs, Fish Finder Rigs, under a popping cork, and just freelining them.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rigs

Shrimp prices will vary depending on where you are, the time of year, and their availability. There are billions of them in the ocean and the guys catching them know where they can find them. Their livelihood depends on it, so bait shops almost always have them.

If you're considering surf fishing for the first time, don't think too much about bait, just go straight to the bait shop nearest you and see if you can buy a couple of dozen shrimp. Three dozen is a good start. The bait shop will also sell you a 5-gallon bucket with a lid and an aerator that will keep your shrimp alive for a while. Keep in mind you'll need to drop that bucket in the water to change the water out and keep the shrimp alive longer.

Dead shrimp can be used, but they are so smelly when they thaw that you will catch a lot of smaller unwanted fish along with those you do want. Dead shrimp are still great bait, and I've caught hundreds of fish with them, but if you can find them and afford it, live bait is so much better to fish with.

Where To Get Shrimp

Surf Fisherman with Shrimp In A Bucket

Catch Your Own. You may be able to find shrimp nearby and catch your own. Shrimp can be difficult to find, so finding them yourself can prove troublesome and not worth your time in the end. In fact, unless you know a really productive place to catch shrimp, and can do so legally, you probably shouldn't bother driving the boat around looking for them. You could waste a lot of gas.

You'll need to have your recreational fishing license to legally catch shrimp. In Florida, we have white, pink, and brown shrimp that can be found at different times and depths of water depending on the time of year. Fishing at night can be easier because you can use special shrimp lights to attract them. There are extensive rules limiting how you catch shrimp, so please check the regulations! Here are Florida's Regulations.

Purchase at a Bait Shop. Regular-sized shrimp are reasonably priced and for around $3 to $5 you can buy a dozen of these shrimp at most bait shops in Florida. These are small shrimp that can be used but probably aren't going to put the huge fish on your plate unless you're very lucky.

For bigger shrimp, you're going to pay a lot more! Jumbo shrimp can produce monster reds and snook and can be sold out quickly if the bait shop gets them in as word spreads fast.

Purchase at a Store. You can buy frozen shrimp at a store or at a bait shop for less money, and though the deal is better, what you get isn't better than live shrimp unless you want to catch catfish and snapper all day.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels

How To Hook Shrimp

There are a few ways anglers generally hook shrimp. You can choose to hook them however you want, but the key is to make them look natural as if there isn't a hook running through them somewhere. Also, you have to make sure the shrimp stays alive in the water because a live shrimp is far better than a dead one for catching fish.

Live shrimp can be an effective bait for surf fishing, especially for species like redfish, speckled trout, and flounder. Here are some of the best ways to hook live shrimp for surf fishing:

Hook in the Carapace. This method is best for bottom fishing, as it allows the shrimp to stay in place on the ocean floor. Insert the hook through the head just above the eyes and out the other side. Make sure to avoid the brain, as this can kill the shrimp.

Hook in the Tail. This is the most popular way to hook live shrimp for surf fishing. Simply insert the hook through the last segment of the tail and push it out the other side. This allows the shrimp to swim naturally in the water and can attract predatory fish. Tail hooking can increase casting distance and helps to ensure the head doesn't rip off as the shrimp enters the water after a cast.

Hook in the Mid-Body. For larger shrimp, you can also hook them through the body. Insert the hook just under the horn and thread it through the body, being careful not to pierce any vital organs.


Bucket Of Crabs For Bait

Crabs can be very effective bait for saltwater surf fishing, especially for redfish, black drum, permit, and sheepshead. Many factors influence the success of using crabs for surf fishing like the size of the crab, the species, and the area you're fishing.

Using crabs while fishing from the beach can be ideal because you might be very close to an area that has crabs running all over the place. The season can affect availability, but it's worth checking out if you see an area that might hold crabs. They are an excellent source of free bait you can use to catch some of the most delicious fish in the surf.

It's easy to use a crab as bait. You'll need to attach it securely to your hook and cast out to where the fish are likely to be feeding. Some people remove the claws and legs on some crabs, but a more natural presentation is to leave them on. The fish that eat crabs can quickly deal with claws and legs, I'm not sure why people think they have to pull them off.

