How to Surf Fish with Lures for Big Results

Surf fishing with lures is an exciting and challenging alternative to using bait. Today we’ll discuss the advantages of using lures, what lures work best best, and also provide some tips on how to use lures for surf fishing.

Here are three reasons why we love surf fishing with lures:

  • Lures require constant casting and reeling, which is fun in itself
  • They are effective at attracting many different species in the surf
  • Lures are convenient and you’ll be able to use them for a long time

How do surf fishing lures work?

The concept of lure fishing is simple. Lures are designed to look like food to the fish. They often have the appearance of insects or smaller fish. Lures are typically dragged through the water by slowly reeling the line in. Fish are attracted to the lure and attack it just as they would attack their prey naturally. For that reason, lures are a popular alternative to surf fishing with live bait.

closeup of colorful fishing lures

The lure you use, the location, and the species you target, all play a part in determining how you lure fish. But there are some general guidelines that can get you off to a good start. We’ll also have a look at the general types of lures you might want to consider, and how to fish them.

Types of Surf Fishing Lures

There are a few general types of lures used for surf fishing. Let’s talk about the main four: spoons, poppers, plugs and grubs.


Spoons are possibly the simplest form of lure. They are literally a piece of metal that looks like, you guessed it, a spoon! They wobble and have a pretty erratic motion when correctly retrieved (much like a wounded bait fish). Pick something simple to start, a good example of a pure fishing spoon is the ‘Acme Kastmaster.’

Our favorite spoon:

How to fish a spoon

Spoons also create a vibration that can be sensed by predators. Retrieving by jerking the rod, reeling in, stopping and starting will give the best chance of success. Depending on where you fish, you can expect to catch most predatory species. Stripers, Bluefish and even Tarpon are all partial to a well-worked spoon.

Topwater poppers

A topwater popper is possibly THE most exciting way to lure fish. Its very visual, fast and often quite dramatic. A top water popper is designed to look like a wounded fish. They come in a variety of colors and finishes. What make them distinctive is their concave face. As the lure is pulled (or if you are doing it properly, ‘walked’) through the surface, the concave face catches water and ‘spits’ it forward with a small ‘pop’. This ‘pop’ is like a dinner bell to hungry predators.

“Yo-Zuri mag” , “Gibbs pencil”, and “Cotton Cordell” poppers are familiar terms among the lure fishing community, and for good reason. They are simple, and they work.

Our favorite popper:

How to fish a topwater popper

Remember, you have to really ‘work’ the lure to get the best effect. (are you noticing a theme here?). Topwater Poppers are best suited to calmer, flat conditions, making their ‘spit and pop’ all the more noticeable. You haven’t experienced excitement (and terror) fishing, until you have seen a Tarpon chase your popper!


Plugs are like the celebrity version of a spoon. They too are designed to imitate a wounded bait fish, and normally have a plastic body. The lure has a small vane at it’s front, the angle and size of this vane determines the lures behavior.

Generally plugs are shallow diving or deep diving. When the lure is retrieved the vane steers the plug on an erratic and jerky path. There are countless variations, but often tried and tested plugs such as the Danny plug or a Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow are a good introduction to plugging. 

Many plugs also contain a bead in the body that makes a rattle. This is particularly useful in colored water or in low light conditions where the fish may not initially be able to see the lure.

Our favorite plug:


Grubs are slightly different.  They require a little less work than the other lures we have mentioned. A grub is a soft plastic ‘body’ that has a highly mobile rubber tail. The tail ‘swims’ quite realistically when the grub is retrieved through the water.

There is little weight to the body of the grub.  For that reason they are generally mounted on a ‘jighead’, a weighted hook that allows you to cast the grub.

Grubs don’t need to be ‘worked’ quite as much as the action automatically comes from the tail as it moves through the water. There are almost as many types of grub as there are fish species, with exotic color variants such as ‘teriyaki’ and ‘sexy blue black’, you might just find that plain old white does just as well.

What other tackle to use when surf fishing with lures

The gear you use is going to be different. Let’s start with the rod and reel, the discuss what line works best for lures.

Rod considerations

You are going to need a rod and reel that is capable of casting the lure you are using. If you are plugging, for example, you will need a rod with enough power to cast a plug (or plugs) some distance. The same goes for spoons and topwater poppers. Often heavier tackle is required for these lures.

What is rod power and action?

Action describes how much of the rod is designed to bend. Rod actions range from slow to extra fast. Surf casting rods are generally either fast or moderate fast.

A rod with a slow action will allow it to bend through its entire length. This style of rod is often found in the shorter 8′ to 11’ lengths and is more forgiving than a fast action rod.

This means that this style of rod is a good choice for beginners to surfcasting and anglers that don’t need to cast a great distance to find the feeding fish.

Surf fishing rods are usually fast or moderate fast action.

Power refer to the stiffness of a rid, which can thought about as how much the rod will bend under weight. Most surf fishing rods are in the medium to medium heavy range.

