Take a Walk on the Beach and Catch a Fish!

Surf fishing is a fun way to catch fish, and Sarasota County’s miles of pristine shoreline offer plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.” A fitting sentiment as we delve into the topic of surf (shoreline) fishing.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) describes it as fishing from land or structure attached to the land (i.e., pier, jetty or dock) - basically, not a boat or vessel on the water. You might not be familiar with it, but I bet you’ve seen these fishermen during your morning or evening walks on the beach. They’re usually set up at the water’s edge - many mount their poles into pipes in the sand, or hold their rods so they can quickly cast if they see fish. 

It’s a fine way of getting up-close and personal with nature. You’re standing on a beach with your toes in the sand/surf, feeling as if you’re grounded into the universe; the sun warms you as it wakes to a new day (or prepares to close out the day); birds fly above you searching for their morning or evening meal; the fresh/salty air invigorates you; the pull of the waves lulls you into bliss; fish tickle your toes; and gentle breezes remind you that you’re in paradise. It’s just one more way of enjoying the beautiful beaches throughout Sarasota County.

To learn more about this sport, I contacted Steve Gibson, well-known writer/photographer in the Sarasota area who has fished here about 40 years. You might know Steve’s popular outdoor writing in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Florida Sportsman, Cabella’s Outdoor Magazine, Florida Fishing Weekly, and Saltwater Fly Fishing, just to name a few — basically, he knows a lot about fishing and loves to share his passion. Currently, he runs Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing, helping folks fish from kayaks or by walking the beach, and he was happy to share his knowledge on the topic of surf fishing.

What Types of Fish Can I Catch in the Surf?

On pretty much a year-round basis, anglers can access whiting, flounder, Jack Crevalle, redfish, snook, shark, pompano, sea trout, permit, houndfish, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel and bluefish. According to Gibson, snook are especially fun to catch because they’re usually close to the beach (2-3’) looking for baitfish, sand fleas or glass minnows, and folks have been known to catch them up to 42”!

What’s the Best Location and Time of Day to Fish?

Fortunately, most of our shoreline is publicly accessible. Try the award-winning Siesta Key Beach, Nokomis Beach, Casey Key or Manasota Beach, to name a few.

Ideally, start by 7:30 a.m. while the sun is in the east. Look for calm conditions, bright sun (clouds create glare), and an east wind. Wrap up by 1-2 p.m. since the sun’s in your eyes and the sea breeze kicks up the surf.

What Gear Do I Need?

You really don’t need much, according to Steve. For fly rods, he recommends a 6-7 weight rod; a floating tip or sink tip; a small bag/box for pliers and flies; D.T. Variation fly (modified D.T. Special) because it’s white and easy to see; and braided line (6-8 lb test, 20 lb shock leader). For spinner rods, Steve suggests a medium/medium light rod; small jigs or a DOA Shrimp, or MirrOLure Mirrodyne; and the same braided line/leader. You should also have a hat with a wide brim, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and basic flats booties (not sandals).

What Do I Look for in the Surf?

It’s important not to cast until you actually see fish. But you typically won’t see a whole fish - that’s too easy. Look for shadows, shapes, movement and reflections, and then cast ahead of it, so you don’t spook your target.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Surf Fish?

April through August offers best results since the water is warmer.

Do I Need a License to Fish from Shore?

FWC requires a license to pursue any saltwater species. For Florida residents, the shore fishing license is free of charge. For non-residents, 3-day or 7-day or annual licenses must be purchased. Here’s a link to all the details

Are there any Secrets to Success?

According to GIbson, “You must have tenacity and patience. You’re going to cast many times and you may not get a bite at all, but the minute you do something else or give up, that’s when the fish will hit, so STAY FOCUSED!”


Nicole Coudal is a home chef and food writer based in southwest Florida, where she fishes and cooks using local ingredients. When not on the water, she visits farms, farmer’s markets, and other food-related venues to highlight what’s in-season and to create tasty recipes. Read more at www.MyDeliciousBlog.com.