It is, however, worth it to remove the diggers (rear legs with paddle) so the crabs cannot dig their way into the sand and escape fish!

Where To Get Crabs

Crab Trap

Catch Your Own. Big speckled (calico) crabs can be ideal for catching permit in Florida and up the coast. You will find them, especially in late spring and summer, but they are all over the beaches of North America. Use crab traps with dead chicken or cut bait into the trap and you'll catch them. For smaller crab species, you can look in the mangroves on the roots and branches and under rocks in the mud.

Purchase at a Bait Shop. Crabs can be a bit more pricey than you'd think. It depends on how easy they are to find and catch. If someone spends three hours digging in the mud to find crabs, they're probably going to want to be paid well for it.

The good news is that when you find a bait shop that carries crabs, they probably have hundreds of them and can be a reliable resource for you so you don't have to go catch them yourself. Again, there's a cost to this!

How To Hook Crabs

There are two common ways to hook live crabs that will keep them alive and moving around. If you have big speckled crabs you should remove their rear diggers so they can't get under the sand and avoid the fish.

Hook in the Edge of Shell. This works with smaller crabs better as a fish will be taking the entire crab into its mouth to grind the shell down. Hook from under the crab and out the upper edge of the shell, taking care not to hit the innards so the crab stays alive longer.

Hook through a leg/digger socket. For bigger crabs, find the soft spot at the base of one of the diggers in the back legs of the crab. Put the hook through that soft spot and take the point up through the top of the shell. Ideally, you hook through some flesh of the crab to hold the hook better and ensure more hook-ups.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rods

Sand Fleas

Sand Flea

Sand fleas (mole crabs or sand crabs) are small barrel-shaped crustaceans that are commonly found in the intertidal zone of sandy beaches all over North America. They are very effective as bait for pompano, redfish, black drum, permit, sheepshead, and whiting and can be used very effectively for surf fishing.

I use them in cases where I don't need to cast out far because they tend to rip right off the hook because their shells and internals are so fragile.

Sand fleas catch three of my favorite fish to eat, redfish, pompano, and sheepshead. If you haven't eaten these fish, get some of these crabs and get out there and catch dinner. You'll be glad you did!

Where To Get Sand Fleas

Catch Your Own. Sand fleas can easily be found at most beaches where the sand is wet and the water from the waves is covering the sand with each wave. Most of the time bait shops will not carry live sand fleas but you can easily collect them yourself with just a simple kitchen colander, sand flea rake, or a big scoop with holes in it. You can find these online or at any fishing store or bait shop.

Find them in the very wet sand where waves are coming in and leaving a bumpy pattern just under the sand. Scoop as much sand as possible and let the incoming wave clean the sand with your colander or other tool and you'll have sand fleas remaining. It's easy to catch many of them when you find the right spot.

To keep them alive, you'll need to change the water often because their excretory system can foul the area and kill them before you reach your fishing spot.

Purchase at a Bait Shop. Frozen sand fleas can be used, but to be honest, the shells are so fragile that I never buy frozen ones. Either find them yourself or use something else that will stay on a hook!

How To Hook Sand Fleas

Hooking mole crabs is done in one common way, and to be honest, it's not that great. The shell and internals are weak, they are very soft, and it is not easy for a hook to stay inside – especially if casting some distance.

Something you may not have thought about is that the heavier your sinker weight, the more force the sand flea is entering the water with and a heavy weight will pull the sand flea into the water so fast that it will rip it right off the hook. Use very light weights with sand fleas when casting.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rod And Reel Combos

To use sand fleas as bait, you will need to do your best to hook them securely. The strongest part is just behind the head, you'll see a rougher area that isn't so smooth. That's it. Thread your hook through the bottom of the sand flea and out through the top in this rough area. Be careful as you do so, don't crush the soft-shelled body.

Use small hooks with barbs to help ensure the crab stays on during casting.

Some people add multiple smaller sand fleas to one hook. Others prefer to fish one bigger sand flea on one hook. Up to you. Try both and see if the results differ.

