The best bait for beach fishing will vary depending on several different factors, and the good news is that there are a number of excellent types of bait that will catch you a wide variety of fish while fishing from the beach.
Factors such as whether you will be fishing a high tide or a low tide can have an influence on what the right bait is to use at the time you will be fishing.
Also, if you plan on targeting a specific species of fish then you may want to use a certain bait that you know your target fish species love to eat.
If you are looking to target larger fish, then it is usually a good idea to ensure you use a larger bait that will attract the attention of the bigger fish and keep the smaller pickers away.
Also, you may have heard the expression ‘match the hatch’ before.
This means that you recognize what type of baitfish are currently swimming around in the area you are going to fish, and then you use the same as your bait.
For example, if there are lots of smaller mullet swimming around, then this would be the ideal bait to use.
So let’s get into some of the best baits to use when beach fishing
Squid is one of the most common baits to use when fishing from the beach because they are so prominent in many waters, and they’re a staple diet for many different species of fish.
Squid can be used in a few different ways for bait. You can catch them yourself and use them as fresh live bait, although this takes a bit of knowledge and skill to ensure you can get the live squid out without killing it.
The best way to do this is to make sure you use a running ball sinker down to a swivel. Then place a soft colored bead between the sinker and the swivel to protect the knot from the sinker as it moves up and down the line.
A leader length of 75cm to 1m is ideal. It allows for a nice feel in the rod swing and gives also a longer cast with a well-balanced sinker and a live squid on your hook.
It’s a good idea to use a longer surf rod for this, around 11 to 12-foot rod is ideal to get long casts away with relative ease.
The weight of the ball sinker needs to suit the best casting distance you can get out of the particular beach rod, this is really important for effective casting.
When testing for sinker size, there’s a good margin to play with though, but remember to take the average weight of the live squid into account. The rod feels best for casting live squid when it’s closest to the minimum casting weight.
You can also try using a fish finder rig for live squid bait too. Use a circle hook as well.
You can also use squid strips, which are also very effective bait. If targeting big fish you can use the full tubes from the dead squid and butterfly cut them to give them more action under the water.
You can use small strips of squid if targeting smaller fish species, or you can pair them up with another bait on your hook such as a mullet if you want to put on a real buffet for the fish.
You should be able to buy fresh squid from tackle shops and your local bait shop. Or you can catch them yourself using a squid jig.
Species can you catch from the beach using squid as bait
The following species can be caught using squid:
- Striped Bass
Crab is another excellent natural bait for targeting a wide variety of fish and is one of the most popular baits used by surf anglers.
Crab are fairly easy to catch, and there are some effective methods to use to catch the different types of crab that make good bait.
You may be able to catch crabs by hand if you see them around rock pools, but one of the most effective ways to catch them in higher numbers is to use a crab net.
You can use the crab whole, or you can cut them in half if they are larger ones and depending on the species you’re targeting.
When you cut the crabs in half they will produce a scent trail that will attract any fish close by. Peeler crabs are also good for this.
A peeler crab is not a single species of crab, but it refers to any crab that is in a state of peeling its old shell so it can replace it with a new one.
While they are shellless, they do leave a stronger scent trail which will attract a variety of fish.
Here are some of the best crabs to use as bait from the beach, and some of the species you can catch with them
- Pass crabs (great bait for tarpon)
- Blue crabs (cobia, redfish, black drum)
- Fiddler crabs (pompano, redfish, sheepshead, permit)
- Peeler crabs (red drum, fluke (flounder), cod (especially in the summer months), bass, wrasse)
A simple rig such as the Carolina rig is ideal for using with crab bait when beach fishing.
Sand fleas are a type of crab (mole crabs, aka sand crabs) that you can easily find yourself along the shores of the beaches you fish on.
Sand fleas don’t have thick shells and no claws like other crabs, so they are very easy to handle.
They are a popular food for a lot of different fish. These are just a few of the species you can expect to catch on them from the beach:
- Striped bass
- Sea mullet
- Black drum
There are a few effective ways to hook sand fleas and one thing to know about sand fleas is that they have a scent line that runs horizontally down the length of the crab and it lies about 2mm underneath the shell.
So it’s a good idea to pierce the scent line with the hook so it will attract fish when in the water.
Also, the shell is hardest just above the scent line, so by piercing your hook through the scent line you are also getting it through the hardest part of the shell, which will help your bait stay on longer.
Here are three effective ways to hook your sand fleas:
- Put the hook through from the bottom, about a third of the way down from the head, and through the center so you are piercing the scent line. The hook will come out the top of the shell and this will also help keep it on the hook.
- If you have any larger sand fleas then a good option for these is to cut them in half. Then feed the hook from underneath through to the shell so that it has a more secure hold. By cutting the sand flea in half you are already letting all of the scents flow out, and you have now made the sand flea a more manageable size for a lot of fish to eat.
- If you caught some smaller sand fleas while digging for them, then you can double or triple up on your hook. Again, add each one through the scent gland just behind the head.
How to catch sand fleas to use for bait
You can buy sand fleas from bait shops if you don’t have time to look for them yourself, but honestly, they are so easy to find that you may as well spend a bit of time before you fish to find these sand crabs, and when you have them nice and fresh they make one of the best live baits you can use while fishing from the beach.
