Best Surf Fishing rigs: 12 rigs to catch more fish in the surf.

We all know surf fishing can be incredibly rewarding and sometimes very disappointing. Majority of the time when we hit a bad day on the surf the reasons can be as simple as using the wrong rig or not presenting it correctly. Here we take a look at 12 of the best rigs you can use in the surf as well as how. 

NOTE: There are a lot of rigs in this article – please use the TABLE OF CONTENTS below to help you navigate to the information you need. Each rig is numbered 1-12.

Table of Contents

1. Fish finder surf rig

The fish finder rig is efficient and easy to use. This rig is most commonly used in rough conditions and areas with little structure. I find that it is easy to tie and doesn’t have much wind resistance when you cast. 

What is a fishfinder rig?

The fish finder rig is excellent if you are looking for a simple rig to get you good results. It consists of a steel leader ( or fluorocarbon ) with a circle hook at the end. A barrel swivel is also tied to the main line just behind the sliding fishfinder sinker which has a pyramid sinker clipped on with a snap swivel.

How to make the rig:

  1. Add a slider onto your mainline with a snap swivel attached to it.
  2. Clip your pyramid sinker onto the snap swivel.
  3. Thread a bead on.
  4. Tie a barrel swivel to the end of the mainline
  5. Tie your steel leader to the barrel swivel.
  6. Tie your chosen hook to the end of the leader.

Best species for a fishfinder rig.

Fish Finder rigs are quite versatile with what you can target. You can catch fish such as sharks or flatfish, fluke, striped bass, red snapper, and snook. The specifics of the rig will have to change depending on what you target.

If you target a Shark you will have to increase your leader length and hook size as well as make sure you are using a suitable strength steel leader. For Flatfish you want the hook and bait to rest on the sand so you would use a shorter leader. 

Fish you can catch with this rig:

  • Most Sharks ( Blacktip, Grey, and Hound Sharks )
  • Red Snapper
  • Striped Bass
  • Snook
  • Flatfish

Best conditions to use a fishfinder rig

I prefer to use use this rig in rough conditions like around areas where there is little to no structure. This is generally your sandy area without rocks or ledges. This rig will do great in strong currents and big waves.

The easy way to spot the right conditions here is to look for waves pulling up sand with white water behind them. This tells us there’s a small sand bank with sand conditions behind it. 

I have found that one reason this rig works so well in the sand is because of the pyramid sinker. The sinker buries itself in the sand with the flat part of the pyramid facing towards the direction it’s being pulled, causing the waves to pull it against the sand. 

 Tackle needed for a fishfinder rig

The tackle you need will change in length, size, and weight depending on the fish you are targeting. But here are the basic pieces you need to make up the rig:

  • 3/0-5/0 circle hook
  • 14-18” steel / Fluorocarbon leader
  •  Sinker slide ( one that allows the sinker to slide on the main line )
  • 2-3oz pyramid sinker ( take into account casting distance )
  • 6-8mm colored bead.

Knowing how long you need to make your leader depends on how well you know the fish you are targeting. The fish finder rig presents the bait just off the ocean floor floating up and down as if it were a wounded fish.

If you want it to float higher make your leader longer giving more space between the sinker and bait. If you want it to lower then make the leader shorter, keeping the bait and sinker closer together. 

Click here to get the recommended best hook size for 13 saltwater species to maximize your catch.

2. Floating Fishfinder Surf Rig

The Floating fish finder is the same as the basic fish finder rig. The only difference is we now add a float to the leader so we can target low to middle-swimming fish. 

What is a floating fishfinder rig? 

The floating fishfinder rig is our solution to constantly losing our baits to your bottom-feeding crustaceans such as crabs or even other smaller fish which you aren’t targeting. By adding a float you are lifting your bait off the bottom. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Add a slider onto your mainline with a snap swivel attached to it.
  2. Clip your pyramid sinker onto the snap swivel.
  3. Thread a bead on.
  4. Tie a barrel swivel to the end of the mainline
  5. Tie your steel leader to the barrel swivel.
  6. Thread a 3” float onto the leader.
  7. Tie your chosen hook to the end of the leader.