Cut Bait

Mullet For Cut Bait

Cut bait is simply once-living bait that is dead and has been cut into smaller pieces. It can be made from a variety of fish such as mullet, shad, ladyfish, menhaden, mackerel, squid, or any other fish. Cut bait is effective for surf fishing in saltwater as it can attract a variety of species such as sharks, catfish, redfish, mackerel, jacks, and bluefish.

Cut bait is available in many bait shops, and it is one of the most commonly sold types of bait for surf fishing. It is relatively easy to use, as all you need to do is cut it into smaller pieces and attach it to your hook.

To hook cut bait, you can use a variety of techniques depending on the size of the bait and the fish you are targeting. For smaller pieces of cut bait, you can thread the hook through the flesh once or twice, being careful not to crush the bait. For larger pieces of cut bait, you can typically just thread a big hook with a barb through it and your bait will stay on the hook.

Cut bait can be found in bait shops, but it is also possible to make your own by cutting up fish that you have caught or purchased. The price of cut bait can vary depending on the type of fish used and the availability of the bait in the area, but it is generally a relatively inexpensive bait option.

Overall, cut bait is an effective and commonly used bait for surf fishing in saltwater. It is widely available, easy to use, and can attract a variety of fish species.

RELATED: Surf Fishing Tips And Techniques

Where To Get Cut Bait

Catch Your Own. You can bring a cast net to any shallow area, especially around the mangroves, and catch a lot of bait fish to use as cut bait. If you're lucky, you'll see a school of mullet pass by and be able to launch your net at them. Mullet are great cut bait and can be big enough to help you catch any large predator fish including sharks.

You can catch and use for cut bait any fish that isn't regulated by the fishing commission in your state. For instance, in Florida, we can use mullet, whiting, ladyfish, bonito, cero mackerel, jack crevalle, lionfish, hardhead catfish, southern stingrays, pinfish, menhaden, and any bait fish for cut bait.

Purchase at a Bait Shop. Most bait shops near the ocean will have blocks of frozen fish you can use to cut up for cut bait fishing in the surf. It's always reasonably priced and many anglers prefer to use cut bait for surf fishing. It's a bit sloppy, but it works!

Purchase at a Store. You can also buy blocks of frozen fish at your favorite grocery store.

How To Hook Cut Bait

Cut Bait On A Hook

For a small mullet, you can cut the tail off first. Cut at the belly, straight in. Then, cut the mullet in half. Use the head portion by hooking up through the lower jaw and out the top of the mouth or eye socket.

For the tail section, hook at the tail area by going through the area you cut the tail from and out the scale area on the side.

When you hook in this way, there is less spinning of the bait and it looks more natural.

Best Cut Bait for Surf Fishing

Mullet Cut Up For Bait

Cut bait is basically the same for most fish, but there are some which are considered better than others. Initially when the fish notices the bait, the size, and shape of the cut bait is more important than what kind it is.

Fish can also be attracted by the scent of the dead fish as it moves through the water. Some fish have a stronger smell and this can turn on the feeding response in fish that prefer the taste of them.

Oily fish are known to have a stronger smell and the smell disburses into the water and spreads more than other fish, but all fish should be cut at the belly to release their digestive and other juices that contribute to the smell of the fish in the water.

The best cut bait to use for surf fishing can depend on various factors such as the species of fish you are targeting, the location and time of day you are fishing, and the availability of different types of bait. Some of the best cut bait to use are:

Mullet. Cut mullet is a very popular cut bait for surf fishing, especially for redfish, bluefish, and sharks. Mullet is oily and has a nice strong scent that can attract fish from a distance. Its oily flesh releases oils and juices that can help to attract bites from fish.

Menhaden. Also known as bunker, this is another popular and very effective cut bait for surf fishing. Menhaden has a strong smell and tough skin that makes it a great cut-bait option because it stays on the hook. It's a great bait for striped bass, bluefish, and redfish, among others.

Mackerel. Cut mackerel is another oily, fatty fish that can attract bites from king mackerel, cobia, sharks, and drum.

