In surf fishing, there are a number of well-known rigs that can help you catch more fish. They're good to know because they've been tried and tested repeatedly and they all consistently catch fish in the surf. Learn these simple rigs and you'll improve your fishing, taking it to a new level.
There's a lot you can learn to catch more fish out on the water. Knowing these 6 best surf fishing rigs and how to tie them will serve you well for the rest of your life.
In This Guide
- 6 Best Surf Fishing Rigs At A Glance
- High/Low Rig
- Fishfinder Rig
- Carolina Rig
- Live Bait Rig
- Whole Mullet Rig
- Lure Rig
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
6 Best Surf Fishing Rigs At A Glance
A High/Low surf fishing rig is one of the best surf fishing rigs for any kind of fishing and consists of two or more hooks arranged on a single leader line. Each hook is placed at a different distance from the sinker at the end of the line. One is high and one is low.
This rig keeps your bait from dragging on the bottom, making it less likely you'll snag rocks, weeds, oysters, or other obstructions. The chances of catching more than one fish at a time increase, and it's a great rig to try but of course, it has its drawbacks as well.
The High/Low surf fishing rig works for a lot of fishing situations inshore, and even in freshwater. The Sabiki rigs we're all familiar with to catch baitfish are like miniature high/low surf rigs with three or more hooks all spaced out vertically from the sinker.
It is particularly effective for catching numerous fish species around the bottom like flounder, sheepshead, halibut, and striped bass, as well as fish that feed in mid-water like bluefish, jacks, and mackerel. The High/Low Rig is also useful when fishing in areas with a lot of structure because it helps keep your bait off the bottom.
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How To Tie
To tie a High/Low Rig, you will need fluorocarbon leader line, two hooks, and a sinker.
Form a 6" loop with the end of the leader line.
Grab the loop and tie it into an overhand or double-overhand knot, cinching it tight. Leave a loop at the end for the sinker.
Squeeze the loop together and thread it through the eye of your sinker. Open the loop and drop the sinker back through it so it's secure. This makes it easy to change out the sinkers later if you find you need more or less weight.
Move 16” up the line and make a loop with the line. Tie a dropper loop knot that leaves an 8" loop that will attach directly to your fishing hook.
Move 20" farther up the line and tie another dropper loop knot where the second hook will attach directly to the line.
Move another 12" up the line and cut the leader line. Fasten it to one end of a good swivel. Fasten your main line to the other end of the swivel.
Click here for our collection of surf fishing tips for beginners and experts alike.
With this handy rig, you'll avoid the bottom obstacles, and fish well up off the bottom with two baits at different heights. You'll avoid some undesirable bait stealers like crabs by using the High/Low Rig.
2x your chances at catching fish! Or something like that. We haven't run the numbers, but your odds increase with the number of baits you have in the water.
Can use a variety of bait with this rig like live or cut bait, sand crabs, clams, oysters, squid, or shrimp.
Changing sinkers is very fast.
High-low rigs are more prone to line tangling than single-hook rigs. This is especially true when casting in windy conditions. I know you know, it's frustrating dealing with tangled lines.
While a high-low rig lets you present baits at two different heights off the bottom, it can make it difficult to present the bait in a natural-looking way.
Fish can become entangled in the line easier and sometimes are snared by multiple hooks, making catch and release more difficult. This can also lead to more injuries to the fish.
Which Baits To Use
You can try to target a type of fish by the type of bait you use on your High/Low Rig. Using small cut bait and hooks can have you landing flounder, trout, snapper, whiting, and reds among other fish. By leveling up the size of bait and hooks, you can catch snook, big reds, jacks, spanish mackerel and more.
Typically for this rig, it's dead cut bait, shrimp, and squid that is put on the hooks most often. Live baitfish can’t go far on an 8” drop loop.
You never really know what you're going to catch with a High/Low Rig and that's part of the fun of it. You have a better chance of catching a fish, or even two fish at a time but the species is not targeted so what you get is up to luck a lot of times.
With the High/Low Rig in surf conditions, you can catch fish like snapper, flounder, trout, jacks, pompano, whiting, mackerel, and more. Just about any fish that prefers the bottom or close to the bottom can be caught depending on the bait size and type, and the size hooks used.
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The idea of placing two or more baits at different depths is a good one! Who doesn't like to catch more than one fish at a time?
