One of the most challenging aspects of surf fishing is the constant change. Changes in the season, weather, tides, and even the beach itself make it a dynamic environment where nothing ever seems to be simple and predictable. The fish know this too, and they have no choice but to adapt to the changes and make the best of them. To make your trip productive, you’ll have to adapt to the changes just like the fish do. In the surf, timing is everything.
Best Time to Surf Fish
Once you find an area to fish, the best time to surf fish is almost always when the tide is moving. Movement creates current, and fish rely on current to bring them easy meals. To plan this, simply look at a tide chart of your area. It’ll tell you the predicted times for high tide and low tide. Plan to have your line in the water about 2–3 hours before high tide. In general, high tide brings fish in closer to the beach and hopefully to the areas you scouted beforehand. This is often the best window of time to fish on the beach, but the true answer is it depends. It could be the outgoing tide that starts putting you on the fish. For example, fish tend to position themselves on the outside of the inlets of creeks, bays, and waterways when they empty during the outgoing tide. Some areas produce best on the incoming tide, others on the outgoing, and some do well (or poorly) during both.
Best Time of Day to Surf Fish
The best time of day to surf fish is usually the first few hours around dawn the final few hours around dusk. With that said, the tide is still the most important factor. If you really want to increase your chances, find the days where the high tide coincides with dawn or dusk. Plan to fish around these dates. You put the chances much more in your favor if you can fish the incoming or outgoing tide cycle in the early morning or late evening. If you don’t have the opportunity to fish those times that’s ok, plan to fish the moving tides. You can check out tide charts for your area on NOAA.
Should I worry about the wind?
For starters, if you’re a beginner or have limited time available—we don’t recommend planning around the wind, except if it exceeds 15mph. If the wind is predicted to exceed 15mph, then reconsider your trip. Fishing starts to get uncomfortable and unfishable around 15mph. This becomes the best time not to surf fish for most people.
The most important thing to know about the wind is that it moves water and creates current. The question is always how fast does it move and in which direction. The answer to this question is what can make for the best or worst day of surf fishing you’ve ever had.
A consistent wind in the right direction has the ability to concentrate fish and bring a lot of them very close to shore. A consistent wind in the wrong direction can leave the beach vacated of all life it seems. 5–10 mph is a great wind speed for influencing the fish yet remaining fishable. The answer to which direction depends where you’re specifically located. Beaches are not all oriented in the same direction, and greatly vary all along the coasts. Visit the local tackle shop or join a local forum and ask which winds they recommend for your area. Our surf fishing kit will also cover you for all beach conditions. You could be on a very windy part of a beach toughing it out, only to find that around the point nearby it’s pretty manageable or in the bay behind you it’s just fine and people are catching fish.
Does the weather matter?
The weather, just like the wind, affects the fish. Fish can sense when storms are coming. When this happens, they become more active and aggressive. Cloud cover and stronger wave action often precede a storm, bringing fish in closer to shore from deeper water. Many experienced fishermen have had their best days on the surf when a storm was coming later on. As the storm passes and the skies clear, the opposite effect happens, and the fish settle down and adjust back to their normal routine. Pay attention to the weather report and be there to fish the hours before a storm.
Best Time of Year to Surf Fish
The best time of year to surf fish truly depends on the fish species and your location. However, the two best seasons for surf fishing are almost always during the spring and fall. In general, the warming springtime water often brings fish close to shore in large migrations as they move to their summer residence. The warming waters also trigger the spawn for spring spawners such as shad and striped bass, which can be a superb time to fish. Spawning also occurs in the fall for many species such as flounder and drum, which can also be a superb time to fish. Research your target species to learn which month you should be ready for them. Plan to have your line in the water 2–3 hours before high tide during that month. For more information on planning ahead for your fishing trip, check out our surf fishing blog.