Squid. Cut squid is one of the best surf fishing baits to catch a variety of fish because everything in the ocean eats it and the smell travels far and brings fish in from a distance. It works especially well for flounder and sea bass but you can catch a huge variety of fish species on cut squid. Squid has a soft texture and a lot of scent that can be effective in clear or cloudy water conditions.

Clams and Mussels

Fresh Clam On The Beach

Clams and mussels can be very effective for surf fishing in saltwater and work really well for some species such as striped bass, bluefish, and drum. Because this bait is so soft, smelly, and small, many fish will attack your clams and mussels and you may find it too much of a chore to fish with because you'll be constantly replacing the bait as fish steal it.

Not only that, but it is hard to keep on a hook unless you use something like an elastic line to hold it on there. Then you may be introducing pollutants into the water as the threat unwinds and lays in the water until it eventually decays.

Fishing with clams and mussels is about the messiest thing ever and is comparable with cutting up squid for fishing. It's smelly and gets on everything. You'll have to make preparations before you go fishing to ensure you have a rag to wipe off frequently and some water to help remove the slime and smell.

Where To Get Clams And Mussels

You can find these baits on exposed rocks or just under the water where you can find them on submerged trees, rocks, or other structure. Low tide is a better time to look for them as they do tend to remain in shallow water that is submerged at high tide.

If you prefer to catch your own clams and mussels, you can often find them along the shoreline at low tide, particularly in sandy or rocky areas. Do yourself a favor and check local restrictions on harvesting shellfish. Sometimes it's forbidden. Also, do be careful to avoid damaging the ecosystem by only taking what you need. A few dozen of any bait is usually enough for 3-4 hours of surf fishing.

You can find clams and mussels along the coasts of both the Eastern and Western United States, as well as in some parts of the Southern USA.

The specific types of clams and mussels that are available can vary by region and season, but some common species that can be found along the East Coast include quahogs, littlenecks, cherrystones, and steamers. On the West Coast, some common species include Pacific razor clams, butter clams, and Manila clams.

In Florida, I like to find Asian green mussels (Perna viridis). They're an invasive species and they already have a strong foothold from Florida up to Charleston, South Carolina. I enjoy doing my part to remove them by using them as bait if I get snagged on something and bring a bunch of them up to the surface.

If you get snagged on a tree limb or something else on the bottom, check for these mussels. You may reel in an entire family of them stuck to debris. Pull them off and crack them as bait! They are also edible, but there are restrictions on where you can take them from.

The availability of shellfish can be limited in warmer waters due to factors such as pollution and harmful algal blooms. Always check local regulations about harvesting, as consumption can be dangerous due to toxins or other contaminants.

How To Hook Clams And Mussels

Clam On A Hook

Hooking clams and mussels is akin to trying to put pudding or jello on a hook. It's difficult to get right, and there may be no getting it right so you may need to add something extra to the end of the hook to keep the bait on. Using elastic thread can pollute the sea and we don't advise it.


Fresh Squid For Bait

Squid is one of the best baits you can use in saltwater, it is cheap and very effective. Fish you can catch include just about anything that swims including inshore fish, reef fish, eels, crustaceans, and sharks.

I rarely use squid just because it catches too many fish I don't want to catch, and it's hard to target specific species using squid. Everything in the water smells it and attacks!

If you're taking kids out fishing to the beach or a pier, squid is ideal to use because you'll definitely catch some kind of fish with it.

Where To Get Squid

Catch Your Own. In some places, it's possible to catch squid on your own to use as bait. At night if you use the right UV lights, you can get them to come close to your boat. This is how commercial fishing boats catch them by the hundreds using large nets.

If you prefer to catch your own squid, you can often find them in open water near structures such as jetties, piers, and bridge pilings, particularly at night. Squid are attracted to light, so you can use a bright light to attract them and then use a squid jig or a small lure to catch them. Squid can also be caught using a seine net or a dip net. Always check regulations first!

Squid are quite sensitive to temperature and water conditions, so you may find them one time and not again in the same place. For most of us, catching our own squid just isn't feasible and we have to resort to store-bought frozen squid.

