What is the Best Shark Bait for Surf Fishing?

Surf fishing (also known as beach fishing) for shark is an adventure that every angler should experience at least once. If you want to hook a shark, you to use the right bait.

There are a lot of choices, so we compiled the list of best bait for catching shark in the surf.

A brown shark caught off the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey

The best species for attracting sharks are:

  • mullet
  • bluefish
  • mackerel
  • whiting
  • jack crevalle

When it comes to picking the best bait for catching shark, by far the best option is to choose fresh bait whenever possible. Fresh bait can attract sharks from great distances away, due to their amazing sense of smell.

These can either be purchased locally or even better caught by the angler prior to fishing and kept fresh in ice or kept live in an aerated bucket or container. If unable to source fresh bait, using frozen fish bait is also a viable option.

An important consideration when selecting a fish bait is the size of it as large baits will be extremely difficult to cast out. Ideally, it will be somewhere around the size of a hand.

Sharks have an amazing sense of smell

Sharks have the same five senses as humans: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Although all five senses of the shark are extremely acute compared to humans, by far their greatest asset is their sense of smell.

There a (slightly exagerrated) belief that sharks can smell a drop of blood from a mile away.

The reason that the shark’s sense of smell is so acute is because two thirds of the total weight of its brain is dedicated to this sense. As water flows into the nostrils of the shark, sometimes known as nares, chemicals that are in the water meet with specialized cells which are then transmitted through to the brain. The lobes that are in the brain then detect and decipher certain smells, such as the scent of their prey or the chemicals secreted by a potential mate. 

Check out our Beginner's Guide to Surf Fishing

Considering the acute sense of smell that sharks possess and use when hunting food, anglers should take this into consideration when selecting bait to use from the beach. The best type of bait to use is a fish bait as fish form a great part of the shark’s diet. 

Best Shark Bait for Surf Fishing


One effective bait that is generally readily available to the angler is the mullet. As these fish are generally abundant, the angler can usually catch an ample supply by using a cast net from the beach early in the morning. The fish can be kept alive in a bucket and used as and when needed. It can also be bought relatively cheaply from a fish market. When using this bait from frozen, applying a couple of slits to each flank with a sharp knife will help release scent when the bait is in the water. 


Another extremely popular and successful fish to use as bait is the bluefish as it is relatively easy to catch with a rod and line in the surf using small strips of fish or squid. It also has a very oily and tough skin meaning that it tends to stay on the hook longer in the surf. Fillets of between 10 – 12 inches also make a particularly good bait as the oily skin releases an attractive scent into the water. You can catch bluefish by using some of these bluefish lures.

Other species

Other fish that are popular to use as bait are species such as ladyfish, mackerel, bonito, whiting and various species of jack such as crevalle and blue runners. If these baits are too large to be used whole, they can be cut up and used in chunks or as fillets. Do not disregard the head as this also makes a good bait.

Best surf rig for shark

Most bait and tackle shops will sell shark surf rigs, which are basic but very effective. The best shark surf rigs is made up of:

  • Mustad Hook
  • Steel leader (at least 18″)
  • A slider, attached to the main line
  • A pyarmid sinker (at least 4oz.)
  • 60lb braided main line

By using the slider on the main line, the bait can move freely and appear more natural to the shark. Plus, the shark won’t feel as much resistance when they take the bait, making it more likely to set the hook.

Most bait shops near a beach will sell a surf shark rig similar to this one.

Where to cast when shark fishing from the beach

Don’t feel like you have to cast a mile out to reach the sharks. The types of shark that you’ll be fishing for will come pretty close to the shore. I normally walk out as far as I can and then cast the bait another 50 feet. You’ll get a lot of spectators when you start reeling in a shark. Most people watching will be surprised (and maybe a bit scared) that there are decent sized shark that close to the shore.

Best time to catch shark from the beach

Sharks prefer warm water, so in the northeast for example, you’ll usually have more luck in the later summer months. The best surf fishing is usually at dawn or dusk and when the tide is coming in. Night time is a great time to catch sharks, since that’s when they do a lot of their feeding. But I’ve caught shark at all parts of the day and during low tide.

I’ve learned that if there are sharks in the area, they’ll usually find your bait pretty quickly. If you don’t get anything within 20-30 minutes, it probably isn’t going to happen. But try again later!

Unhooking and releasing a shark – Don’t forget to bring a friend!

If you do catch a shark (and we hope you do!), you’ll need to get it unhooked. It’s possible to do this by yourself, but realistically it’s a two-person job. It’s much safer and easier to have that second person.

Here’s what you need to do…

  1. Don’t panic!
  2. Have a pliers ready. Many saltwater pliers have a case that clips to your pants and a lanyard so that they’re always handy.
  3. Reel in the shark so that it’s pretty close to your feet (assuming you’re standing in a foot or so of water).
  4. Put your rod in a sand steak or hand it to someone else.
  5. Grab the steel leader and pull the shark where it’s mostly out of water.
  6. Grab the shark by its tail and fin. This is easier said than done.
  7. Use the pliers to remove the hook. Either have someone else do this, or have them hold the shark while you remove the hook. The hook will come out much easier if you use a barbless hook.
  8. Get a picture!
  9. Return the shark to water as soon as possible. Slowly guide the shark through the water until it’s ready to take off swimming.
Bring a friend, or better yet find someone with a shark hat.

How to ethically surf fish for shark

Sharks are protected by law in many areas so the angler must employ catch and release tactics. A wire trace must be used in-between the hook and the mainline as the teeth of a shark will easily bite through a mono or braided line.

When it comes to selecting the style of hook to use, the angler might opt for a circle hook which has an unusual shaped bend and an in-turned point. Using this style of hook greatly reduces deep hooking and results in most fish being hooked in the corner of their mouths. Always use barbless hooks too as it is far easier to unhook a fish with this style of hook.

Circle hooks can increase the survival rate of released shark

Always carry a good pair of wire cutters just in case a fish has been deeply hooked as it is always better to cut the trace as close to the hook as possible than try to force it out. Using carbon or mild steel hooks is also advantageous because if the trace needs to be cut, the hook will rust out naturally over time. 

Always try to unhook a shark in the water if possible so air exposure is kept to a minimum. If it needs to be brought onto the beach, do not drag it up, grab hold of the base of its tail and support it by holding it underneath the belly and carefully lifting it out. Once on the beach, ensure that it does not thrash about as irreparable damage can be done to the organs.

Once the shark is ready to be released, quite often revival assistance is required and the angler may need to wade out and support it under water until it is ready to swim away. 

Happy fishing!