Surf Fishing with Cut Bait – A Quick Guide

surf fishing with cut bait

Cut bait is what it sounds like – bait that gets cut up and thrown on a hook. There are many advantages of surf fishing with live bait. It’s easy, it’s versatile, but most importantly it’s effective!

Why use cut bait for surf fishing?

We like cut bait has become our “go-to” for surf fishing:

  • It is readily available from local tackle shops and it can be kept frozen.
  • Cut baits are great when fishing at night or in murky, colored water as this type of bait will let off a good scent, especially when cut.
  • You choose the bait size. Cut bait can be cut into smaller chunks or larger fillets.
  • Surf fishing with cut bait is more relaxing than using lures. Just put your rod in a sand spike and wait for a bite!
  • Hooking cut bait is a lot easier than hooking live bait, especially for beginners.

Best Cut Bait for Surf Fishing

There are tons of options for frozen bait, but the most popular are squid and shrimp. Let’s talk about both of those.


Squid is one of the most popular baits for catching a wide variety of species in the surf. It is a natural food source for many species. Squid is very tough, readily available, inexpensive plus it can be kept frozen and used as and whenever you it. Squid can be fished in different ways, either whole, cut into strips or by removing and hooking the tentacles.

How to fish with cut squid

Cutting squid into strips and fishing them on a fish finder rig or double dropper loop rig will catch an array of species including fluke, snapper, grouper, pompano, mackerel, bluefish, croaker, permit and several species of jack. Squid strips can also be fished under a bobber in the surf.

hooking cut squid
Squid is perfect for targeting a variety of species in the surf.

The tentacles of the squid are also a very useful bait, particularly when targeting smaller species. They can easily be cut from the head with a pair of scissors.

Squid tentacles are very tough and will not be ripped apart or pulled of the hook very easily. When targeting large species such as grouper, shark and striped bass, the angler can use the squid whole.

TIP: Squid is not only an effective bait to use on its own but it is also good for tipping off soft baits such as shrimp to help prevent them from coming off the hook.


Shrimp is another effective and readily available bait that can be used whole or cut. You can use fresh or frozen shrimp. Make sure to bring plenty of shrimp as they tend to fall off the hook easier than squid or other bait.

How to fish with shrimp

When using fresh shrimp, just hook it either by removing its head or tail and threading it on the hook from the end. Removing these parts of the body also helps to release scent from the shrimp. Some anglers like to boil the shrimp before fishing as this toughens them up which helps them to stay on the hook for longer.

What fish eat shrimp?

When it comes to using shrimp in the surf, almost every species encountered will eat it. Expect to catch bonefish, flounder, drum, pompano, redfish, snook, trout and whiting to name just a few. Shrimp can also be cut into small pieces for catching species such as herring, mojarra and pinfish. Shrimp can either be fished on a simple fish finder rig, double dropper loop rig, under a bobber or freelined.

TIP: Frozen shrimp can be bound onto the hook with a bait elastic to secure it in place if you need to power cast.

Fish baits such as mullet, menhaden, pinfish or croaker are very good baits, which can be used whole, filleted or in chunks. These can be obtained from a tackle shop or can be sourced by the angler prior to fishing with a cast net, trap or small baited hooks and kept fresh or frozen for use when required.

Check out our Beginner's Guide to Surf Fishing

Using small fish as bait

Fishing with small fish whole or in large chunks from the beach will catch a variety of species such as tarpon, shark, snook, snapper, grouper, redfish and various jack species. Chunks can be hooked through the middle and whole fish can be hooked through either the mouth or tail.

You can cut small fillets from baitfish, which is especially good for targeting species such as whiting, ladyfish and bonita. Although these can be fished on a fish finder rig or double dropper loop rig, success can be had by fishing the small fillets under a bobber and letting it wash about in the surf.

Another popular rig for live bait is the pompano rig. Despite its name can be used to catch many varieties of fish and even shark.

When using small fillets, binding the bait onto the hook with a bait elastic can be beneficial in prolonging the life of the bait.

Sand fleas and other options

Sand fleas, or mole crabs as they are sometimes called, are easily collected by the angler and are a very popular and successful bait for a wide range of surf species including pompano, croakers, drum, whiting and redfish to name a few. Sand fleas can easily be frozen and used as and when needed.

Other baits that can be used from frozen are clams and mussels. Like squid, these are very tough baits that are easily defrosted and can also be re-frozen again for future use. Most cut or fresh baits that anglers use can be taken home and frozen for use again at a later date.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can cut bait be re-used?

Yes, If cared for correctly, cut bait can be re-used so there is little waste. The bait should be kept in a cool box with ice packs and dead baits kept cool and out of the sun.

Does cut bait work better than artificial bait?

We think so. While we like the convenience of artificial baits (like soft plastic baits), there’s no replacing the real thing. Both options put off strong scents that attract fish like crazy. Your decision might depend on what type of fish you’re trying to catch.