Best Time to Surf Fish Explained

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If you are a keen angler, hitting the surf and catching some amazing fish from the shoreline is an amazing experience that invigorates all the senses!

Amidst the surf and foam, are opportunities for the quick-witted angler to catch a variety of gregarious coastal species such as the famed Redfish, so beloved by Texans. 

Fishing on the beach is an exhilarating experience, but so much more satisfying if you actually catch some fish.

Hitting the surf or skinny water needs to be done at the right time, taking advantage of the behaviour of the fish to target them when they are more relaxed and willing to venture into shallower water. 

In this article, we will explain the best time to surf fish for some of the most popular fish species including mackerel, striped bass and redfish.

Catch great fish on the beach with your bait only in knee deep water!

With surf fishing, you cast your line standing on the shore or in the surf. You can do this type of angling using a variety of techniques including casting bait and lures.

Get your bait into skinny water by surfcasting (casting from the surf) or beachcasting (casting from the beach). The only requirement is location, whether sand or shingle beach or even off the rocky shoreline. 

Surf fishing is not all “cowabunga baby”!

Though surf fishing may evoke images of the west coast of the United States, sea anglers enjoy surf fishing around the world, and is also extremely popular, even in dreary British weather on the UK coastline.

The key ingredient you need is an abundance of lively, frothing surf because it is this whitewater that contains the bait species that bring in the more daring members of your target fish species.

Here is a Texas surf-fishing pro talking about how surf fishing works:

You also need the coastline you angle from to be easily and safely navigable on foot. This is not the type of sea fishing where you camp hour for hours, huddled under a shelter.

Surf fishing is dynamic and continually changing while you scout opportunities to land a catch. 

But to come home with a fish supper you need to know the best time to surf fish

Heading out to the beach with your tackle on a hot summer’s day is more likely to get you a decent tan than the fish you are looking for.

Experience surf anglers can make surf fishing look so laid back, but in reality, there are some shrewd calculations involved.

Read our article on the best surf wader boots here

Fish on the beach when its windy

Firstly, you need onshore wind to generate the surf you are looking for. Calm sheltered bays and coves can have a sea like glass, but when the wind strives upon it you get the effervescent surf that will bring the fish you seek.

Here’s why:

1. The surf is stirring the seabed

High-energy waves collapsing in shallow water make surf up creating the froth and foam. The water literally rasps against the seafloor, stirring up sand and gravel and dislodging a variety of sea creatures including ragworms, sea cucumbers, razorfish, clams and lugworms. 

2. The displacement of bait species attracts the larger fish

The upheaval of the marine habitat exposes these prey species to a variety of predators including seabirds and large fish.

Bass and other opportunistic feeders will make forays into the surf to access these delicious gastropods and smaller fish that have joined the feeding frenzy. 

3. Water turbidity is also a factor

The sand, silt and sediment on the seabed and shoreline will determine how clear the water is when the surf hits.

The clarity of the water will determine the species that are on the seabed and the opportunistic feeders that will follow.

The turbidity that can be found in muddy and silty estuaries can be advantageous as predator species are hidden and more confident and your line and bait are more easily disguised. 

4. You can take out these opportunistic feeders by casting your bait in the surf

Experienced surf anglers know how to read the surf and look for heavy surf with brown water, rather than the more glamorous white water that is associated with this form of sport fishing. using the turbidity to their advantage in targeting fish.

They often have to walk long-stretches of coastline to find the optimal conditions that are promising of a catch. 

5. The tide has to work for you too

Though the wind can do an excellent job of whipping up forty surf, the tide has to be on your side too.

If a large surf disturbs a lot of food, a receding tide may drag all those sea creatures out to see. Large surf can settle in underwater holes and gullies, meaning that is it not as productive for fishing. 

One of the best times to surf fish is in the two hours surrounding the high tide. At this time you have maximum water depth and the water is active and providing the seabed churn you need to target feeding fish.

Check your tide times and aim to start fishing at an hour before the high tide and finish your session approximately an hour after the high tide.

Water temperature can make or break a surf fishing trip 

Water temperature also determines the best time to surf fish. This is because as cold-blooded vertebrates, fish are entirely reliant on their environment for the warmth they need to remain active. 

Extremes of temperature will reduce the activity and feeding of fish. They are unlikely to be caught as they just aren’t going to bite.

This keeps them on the move, from areas that are too hot or too cold to a more optimal water temperature.

Knowing the right water temperature and conditions for the type of fish you want to catch can make a massive difference to the productivity of your fishing trip. 

Know the fish species to target by checking the seawater temperature where you are fishing

Each fish species has its own optimal temperature range. This means that throughout the day, water conditions will favor a variety of species, so you need to target the right water conditions for the fish you are targeting. 

Anglers usually check forecasts of the hourly water temperature in their planned location to know when their target fish is most likely to be in the area.

Most shallow venturing fish prefer a water temperature of between 15.5 to 24 degrees Celsius (60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Here are some of the optimal water temperatures for popular catches:

  • Mackerel 7 to 8 degrees Celsius (45 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Striped bass 12 to 18 degrees Celsius (55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Redfish 21 to 32 degrees Celsius (70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Sea trout 21 to 27 degrees Celsius (69 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Sea bream 13 to 25 degrees Celsius (55 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Flounder 16 to 19 degrees Celsius (62 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Albacore Tuna 12 to 19 degrees Celsius (54 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit)

Rounding up

As you can see, there is much more surf fishing than being beside the seaside. A productive session of surf fishing if usually down to the amount of effort you have put into analyzing the conditions and ensuring that you are prepped with suitable tackle for the fish that will be around.

Once you master these basics, surf fishing really opens up as a satisfying pastime.