I'll take it a step further. The High/Low Rig shown here is for fishing around the bottom. You can also make custom High/Low rigs for top water and mid-column fishing.
Start with a 1/8th oz. sinker at the end of your line, or even just a few heavier split shot. Add two drop loops like you did for the High/Low Rig and above them add a big bobber to it to float it on the surface. Now it’s a modified High/Low Rig made for the top of the water column.
In this way, you'll be targeting fish in the top 4 feet of the surface. Just like the variety of fish you can catch surf fishing with a High/Low Rig on the bottom, you can catch many types of fish with a high/higher-low rig like this one on the top! Be creative. You might even add more hooks, but keep in mind that the more tackle you add to the line, the greater risk of line failure and tangles. Our advice is to take it easy and stick with just 2 hooks for the best experience.
A Fishfinder Rig is a type of fishing rig that is designed to keep your bait off the bottom and to detect when a fish takes the bait. It is a popular rig for surf fishing, but it can also be used in other fishing situations. The rig consists of a sliding weight, a leader line, a plastic bead, a swivel, and a hook and is very popular on florida beaches.
The Fishfinder Rig is good for a variety of fishing scenarios but it is ideal for catching bottom-feeding fish like flounder, halibut, catfish, and striped bass. The rig allows your bait to stay up off the bottom, floating around where lots of fish feed. The sliding swivel allows for easy detection of fish bites.
The Fishfinder Rig is an easy to use and effective rig that can help you catch a variety of fish in different fishing situations. By using this simple and effective rig, you can increase the number of fish caught and make fishing a lot more fun.
How To Tie
To tie a Fishfinder Rig, you will need 18-24" of leader line, a sliding weight, a swivel, and a hook.
Start by threading your sliding sinker onto your main braided line. Add a plastic bead that will stop it from hitting your swivel and fraying your line. Add a good barrel swivel to the end of your main line with a uni knot.
Attach a length of 18-24" of 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader line to your hook on one end with a snell knot and to your barrel swivel on the other with a uni knot. A snell knot is ideal for use with hooks because it keeps the hook in line with the leader. Uni knots are also very useful knots that are strong and can be used for tying anything, even two lines together (double-uni knot).
Note – you can add an optional foam float on your leader line that slides along it and raises your bait up off the bottom.
Fast and easy setup. You can tie this rig in less than 2 minutes.
Long casts with fewer tangles.
Bait is essentially free-lined from the weight and the distance from the weight can change with the pull of the current. Good bait presentation.
Pulling this rig through sand causes the sinker to kick up dirt and excites the feeding response of some fish. Flounder comes to mind!
Can use a variety of bait.
Not ideal for a dirty bottom covered with weeds, debris, rocks, oysters, etc.
Which Baits To Use
Add just about any kind of bait to your hook with the Fishfinder Rig and have success. You can add shrimp, squid, cut bait, whole bait, live baitfish, crabs, oysters, and just about anything and you'll catch fish. This is probably the most used surf fishing rig, and for good reason – it just works!
Bottom-dwelling fish like flounder, catfish, snapper, spotted trout, blues, red drum, stripers, snook, and sharks if your rig and bait are big and strong enough.
The Fishfinder Rig is one of the top surf fishing rigs to use in conditions where the bottom is relatively free of obstructions so the sliding sinker can do its job by letting out line with the current. This allows your live bait to move around naturally and your dead bait to float with the current, enticing hungry fish.
This one is super easy to set up and use. We always have this rig tied to one or more of our surf fishing rods.
A Carolina Rig is a type of fishing rig that can be used for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. It consists of a sliding sinker, a bead, a swivel, a leader line, and a hook. It is similar to a fish finder rig, but there are some differences. The Carolina Rig is a versatile rig that can be used to catch a variety of fish species in different fishing environments.
How To Tie
To tie a Carolina Rig, you will need some monofilament or fluorocarbon leader line, a sliding sinker, a bead, a barrel swivel, and a hook.
First, thread the sinker onto your main braided line. Add the plastic bead, and tie the line with a uni knot to the barrel swivel.
With your 24" leader, tie a snell knot to your hook and a uni knot with the other end to the barrel swivel.
The Carolina Rig is effective for raising the bait off the bottom in the current or with a more natural presentation if using a live bait that is moving around.
You can cover a large area of water by casting out and retrieving slowly over a wide area.
Like the Fishfinder Rig, you can use a variety of baits.