Best species for a floating fishfinder rig.

From what I’ve experienced, adding the float does tend to discourage some fish to bite on occasion, such as snook. But you shouldn’t have much issue with other fish. You can target:

  • Most Sharks ( Blacktip, Grey, and Hound Sharks )
  • Red Snapper
  • Striped Bass
  • Bluefish

When rigging your bait make sure you don’t allow for the hook to be fully exposed near the float. This often discourages fish to bite. Rather cover the hook well and just leave the front part of the hook showing so the hook can set when the fish bites.

Click here for full guide on catching more bluefish from the pier or surf.

Best conditions to use a floating fishfinder rig.

The conditions for the floating fishfinder rig are the same as the basic fishfinder rig, This rig will be beneficial for rough currents and strong waves. The closer to the surface the bait is though the more movement it will have. 

Tackle needed for a floating fishfinder rig.

The same principles apply to the basic Fishfinder rig. You will need to change lengths, sizes, and weights depending on what you are targeting. The tackle is pretty much the same as well. Here is a list for you: 

  • 3/0-5/0 circle hook
  • 14-18” steel / Fluorocarbon leader
  •  Sinker slide ( one that allows the sinker to slide on the main line )
  • 2-3oz pyramid sinker ( take into account casting distance )
  • 6-8mm colored bead.
  • 2-3” ball Float

3. Carolina Surf Rig 

The Carolina Rig is an epic and simple rig many anglers use for bottom fishing. One great feature of this rig is that you can use both artificial baits as well as natural baits. The rig makes use of a round sinker, bead, J hook, swivel, and leader.

What is a Carolina Rig? 

As said, the Carolina Rig is used for bottom fishing. The rig uses a J hook on a fluorocarbon or steel leader connected to a swivel tied to the main line. There is generally a bead between the swivel and sinker but this is optional. An egg sinker runs loose on the mainline and must be able to slide up and down it. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Add a sliding egg sinker to your mainline. 1-2oz should be perfect. 
  2. Thread a bead on.
  3. Tie a barrel swivel to the end of the mainline
  4. Tie your steel or fluorocarbon leader to the barrel swivel.
  5. Tie your chosen hook to the end of the leader.

Best species for a Carolina Rig

With the Carolina rig, you can target fish such as

  • Snook
  • Snapper
  • Redfish ( Puppy Drum & Red Drum )
  • Barred Surf Perch

When you find a hole in the surf and cast into it the way the bait sits and moves in the current gives it a natural look which encourages a bite. 

Want to catch more Redfish from the pier or surf? Click here for the full guide!

Best conditions to use a Carolina Rig

This method is excellent to use around structure. If you are fishing the surf you need to look for a hole amongst the waves. When I look for a hole in the surf I look for churning sand in the waves with some consistent white water in front and dark settled water behind the wave. 

I also pay careful attention to the direction of the current. If you throw into a strong current pulling left or right, your bait will be pulled with it. It’s best to fish in an area with little underwash or sidewash. Fishing rivers near bridges and canals also works well.

Tackle needed for a Carolina Rig

The tackle needed to make this rig is basic. Starting with your main line you would thread your egg sinker on, then thread a bead on if you want. Once that’s done, tie the swivel to the main line with a clinch knot. Then tie your leader to your swivel with the same knot and tie your J hook to the leader. 

Here’s a list of the tackle you need: 

  • 6-12inch 20-30lb Fluorocarbon leader
  • 3-4oz egg sinker
  • 6-8mm bead ( optional )
  • Barrell swivel

4. Drop Shot Surf Rig

Dropshot fishing is super fun. I prefer to use artificial lures when it comes to dropshot fishing in the surf and cast quite far and retrieve the lure with different methods depending on what you are targeting.

What is the best drop shot rig? 

Deciding what the best rig is for dropshot can be difficult and largely comes down to what you are targeting. The basics of the rig would be a Fluorocarbon leader tied to your main line with either a Figure-eight knot or a basic braid knot.