Buy at a Store. Just about every grocery store has frozen squid for sale.

Buy at a Bait Shop. Almost all bait shops will have frozen squid available because it's such a common and useful cut bait. Though prices have gone up considerably, it's probably worth it to buy some if you aren't planning on getting shrimp, crabs, or other bait fish to fish with.

How To Hook Squid

Squid is easy to use as bait, but it's messy. You can either use a whole squid or cut it into strips or chunks, depending on the size of the hook and the species you are targeting.

To hook a whole squid, you can thread the hook through the body near the head or through the tentacles. To use squid strips or chunks, you can put a hook through one end of a strip or layer it on with multiple passes through to make sure it stays on the hook.

Sandworms and Bloodworms

Sandworms In My Hand

Sandworms (lugworms) and bloodworms are both effective for surf fishing in saltwater, particularly for species such as striped bass and flounder.

Sandworms are about 3 to 12 in long and have a body like any annelid - with rings or segments. The thinner head is dark red/black with a thicker body. The tail end is thin like the head. There are bristles and gills along the middle part of the body. Sandworms have pincers that come out of the head and can pinch you.

Bloodworms are longer (up to 14 in) and even a little bit more dangerous! Bloodworms eat other living animals. They feed using a large proboscis with four hollow jaws. These jaws connect to venom sacs they kill prey with. If one bites you, you'll know it because it hurts. They are eaten by bottom-feeding fish and birds mostly.

Where To Get Sandworms And Bloodworms

If you prefer to catch your own sandworms and bloodworms, you can often find them in intertidal areas along the shoreline, especially with sandy or muddy bottoms. To catch sandworms, you can use a pitchfork or sand flea rake or even a forked stick to dig them out of the shallow sand.

Bloodworms can be more challenging to catch because they burrow deeper and are found in the sand under the water. There are special bloodworm pumps used to help you collect them.

How To Hook Sandworms And Bloodworms

Both sandworms and bloodworms are relatively easy to use as bait. To hook a sandworm, you can thread the hook through the worm's body any number of times until you think it's secure.

Bloodworms are thinner and a bit more fragile so you can either thread them onto a hook or use a specialized bloodworm hook. Some anglers prefer to use only a small piece of bait, such as a bloodworm's head or tail to increase the scent trail and attract fish.

Live Bait

Big Snook On Live Bait

To me, live bait is especially fun to fish with because it's so successful at catching fish. There's nothing that attracts predatory fish like dropping a fish, shrimp, crab, or anything into the water with a hook through it that impedes its ability to swim or move naturally. Fish sense it is an easy meal and move in for the kill.

A lot of times fishing with live bait is too easy! Imagine if our forefathers had access to some of the technology we have today in the way of ultra-sharp chemically sharpened hooks, circle hooks, super-strong braided line, and near-invisible fluorocarbon lines!

Live bait is a great way to catch exciting fish at the beach, but it comes with a cost – money or time. You may already know about the cost in dollars that you have to come up with to buy your favorite live bait. Live pinfish and big live shrimp are getting unbelievably expensive to buy at the bait shops.

The cost in time can be considerably more than the cash though, and it's the reason why most people just buy the bait and be done with it!

I do enjoy going out with the cast net and throwing it in the shallow sea grass near the mangroves to see what I can catch. I love throwing it over a group of mullet on the surface as well. I only keep a couple to use as bait but may catch 20 fish at a time. It's a thrill that adds to the fishing that will come later.

Advantages of Surf Fishing with Live Bait

Natural Look. Live bait looks just like their prey (because it is!). So, there's no getting over some weird look to the bait that makes the fish stop and reconsider whether it should strike it or not.

Many Types. Fish are opportunistic to some degree and they'll eat more than one species of prey. You can change it up and catch more fish if they stop hitting one of your live baits.

Availability. You can almost always find some live bait at a good bait shop near the beach. If not, it isn't hard to throw a cast net or pick up some crabs. Learn how and you'll overcome difficult times when the bait shop is sold out of bait!