Long casts are easy with this rig.
Hard or soft unobstructed bottom is better to allow the egg sinker to work to feed out the line without getting snagged on something.
The potential for twisted lines exists because the weight is far from the hook.
Which Baits To Use
Carolina Rigs can be used with any kind of live or dead bait like baitfish, crabs, shrimp, or squid, or plastic lures mimicking bait like plastic shrimp, crabs, or baitfish.
The Carolina Rig is very effective for catching different kinds of saltwater surf species like pompano, redfish, black drum, snapper, catfish, jacks, grouper, and more. By using the Carolina Rig, you can increase your chances of landing fish in a variety of fishing scenarios. We use the carolina rig to fish with bunker chunks in Chesapeake Bay for Striped Bass and bluefish.
Just like the Fishfinder Rig, the Carolina Rig is super easy to set up and will have you fishing in minutes. To be honest, I typically use the Carolina Rig for some of my freshwater fishing, and I use pyramid sinkers to create the Fishfinder Rig in saltwater most of the time. I just don't like the egg-sinker moving all over the place by itself. The pyramid sinkers stay in one place better.
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Live Bait Rig
A Live Bait Rig is a fishing rig designed to present live bait in a natural and effective way. This type of rig is commonly used in saltwater fishing, and it is effective for catching a variety of fish species.
One type of Live Bait Rig is to simply free-line a live bait on a hook without any other tackle on your line. This is an ideal way to catch speckled trout, snook, reds, and many other fish. The problem is not being able to cast the bait out to reach the fish. If you're using a heavy shrimp or small mullet or other large baitfish, you can cast it out with a small spinning rod up to about 30 yards away.
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For other live bait, you'll need a sinker to help you cast out further.
The Live Bait Rig below is quite effective for catching fish that feed on live prey like snapper, trout, snook, reds, permit, and more. The rig allows the bait to move freely in the water as they would naturally, thus making it more attractive to fish.
How To Tie
To tie a Live Bait Rig, you will need 30-40" of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader line, a hook, and a sinker. Start by tying your leader and main braided line together with a barrel swivel using uni knots.
About 1 foot from that knot down the line, add a sinker to your leader with a 4” drop loop.
Tie the end of your leader to your hook using a snell or uni knot.
Presenting your live bait in as natural a way as possible is the main advantage of the Live Bait Rig.
Variety! You can use this rig in saltwater with bait fish, crabs, oysters, shrimp, and squid, among others.
Works well in freshwater with worms, minnows, shiners, etc.
You have control over how far your bait can move from the sinker.
Line tangles! Because your sinker is far from your hook, the potential for line tangles exists and if you fish for more than 20 minutes, you'll probably get some.
Which Baits To Use
Live bait that swims around and is highly active, is great for this rig. Bait fish like pinfish, menhaden, mullet, ladyfish, and anything with some energy works great with this rig because predatory fish see the fish struggling and not able to move far and that triggers their feeding instinct.
All kinds of fish species that live close to the bottom can be targeted with the Live Bait Rig.
Live Bait Rigs are a great way to catch fish by presenting them in as natural a way as possible. Part of this includes hooking your bait in a way that allows it to move naturally. For small fish, this might mean through the lips. Or with a pinfish, through the top of the head and under the vertebral column. By using this rig and showing fish live bait moving in a natural way, anglers can increase their chances of success.
Whole Mullet Rig
A Whole Mullet Rig is commonly used for targeting large saltwater species like sharks, tarpon, and snook. The rig consists of a whole dead mullet, a hook, and a leader line. The size of the mullet should be as big as possible for sharks, 4-10" for a tarpon or snook, and 4-6" for a big gator trout.
The whole mullet rig is good for fishing in deeper water and around structures like bridges, jetties, and piers.
The fresher your dead mullet is, the better. Ideally, you caught it just hours before using it. If you try to use frozen mullet, it can fall apart too easily and not give you the right presentation.
How To Tie
To tie a Whole Mullet Rig, you'll need 80 lb. braided line, a whole dead mullet, a circle hook, and a length of heavy 50 lb. test leader line that can be monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Start by threading the leader line through the mullet's mouth and out its gills. Then, tie the circle hook onto the end of the leader line, making sure it is securely attached to the mullet in the meaty part of the tail.
For live mullet, you can rig them like shown above in the Live Bait Rig section.
