Tag Archives: surf baits

Five Top Surf Baits for Free!!


Six Top Surf Baits

(You Can Collect for Free!!)

     There’s nothing better than live bait for catching surf fish. California’s beaches, estuaries and harbors are loaded with bait you can collect for free. All it takes is a little time, patience and the right tide to collect what you need for a great day of fishing.One of my favorite rules when it comes to surf fishing is: Look for the bait that occurs naturally around the area you are fishing. If there are crabs in the sand or sidewinders on the rocks you can be well assured that’s what the fish are eating. Take a few moments the next time you go down to the beach and pay attention to what occurs there naturally—that’s usually your best bet for catching surf fish.



Some baits are available year-round, while others like the sand crab are seasonal and occur mainly in Southern California during spring, summer and early fall. When the local waters warm to around 60 degrees sand crabs will dig their way to the surface in search of food. As warm summer water bathes the beach the crabs grow and shed their shell. Much like a snake loses his skin, the crab also sheds and grows several shells throughout the summer.

My favorite time to collect crabs is at high tide. But crabs can be found in “beds” at low tide too. The two most common techniques for collecting crabs are digging by hand or using a galvanized sand rake.

I like to find an area near the high tide mark on the open sand beach and begin to dig there. When I dig by hand I search crabs within the first 6 inches and put them into a bucket for washing and sorting. If I use the crab rake I can pick out the best crabs and put them directly in my waist bait bucket and I’m ready to go.

For storing, I keep my sand crabs in a plastic container inside a small ice chest near a frozen bottle of water. They will live the longest in a 50-60 degree range so don’t put them in the refrigerator. Also, remember to place a piece of wet kelp you collected at the beach right on top of them. They will keep cool, moist and alive for about two days.


Mussel can be found where rocks and structure meet moving water. You’ll find two kinds of mussel in our local bays. On outer rock structure like jetties and breakwalls rock or piling mussels cling in clumps to rocks and structure. These mussels can be up to eight inches long and have orange and brown meat. They group is large numbers and many times completely cover their host. Mussel has always been known for driving perch crazy but when rigged using only the lip of the mussel it is deadly for halibut too. The best place to find mussels is on rock jetties, pier pilings and near harbor entrances.


In bays and estuaries green mussel attaches itself to rocks and structure in small groups. Most often they can be found attached to the bottom of rocks. Look for this mussel in back bay areas where the water movement and wave action is gentle. Turning over rocks is a good way to find them. Be sure to replace the rocks once you’ve look so more mussel will continue to grow. The meat on this mussel is bright green and seems to work both as a sight and taste incentive for fish to bite. Most green mussel is four inches or less in length.

When collecting mussel and other baits know the DFG rules and collect only what you need. On the Internet you can check here for the latest rules and regulations: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/sportfishing_regs2008.asp
In most cases I use about 10 mussels each time I fish. If you place the mussel in a bucket overnight it will be easier to shuck the next day. If you seal the unopened mussel in a plastic container and refrigerate, it will last almost two weeks. I like to clean some extra mussel, put it in a small zip top bag and freeze it. That way next time you go fishing you bait is ready to go.



There are several types of clams found on California’s beaches including Pacific Littleneck, Gaper, Pacific Razor, Nuttall Cockle and Pismo clams. All of these clams make great bait but without question one of the most abundant and easiest to collect is the Littleneck.

Littleneck Clams are found in areas where sand and mud meet rocks and in calm bay areas like harbors and estuary inlets. Outside harbors where sandy areas meet rock, look for them to be buried in less than six inches of sand. They like to congregate in groups, buried in sand, adjacent to rocks. Look for holes in the sand that clams use for feeding and many times you’ll find them just beneath.

When you find clams smaller than the legal size always be sure to replant them in the sand. When searching for calms think about where rivers, creeks and estuaries meet the ocean. This is where you will find them most abundant.

Littlenecks are also found in back harbor areas under small stones adjacent to mud and sand. Look for rocky areas that have stones about the size of a shoebox. Try to find where sand or mud is near or under the rocks. Carefully, turn each rock over and look for them just below the rock on in the mud or sand beneath. Always be sure to put the rocks back as you found them, so that next time you go down to collect clams there will be even more!

I generally collect no more than 10 clams per person for each day of surf fishing. Like mussel, clams keep well in a sealed plastic container in the refrigerator, staying fresh for about two weeks. It’s a good idea to shuck clams the night before you go fishing. That way you’re not fumbling with your clams and a knife at the beach (“did anyone see my finger?”).



Ghost shrimp can be collected by hand or purchased at some tackle stores. Surf fishermen rave about how well ghost shrimp work. In fact, if you ask what type of fish they catch most might say they catch whichever fish gets to their bait first! Some of the biggest corbina and spotfin croaker I’ve ever seen were caught on a shrimp—seems to be an oxymoron but who cares if it works!