You want to optimize casting so braid would be your best bet. At the end of your leader, you would use either a Rapala or a jighead sinker with a soft bait lure threaded onto it. 

If there are a lot of weeds in the water I think the best choice is a weedless lure. With a weedless lure, you add a swivel to the mainline and a 1-2oz cylinder sinker to the leader line with a bead just before the lure. You also sink the tip of the hook in the lure to avoid it getting stuck in any rocks or weeds. 

How to make the rig:

Method 1

  1. Tie your braid and Fluorocarbon leader with a braid knot or Figure 8 knot.
  2. Tie a snap swivel to the end of the leader.
  3. Clip a Rapala or jighead onto the snap swivel.

Method 2

  1. After you have tied your leader tie a barrel swivel to it.
  2. Tie a stronger Fluorocarbon leader ( or steel leader ) to the swivel. 
  3. Add a cylinder sinker to the leader.
  4. Tie on a bass hook, 3/0-5/0.
  5. Thread on soft bait lure of your choosing.

Best species for a dropshot rig

The answer to this is quite simple. You can target any fish that feed on other fish. With the wide variety of lures available you can present your bait as any bait fish that other predator fish would most commonly feed on.

Some specific species you could target would be

  • Halibut
  • Snook
  • Snapper  
  • Dusky Salmon

Any fish that typically ambushes its prey will go for a lure if it is presented right. Dropshot with a soft bait lure is generally my go too when I am fishing the surf. Ive been fishing for Bluefish using this rig and caught a beautiful Giant Trevally. What a surprise! 

Best conditions to use a dropshot rig

From my experience, it seems to be a universal law that the best conditions for dropshot are generally 2 hours before low tide or just as the tide pushes. This is because you can easily reach the holes where fish prefer to sit and ambush other fish. 

Tackle needed for a dropshot rig

Depending on your choice of lure, your tackle will change. It also depends on what species you are targeting. Here is a list of tackle you would need for each rig:

Weedless Rig

  • 1-2oz cylinder sinker
  • Barrel swivel
  • 4/0-6/0 bass hook
  • 30lb or more Fluorocarbon leader
  • bead

Jighead Rig

  • 30lb or more Fluorocarbon leader
  • 1-3oz jighead hook
  • 3-6” soft bait lure ( type depends on the fish you are targeting )

Rapala

  • 30lb or more Fluorocarbon leader
  • Rapala ( type depends on the fish you are targeting )
  • 3/0- 5/0 Treble hooks

5. Paternoster Surf Rig

The Paternoster rig is great, durable, and has been used for ages. With this rig, you make use of dual hooks and a grap sinker. This is best used in deep water. 

What is a Paternoster rig? 

The Paternoster rig is a rig that has been around for a long time and Anglers continue to use it because of how efficient it is. The rig makes use of two droppers tied fast at a reasonable distance from one another on the main line with a grapple sinker at the bottom of the leader. 

The hooks are tied to the mainline with fluorocarbon leader and the dropper loops should be tied in a way that makes sure the hooks don’t come near each other when the main line is tightened. This makes sure they don’t tangle. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Attach a barrel swivel to the end of your mainline. 
  2. Use about an 18” fluorocarbon leader. Tie it to the swivel.
  3. Tie two droppers loops equal distances apart on the leader.
  4. Add your choice of hook to the droppers before you have completed the dropper loop.
  5. Tie a 2-4oz teardrop sinker to the end of the leader.

Best species for a Paternoster rig

The Paternoster rig is ideally suited to bottom fishing. You can catch just about anything with it as well. It’s great for fishing in the surf as the grapple sinker catches rocks and holds the bait in one place. When you need to reel in the steel arms on the sinker pull back to free it. 

What you catch will depend on your hooks’ size and bait. You could catch:

  • Sharks
  • Snook
  • Bluefish
  • Bream 
  • Trevally.

Best conditions to use a Paternoster rig

This rig is best suited to deep water with little heavy current. The sinker holds the bait to the bottom and allows each bait to float just off the ocean floor depending on how long your leader is. The rig is also great in areas with structures like rocks or grass.

