How far should you cast when surf fishing?

How far should you cast when surf fishing

The ocean is expansive, and when you are facing it standing on the beach with a rod, it can be difficult to know exactly how far you should cast when fishing the surf. 

This article will walk through exactly how to determine the distance to cast, and more importantly, where to cast when surf fishing, specifically the areas you should target your cast to.  

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You can cast anywhere between 15-200ft+ (4-60m+) when surf fishing. Different species are located in different zones and depths. Whiting can be found very close to shore, whereas sharks will be further out. Look for specific features like holes, points, and sandbars to determine the distance needed.

Have a look at how far you might be able to cast a 12 foot surf rod if you get your technique right.

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How far should you cast when fishing from the beach?

Don’t be concerned if you think you cannot cast far enough for surf fishing. 

You can cast anywhere between around 15-200ft+ (4-60m+) when fishing from the beach, as long as the right features and structures are present in the water you are angling in.

Fish feed in different areas of the surf and breaking waves, using the structure of the sandbanks, seabed, and whitewater to locate their prey and remain covered from predators above.

When surf fishing you typically target these different areas or features in the surf with your cast.

That means you don’t need to cast a long distance every time you throw your bait out into the water. 

That said, you can always aim to cast your bait out further, say 100ft+ out to the ocean. In deeper water, larger fish may be located that you wouldn’t be able to target closer to shore. 

When casting out deeper though, you still want to look for breaking waves that tell you where there might be structure below, like a channel between two sandbanks that would act as a good place for feeding fish to catch their prey. 

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Where to cast surf fishing? How to find fish close to the shore 

Finding fish close to shore requires finding the right places to cast your bait or lure. 

Let’s look at the areas or features of shore breaks that might prove fruitful to target.

Targeting ‘Gutters’

Sometimes, fish can be as close in as 15-30ft if there are deep ‘gutters’ close to the shore. 

A gutter is a deeper channel of water that runs parallel to the shoreline that has been created by the tide and the shape of the sandbank. 

Gutters are perfect feeding channels for predatory fish who prey on the smaller fish and crustaceans sheltering in them.

Look for darker colored water which tells you the water is deeper than the lighter colored water, which is shallower. 

Targeting ‘Points’

‘Points’, or parts of the shoreline that jut out into the watermarking a pointed shape tend to create a breaking wave. This is also a good place to target that can be only a few feet from the shoreline. 

The breaking waves at the edge of a point can be a good place to target because predatory fish wait there for bait to be swept back into the sea as the tide pushes them out. 

You can identify a point simply by following the shoreline and looking for a part of the sand that juts into the ocean.

This is caused by a higher part of the shoreline sticking out into the ocean, with the waves breaking around the point that it creates.

When casting at points, target just before the waves start to break, where the sloping bank of the point drops into slightly deeper water – the fish should be waiting there.


Targeting ‘Sandbars’

Sandbars are banks of sand that rise higher than the floor of the ocean. They typically run parallel to the shoreline. 

Because sandbanks are higher they force the ocean water upwards causing the tide to break. So wherever you see a consistent breaking tide in the same spot and in a relatively straight line, you’ve found a sandbar. 

Sandbars are good places to drop your bait because they present a wide area that you can work your way along with your cast. 

With a 12-foot surf rod you can cast out to the further sandbanks.

Predatory fish often wait at the edges of sandbars waiting for bait to be swept of the top of the sandbar by the tide.

The best places to target are just before the sandbar on the same side as you are, where the breaking wave starts to settle as it enters deeper water, or after the sandbar just where the breaking whitewater is starting to form before rolling over the sandbar. 

Targeting ‘holes’ or ‘rips’

When you look at the ocean and see a breaking wave that has a ‘gap’ in between it and another breaking wave then you’ve located what could be a rip. Some call them ‘cuts’, some call them ‘holes‘. 

These are channels or troughs where deeper water is present. Again if the water looks darker or browner then it’s likely deeper. 

Water and therefore bait gets forced through these areas because of the tide, meaning they become attractive feeding areas for larger fish. 

Again targeting the edges of these areas with your casting can prove fruitful. 

Process of elimination through the fan method

If you are struggling to identify specific features on the beach or in the water, then you can always fall back on a process of elimination. 

The majority of fish will probably be in a small area of the water where the most bait is. 

If you can not locate these areas easily, simply start in one area with your casting and then fan across trying different spots as you go. 

If you find a place with a bite, keep targeting around there, because that’s where the fish are. 

How do you find fish further from the shore?

Finding fish deeper in the ocean from the beach is a similar task to targeting fish closer in.

One option is to visit the beach at low tide and see if you can spot sandbars that might be a good place to cast out farther to when the tide comes in and the deeper water returns. 

Estimate how far out those sandbars might be as the tide comes up and then target your cast further to reach these areas. 

Try to target similar areas to the ones previously mentioned.

That’s the edges in front of the sandbar, where the breaking whitewater starts to disappear. This indicates that the level of the seabed is dropping as the sandbar bank slopes downwards. 

And at the back of the sandbar (if you can cast far enough), target the area where the breaking whitewater is just starting to appear. 

You might need to go through a process of elimination here, roughly targeting the area close to where you think the sandbars are, and keep moving your cast target along, left to right, or closer in or farther out.  If you’re not getting bites in one spot, move on quickly, it’s likely not a feeding area that’s holding fish. 

Other useful signs to know what surf fishing spots to target. 

As you become more and more seasoned in surf fishing and angling from the beach, you’ll start to learn the signs and signals that tell you where fish might be.

In the beginning, though, this can be a difficult task. Here are a few signs and signals to help you get closer to targeting fish from the shoreline. I have learned these through experience and some research online on how other expert surf anglers locate fish in the saltwater. 

Brown or disturbed water

Brown or disturbed water can signify a couple of things. 

If it’s much darker water than the surrounding water, you may have found a ‘hole’ to target. Fish may be lurking in the depths of the hole, waiting for bait to be washed down its side. 

Alternatively, the brown murkiness of the water may have been caused by feeding fish, who are disturbing the sand at the bottom as you’re watching that area. If this is the case, you want to get your bait in there as quickly as possible as it could be a great opportunity to land a fish. 

Look for birds hovering or diving 

Bird activity is an incredibly helpful indicator of the presence of fish. My neighbor mentioned to me that this is pretty much the sole indicator he uses to make sure his casting and targeting leads to bites and fish being landed consistently.

No birds, no fish’ he says. 

If birds are hovering in a group over one patch of water, it’s possible there might be baitfish just below the surface. If there is baitfish, then there is predatory fish. 

If you see a bird dive into the water, they are doing so to catch fish! SO follow suit and cast your bait or lures into that bait ball. 

Check spots at low tide

Taking a walk down to your local surf fishing spot at low tide can reveal a whole new fishing landscape. When the tide is out, you’ll see the topography, or physical features like mounds, dips, troughs, and channels, across the sandbed. 

Use this knowledge next time to think about where is best to target your casting, using the features of the water discussed above as a guide, and aiming for the areas you think fish will be hanging out. 

Ask locals

A final tactic is to speak to local anglers, particularly if you’re new to a spot. They may not reveal their favorite areas, but will probably give you pretty good direction on where to go and what to look out for. Plus any bonus tips on baits or lures that work particularly well in that area.

How far should you cast when surf fishing? Summary.

You don’t need to be able to cast a huge surf rod, like Hercules in order to catch decent fish. 

Different species feed in different zones in the ocean surf, and with the knowledge of the features above, you’ll know exactly how far you should cast when surf fishing.