Disadvantages of Surf Fishing with Live Bait

Short Lifespan. Live bait can be delicate and difficult to keep alive for extended periods, requiring careful handling and storage. Water or sand temperature, salinity, and waste products in the water can all affect their lifespan.

It's a Mess! Live bait like squid, cut bait, and mussels or clams can be messy and smelly compared to surf fishing with artificial lures.

Expensive. Live bait can be much more expensive to use than artificial lures which can be reused over and over, sometimes for months before requiring replacement.

Some things to consider when choosing a live bait to fish with include the target species of fish and what they eat, the time of year, and the size of the bait you're using.

All of these can have an effect on your fishing success.

Where To Get Live Bait

Cast Netting Live Bait In The Surf

Catch Your Own! I've already hinted that getting live bait on your own is going to take some of your time, and possibly far too much time to make it worthwhile. Still, there are some baits you can get in a few minutes, especially if it's on your way to where you're going to fish. A quick stop could fill up your cooler, bucket, or bait well with fresh live bait that will almost surely catch you fish that day.

Buy at a Bait Shop. You can buy live bait at many of the bigger bait shops because it's one way they stay in business. It's the main source of income in most cases! With pinfish coming in around $10 per dozen on average, bait is a huge business for some shops. If you visit regularly, you're spending a lot of money to keep them in business but the convenience cannot be beaten.

There is, however, that occasional day when you roll up expecting to buy a certain live bait and they are either sold out of them or they weren't able to catch any that day.

You'd better have a Plan B ready when this happens or there will be a lot of sad frowning faces when you come back to the truck to tell your friends or family that you've got nothing to fish with! It always pays to have some artificial lures ready to go!

How To Hook Live Bait

Hook live bait in a way that presents it as naturally as possible and stays on the hook. Pro Tip – wet your hands with saltwater first and wash the oil/smell from your skin before handling any live bait to put on your hook – including fish, crabs, mussels, shrimp, and worms. The human smell may deter bites.

The presentation will never be perfect because a hook impales it, but that's OK. It's ideal actually. You want your bait to swim or move around as much as possible, and be capable of attempting to flee predatory fish. You don't want them to be successful at getting away though!

Hooking shrimp through the area behind the brain or in the body is ideal. Hooking small baitfish like minnows, shiners, or small menhaden and similar fish up through the bottom jaw and out the nostril works well. Hooking pinfish under the vertebral column well behind the brain and in front of the dorsal fin is a good technique.

Hooking crabs from underneath and out the top bit of shell on one side works well for most species.

Mussels, oysters, clams, and other soft gooey live baits can be hooked with multiple threads on the hook and then a piece of fish skin or shrimp at the end to keep everything on the hook.

Best Live Bait for Surf Fishing

Big shrimp are the best live bait for surf fishing. You will catch a wider variety of species, and bigger fish with a huge jumbo shrimp on your hook. Keep in mind, using shrimp will not catch all species of fish but it covers some of the best ones like redfish, black drum, snook, jacks, speckled trout, weakfish, flounder, and permit.

Almost as good in my opinion is a bait fish of 3-4" in size. Menhaden and small mullet get crushed all the time on the beach by most of the fish already mentioned but also grouper, tarpon, and cobia.

Artificial Baits

DOA Shrimp Lure

Artificial baits and lures are great for surf fishing along any coast. Some of the best ones include:

  • Bucktail Jigs
  • Jerkbait
  • Got-Cha Lures
  • Poppers
  • Topwater Lures
  • Swimming Plugs
  • Swimbait
  • Plastics – Including all kinds of plastic lures attempting to replicate prey fish might target like sand crabs, sand fleas, shrimp, worms, and eels.
  • Berkley Powerbait and FishBites

Artificial baits like hard plastic lures are very cost-efficient and can save you a lot of money over the long term. Live bait is usually gone the first day. Rapala and other hard plastic lures can last a long time and catch you a lot of fish!

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Lures

Some anglers swear by artificial lures and insist they are better than live bait for surf fishing. It can be true in some cases, there are some very effective lures out there that work like magic on certain fish.