You will find sand fleas buried in the sand right on the shoreline, the ‘swash zone’.
From late March to early April, you will often find them in larger colonies. As the wash runs out you will see a V shape in the water.
This happens when they protrude two feathery feeder antennas from the sand that collects organic debris when the wave recedes.
When you see this you can scoop up clumps of sand from the swash and you should find multiple sand fleas on each dig.
When this colonizing is not happening, you will still find them the same way just not in such great numbers.
You can dig the sand with your hands if you like, or you can get a more specialized sand flea rake.
You can prop your rake up against your sand spike and then just grab it any time you need to dig for a few more sand crabs for fresh bait to put on your hook.
You can find them on the incoming tide and outgoing tide, just keep looking around the swash zone and you will find them.
Pinfish is another good choice for using as bait from the beach. They can be used as live or dead bait and attract a wide range of fish.
If you intend to use them as live bait from the beach then you’ll need to be fishing in a gutter not too far out as you won’t be able to cast long distances with the live pinfish on your hook.
If you want to catch some pinfish yourself to ensure you have nice fresh bait then there are several ways to do this.
The easiest way is to use some chum to attract the pinfish and then throw a cast net to catch them.
They are very easy to catch this way and it will save you some money as you can expect to pay around a dollar apiece if you buy them from a tackle shop.
You can also catch them with a line and hook, although it is a slower way to catch them.
If you want to use them as dead bait then you can either use them whole if you are fishing for larger species, or you can cut them into strips if you are targeting some smaller species.
Using pinfish as bait is going to attract a number of species including the following:
The reliable and versatile shrimp bait. So many fish love to eat shrimp, so if you have no target species in mind then using shrimp as bait is a great way to enjoy a day’s fishing as you will likely catch a wide variety of fish when doing so.
Shrimp are also very easy to get. You can either catch them yourself with a cast net, or you can buy them fresh or frozen from the local seafood store or grocery store.
One issue when using shrimp as bait, especially when fishing from the beach, is that the body of the shrimp is quite soft and it can come off your hook quite easily.
This means that it will often fly off the hook when you throw out a long cast, which can be very frustrating.
But there is a way of solving this issue when using dead shrimp as bait, and that is to salt the shrimp.
This is a process that involves adding salt into a container, then peeling your shrimps and pulling the heads off so you only have the meat of the shrimp left, putting them on the first layer of salt, and then adding another layer of salt on top of the shrimps.
You can add 2-3 layers of shrimps in the same container this way if you wanted.
For the best results, leave the shrimp on salt for 24 hours if you can. You can reuse this salt for the same purpose, so don’t throw it away once you have done your first batch of shrimps.
The two main benefits of salting shrimp for bait are that the process toughens up the shrimp, so they stay on your hook when you cast. It also preserves the shrimp you you can keep them a lot longer without having to refrigerate them.
If you want to use live shrimp from the beach, you can do this if you are casting into gutters that are fairly close to the shore. You won’t be able to sling out long casts with a live shrimp on your hook.
There are a number of simple rigs you can use when fishing with shrimp bait. Pyramid sinkers and high-low rigs are one of my favorites to use.
Here is a selection of just some of the fish you will catch using shrimp as bait from the beach, but you can fully expect to catch a lot of other species not mentioned here as well
- Striped bass
When the mullet run starts, which is usually from late August through to early November, then this is a great time to use mullet as bait when surf fishing.
Mullet can be used as live bait in the surf, and there are a number of predators that will lurk in the gutters and holes in the surf zone waiting to pounce on any mullet they see.
They are also good used as dead bait and can be used whole or chopped up into chunks depending on what species you are targeting.
You can freeze them and also put them on salt to preserve them and salting them will also make them bait tougher and will stay on your hook longer, allowing for longer casts.
How to catch mullet
You can buy mullet to use as bait from your local bait shop. But if you wanted to use fresh mullet for either live or dead bait, you can catch them yourself, and there are a few ways to do this.
The first way is to use rod and reel to catch your mullet. You will find them in estuary waters and look for structure such as bridges as this is where they like to congregate.
Use a simple paternoster rig, and you will need to use small hooks as mullet have very small mouths.
The key element in attracting the mullet to you is to use plenty of berley. For this, you can just use bread and soak it in water and mash it all up.
To add some ‘flavor’ to it, you can chop up pilchards into small pieces and mix in with the bread. Then throw handfuls of the berley into your swim area quite regularly to bring the mullet in.
On your small hooks, you can use bread, squid, or small chunks of pilchard as bait to catch the mullet.
Another effective way to catch mullet for bait is to use a bait trap. You can buy these from your tackle stores, or you can make them quite easily as well.
You’ll need to load the trap with berley again, as this is what will draw the mullet into the trap. It shouldn’t take long after placing it into the water with the berley inside for the mullet to start filling the trap.
Here are some of the species you can expect to catch using mullet as bait from the beach
- Sea trout
- Spanish Mackerel
Try out these best bait options on your next beach fishing trip
Any of the above-mentioned baits will catch you fish when you fish from the beach. Choose a couple of these on your next trip and see which one you have the best lunch with.