One advantage of the whole mullet rig is that it can be used to target a variety of saltwater species, including sharks, tarpon, snook, trout, and redfish. An entire fish is a good bait for larger predatory fish and increases your chance of landing a trophy-sized catch.
A float on the front by the hook lifts the fish off the bottom and away from crabs, catfish, skates, and some sharks.
Casting long distances can be a problem as you may throw the fish right off the line. Also, the weight of the fish, if small, may not be enough to cast with a baitcaster reel. Spinning reels can work better for lighter fish. Air resistance while casting is a problem unless the wind is at your back, then it's a bonus!
It isn't always easy to find a big baitfish like a mullet. You can catch ladyfish easily though, so consider keeping it to use as bait the next time you catch one.
Which Baits To Use
Mullet, bunker, pinfish, ballyhoo, ladyfish, and other non-gamefish can be used with success.
You can catch any kind of fish that eats baitfish with a dead whole mullet but fish that really love them are tarpon, snook, redfish, and speckled trout. If there happens to be any mackerel, barracuda, or jacks in the area they'll also grab this tasty bait and give you a nice fight.
While fishing with live bait is exciting and can really produce great catches, fishing with a whole mullet or some other large baitfish can bring new meaning to the phrase "great fish!" Larger predatory fish are not so enthused about chasing around smaller prey like live mullet that still have a lot of energy. Instead, they love to come upon a whole dead fish just floating there as a free and easy meal.
Try fishing whole mullet under a cork at the surface or on the bottom with this Whole Mullet Rig. Either way, if your gear is ready for the challenge and you have luck on your side, you may catch one of the biggest fish you have ever caught. Big baits mean big fish!
A Lure Rig is ideal for anglers who prefer to use artificial lures rather than live bait. It consists of a leader line, a swivel, and a lure, and can be used with a variety of lures such as soft plastics, jigs, and crankbaits.
The Lure Rig for surf fishing is good for fishing in a variety of conditions, including calm and rough surf. It is particularly effective for targeting predatory fish such as striped bass, bluefish, and redfish because artificial lures can mimic the movement and appearance of their natural prey – small bait fish.
How To Tie
To tie a Lure Rig for surf fishing, you will need a length of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader line, a lure, and a swivel.
Start by tying the lure onto the leader line using a loop knot or uni knot.
Then, tie the other end of the leader line onto the swivel using a knot such as the improved clinch knot or the uni knot. The swivel helps prevent line twists and provides a connection point for the main fishing line.
We should add that the lure rig can be tied without a swivel. You can tie the main line to the fluorocarbon leader with a fishing knot designed for that purpose, like the albright knot.
Super simple setup.
Clean! No fish guts, squid stuff, or shrimp brains on your fingers. Clean and easy to set up.
Cheaper than live bait and reusable many times before they finally succumb to the elements and abuse and need to be replaced.
Lure Rigs allow anglers to use a variety of lures, including soft plastics, jigs, spoons, and crankbaits. In using different types of lures, anglers can target different fish species and adjust to changing fishing conditions.
It's work to use them. You can't just throw them out like live bait and have a seat in your recliner and wait for a bite. With spoons and other lures, you need to work them (move them) in a way that attracts fish.
Which Lures To Use
There are thousands of lures you can buy to fish in the surf. Many of them will work. The following three lures are your best bet to start with, and if you don't catch anything with these, or don't get bites, you might be fishing the wrong area. Or, you could try a soft bait on a jig head to see if that works.
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Lures can be very effective in saltwater surf fishing and the three that we recommend are:
Clarkspoon Stick Jig – A bit heavier than Got-Cha lures, you can really throw these out there far with a surf fishing rod.
Got-Cha Lures – Classic lures that have been around forever, you can catch all kinds of fast fish below the surface and on top water with these heavy-duty Got-Cha lures.
Silver/Gold Spoons – The best lure to use when fishing in the surf is a silver or gold spoon. They flash like baitfish and excite predatory fish to strike. Any of the lures mentioned here will catch fish.
So many species of inshore fish will hit a fast-moving spoon or flashy lure just under the surface. You can count on bites by Crevalle Jack, Spanish mackerel, snapper, snook, redfish, trout, bluefish, blue runners, snapper, bonito, barracuda, and others.
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Fishing with artificial lures can be a good way to minimize the dirt and smell you'll take home with you, or take to work with you if you go early in the morning!
