Forget Hawaii and California - on the East Coast, the best place for surf is on the Outer Banks, and this region is renowned as one of the best surfing destinations from New York to Florida. Surfers from all over the country and the world flock to the Outer Banks for the annual ESA tournament, or just after a storm swell, to paddle out to the Atlantic and enjoy some of the best waves on the coast.
Once you have your coastal recreational fishing license in hand, it’s time to start thinking about gear. Anglers will find tons of options when it comes to equipment for casting into the surf, from custom designed rods and reels at local tackle shops, to name brand varieties that are designed for multiple areas along the coastline.
Here are just a few of the most popular gear options for surf fishermen. Keep in mind that there are endless options available, and your local bait and tackle store staff will be happy to point you in the right direction if you have any questions about what you’ll need for successful surf fishing in any given area along the North Carolina coastline.
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Surf Fishing Rods
Rods can be purchased separately, or as a rod and reel combo. Though the length can vary by beach and surf conditions, local anglers traditionally recommend using an 8′ to 16′ light to medium surf type rod, which can adapt to most conditions and most species. Keep in mind that the rod you choose has a lot to do with your physical size – some rods are heavy, and can tire out an angler quickly after multiple casts.
A Sample of Top Rated Rods
- Lamiglas Super Surf – Graphite, 11 foot
- Croix Mojo Surf - SCII Graphite, 12 foot
- Croix Triumph Surf - SCII Graphite, 9 or 10 foot
- PENN Spinfisher V – Rod and Reel combo - Aluminum, 10 foot
- Okuma's Solaris Surf - IM-6 Graphite, 10 foot
- Penn Battalion Surf – Aluminum, 8 or 10 foot
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik – Rod and reel combo, 8 foot
- Okuma Longitude Surf – Graphite, 11 or 12 foot
Reels for Surf Fishing
A spinning reel is often cited as the best type of reel for surf fishermen, as it is easy to cast, easy to clean, (a must when sand is involved), and easy to set-up and to access the fishing line itself. Spinning reels often provide a longer cast as well, which helps for casting along oceanfront beaches.
Spinning reels vary widely, from inexpensive but easy to use models, to high tech varieties that can be used in all conditions. Like all surf fishing equipment, a local tackle shop can help you identify the best reel for your specific area along the coast.
A Sample of Top Rated Reels
- Van Staal VS100BXP Black Spinning Reel – Expensive but nice - Gear ratio is 4.25:1, weight is 2 pounds
- Abu Garcia YonderBY-6500 - Gear ratio is 6.3:1, weight is 1 pound
- Himenlens MC-A08 - ~$200 - All Stainless Steel CNC Integrated Carbon Fiber Brakes Anti-Corrosion Saltwater Fishing Spinning Reel - Gear ratio is 5.1:1, weight is 0.9 pounds
- Quantum CSP60PTSE - ~$175 - Cabo Spin Reel - Gear ratio is 5.3:1, weight is 0.8 pounds
- Shimano Baitrunner 12000 OC Oceania spinning fishing reel BTR12000OC - Gear ratio is 4.4:1, weight is 1.8 pounds
- Fin-Nor 8500A - Gear ratio is 4.7:1, weight is 2.15 pounds
- Penn 641-1366184 Clash Spinning Fishing Reel - Gear ratio is 4.7: 1, weight is 1 pound
Surf Fishing Line
Your line will literally make or break your ability to reel in a catch. Look for 20-25 test line for the best results in all conditions, and go for Nylon Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, or Braided Line varieties in terms of materials. Monofilament nylon is a great choice for new anglers, as it is fairly cheap, knots well, and has an inherent stretch, which is a great attribute for surf fishermen who are developing their skills.
A Sample of Top Rated Saltwater Fishing Lines
- Hurricane Monofilament Saltwater Fishing Line.
- KastKing DuraBlend Monofilament Leader Line.
- Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament Custom Spool
- Goture Superpower Braided Fishing Line
- Pisfun SuperPower Braided Saltwater Fishing Line.
- Stren High Impact Fishing Line
Rigs for Surf Fishing
Like all gear designed for surf fishing, when it comes to rigs and rig set-ups, there are a lot of options, which generally depend on the fish you are targeting, the season, and other conditions and factors that change depending on where along the North Carolina coastline you land. In fact, there is likely a unique and distinct type of rig available for every species of fish, and every type of body of saltwater.
Some experienced anglers attest that the best set-up for beginners is likely a basic two-hook leader with 3-4 ounce pyramid sinker and Khale hooks, which are adaptable for virtually all water conditions and types of fish. In addition, you can opt for the three following popular surf fishing rigs:
- The Fish-Finder Rig: The fish finder rig utilizes a pyramid sinker with snap / ball-bearing swivel, and a leader that connects with the hook. This set-up provides as little resistance as possible as your fish is attracted to the bait. You can make the leader as long as you’d like, but on average, 24” inches is a good baseline.
