5 Surf Fishing Mistakes We Have All Made

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts. Today we are going to have a little bit of fun as we discuss the 5 surf fishing mistakes that we have all made. You know who you are and you also know the “aahhhhh yeeeesss” moment you had when you either realised the error of your ways or had someone point it out to you.

Now, before we begin, a disclaimer of sorts. As those of you who like do to a little fishing in any area will know, everyone has an opinion and a ‘secret’ when it comes to fishing. So these mistakes may or may not be something you believe but they are things that once I stopped, my fishing certainly became a lot more successful. And again, this website is not designed to be a righteous place so if you have differing opinions or other ‘mistakes’ to add, please, please comment below.

Now let’s see if we can shed some light on the mistakes that I, and many I fish with, have made…


1. Throw it in anywhere

This is certainly one that takes some learning. I still remember my first ever time surf fishing. My dad and I went down to the beach where we were on holidays with two rods and some bait. “I guess we just chuck em in the surf” my dad said in his usual matter or fact way. That’s what we did and then stood there for an hour or so with not even a bite while the guy 10 metres away from us up the beach pulled in fish after fish.

The difference? He was fishing in a gutter. There are exceptions to the rule of course but in general terms, simply throwing your line into the surf at any point is certainly going to limit your chances of getting amongst them.

So, as you get to the beach, look for a gutter or a hole to fish in. Gutters are those long deeper sections of water in between the shore break and first sandbank or two sand banks with entry/exit points at both ends. Holes are deeper sections of water between two sandbanks that join with the beach. These are the perfect place to find a good fish for a number of reasons including:

  • The fish swim through here looking for food stirred up along the edges of the sand banks.
  • Fish feel safer in the deeper water – hence tend to feed more.
  • Holes usually form a whirlpool type action in the middle which collects piles of sediment, seaweed and food for fish.
  • They are usually close to the beach meaning you don’t have to cast very far to get to where the fish are.
  • They provide good catchments if you wanted to release some burly into the action.

This is not to say that you can’t catch some fish in the shore break – whiting for example will often hang there – but utilizing a gutter or hole will give you the best chance of catching some dinner.

Surf Fishing Mistakes

2. Use old tackle

I am going to start this section with my two golden rules for surf fishing:

  1. Never use the same hook on two separate occasions.
  2. Never put a used hook (or swivel) back into your tackle box.

I know I mentioned above that this site was not about me begin a know-it-all and I know tackle costs money, but these are two rules I absolutely stand by. I still remember standing on the beach and watching my surf rod sitting in its holder when it took an almighty bend. I raced over and started winding only to lose the fish after about 10 seconds. We all thought that the line had snapped however when I got it in, everything was intact. We checked the hook and yep, I could push my finger against the point fairly strongly without it piercing my skin. It was blunt.

It was then that I remembered I had not replaced it after the last time it had been used. Fish mouths are quite strong and tough and a blunt hook will just not pierce it!

This is a mistake I could fix quite easily by getting a new one from my tackle box. But what if I replace a blunt hook with another one just as bad? Put your old hook in your bucket and not your tackle box. That way every time you get yourself a new hook, you know it will be nice and sharp to give yourself the best chance of catching a big one.

Oh, and I have seen time and time again friends of mine (and myself too) open their tackle box to find that half of their hooks etc. have gone rusty. If you put a used hook into your tackle box, it WILL rust (it has been in salt water remember) and it will also transfer this rust to other hooks in your box as well.

Tip: I like to take a small tackle box or backpack with me with just enough tackle for that trip. That way I can keep the rest at home and not expose all of it to the elements every time I go for a fish.

Check out these: Surf fishing backpacks

3. Go unprepared

surf fishing mistakes - man on beach

This next one may not directly affect your ability to catch fish however it can make your day far less enjoyable if you are not prepared. I don’t know how many times I have been mid fish and realised I don’t have a knife or pliers etc. or worse still, no spare hooks. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend hours getting ready to go for a fish (especially if you are like me and get a last minute call up when the fish are on) however it does mean having the bare essentials with you when you go.

I must admit to being a little fastidious with this however I have found for me the best trick is to prepare for the next trip as soon as you get back from the last one. As soon as I get home I do the following:

  1. Rinse my rod and reel and remove tackle (remember mistake #2 above).
  2. Clean anything else that needs it such as knives, buckets, rod holders etc.
  3. Restock my tackle box from my main one with anything that I used.
  4. Repack my fishing bag/backpack with all the clean accessories ready for next time.

That way, all I need to do when it is time to go is grab some water and bait and I am ready to go. Obviously if you are someone who likes to take chairs, eskies (coolers) full of beer and so on with you then you will need to do some more at go time. However I have found that if I am disciplined with the above, I always have everything I need when I hit the beach.

4. Go at the wrong time

Ok, so this one is probably the most contentious on the list as there are two very different schools of thought here…

  • The first one is that when it comes to surf fishing, the best time to go is a the change of tides. High tides generate nice deep gutters and low tides tend to reveal fishing loving structures in the water.
  • The second however is to only go early morning and late afternoon, regardless of tide.

My personal opinion is that both of these have bearing on your fishing time choices and in my experience, heading to the beach mid tide at the middle of the day will just not get you a lot of outcome for your efforts – of course, others will argue this too. And in most cases, those last minute call ups I mentioned above are always when the tides are ‘right’ in the morning or evening or when there is a full moon at night. We rarely fish in the middle of the day, even if the tide is on the change.

surf fishing mistakes - evening

I guess my main advice here is to not make the mistake of just heading to the beach whenever you feel like it and throwing a line in. Although on second thought… you are at the beach, fishing, whilst not at work or doing chores around the house, fishing, so forget all that – just go whenever it suits you – hahaha!!

5. Neglect local bait

On this big thing we know as the internet, there are pages and pages (including this site) of information on the best baits and lures to use for fishing in the surf. And yes, most are valid and will not steer you wrong. However, the mistake many make, especially when going to a beach that they haven’t fished before, is not check out what is available locally – i.e. the actual stuff that fish feed on when they can’t find a nice lure or baited hook to take…

I remember going fishing with some friends of mine from New Zealand who told me they used to catch fish in the surf with cow’s liver (which I have on good authority works) however it did not where we were here in Australia. We got nothing until I dug up some ‘pippis‘ in the shore break and landed a nice one immediately.

I discussed this in my tips for beach fishing post in that fish will eat whatever is available to them in their local environment meaning that if you can match as closely as possible to what they eat naturally, then you have a good chance of them taking the hook.

All too often we tend to just run into the old bait shop and purchase what we have always used without any considerations to local conditions. This goes back to your research obviously but if you are in an area where sea worms are prevalent, use them. If pippis or yabbies are more common, then I would be putting them on my hook first and foremost.

The only caveat here is that the weather and beach conditions may have more of a say than the local fare. For example, yabbies are fairly soft and fall off of a hook quite easily meaning that in rough conditions or strong currents, you will spend more time baiting than fishing. In this case, a lure or stronger bait such as squid or fish flesh might give you a better opportunity.

surf fishing mistakes - bait bucket



So there you have it, my 5 tips for successful fishing on the beach. As always, these are not going to guarantee you a catch, however they should give you a little more chance of success that you may not have otherwise had. Have you tried anything else that has worked well, or not so well for you? If so, please comment below and we can have a chat.

As always

Have fun


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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.