Nassau Sport Fishing Association

Nassau Sport Fishing Association

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Selecting the Best Bait for Surf Fishing

By David Thorton

Courtesy of

The highly sought after Florida pompano is the premier fish for surf fishers year round. Prized not only for the tasty meals they provide but for their scrappy fight as well. After all, they are members of the jack family of fishes; and though small (usually weighing a pound or two) they can be fairly numerous at times. Even more plentiful are the drum-like kingfish species (gulf, northern and southern). Commonly called “whiting” and “ground mullet”, they average just less than a pound but may grow to almost three pounds. Still, they are good sport fish on light tackle and also great table fare. With the right bait for surf fishing, you could bring home dinner tonight.

The very idea of using a specific natural bait for surf fishing is to “match the hatch” so to speak.

The author with an above average sized pompano landed on a Fishfinder rig. Photo by David Thornton.

Additionally, the larger drum fish species (red and black) may be present in the surf zone. Drum of any size (from one to twenty or more pounds) may prowl about under the waves in search of food in the various forms of invertebrates (clams, crabs, shrimp, etc.) and even small fish (including their cousins), which are also some of the best bait for surf fishing. These are also good eating fish when young, and once they reach adult age may continue to grow (and reproduce) for decades.

Our unique stretch of shoreline from Cape San Blas in Florida to Dauphin Island, Alabama is commonly referred to as “The Emerald Coast.” That is a good descriptor of the nearshore region renowned for its predominantly clear, light green colored water which covers white quartzite sandbars and beaches. This is good habitat for a huge variety of invertebrate species as well as numerous fish which feed on them. Though not often visible to the casual beachgoer, these small sea worms, crustaceans and mollusks live beneath the water and in the sandy bottom. They also serve as great bait for surf fishing. But they make up the bulk of what these native fish live and thrive on in these shallow waters just off the shore. 

This is a trying and even hostile environment in many ways. Hot in summer, the shallow clear water may exceed 90 degrees. And cold in winter when occasional freezes may drop the gulf water temperature even into the 40s for a time. Plus the surf zone is periodically ravaged by large waves and strong currents from huge storms. In addition, predatory fish, mammals, and birds routinely patrol here. Looking to make a meal of these smaller, more defenseless fish. So the fish that make a full time living here grow up fast and strong, and can even be quite wary occasionally. And like anywhere people fish, to be successful it is important to use any natural elements of location.  You should also use natural foods as bait for surf fishing to your advantage.

The very idea of using a specific natural bait for surf fishing is to “match the hatch” so to speak. We should try to give the fish that live and feed in this turbulent region between the beach out a hundred yards or so to the longshore sandbar (and perhaps a bit beyond) what they are used to eating. Or at least bait up with something close enough to that which they seek so they will not hesitate to eat the offering, much to our delight


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