9 Best SURF FISHING RIGS (Setup & Fishing Guide w Pictures)
PUBLISHED 6 SEPTEMBER 2023
by Robert Ceran
Are you planning to fish in the surf, but aren’t sure which surf fishing rig is best for your purposes?
Surf fishing requires casting your rig out far from the beach without getting it tangled during the cast, and because of this it’s essential to use rigs that are specifically developed for surf fishing.
In this article I’ll walk you through the best surf fishing rigs, and will also cover how to fish them, and how to choose the ideal setup for your purposes.
What are the best surf fishing rigs?
The 9 best surf fishing rigs are:
- Fish finder rig
- Carolina rig
- Knocker rig
- High low rig
- Dropper loop rig
- Paternoster rig
- Pompano rig
- Mullet rig
- Flapper rig
We’ll go over the strengths and weaknesses of each of these surf fishing rigs below, so you can decide which one is best for you.
Fish finder rig for surf fishing
There can be no doubt that the fish finder rig is one of the best surf fishing rigs ever, and its ease of use also makes it a great beach fishing rig for beginners.
It’s easy to set up, easy to fish, and catches pretty much any target species found in the surf, including red drum, whiting, speckled sea trout, surf perch, flounder, rockfish, croaker, striped bass, and shark.
The fish finder surf fishing rig consists of a pyramid sinker riding on the main fishing line via a sinker slide (see image above).
Below the sinker, the main line (usually braid) is tied to a barrel swivel, which in turn connects to a 1 to 3 foot long mono leader ending in a snelled hook.
You can also add a buffer bead between the sinker and the swivel, which protects the knot on the swivel from being damaged.
The fish finder rig comes with two key advantages for surf fishing:
- Firstly, the sliding sinker allows fish to grab the baited hook and swim away with it without feeling resistance from the weight. This results in more successful hookups compared to a fixed sinker setup.
- Secondly, the shape of the pyramid sinker allows it to burrow into the bottom of sandy areas in the surf, which is very effective for anchoring the rig in strong tides.
In fact, you can combine these two properties ingeniously. If there is a strong current flowing parallel to the beach, cast out your fish finder rig and let the weight settle on the bottom.
Then open your bail and slowly release line, which allows the current to carry your baited circle hook parallel to the beach.
This helps you to cover more ground in search of feeding fish, which is how this surf rig originally got its name.
The fish finder rig is most often fished with cut bait or dead bait, but you can also fish it with live bait, including live shrimp or live baitfish.
Finally, you can also peg a float to the leader, and turn it into a floating fish finder rig. I like to do this when the crabs keep on stealing my bait.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to the fish finder surf fishing rig.
The Carolina rig is one of the most versatile bottom fishing rigs that catches fish almost anywhere, and hence it comes as no surprise that it is also a great rig for fishing in the surf.
While the Carolina rig has a similar structure to the fish finder rig, it comes with one major difference: the sinker is an egg sinker instead of a pyramid sinker. As a result of this, a Carolina rig is better suited for dragging your rig along the bottom in order to actively search for fish.
In fact, hopping the egg sinker along the bottom when you retrieve the Carolina rig generates commotion that helps to attract nearby fish to investigate more closely.
So the Carolina rig is a great choice for surf fishing if you want to fish actively by casting and retrieving your setup across areas where you suspect fish to be feeding.
Since this saltwater rig can be actively retrieved by hopping or dragging the sinker along the bottom, you can use it with artificial lures, such as soft plastic swimbaits or worms.
With that being said, the Carolina rig also works well with pretty much any kind of natural bait, and you can also fish it statically.
The main disadvantage of the Carolina rig is that you can’t use it for long distance surfcasting, since it tends to get tangled on long casts.
For more information, read our detailed guide to Carolina rig fishing.
The knocker rig is ideally suited for long casting distances, which makes it a perfect saltwater setup for surf fishing.
The knocker rig resembles the Carolina rig, but comes with one key difference: the sliding sinker rides on the leader, and not on the mainline (see image above).
While the fact that the sinker slides all the way down onto the hook initially seems to be counterintuitive, this rig architecture is ideal for avoiding line tangles.
The reason for this is that the weight and the hook are both located at the end of the line, and thus can’t get tangled with each other or with any other part of the rig during the casting process.
If you’ve done any surf fishing at all, you’ll know that one of the biggest challenges of every surf angler is that the hooks and leader line tend to get tangled with the main line and other terminal tackle when you cast them out (especially during long distance casts).
So the ability to avoid line tangles by using a knocker rig is a game changer for surf fishing. The main disadvantage of this saltwater rig is that the sliding sinker only rides up the line as far as the swivel attaching the mono leader to the braided main line.