Ghost shrimp or yabbies, as they are called in Australia, can be found in estuaries and inside back harbor areas. Ghost shrimp burrow into mud areas and can be most effectively harvested with a shrimp plug at low tide. This device uses suction to pull a plug of mud from the bottom. You then push the mud plug out and search for ghost shrimp.

Ghost shrimp can be kept in a loosely sealed plastic container in the refrigerator for up to one week. It’s a good idea to collect a bottle of seawater from the beach and rinse the ghost shrimp with it daily.



Sidewinder rock crabs make great bait for perch and croaker and seem to work best when used near rocky areas. You will see these crabs in large numbers scurrying back and forth on local rock jetties. They are brown and green in color and possess two large (and sometimes painful!) claws. They generally live between rocks in nooks, crannies and crevices.

The best place to find sidewinders is just above the waterline on rock jetties and tide pool areas. Look for them between mussel clusters, in crevices between rocks and by flipping over small rocks. Sidewinders can be found at both high and low tide and seem to be easiest to see and catch on overcast and cloudy days. I generally catch them by hand but you can also put a small piece of anchovy, cat food, mussel, etc. in a can, place it between the rocks, tilt it on its side and come back later to see what you’ve caught.

Sidewinder crabs are very hardy bait and can be kept for a week or longer. Place sidewinders in a plastic tub with a large piece of kelp to keep them cool and moist. I usually drape a towel or newspaper over the container to keep light (and our cat!) out. Sidewinders, like sand crabs, should not be kept in the refrigerator.



Sand worms live beneath the sand and make great surf bait. Fresh worms work well for perch, croaker and an occasional halibut. These worms can be found at the beach throughout the year but are most active during spring and summer grunion runs. Their color takes on what they have eaten. Many times they are an olive green and orange from eating clams and other times they may be red and green from eating grunion eggs.

When looking for worms at low tide start by digging ten to twenty feet below the high tide mark. Most worms are down about 12”-36” and occasionally can be found in groups. Begin by digging a hole three feet wide and one foot deep.

Look for the worms as you dig. Remember they can climb away fast so keep a close eye. Catching worms takes a bit of practice–because they can dig away from you at a slithering fast pace. Start by grabbing the worm as it digs away. You may dig around it to catch the worm or pull it slowly backwards until it lets loose and comes out.

Worms are very hardy and easy to keep. Simply place them in sealed plastic container and put the in the refrigerator. They will bunch up and stay lively for about a week. I like to use a #2 split shot hook and thread one or two worms up the hook for bait.

Spending a little time collecting bait at your local beach can really pay off. Even when fishing with artificial baits it’s important to know what fish are eating. That way you can match your baits to the colors and size of what fish eat everyday. Not only is it fun to find, collect, rig and fish natural baits but with so many things that cost money today it’s still nice there’s something out there that’s still free!

Surf Fishing Baits for Summer


Surf Fishing Baits For Summer
By, Bill Varney Jr.

When baseball’s in season and school’s out you can bet it’s summertime. With each summer comes a new harvest of bait for the surf fisherman. Natural baits seem to work best in the summer when fish are finding worms, clams, shrimp and crabs as they emerge from their winter hibernation.  Sand crabs top the list as one of the favorite baits for surf fish. Because crabs can’t be purchased in your local tackle shop you’ll have to go to the beach yourself and do a bit of work to catch them.

Once you’re at the beach find a high spot where you can get a good look at the wet sand. Look both ways keeping a keen eye open for birds working the water’s edge. This will be your first clue as to where the crabs lie. When approaching these areas watch closely as the water rushes up and back across the beach. Try to find the V shapes made by the sand crab’s feeding antennae. In some areas these will appear on top of the sand as the water rushes over them. Here you will find sand crabs, just below the surface of the sand, feeding.

There are two ways to catch sand crabs: With your hands and with a crab rake. The best time to catch crabs is one hour before to one hour after high tide.

Digging by hand is a time-tested and back-breaking method for collecting crabs. In mid summer months the crabs will be near the surface. During the winter be prepared to dig deeper to find the crabs. A small hand shovel works well for digging in the soft sand. Collect crabs in a small bucket and rinse the sand from them before use.


Another method for catching crabs is by using a crab rake

(top Promar Rake Bottom Crab n’ Go)

This tool allows you to sift through a large area of sand to find crabs. Because the rake is made from galvanized steel it’s strong and quite durable even in salt water. You’ll find crab rakes like the Crab n’ Go for aboout $25 and large Promar/Ahi Rakes in the $90.00 -$110.00 price range at your local tackle store.

Crab rakes are easy to use but require some strength and balance. With a little practice it should come easy. When using the rake face out to sea. While holding the tool above the sand wait for a wave to rush up the beach. As the wave begins to draw back, drop the net onto the sand and let the water rush through it. Run your foot back and forth to dig up the sand and break the crabs loose. Once the water stops pull the net up and examine its contents.

You’re looking for crabs whose shell is about the consistency of a pop can. That’s right, push on a pop can’s side with your finger, that’s about what the shell should feel like. Shells that are too hard won’t get bites those that are too soft will be mush on the hook—so look for the medium shells and you can’t go wrong.