If there's one change in your fishing you could make that would save you the most money, it would be switching over to more long-lasting artificial lures. I haven't been able to do it, as I said, fishing with live bait just hits me the right way. I do use artificial baits about 20% of the time which is much more than I used to!

Best Bait for Shark Fishing the Surf

Shark On A Florida Beach

A lot of anglers love fishing for sharks in the surf. If you know there are sharks around, it really isn't the hardest type of fishing you could do but people make it out that way! If you're using the right bait you can be sure you're going to catch a shark if you go out around dinner and stay a few hours. Sharks become much more active toward the evening and during the night.

If you can only get out during the daytime, go! Sharks feed all day and night opportunistically and they'll eat if they get the right bait. The best bait for shark fishing in the surf is a dead or severely wounded fish on the bottom that's big enough to be worth their time (expenditure of energy) to go eat it.

Some of the best types of bait for catching sharks include:

Whole or Cut Baitfish. A big fish like a mullet, whiting, mackerel, ladyfish, or jack crevalle can be great fish to use for shark fishing in the surf. The scent and oils released from the baitfish can attract sharks from a distance. Be sure to cut off the tail, and cut open the belly to release all that smelly goodness so the sharks can find it easily.

Live Bait Fish. Live unregulated fish can be used as bait for sharks when they're alive. Even a big pinfish will work for some species. The trick is to cut off the tail, or part of the tail, to release some scent and to slow the bait fish down. Sharks are lazy feeders and don't want to chase a spunky bait fish for too long before getting a meal.

RELATED: What Size Reel For Surf Fishing

Please check your local state shark fishing regulations because they are heavily regulated and you may need a special permit or online class before being able to catch sharks. You'll also need to release sharks in the water without lifting them up for a trophy photo as they are easily injured.

The internal organs of sharks are only loosely held in place by connective tissue that is fine in the water, but when held up by the tail or otherwise, the tissue may tear and cause damage to their organs.

Best Bait for Surf Fishing in Florida

Shrimp On A Hook

This question can be answered in a couple of different ways, but I'll start with this one. The best bait for surf fishing in Florida is live shrimp. Some will disagree and insist that the best bait is squid or cut bait. Everyone is correct because the question is flawed! The best bait is whatever your targeted fish prefers most.

The easiest bait to use for surf fishing in Florida is shrimp. One of the messiest is cut squid, but it's very good for catching a variety of fish.

The most productive bait for redfish is probably shrimp because it's easily seen and reds love them. Same with black drum. The best bait for speckled trout in the sea grass is undoubtedly shrimp. If snook are around, they love big shrimp. Flounder also love shrimp dragged through the sand on the bottom.

Just about every Florida surf fishing species eats shrimp, they are one of the best baits for fishing inshore.

Best Bait for Red Drum Surf Fishing

Red drum, also known as redfish, can be targeted in the surf using a lot of different baits. The best bait for red drum surf fishing is a shrimp fished on the bottom. You'll catch flounder too, but reds really love shrimp.

You can also catch them with live bait like sand crabs, sand fleas, or small bait fish like mullet, pinfish, and menhaden. If you don't have shrimp or live bait, you can catch them on cut bait - especially menhaden chunks and strips.

Jigs and soft plastic lures can be used to catch red drum. These lures are quite effective and a cost-friendly option compared to live baits.

Best Bait for Surf Fishing on Long Island

Bunker On A Hook

There are many kinds of fish you can catch on Long Island, New York. The best bait for surf fishing will depend on the time of year and species you're targeting but the best bait is bunker fished on the bottom for big stripers. You can also use chunks of mackerel to target stripers and it's almost as good.

Other good baits for use on Long Island include clams, sandworms, squid, and shrimp. Flounder is another major target for anglers fishing from the beach on Long Island and they're easily caught with shrimp or pieces of cut bait dragged on the bottom.

Of course, if you don't want to use live or cut bait, you can use artificial lures like jigs and soft plastics to target stripers, bluefish, and weakfish.