This inshore rig is most often fishing with live bait or cut bait, but you can also use it with artificial lures, and hop them along the bottom.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to the knocker rig.
Dropper loop rig
The dropper loop rig is an ocean bottom fishing rig that consists of a weight tied to the end of the fishing line (either to your main line, or a fluoro leader, depending on your preference), as well as a single hook attached to a dropper loop knot about 1 foot above the weight.
This live bait rig is most often used for offshore fishing at reefs and rocky areas, but works for surf fishing as well.
The dropper loop rig is perfect for fishing with large live bait fish, such as pinfish, bunker, menhaden, grunion or mullet, and is often used to target big types of fish in the surf, such as bull reds, tarpon, shark, or stripers.
But you can also use the dropper loop rig with any kind of cut bait or natural bait, such as sand fleas, crabs or squid strips. However, many anglers prefer to use setups with multiple mosquito hooks for this.
Since dropper loops are also used for many other saltwater bottom rigs, it’s well worth learning to tie this knot. For more information, read our detailed guide to the dropper loop rig.
Double drop bottom rig
The double drop bottom rig is a 2-hook bottom fishing setup for saltwater that uses 3-way swivels to attach the snoods of the hooks.
It consists of a weight tied to the end of the line, and two 3 way swivels that are positioned about 12 inches above the weight, and 8 to 10 inches apart from each other.
If you use a relatively stiff fishing line for the snoods (such as high lb test fluorocarbon), the 3 way swivels cause the snoods to stick out at right angles from the leader, which helps to avoid line tangles.
Multi-hook rigs are notoriously prone to tangling during long casts, and this is why it’s important to choose a rig that is sufficiently tangle free for your purposes.
In my experience, the double drop is one of the more tangle free setups, which makes it a good choice for surfcasting.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to the double drop surf rig.
Pompano rig for surf fishing
The Pompano rig is one of the best surf fishing rigs, and although it was originally developed for targeting pompano from the beach, it also catches a wide variety of other surf species.
This saltwater setup is a multi-hook rig with the weight attached to the end of the line, and the hooks attached to dropper loop knots above the sinker.
But what really distinguishes this inshore fishing rig are the small, brightly colored floats rigged next to each hook.
The floats lift the baited hooks off the bottom, which not only helps fish to find them, but also protects the bait from being stolen by crabs. They also attract fish with their bright colors.
The pompano rig is most often used in the surf with cut bait and natural bait. Personally, my favorite bait for this surf fishing rig are sand fleas, but you can also use shrimp (live or dead), clam, squid strips, or freshly cut fish.
For more information, read our detailed guide to the pompano surf fishing rig.
High low rig
The high low rig is another popular double hook surf fishing rig that comes with the sinker attached to the end of the line, as well as two hooks tied to the leader above the sinker via T-knots.
While T-knots are harder to tie than dropper loop knots, they are less prone to getting tangled while casting, which is a huge advantage when fishing in the surf.
In my experience, the high low rig is a great setup for middle range casting, while the dropper loop rig is better for short range casting from the beach.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to the high low rig.
Mullet rig for surf fishing
The mullet rig is designed to fish a whole dead mullet (or similar bait fish) to target bluefish in the surf.
It consists of a steel wire with a removable double hook as well as a float to keep the rig off the bottom. This is attached to a 3 way swivel with a leader line, as well as a heavy bank weight.
When you use this surf fishing rig with a whole mullet, you first have to remove the double hook, and then insert the metal wire into the mouth of the bait fish, until it comes out the vent, and then re-attach the hook.
This saltwater rig is ideal for catching big bluefish, which attack baitfish from behind, but it also catches other large predators in the surf, including striped bass, red drum, tuna, halibut and sharks.
Since this setup specifically targets large fish, it’s usually a good idea to use it on only one rod, while you use your other rod(s) with more conventional setups to catch smaller fish in the surf.
The flapper rig is a multi hook setup for saltwater fishing that is specifically designed to avoid line tangles, which makes it one of the best surf fishing rigs.
This fishing rig consists of a weight tied to the end of the line, as well two (or three) hooks that are attached to the leader via snoods tied to crimped swivels.
Using crimped swivels for this saltwater rig is even better than using 3 way swivels in terms of making the snoods stick out at 90 degrees from the leader, which helps to prevent line tangles.
And while this is more work to set up yourself, anything that helps avoid line tangling can be well worth it for surf fishing success. However, another option is to buy this rig for the surf pre-tied, which will save you the time of doing it yourself.
The flapper rig can be fished in the surf with cut bait or natural bait, and works well for medium range casting and a bait and wait strategy.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to the flapper rig.