Tackle needed for a Paternoster rig

Like most rigs, the size, weight, and length of your tackle and how you tie the rig will change depending on what you want to target. Here is what you need:

  • 2x 2/0-5/0 J hooks ( depending on what you want to catch )
  • Roughly one meter of leader ( strength determined by what you are targeting )
  • 2x 11-15” fluorocarbon for the droppers. 
  • Swivel at the top of the mainline
  • 2oz-4oz grapple or tear drop sinker.

6. Single Dropper Loop Surf Rig

The single dropper loop rig is great for fishing off piers in deep water. The rig has one hook dropper off the center of the main line with a teardrop sinker at the bottom of the main line. 

What is a Single dropper Loop rig? 

The Single Dropper loop rig is a rig used for bottom fishing mainly. Using a mainline of roughly 30 to 50cm you tie a loop knot in the center giving you the dropper. You then thread the loop through and over your hook tying it on. At the end of the line, you will tie on your sinker. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Tie a barrel swivel to the mainline.
  2. Tie a fluorocarbon leader to the swivel.
  3. Create a dropper loop in the center of the leader.
  4. Thread the loop over the hook of your choice
  5. Add a pyramid sinker or teardrop sinker to the end of the leader.

Best species for a Single dropper Loop rig

I often use the Single Dropper Rig for edibles. You can target anything with this rig when fishing. Your tackle will change depending on what you are targeting. You can catch

  • Sheephead, 
  • Snapper 
  • black drum 
  • pinfish 
  • crocker

Best conditions to use a Single dropper Loop rig

I prefer using the Single dropper rig in deep water with little current. If you use this rig in rough conditions you would most likely drift too much or get tangled up. off the boat or a pier is always a great place to use this rig.

Tackle needed for a Single dropper Loop rig

There isn’t much needed for this rig. You can also add to the rig if you want to. Here is a list of what you would need:

  • 30-50cm monofilament / Fluorocarbon leader
  • 2/0-5/0 J hook or circle hook.
  • 2oz-4oz tear drop sinkers.

7. High Low / Double Dropper Loop Surf Rig

What is a Double Dropper rig? 

The Double Dropper rig or also known as the high-low rig is similar to the single dropper loop rig but you have a dropper higher up the main line and another one closer to the sinker at the bottom of the main line.

How to make the rig:

  1. Tie a barrel swivel to the mainline.
  2. Tie an 18” fluorocarbon leader to the swivel.
  3. Create a dropper loop 10cm from the bottom of the leader.
  4. Tie the second dropper another 10cm from the first dropper.
  5. Thread the loop over the hook of your choice
  6. Add a pyramid sinker or teardrop sinker to the end of the leader.

Best species for a Double Dropper rig

Once again this rig is very versatile in what you can target with it. You can target the same species as with the single dropper;

  •  sheephead
  • Snapper
  • black drum 
  • pinfish 
  • crocker 
  • Bluefish

Best conditions to use a Double Dropper rig

I’ve used this rig would in deep water generally from a pier or ledge off the rocks. Avoid using this rig in strong currents and waves. Look for areas where the water is calm and where there could be structures such as rocks and vegetation at the bottom. 

Tackle needed for a Double Dropper rig

The tackle needed for this rig is straightforward. You will need

  • 1x 1-meter monofilament / Fluorocarbon leader ( Lb depending on what you are targeting )
  • 2x 2/0-5/0 J hook or circle hooks
  • 2oz-3oz teardrop or grapple sinker

8. Flapper Surf Rig

What is a Flapper rig? 

The Flapper rig is an epic rig that allows you to cast multiple baits at the same time whilst avoiding getting tangled. I use this rig often when I target Red Drum. You can have a double or triple flapper rig. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Use a piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon, and thread a steel crimp on stopping it with your fingers at the desired location.
  2. You then thread a bead, the swivel, another bead, and your last steel crimp. 
  3. You do this again further down the line another two times.
  4. You add a fluorocarbon leader to each swivel for the hook and can use either a circle or a J hook. 
  5. Attach your sinker to the end of the main line.