- The Fireball Rig: The fireball rig utilizes a pyramid sinker connected to foam balls, which keeps the bait slightly off the ocean bottom, The bright colors makes the rig a solid choice when the waters are rough and cloudy, and the rig also works great with live bait. This rig can be set up manually, but can also be purchased already set-up, which is likely the best option for beginners.
- The High-Low Rig: The high-low rig uses two hooks, which increases an angler’s chances of attracting their target fish. It works well with large predatory fish and natural bait, and can be manually created, or purchased as a complete rig at most bait and tackle stores.
Sand spike and other varieties of rod holders will hold your rod in place when you need a break, or just want to enjoy a little downtime relaxing on the beach. This piece of equipment comes in a variety of different materials – such as PVC or aluminum – as well as different lengths, and different price ranges. Rod holders that are made of PVC or ABS plastic are traditionally the least expensive, but if you’re in rough ocean conditions and do a lot of surf fishing, upgrading to a more durable metal rod holder may be your best rouet.
A sample of popular models for sand spike rod holders:
- Eagle Claw Sand Spike - 2″ x 22″ PVC Sand Spike Rod Holder. Simple and effective, and works well on most beaches and conditions.
- Sea Striker Surf Pal Sand Spike – High impact plastic rod holder with the added benefit of having a built-in bait box and cutting board.
- South Bend Spiral Rod Holder - 15″ x 4″ Powder coated steel sand spike. A good fit for straight rods, and hard and compact beaches or coastlines.
A pyramid weight is often the preferred weight for surf fishermen, as it can stand up to currents and hold at the bottom. A roughly 2 oz. to 4 oz. pyramid weight should hold strong in most ocean conditions, when used in conjunction with a surf rod. If it’s a rough day, or you are fishing on a beach with large breakers close to the shore, up the weight a bit to hold strong in the surf.
A cart will make a surf fisherman’s life infinitely easier when heading to and from the beach. Built to be pulled across the sand with ease, and large enough to hold all the essential equipment and then some, a beach cart is a great way to pack and tote along all the equipment you’ll need for a full day on the sand.
Look for carts that can hold a lot of weight – you may be bringing back plenty of big catches, after all – as well as carts that have larger than normal, sturdy wheels. Larger wheels will essentially transform a standard cart into a 4WD mode of transportation that can easily haul your supplies across soft sand.
A sample of popular models for surf fishing carts:
- Berkley Fishing Cart – The Berkley Fishing Cart is rated for up to 200 pounds of gear, features six removable rod holders, and is a nicely lightweight option that clocks in at just 30 pounds.
- Mac Sports Heavy Duty Collapsible Folding Utility Cart – This all-purpose cart is rated for up to 150 pounds, has a large 18” x 30” interior, and easily folds up to be packed along on your surf fishing vacation.
- Reels on Wheels Jr. Fishing Cart – This cart is rated for more than 200 pounds, features five rod holders, and has a detachable bait basket and tackle station to handle everything you need while on the sand.
- Surf/Pier Fishing Cart by Plus One – This cart is rated for up to 300 pounds, but weighs just 22 pounds, and is saltwater tolerant, as it has no wheel bearings.
If you want a longer cast, and you prefer to fish in colder or cooler weather, waders will be your best friend. Waders are effectively worn like overalls, protecting the lower 3/4th of your body from water inundation when you wade out to the surf to cast.
Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to waders! Inexpensive varieties can leak, which can turn a great fishing day into a bad one fairly quickly.
A sample of popular models for surf fishing waders
- Adamsbuilt Truckee – These overall-style waders are made of high-quality materials that are both waterproof and comfortable to wear. The Adamsbuilt Truckee waders also come with booties made of thick neoprene to keep feet warm and dry all day long. They also have the added bonus of a large zippered pocket to easily hold supplies.
- Caddis Northern Guide – Made with special waterproof and warm material, the Caddis Northern Guide waders are adjustable to multiple anglers, and come with suspenders and a front zippered pocket.
- Hodgman Mackenzie – These waders are made from a material that is much lighter than traditional waders, but which is still strong enough to protect against cold and water. They also feature suspenders, as well as PVC booties that can hold up to the cold.
Bait and Lures
One of the hardest decisions for surf fishermen is what type of bait, or artificial lure, to use for the best results. Many local tackle shops can direct new anglers in the right direction when it comes to what’s biting, and what bait or lures to use, but here’s a closer look at some of the most popular varieties for fishing along coastal North Carolina.
- Shrimp – Virtually all saltwater species are attracted to shrimp, which is why it’s found in just about every bait and tackle store up and down the North Carolina coastline. Fresh shrimp is generally preferred over frozen if you can find it, and it’s recommended that you remove the head, cut the shrimp into 3-4 bite-sized pieces if desired, and hook the shrimp through the dorsal back so that it stays securely on the hook.