Sand crabs can be kept for a couple of days at home. Put them in a dry (no water or sand) plastic container with a small piece of kelp or newspaper over them.

Don’t refrigerate or disturb them or they’ll be dead in the morning. If you have crabs leftover and won’t be using them right away, freeze the hardest crabs and save them for a later date.

One of my favorite tricks is to squeeze a pack of taco sauce onto frozen crabs. Once they thaw they work great during winter for bait. Another trick is to freeze crabs with a couple of mussels. When they thaw they will be slightly orange and smell like an extra large fresh mussel. This is guaranteed to drive fish crazy!

Just like sand crabs, mussel makes a great surf bait. There’s no question that at times fresh mussel works better to catch fish than any other bait. Some of the largest perch and corbina I’ve seen have been caught on mussel.


Mussels are found on our local shores anywhere you have substantial tidal movement adjacent to rock, piling or jetty structure. More than anywhere else, mussels seen to thrive on pier and platform pilings. But some of the biggest and oldest mussels can be found on our local jetties.

The best time to collect mussels is at low tide. Take only as many as you’ll need. They are not edible but you may want to collect a few extras to freeze for using later. Let them sit in a dry bucket overnight. The next day the will be slightly open and easier to shuck.

When shucking mussel use a small knife to cut the tendons near the rear of the shell. On one side, near the back, there is a small indentation or hole. Insert your knife into this hole and slowly pull the knife forward cutting the tendon as you go. Once the shell is partly open you can pry it apart with your fingers.


One very soft and pliable another very rubbery and strong. The bright orange inside is soft and pliable. The lip that runs along the edge of the shell is black, brown and orange and is strong and rubbery. Both make good bait.

When hooking mussel I use two methods. One is to wrap the mussel around the hook and use the rubber lip membrane to hold in into place. You can do this by hooking the rubbery lip several times which will hold the mussel into place. The other method is to use only the rubbery lip and hook it like you would a worm. To do this you’ll need to run the hook down through the center of the lip and pull it up your hook. Leave a two inch piece below the hook and your ready to fish.

Mussel is very hardy and will last in a cool moist plastic tray for several days. They can be cleaned immediately or are a bit easier to shuck after being stored for a day or two. I clean extra mussel and place three or four in a small zip bag for later use. Try cutting some squid into small four inch strips and freeze it with the mussel. When it’s thawed it will be orange and smell just like a mussel. Not only does it stay on the hook but you’ll be amazed at how many fish go crazy over it!


While you’re looking for mussel on the rocks you may notice a small army of crabs that dart across the rocks and disappear from sight.These are sidewinder crabs and also make a great surf fishing bait.

While fish wait for mussel to be ripped from the rocks and fall into their food chain they also wait for sidewinders to loose their balance and become their next meal.

The best place to find sidewinders is just above the waterline on rock jetties and tide pool areas. Look for them between mussel clusters, in crevices or by flipping over small rocks. These crabs can be found at both high and low tide and are green and brown in color. Due to their keen sight, once they detect motion they will scurry off.

Catching sidewinders can be quite a challenge. Their speed and agility is amazing but with a bit of practice you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to collect a few for fishing.

From a distance stop, look and see where they are positioned on the rocks. Pick out a single crab and as you approach, watch carefully as to where that crab ends up. Now that you’ve located the crab the best way to catch it is to pin it to the rock with your fingers. Pick the crab up with your forefinger and thumb from the back (the opposite side from the claws!) and quickly place him in your waist bait bucket.

Crabs, about the size of a quarter or smaller make the best baits. When hooking the crab, as with most baits, match your hook size to the bait’s size. Once again, grab the crab by the back and insert the sharp end of your hook into their very last leg socket. Pull your hook through the crab and exit the hook through the opposite leg socket. Remember, it’s always important to use sharp hooks and make sure the business end of the hook is protruding through the shell exposed to the barb.


As with mussels, sidewinders kept in a cool plastic container under wet paper or burlap will live for a solid week. Just enough time to slow their pinchers down so you can get “them” on the hook without them getting you.

Mussels, sand crabs and sidewinder crabs are but a few of the great baits available for summer. As ocean temps rise and surf fish flood the shore in search of food there’s no better time then now to get on down to the beach. Once there, remember to look for what occurs naturally. You can be well assured that’s what the fish are eating. Take advantage of the great live baits available on our beaches and always remember to catch and release whenever possible.

Tackle Shops with Live Bait:

Wylies Bait & Tackle. 18757 W Pacific Coast Hwy. Malibu, CA 90264 (310) 456-2321
Norms Big Fish, 1780 Pacific Coast Hwy, Seal Beach, CA 90740-6209 Phone: 562-596-0040
Hogans Bait & Tackle 34320 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite G Dana Point , CA 92629 949-493-3528
Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle 2110 South Coast Hwy, Suite E Oceanside, CA 92054 Phone: 760-439-3474