Best species for a Flapper rig

The Flapper is great for presenting good bait. Once the crimps are pressed flat they should hold the bait fast in one direction. The bait should bounce up and down giving it the look of a wounded fish.

You can catch:

  • Snook
  • bream
  • snapper
  • sheephead
  • striped bass
  • Red Drum

Best conditions to use a Flapper rig

This rig can be used in many different conditions. You can use it when casting into the surf or off piers in deep water. You typically use a pyramid sinker with this rig making it perfect for the surf and rough currents. 

If you want to use it in deep water with little to no current you can change the sinker. 

Tackle needed for a Flapper rig

You need more tackle for this rig than the others. You can change the fluorocarbon leaders to steel leaders and the hook size if you are targeting larger fish. For this rig you would need:

  • 4-6x steel crimps
  • 4-6x 8mm beads 
  • 2-3x J hooks or circle hooks ( size depends on what you are targeting )
  • 4x swivels
  • 2-4oz pyramid sinker ( teardrop if fishing a dropoff )

9. Spider Hitch Surf Rig

What is a Spider Hitch rig? 

The Spider rig hitch is incredibly durable and limits the use of tackle needed, such as swivels and other items. With the spider hitch rig, you can choose to use it either with or without a sinker. You tie a 10-15cm loop on your mainline aimed at doubling its strength. 

  How to make the rig:

  • Tie a loop in your mainline using a reverse clinch knot.
  • Attatch the loop to a Rapala by threading the it through as one line. 
  • Or tie a barrel swivel to it and add a fluorocarbon leader with a jighead and soft bait lure.

 What can I catch using Spider Hitch Rig?

The spider hitch rig is great for using lures. You can use this rig for dropshot or trolling. You would mostly target species that ambush smaller fish. Such as

  • Halibut, 
  • Trevally 
  • Snapper
  • Red Drum
  • Other game fish. 

Best conditions to use a Spider Hitch rig

This rig is known for its strength and abrasion resistance. You can use this in rocky conditions and other conditions that require extra line strength. You would most typically use this for trolling or throwing lures or drifting with live bait.

Tackle needed for a spider Hitch rig

For the spider rig, it all comes down to choosing the right line to tie the initial spider hitch knot to. What’s great about the rig is the knot doubles the strength of the line you choose so you can match it with any strength Fluorocarbon as a leader.

Here is what you could use for this rig:

  • 15-30lb Monofilament main line ( Lb depends on what you are targeting. )
  • 20-35lb fluorocarbon leader
  • Rapala ( specific to your target species )
  • 1-3oz Jighead hook ( dropshot )

10. Running Sinker Surf Rig

What is a running sinker rig? 

The running sinker rig is probably the most simple rig I’ve used.. There are a few methods to tie the rig but the most basic way is tying a hook to one side of fluorocarbon and a swivel to the other with an egg or cylinder sinker on the line.  

How to make the rig:

  1. Attach a barrel swivel to your mainline.
  2. Tie a leader to the swivel. 
  3. Thread an eggs sinker onto the leader.
  4. Tie a hook of your choosing to the end of the leader.

The running sinker is great for fishing in areas with slow-moving currents and little structure. You would primarily use this for bottom fishing. 

Best species for a running sinker rig

This rig is great for your edible fish. You can target fish like

  • Bream
  • Snapper
  • Bluefish 
  • Stripped bass 

I often try to target fish that feed higher up as well by adding a small float above the sinker. 

Best conditions to use a running sinker rig

I would use this rig from the pier, bank, or surf into a hole with a slow or steady-moving current and structure. If you use this rig in harsher conditions the bait will, unfortunately, be tossed around too often.

Tackle needed for a Running Sinker Rig

The tackle you need for the running sinker rig is really simple. All you need is

  • 2/0-5/0 J-hook or Circle Hook.
  • 1x egg or cylinder sinker 1-2oz.
  • 20-30cm of fluorocarbon or steel leader.  

11. Pompano Surf Rig

What is a Pompano Rig? 

