A lot of people think surf fishermen are at an immediate disadvantage- no boat, no electronics. They think this impedes the surf angler’s chances of having a productive day of fishing. People who regularly fish from a boat, kayak or other type of water craft tend to think they are more productive than the typical surf fishermen. But the experienced, well prepared surf angler is always thinking about what he can do to level the playing field. To be successful, surf fishermen develop ways to increase their chances of consistently catching fish trip after trip.
Good surf fisherman have proven they can achieve catching consistency by paying close attention to tides, moons, winds, weather conditions, time of day and structure. Studying these factors will produce an understanding of when, and under what conditions, to use different patterns and presentations. These factors will contribute to increased catch rates for experienced surfcasters who study them, keep notes in log books, and/or input information into the many available apps. Questions about this from clients, friends, and people I run into on beaches and jetties come up all the time: “How do I know what to use and when?” I always give them the same answer: “The answer lies with the observations you make and the tackle in your surf bag.”
I have always believed that there are certain lures whose major purpose is to be “fish finders”.
These are lures that will initiate a strike under almost any condition and initiate instinctive strikes even when fish aren't feeding! Whenever I walk up to a beach or inlet, I know I will be throwing one of these lures right away- reason being, I want to know if there is something in the area. The last thing I want to do is waste time standing in an area casting into the big, empty blanket of blue. When throwing a search bait, I am not concerned with the size of the fish or even the species of fish- I just want to know if fish are here. If they are, it tells me there is bait in the water. In most situations, if there is no bait, there are no fish.
All things considered, lures are to surf fishermen what electronics are to boat fishermen- fish finders. The most versatile lure you can carry in your surf bag for this purpose is a bucktail. The bucktail can work any part of the water column based on its weight and the retrieval speed. These two in combination, and under any condition can make the difference between catching the fish of a lifetime or not, just by being a few inches off from where you work your lure in the water column. Knowing what bait is present allows you to match various bait profiles to the bucktail by simply changing the trailer- jig strips, pork rind, twisted tail, curled tail etc. Most companies make trailers in a variety of sizes to allow you to mimic whatever bait is present.
Slim profile soft plastics are definitely on my list of “fish finders” - Hogy pro tails, Sluggos etc.
Most times I am walking up to a back bay, beach or inlet, the bait predominately present will be slim profile baits that have taken up “residence” around hard structured areas and inlets. Because of this specific population, you’ll want to begin your search with slim profile lures and follow the surfcaster's rule- “match the hatch” to see if you can initiate a strike.
Slim profile swimming lures, such as the Daiwa SP Minnow, can stimulate a great hit. These lures are easy to fish and mimic many different smaller baits that could be present in the water. This lure is very versatile, and can also be used in different parts of the water column. This is a great casting lure, and water column management can be achieved with the change of your retrieval speed. A minnow bait with a weight transfer system can also cut through the wind to maximize casting distance on days when conditions may not be optimal for other search lures.
Lastly, consider poppers (polaris or pencil types) to be fish finding lures. These don’t have the versatility of the other lures mentioned because they are only most productive during daylight and only can be fished on top of the water. However, the motion, splashing of water and general commotion created by these lures on the surface will often peak the curiosity of fish in the area and initiate instinctive strikes.
While I consider the lures mentioned to be great fish finders and good starting points for a fishing trip, don’t get caught with blinders on. You want to be versatile, just like your lures. Don’t hesitate to try new things. Use various types and profiles of lures, and switch it up to put yourself in position to catch fish every time. There have been many nights when I started with “fish finders” and caught a few small fish. But then I switch to other lures with bigger profiles to attract bigger fish. There have also been nights where the “fish finder” was all I needed to score big fish. So remember, No Boat, no Electronic Fish Finder? No Problem! There are quite a few Fish Finders right in your surf bag! Live Authentic! Live the Passion! Tight Lines!
Certified Fishing Guide with over 30 years of experience surfcasting the legendary waters of Long Island. He is well known for his informative seminars at saltwater shows in the Northeast. Bernie offers trips along the outer beaches and inlets of Long Island, as well as Cape Cod Canal, Cuttyhunk, and other Northeast Striper locations. He is a pro-team member for S&S Bucktails, ODM RODS, and KastKing, as well as a member of the Long Island Beach Buggy Association and the Montauk Surfcasters Association. You can contact Bernie on Facebook through Bernie Bass Surfcasting Services, on Instagram @Bernie_bass and through his website at