Master the Fish Finder Rig for Surf Fishing

The fish finder rig is one of the simplest, most effective surf rigs you can use for surf fishing (also known as beach fishing). Whether you’re a beginner or experienced surf fisherman alike, it will increase your catch rate.

What is a fish finder rig?

The fish finder is a simple rig. It starts with a hook is attached to a leader which is then tied to a barrel swivel. Above the barrel swivel, on the main line is a bead then a sliding plastic link. Attached to the link is a pyramid sinker.

Components list:

  • Pyramid sinker (3 – 6 oz.)
  • Sinker slider
  • Bead
  • Leader
  • Circle hook
A fish finder rig displayed in the sand

Why the fish finder rig works so well

What makes this rig so effective? Good presentation of bait is key to increasing your catch rate. If the bait doesn’t imitate or act in a natural manner, fish will be reluctant to bite. Because the leader can move freely around the pyramid weight, the bait can flutter and drift enticingly in a natural manner.

The Fish Finder rig is one of the most effective ways to present bait naturally.

The pyramid weight has the ability to ‘bounce’ and move along the sea bed. When it moves, it releases a puff of sand. Species which hunt by sight will often zero in on these disturbances.

The Rig also allows the mainline to slide. This aids catch rate in the following way. The fish aren’t ‘spooked’ by the resistance of the line and can take the bait and ‘run’ with it, before being hooked. By the time the fish realizes something is amiss it is already hooked!

Fish Finder Rig Setup

The Fish Finder rig is simple to set up, it is worth going into slightly more detail about the individual aspects of terminal tackle.

The Hook

The best choice for a Fish Finder rig is the circle hook, size 5/0. The circle hook increases the catch rate. Fish are more likely to be hooked following a bite, and perhaps from an ethical point of view, find it harder to swallow the hook, leading to less deaths of fish you would normally want to release.

A circle hook, which is one component of a fish finder rig is shown isolated.

The Leader

A steel leader with 40lb. test strength will prevent your line from getting ripped of. This is especially true if you’re targeting fish with sharp teeth, such as a bluefish.

A steel leader, which is one component of a fish finder rig is shown isolated.

The length of the leader can be the difference between a good day and a bad day. A longer leader allows the bait to move more. If the current is really pulling this may not be a good thing as it may take your bait away from the area where fish are feeding. The best length of leader for the fish finder rig is between 2-3ft.

The Bead

Remember to add an orange bead in between your sinker slider and your barrel swivel. The bead reduces contact between the slider and the swivel knot. That’s important considering that you may be accelerating an a heavy sinker plus bait at significant speeds during your cast.

An orange bead
Use a bead to prevent the sinker slider from contacting the barrel swivel

The Sinker Slider

This little device will allow your bait to move with the flow of the water. That natural movement is a big reason why this rig is so effect. There’s not much of price difference between the cheap sinker sliders and quality sliders. Spend a few more bucks on the heavy duty option and save yourself the aggravation.

A sinker slider which is one component of a fish finder rig is shown isolated.

The Sinker

A pyramid sinker is highly recommended. As we have seen it aids in distance casting, and it enables the ‘puff’ of sand as the rig settles and bounces on the bottom. It is vital to use a weight that has staying power against the current and only moves when you want it to. In weaker flow a 3oz lead may be sufficient, but if the current is strong consider going all the way up to 6oz.

Three pyramid sinkers of different weights.
A 3-6oz. pyramid sinker works best for the fish finder rig

How to Make the Fish Finder Rig

Once you have all the components described above, making the fish finder is pretty easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Connect the circle hook to your the snap end of your leader
  2. Run your main line through the sinker slider
  3. Run your main line through the bead
  4. Tie your main line to the other end of your leader using a clinch knot.
  5. Snap your sinker onto your sinker slider.

Pretty easy, huh?

How to use the Fish Finder

The fish finder rig is designed to move (when you want it to). This allows you to cover a lot of ground until you find the ‘sweet spot’ where the fish are feeding. General guidance for surf fishing is to cast beyond the third breaker. Many species love the oxygen rich water created by crashing waves. But that said it also depends on the species as some can be caught all the way up to the shoreline.

Check out our Beginner's Guide to Surf Fishing

The Fish Finder rig is dynamic. What you are effectively doing is casting and dropping it onto an area. You can let line out to allow the mainline to slide through the sliding link and let the current pull the bait further from the sinker. Or you can pull against the sinker and move it towards you bit by bit (creating those attractive ‘puffs’ on the seabed as you do so).

The rig is primarily designed to be used in clear areas of seabed. Fish like the occasional change in topography and deeper pools, gullies, and sandbanks are a good place to target. 

Casting

Start with a longish cast. Once you have cast, let the weight sink to the bottom. You can use a rod holder, but for better bite detection holding the rod is the way to go. If you don’t get bites, tighten the line and give the rod a ‘twitch’ to unseat your sinker and make it move slightly toward you. Repeat this process until you reach an area where fish are holding. 

Hooking a fish

Once you feel a bite, don’t pressure the fish. Remember the line slides above the sinker, use this to your advantage. Give the fish a touch of slack as they take the bait. Let them swim with it in their mouth and then lift and tighten into the fish.

Fish can hunt by sight, but they use smell as a primary sense to detect food also, especially in cloudy water. Between 20 -30 minutes is long enough for a baits scent to become ‘washed out’. So consider changing your bait more regularly if bites are slow or if the water is particularly colored.

As we have said the Fish Finder is a great rig for mobility. So if you find it is a quiet, consider moving. Sometimes taking 20 steps in either direction can lead to an increase in bites.

What bait to use

Live bait and cut bait

Choice of bait is variable depending on location and species.

On the east coast the use of squid and small bait fish such as herring and sardines can give good results. Cut Bunker can also be effective.

On the west coast, go with squid or whatever cut bait you prefer.

The general advice when using bait fish is to hook them securely through the nose. Live-baiting is certainly an option, but as you are surf fishing, small live fish don’t fare too well in the constant assault of crashing waves. The Gulf coast and warmer water can encourage the use of crabs or shrimp as a highly effective bait for a range of species.

Artificial bait

Artificial lures and soft plastics can also work.  They can generate a lot of movement when used with a Fish Finder rig, which is bound to attract a fish. Given the choice however natural is the way to go.

Sand fleas and small crabs work well for the West coast. And if you time it right you might be able to take a bucket and stock up. Free bait!

Make or to buy?

The fish finder rig is a basic rig, so making your own should be easy. You get to choose the leader material, length and also the hook type. For minimal cost, essentially hooks, beads, some leader material and a few link sliders you can create several variations of the same rig easily. Further to this you can tailor it based on conditions of the day.

A company called Tailored Tackle makes a surf fishing rig starter kit with the everything you need to build a bunch of rigs. It also comes with an already-made fish finder rig to get you started.

Tailored Tackle sells a great surf fishing starter kit with everything you need to make a bunch of rigs.

Or you can buy one from Cabela’s for about $3.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a shock leader with fish finder rig?

A Shock leader is a length of heavier line between the rig and the main line that absorbs the weight of the rig, especially during the force of the cast. For the fish finder rig, a shock leader is recommended if you’re using line lighter than 30lbs.

What fish can I catch with a fish finder rig?

Depending on your location, you can use a fish finder rig to target Striped Bass, Flounder, Red Drum, Bluefish, and even Shark!

What is the best line for a fish finder rig?

Braided line with test weight of at least 30 pounds typically works best for a fish finder rig. Braided line is durable and sensitive, since it won’t stretch like other lines.