Pompano rigs are awesome. They are versatile and can be used for many species. I’ve found that they take slightly longer to tie than other rigs but they really do well in the surf. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Cut about a 5ft piece of Fluorocarbon
  2. Tie on a snap swivel to the end of your line.
  3. Tie a dropper loop 10” away from the sinker.
  4. Tie another dropper 10” away and then a third.
  5. Thread a pill float to each dropper.
  6. Thread a bead onto each dropper.
  7. Tie your choice of hooks onto each dropper

 Best species for a Pompano rig

One of the most prominent species we can catch with this rig is in its name. You can catch the pompano, but this rig isn’t limited to that. You can use this rig to catch

  • Sharks
  • Whiting 
  • Black drum 
  • Striped Bass 
  • Bluefish

The rig is also easily customizable. If you are targeting lower swimming fish you can set your droppers lower and leave off the floats making this similar to the Flapper rig. 

Best conditions to use a Pompano rig

This rig is great for fishing in the surf. With the pyramid sinker, you can be sure that strong currents and waves won’t make your rigs drift too much. The floats will also lift the baits to where you have set them and the currents will provide them with good natural movement to attract fish. 

You can also cast this rig with little difficulty making it one of the best rigs for fishing the surf in most conditions. It would be best to use this rig in areas without much structure like rocks are weeds to avoid getting stuck.

Tackle needed for a Pompano rig

To create the Pompano rig you don’t need much. You can also make it how you like. You can add 3 droppers or fewer, you can remove the floats, or add bigger ones. It’s up to you. Here is the basic tackle you need:

  • 5ft 20-30lb fluorocarbon
  • 3 pill float ( depending on the number of droppers )
  • 3 J hooks or circle hooks ( depending on the number of droppers.)
  • 3 8mm beads ( also dependent on the number of droppers )
  • 1 2-4oz pyramid sinker
  • 1 snap swivel

12. Fireball Surf Rigs

What is a Fireball rig? 

The fireball rig is also known as the bluefish rig, wonder why? Because it’s great for targeting Bluefish! The fireball rig is used for bottom fishing and is often made up of 1 or 2 leaders and a sinker. The hooks have float thread over them to keep the bait off the ground from unwanted species. 

How to make the rig:

  1. Tie a swivel to the main line. 
  2. Using about 50cm of fluorocarbon, tie 2 droppers an equal distance from each other. Make sure they can’t touch.
  3. Add your J hook to the dropper
  4. Thread your ball float to the hook and place a crimp just above it
  5. At the end of the Fluorocarbon tie on a snap swivel and a grapple sinker. 

You can also use the same method as the Flapper rig. The only difference would be the sinker and floats.

Best species for a Fireball rig

As said, the Fireball rig is a killer when it comes to targeting bluefish. But you can also catch fish like

  • Snapper, 
  • Striped bass, 
  • Snook
  • Bream.
  • Bluefish
  • Red Drum

Remember to either keep a standard hook size or change the size depending on what you are targeting. 

Best conditions to use a Fireball rig

The Fireball rig is not the easiest to cast with so you would want to look for areas that are easier to reach along the surf. A bonus is that the grapple sinker makes fishing near rocks and other structures safe as you are unlikely to get stuck. 

The best place to use this would be in easy to get to holes near rocks and weeds with consistent churning water. Look for structure and try different bait for the most success.

Tackle needed for a Fireball rig

Making the Fireball Rig isn’t too complicated. If you want to spend less and do all the knots yourself you will save on buying crimps at least. Here is a list of what you need to make the Fireball rig:

  • 3 basic swivels ( 2 if you want to use them for the droppers with crimps )
  • 1 snap swivel
  • 6 crimps ( if you don’t want to tie knots for the droppers. )
  • 3 ball floats
  • 3 2/0-5/0 J hooks
  • 2-4oz grapple sinker

12 Surf fishing rigs Summary

As anglers, we are sure you want to make sure you get the most out of every trip down to the surf. Hopefully, these 12 best rigs for surf fishing helps you which rig is best for you on any given day. Tight lines!