- Sand Fleas – Sand fleas are a great (and effective) on-the-spot option when surf fishermen are out of bait, or out of money. In the summer months, sand fleas can often be obtained by digging through the sand close to the ocean wash. Able to attract a wide array of species, sand fleas can also be purchased at bait and tackle stores when they aren’t plentiful along the shoreline.
- Mullet – Cut mullet is another catch-all bait that can attract a wide array of species. Discard the tail, and cut into small chunks for the best results. Small bait mullet can also be caught for free in area sounds, saltwater canals, marshes, and other calm salty waters with a bucket or a cast net.
- Menhaden – Menhaden is a cut-bait fish that is popular with bluefish, sea trout, and striped bass – some of the most prevalent species along the North Carolina coastline. Most bait shops will have menhaden available, which can be easily cut and hooked.
- Squid – Squid is a frequent option at North Carolina bait shops, as it works well with saltwater species of all varieties, and of all sizes. Use whole smaller squids for targeting the big fish, or cut up squid into smaller piece.
- Clams and Oysters – Though tricky to hook, clams and oysters can attract a wide array of species. Just be sure and stock up – it’s easy for this bait to slide off a hook in rougher ocean conditions.
- Bloodworms or ragworms – Bloodworms are also available in most all North Carolina bait and tackle stores, as they work well in all conditions, for all types of fish. (They’re also nicely inexpensive!) Best of all, bloodworms can be used for surf fishing, as well as targeting inland streams, canals, and sound waters throughout the coastline.
When it comes to lures, there are plenty of options, and what an angler uses is all dependent on where they are headed, and what they are targeting. Bait and tackle store will provide the best recommendations for lures to use for specific species, weather conditions, and seasons, but there are a few popular varieties to try that can work in most any coastal fishing environment.
Here are some of the most popular types of lures for saltwater fishing.
- Gold Spoon – Known as one of the most common lures there is, the spoon is available in all types of colors and sizes, but it’s the gold variety that tends to provide the most flash, and attract the most fish – especially in cloudy waters.
- Berkley Gulp Alive Shrimp – If you don’t have fresh or frozen shrimp handy, artificial shrimp can certainly work in a pinch and yield great results. Try the Berkley Gulp Alive Shrimp, which most resemble their live counterparts to a wide array of saltwater species.
- Bucktail Jigs – Bucktail jigs are also varied when it comes to colors and flairs, and the White Bucktail features a steady and sturdy “tail” that easily attracts fish from the end of the hook.
- Topwater Lure – Topwater lures are another popular option for anglers that can vary from store to store. Red and white varieties are especially popular due to their visibility, and a 4.5” - 5” lure will catch most all saltwater species along the North Carolina coastline.
- Soft Plastic Flukes – The good thing about a soft plastic fluke is that it can be used just about anywhere – in the ocean, in the sound, or even inland. Completely versatile, flukes come in a wide range of colors and sizers, but bright green or white varieties will work well when the ocean conditions aren’t terribly clear.
Other Gear You’ll Need for Surf Fishing
In addition to all of the above essentials, there are some other tools you’ll need to bring along to ensure you have everything you need for a full day (or night) of surf fishing along the North Carolina coastline. Available at bait and tackle stores, sporting goods stores, and even traditional beach shops or grocery stores, look for these items that will make it easier to spend long hours on the beach.
Plano Tackle Box / Shimano Surf Bag – Anglers can opt for a traditional tackle box that holds all their lines, lures, hooks, weights, and other small pieces of gear, or can use a surf bag, which is a little more lightweight and easier to carry when your hands are already full. Look for surf bags that are waterproof with multiple compartments for organized surf fishing.
Piscifun Fishing Pliers – Pliers will help you remove hooks from your catches, but it’s helpful to find a pair that is both small and waterproof. Shop for titanium pliers which can withstand the effects of saltwater for years to come.
Kastking Fishing Knife – A small knife will help you cut bait, lines, and any other equipment that you’ll require for a day of fishing. Like all surf fishing tools, waterproof is key, or at the very least, look for smaller knives that come with a waterproof case.
Saltwater Multi tool – There are a number of modern surf fishing tools that act like a Swiss army knife, and can perform a lot of functions all at once. A multi-use tool is a great option for anglers who don’t want to lug around extra equipment, and who would prefer to stick to the bare minimum of stuff to pack and carry along when it comes to gear.
Polarized Sunglasses – Sunglasses are a must on hot and sunny days along the North Carolina coastline, and a polarized pair of sunglasses will help you see clearly through the water – often even better than with the naked eye! Costa is a popular brand for surf fishermen, as their sunglasses are durable, polarized, and are designed to stand up to the salt air.
Waterproof Flashlights, lanterns, or headlamps – If you are planning on doing a lot of night fishing, then you’ll want to pack along a lantern, flashlight, or a headlamp to see clearly in the dark. A headlamp may be the best option, as it provides light wherever you go, and keeps your hands free for casting, reeling, cutting bait, and other operations along the seashore.