Fishing with some sort of flashy silver or gold spoon-type lure is one of the best ways to find fish if they're in the area you're fishing.
Lures have become so cheap that it really does make more sense to learn to fish with them over buying or looking for live or dead bait to fish within the surf. You can save a lot of money over the course of a year with artificial lures and also save a lot of time because you don't have bait stealers taking your bait, you don't have crabs, catfish, pufferfish, or other undesirables taking away your bait.
Lures are fun to use and you won't regret switching from live bait to purely artificial lures someday if you want to save some cash.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best rig for surf fishing?
The best rig for surf fishing depends on many things, like the species of fish you are targeting, the type of bait you are using, and fishing conditions.
The best rig is a Live Bait Rig for surf fishing, it’s just a swivel, leader, and hook to free-line live bait fish that allows it to swim freely and naturally. This is the best presentation for hungry predators and you can catch a wide variety of saltwater species using this super simple rig.
For artificial lures, the best rig for surf fishing is a Lure Rig consisting of a swivel, leader, and shiny silver or gold spoon. This can be all you need in the surf to catch all kinds of fish like redfish, snook, flounder, jacks, bonito, mackerel and so many more.
What is the easiest surf fishing rig?
The easiest surf fishing rig is the basic Fishfinder Rig. This is a simple rig that can be used with a variety of baits and is easy to set up even for beginners.
The Fishfinder Rig is a versatile rig that can be used with a variety of baits, such as live bait, cut bait, and squid. It is great for bottom fishing and can be used to target tasty species like flounder, redfish, and black drum.
The Fishfinder Rig is a great choice for beginners who are just starting out with surf fishing and experienced anglers who have fished for decades. It is easy to set up, versatile, and consistently catches fish.
What is the best leader for beach fishing?
The best leader for beach fishing in most cases is 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader. It is nearly invisible, strong, and more expensive than monofilament. The best leader for beach fishing depends on the specific fishing situation and the species of fish you are targeting. You may only need 20 lb. or a 10 lb. test leader.
The strength, abrasion resistance and visibility can all factor into choosing the right leader for the type of fishing you're doing. Here's a little about each of those.
The leader must be strong enough to handle the weight and strength of the fish you are targeting. For most beach fishing situations, a leader with a test strength of 20-30 pounds is a good starting point.
Since beach fishing often involves fishing around rocks, shells, submerged objects, and other abrasive surfaces, it's important to select a leader with some abrasion-resistant properties. Though more expensive, fluorocarbon leaders are a popular choice for beach fishing because they are tough and resistant to abrasion.
How visible your line is in the water can have a drastic effect on the number of fish you catch – especially in clear water. Visible line spooks fish and can lead to fewer bites. Fluoro is best in clear water because it's harder to discern in clear water conditions.
What weight leader for surf fishing?
A 30 lb. test fluorocarbon leader is the best weight to start with for surf fishing. I would rather start with 30 lb. leader at first and gradually go down in weight if I don't get bites. The reason is, if I do get a bite from a big fish, I'll be happier to have that heavier leader on. Losing fish on 20 lb. or lighter leader in surf fishing is no fun, and the chance of a bigger fish biting your bait or lure is fairly high in the surf. Go heavy if you're getting bites!
It really depends on water clarity. If the water is really clear, 30 lb. leader may be visible to fish and you may not get enough bites because of it. You might have to drop it down a bit.
If you just learn the small number of surf fishing rigs above, you'll arm yourself with a core set of fishing skills you can use for the rest of your life. Most rigs are based on these methods of rigging your tackle to catch fish, whether you're fishing in saltwater or freshwater.
Personally, I find the free-line rig the most satisfying way to fish. It allows baitfish, shrimp, or crabs to move naturally in the water without restriction except for the hook that impales them! Amazingly, fish and shrimp seem to be able to ignore that detail and move in a fairly natural fashion in spite of it.
If saving money is any consideration of yours at all, you'll quickly learn to fish with artificial lures or to catch live bait yourself without paying for it. The cost of live bait has become unreasonable and probably puts a lot of people off fishing at all. It isn't hard to catch your own pinfish, mullet, menhaden, crabs, and sometimes shrimp.
These baits can catch just about every fish you desire, and finding your own bait is a great way to save money you can use for gear or other more pressing needs.
Best of luck to you – tight lines!