Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
Surf fishing gear consists of many of the same components as standard fresh and saltwater fishing equipment.
Surf Fishing Gear Over NOAA Chart

Although surf fishing does require a few specialized pieces of equipment, the bulk of a standard surf fishing outfit consists of many items that any fresh or saltwater angler would be familiar with.  The biggest difference between surf fishing gear and traditional gear is SIZE.  Long rods and big reels are employed in order to get bait out past the sand bars and into the holes where the wild things roam.  Read on as we break down some must have gear and highlight some of the key components of each item in an effort to make your time on the beach more enjoyable and more productive.

Surf Fishing Rods

In order to get your lure or bait where it needs to be you're going to need a long enough rod with the power to get it there. When targeting some near shore species such as Pompano and Whiting, you may be able to get away with a rod in the 7' range, but for the most part you're going to want a much longer, more powerful rod for several reasons.  For one, keeping your bait in the same spot can be difficult in the surf, especially if the wind kicks up.  When this happens you're going to be throwing heavy weights, and you'll want a long enough rod with enough backbone to toss at least 3 ounces of lead with relative ease. Longer rods are able to cast further, and that is the name of the game when it comes to surf rigs.  In order to be the most productive you'll need to get your presentation out where the fish are, and longer rods can make that happen.

Most surf anglers end up choosing medium to medium heavy rods in the 9 to 11 foot range, depending on the species they generally go after.  A 9 or 10 foot rod can get you out there without being overly cumbersome, and an 11 footer can reach out even further while still being manageable. St. Croix Mojo and Tsunami Airwave Elite surf rods are popular choices and both are available in this range.

In addition to the large specialized rods mentioned above, anglers often bring along a smaller, lighter weight rod in the 6 to 7 foot range to cast smaller lures to close in fish while walking along the beach, or while waiting for a strike on their larger outfits - we won't get too much into detail on these rods and reels since almost any standard combination works.  If what you intend to do is walk the beach and make some casts to close in fish, you can probably stop reading, grab a few jigs and bucktails, and hit the surf right now.

Surf Fishing Reels

Like surf fishing rods, most anglers upsize their reels as well. Once again, casting distance is king when it comes to surf fishing and a larger reel will help here.  Dedicated surf reels are made with larger spools, and some will be advertised specifically with casting distance in mind, such as Penn's Popular Spinfisher VI and Spinfisher VI Long Cast models.

When choosing a reel it's important to match it with the rod you're using, and with the fish you plan on catching.  When going with rods on the shorter end around 9 feet or so, a reel in the 45 / 4500 class is a good choice.  This size range wont weigh a ton, and it'll still be able to hold enough line for long casts with enough to spare for fighting fish.

On the larger end, reels in the 65 / 6500 class will hold plenty of line, and have larger spools to help you launch baits way out there. The large spools help lower drag on the line when casting, and it can make a noticible difference.

When it comes to spinning vs conventional reels, the vast majority of surf fishermen choose spinning reels.  Most anglers find them easier to cast as they dont backlash, and they work very well with braided line, which many anglers prefer. Don't let that discourage you though, there is no reason you can't use a conventional real if that's what you prefer.

Surf Fishing Line Choices

Monofilament and braided lines probably account for 99.999% of what surf fishermen have spooled up at any given time.  Fluorocarbon is popular, but it's used almost exclusively as a leader material and not as a main line.  Fluorocarbon line is heaver and has more memory than both mono and braid, and this hampers casting distance.  It's also expensive, and when your reel holds 400+ yards of line, this can add up.

When it comes down to choosing mono or braid as a main line, it's all about personal preference.  Thousands of articles and opinion pieces have been written about this question, and no matter what you decide on, you can't go wrong.  Mono has higher abrasion resistance and more stretch which can help you keep a fish hooked, but braid is extremely sensitive with practically zero stretch, which helps detect bites and set the hook. 

Many anglers spool up with braided line, and then tie on a mono "topshot" to get the best of both worlds, but this comes at the cost of an additional knot, and it will need to be replaced eventually as it shrinks over time as you retie terminal tackle.

About half of our surf reels are spooled with braid, and the other half entirely mono. Sometimes it just depends on what you want to fish with on any given day.  When it comes to braid, 20 to 30 pound test Power Pro Braided Line is immensely popular with surf fishermen, although some anglers do go up to 50 to 65 pound test in order to avoid tying on a shock leader.  Ande's 20 Pound Mono has long been a standard surf line for those who prefer monofilament.

Terminal Tackle

Two common rigs will get you hooked up with just about every coastal species out there, and if you toss a few lures and spoons into the mix you'll be well on your way.  For some reason freshwater and saltwater anglers use similar rigs but call them different names.  Any bass angler out there is probably intimately familiar with a Carolina Rig, but once you get into the salt it becomes a Fish Finder Rig.  Same can be said about a Dropper Rig, once anglers get salty they turn into a High Low Rig.  Nomenclature aside, these two combinations will cover just about, if not, all surf scenarios provided the hooks and weights are appropriate.