Diagram showing the different rod actions

Lure Rating

The lure rating tells you the what weight lure the rod will cast the best. It’s a range that you’ll normally see printed on the rod itself. Lower end lure rating ratings will be around 1-4 ounces. Higher ranges, like the Okuma Solaris, will be around 4-8 ounces.

Keep in mind that these are recommendations by the manufacturers. In reality a rod that casts 4 ounces really well won’t also cast 8 ounces just as well. The “sweet spot” is somewhere in that range.


Using the right line is an important aspect of lure fishing that often gets overlooked.

The debate of Mono vs Fluoro we’ll save for another time. Go as light as you can, but also bear in mind its better to land one good fish, than to hook several and experience a break off every time.

Speaking of line breaking, also consider the ground over which you are fishing. Lure fishing works best over rocks, reefs and weed beds. As an unhappy coincidence these are also good areas for snags.

Braid is certainly an option. It lacks stretch and you can feel every twitch and pull directly at your fingertips. It casts well too, due to its lower profile, and makes it easy to impart life on a lure (especially surface poppers). Braid can be fragile if it makes contact with rocks and reef. Pick your line with care.


The considerations given to your leader should be similar to those of your main line, with one vital exception. It should come as no surprise that many predatory fish have a key evolutionary feature… Teeth! What’s good for making small fish even smaller is also good for cutting your leader. So choose something that is bite resistant. For the true apex predatory species consider steel wire to avoid losing the fish of a lifetime.

Pro Tip: To prevent kinks and twists, add a snap swivel to the end of your line. Not only does it prevent twisting, it makes it a breeze to quickly change lures.

Where to use lures

The general aim in lure fishing is to fool a hungry predator into thinking your lure is real food. So it makes sense to present it in an environment where a fish would normally hunt and locate that food.

Look for cover

Predatory species love cover, ambush and the art of surprise. ‘Cover’ can be a whole number of things. Deep gullies, reefs, pilings, rocks, weed banks. These are all areas where predatory fish hide, looking upwards, waiting for an unsuspecting meal to swim right on by.

So as a general rule when lure fishing, cast your lure up and around these features. Think what lies under the surface. Think what food is likely to be around those features, and match your lure accordingly.

Find a frenzy

If you see jumping bait-fish, there is a good chance there is a massacre going on under the surface. A well placed plug or grub cast among the melee, when the fish are blinded by a feeding frenzy, can often initiate a take. Predators will often chase smaller fish right up to the shore line, so the odd short cast can also be productive. Lure fishing allows you to travel light, this also opens up the possibility of being mobile.

If the fish aren’t biting, and you are confident they are elsewhere, move.

When to use a lure

Dawn and dusk are always prime times to lure fish. Overcast days nearly always out-fish clear days. If there has been a storm, and the water is cloudy, you have less chance of catching fish with a lure that is purely visual in its attraction, so consider the use of something that produces a lot of vibration or noise, like a plug or spoon.

Lures also work great for surf fishing at night.

That said, there is a lure for almost every occasion, so it is worth taking a look at the general types, how they are fished, and what species you can hope to catch.

Casting with lures

Most lures don’t weigh nearly as much as a sinker. The bend of the rod needs to generate much more inertia to ‘whip’ your lure on its way. Don’t expect to cast a lure anywhere near as far as a pyramid sinker. Therefore you made get a little further out into the surf to reach your target. That’s when a good pair of waders and a long distance rod are worth the investment.

What species can you catch with lures?

Target species is location specific. And as we have seen can even vary locally depending on the features around a venue. Fish that are found on all coasts, such as Striped Bass and Bluefish are prime candidates to fall to a lure.

For tropical waters Tarpon are considered one of the pinnacle sport fish to pursue. Tuna and Bonefish can also be found in warmer waters. Snook, Panfish and Grouper are successfully fished on the gulf coast using lures. If a species is predatory (and almost all of them are) there is a chance that, provided you choose and fish your lure correctly, you stand a good chance of hooking them.

In conclusion…

Lure fishing is fun. Serious fun. There is no feeling in the world that compares to seeing your rod bend double, as some monster from the deep decides it’s hungry. But it is also challenging.

Catching a fish with a lure is proving you are a master in natural deception. You will have outsmarted a predator. But that takes patience, thought, knowledge and ultimately work. Lure fishing is never truly mastered, as the fish will often prove to you that they don’t follow the rules. But then, that’s half the fun.

Try what works, and if not, keep changing things up until you find what does.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use freshwater lures for surf fishing?

Some freshwater lures can be used for surf fishing. However, freshwater lures tend to be smaller since they’re designed to target smaller fish.

Do lures work better than live bait?

Lures and bait each have their advantages. Live or frozen bait put off a scent that can attract fish from a distance. Lures look and sometimes sounds more attractive to a fish. Ultimately, it is up to the fisherman to experiment and see what produces the best results.

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