Best Bait for Surf Fishing Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay offers a great variety of species for surf fishing from the beach and the best bait will depend on the time of year and the species you want to catch. Chesapeake Bay is well known for its stripers and flounder (fluke). The best bait for surf fishing in Chesapeake Bay for flounder is shrimp fished on the sandy bottom.

Many of you won't be targeting flounder because you've caught enough of them to tile your house with it. We love the taste of flounder, but there are so many fish you can catch in the Bay that we'll have to mention some other great baits you can use to catch other fish as well.

Bloodworms are a great bait to use for catching striped bass, croaker, and perch. They can be fished on small hooks with a split-shot sinker or on a fish finder rig.

Soft shell crabs are used with great success for catching striped bass (that eat anything) and red drum. You can fish them live or dead on a fish finder or high-low rig.

Squid is of course a very productive bait anywhere you use it in saltwater and the Chesapeake Bay is no exception to the rule. This is an ideal bait for black drum and flounder on the bottom.

Artificial lures like jigs, soft plastic lures, and topwater plugs can work in the Bay to catch rockfish, bluefish, and weakfish with regularity.

Best Bait for Striped Bass Surf Fishing

Striped bass are a very popular species for surf fishing in the northern latitudes and people there are about as crazy as we are for snook in the south. The best bait for striped bass surf fishing is live eels. Eels are excellent bait for bigger rockfish and can be used on a fish finder or high-low rig with success.

My second favorite is cut bait like menhaden (bunker) and mackerel. These are oily fish that really attract strikes from striped bass.

Other baits you can use to target these rockfish are clams - fresh or frozen, sandworms on the bottom. 

Artificial lures like swimbaits, topwater plugs, and soft plastic lures can all be used to catch striped bass of all sizes. If you haven't noticed yet, striped bass hit just about anything so you almost can't go wrong using any artificial lure when targeting them. Try to use lures that mimic the small baitfish they feed on.

Best Bait for Bluefish Surf Fishing

Bunker Chunk

Bluefish are another popular and aggressive species that are fun to catch while surf fishing. They are in huge schools attacking smaller bait fish on the top and it's hard to miss them because they're like piranha feeding!

The best bait for bluefish surf fishing is cut bait chunks of menhaden or mackerel or some other oily fish. It almost doesn't matter what you use, because anything you put in the middle of a school of hungry blues, is going to get smashed. You could put a hunk of cucumber out there on a hook and get a fish. It's mayhem!

So, while cut bait is probably the best bait you could use to catch bluefish, you can also use live bait fish, metal lures like Got-Cha lures, silver and gold spoons, jigs, poppers, and really just about any lure that looks like a fish or part of a fish.

Final Thoughts

The best bait for surf fishing depends on many things, the most important one being which is the preferred bait for your targeted species. If you have no targeted species and you just want to go out and surf fish and catch anything you can, then shrimp, squid, and cut baitfish are all very good baits to use. You'll catch fish even if you don't know what you're doing.

In surf fishing, most bait is dropped to the bottom with weights and you wait for bites. If you're the type of person that can't sit around and wait for the cowbell to ring on top of your rod as you sit there and read a book, then you can fish artificial lures like bucktail jigs, pompano jigs, silver spoons, Got-Cha plugs, or whatever floats your boat.

The good news is, whatever you choose to use from the baits and lures presented above, you'll catch fish while surf fishing. Surf fishing can be really ideal as the water is warming up after a cool winter. Lots of fish move north from Florida up along the east coast and west coast from Mexico as the weather warms up.

That said, I've always found surf fishing to be productive except on the coldest days and then I don't want to be out there anyway!

If you haven't done so yet, go get yourself a 10-foot surf rod and matching reel and toss out some live or cut bait with some weight and wait. It shouldn't be long before a smile creeps across your face! Tight lines my friend!

Photo of author

Vern Lovic

Vern grew up in Pennsylvania fishing for trout in streams and Bass in lakes and ponds. He then moved to the west coast of Florida where he discovered surf fishing and inshore saltwater fishing from his kayak. Vern is an outdoor writer and loves to share his knowledge and fishing experiences. He is the founder of

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