Regarding hooks, circle, kahle, and J hooks pretty much cover it all with circle hooks being arguably the most common choice.  Circle hooks are less harmful for the fish, and generally set themselves once fish take the bait.  When fishing for smaller fish such as Pompano and Whiting, hooks in the 2 - 2/0 size range work well.  When exclusively targeting larger fish such as Red Drum (Redfish), you can upsize your hooks and leader line accordingly.  A basic "Drum Rig" is a short length of heavy (60lb or more) leader tied to a large circle hook, with a sliding pyramid sinker on your main line.  This is really just another variation of your standard Carolina / Fish Finder Rig, but now its called a Drum Rig. :)

A good middle ground when targeting a mixed bag is a setup with 1/0 or 2/0 circle hooks, this is still small enough for smaller fish such as Pompano and still large enough to drag in a good size Red or other larger species.  When conditions are mild, you will often find us tossing out a high low rig made up of a 3' long leader of 30 pound fluorocarbon line and 2/0 inline circle hooks with a small colorful bead or float near each hook.  This setup keeps our options open and although it is on the light side for big fish, if we manage to hook into a monster we can lighten the drag some when necessary.  

When it comes to weights, there are two main choices - Pyramid weights and Sputnik or "Spider" weights.  Pyramid weights are just pyramid shaped lead weights, and they work well for most fishing scenarios, a 3 ounce pyramid weight is a good all around size that will handle most mild conditions.  When the water is calm, it's best to use lighter weights, and in heavier surf or just when the wind picks up you can either upsize a pyramid weight, or move to a spider weight. Spider weights get their name from the small prongs or "legs" that stick out from the weighted body.  These prongs stick into the sand and help your rig stay put.

A final and important note is that when using heavy weights you may be required to tie on a "shock leader" if your main line is on the lighter end.  This entails tying approximately 20 to 30 feet of heavy monofilament line directly to your main line to absorb the shock from the weight during your cast.  A good rule of thumb is 10 pounds of test for every ounce of weight.  The exact length is not important but it should be long enough to remain wrapped around the spool of your reel a few times throughout your casting motion.


Mimicking or using natural baits has been proven effective time and again, and it's one of the most foolproof ways to catch fish in the surf.  Many popular surf species feed on small crustaceans found near shore, and as such they make the perfect bait when targeting them.

Mole Crabs, also known as Sand Fleas, have been used by surf anglers for years, and for good reasons.  There are tons of them, they're easy to catch, and fish love them. They are easy enough to catch with your bare hands, but it's easier to use a tool dedicated to catching them, called a Sand Flea Rake.  Some bait and tackle stores sell them as well.

Another very popular and highly effective bait is fresh shrimp, live or dead.  Just about every species out there will eat shrimp.  Frozen shrimp does not have the same effectiveness, however, since many of the oils are removed and the scent of these oils is what helps fish find them.

Squid is another popular choice, and it is effective for most surf species as well.  Squid has an added benefit in that its leathery nature lends itself to staying on the hook well, making it harder for bait stealers to leave you empty handed.

When live bait is not available, there are a few alternatives.  Berkley "Gulp!" products are popular and they have drop-in replacements for shrimp and squid.  Other products such as "Fish Bites" are extremely popular and come in different scents to mimick all of the aforementioned natural baits as well.  Both the Gulp! and Fish Bites products are effective and stay on the hook even better than the real thing.

A few lures, jigs, and spoons are good to have on hand too.  Silver and gold spoons both produce, with Kastmasters being a popular choice. Lipless cranks such as MirrOdine's and Rat-L-Traps are great lures since they cast well, and are effective for many species. Various sizes and colors of jigs are effective too, and their effectiveness can be further increased by being tipped with a small piece of natural bait such as shrimp or squid, or their artificial replacements.

Sand Spikes

Sand Spikes are the surf anglers version of a rod holder, and they are a virtual necessity when using the long rods and large reels associated with the sport.  In reality, most sand spikes are glorified PVC pipes cut down to around 36-40" or so, with an angled cut on one end to drive into the sand, and a smooth, rounded end that the butt of your rod sits in.  You can make a few of your own out of a single piece of pipe and as little as a hand saw and some sandpaper, but many folks buy them as well.  Some higher priced models are made out of aluminum and come with built-in bait stations and tool holders.  A basic sand spike won't hurt your chance of success in any way, but sometimes the convenience features are nice to have.

Fish Grips & Hook Removers

Many saltwater species are especially toothy, and you would be ill advised to stick your thumb in their mouth in an attempt to grab their lower jaw as you would a bass or similar species.  A good set of Fish Grips and a quality hook remover will keep you from bloodying up your hands when you end up hooking fish such as bluefish or sea trout.  When fishing for Pompano, Whiting and Redfish they may seem unnecessary but you will be wishing you had them when the fish that hits has an unexpectedly large set of chompers.

Other Items

If the above list of things seems like an awful lot of things to carry to the beach, you're right.  If you often expect to be going out on all day trips to the beach, you will be well served by investing into a cart to move all your things.  Well made beach carts will have large wide tires so they don't dig into the sand, and they'll be able to carry all the rods, bait, beverages and sun-shade in order to make your day on the beach easy and enjoyable.  Once again, if you're planning on taking a stroll down the beach throwing jigs, some of these items are largely unnecessary. In fact for some species such as Flounder this can be a great tactic, but if you're looking to hunker down and wait for big Bull Reds and other species in deeper water, you're going to want to cast out further, and gear that's tailored to that tactic will help you out.

Now quit reading this and hit the surf!