How-to Guide for Saltwater Fishing

Saltwater fishing is a rather generalized term used in reference to any method of fishing in the ocean. This applies if you’re casting your line into the waves beneath a pier, fighting a fish from a kayak, saltwater fly fishing, or trolling a line behind you on a boat. Whether you’re a seasoned angler looking for a different way to experience the sport, or a beginner fisherman learning how to saltwater fish, this guide has been designed to offer some insight into the world of saltwater fishing basics.

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Types of Saltwater Fishing

When it comes to saltwater fishing, there’s really no shortage of destinations to choose from. You can cast off the sands of your local beach or the planks of a pier, or you can venture out onto the open ocean in a kayak, canoe or boat. As long as you’re in the ocean and using saltwater fishing gear, you’re on the right track. Ultimately, choosing where to fish really comes down to a combination of personal preference, and what fish you want to catch.

Surf Fishing

When you’re surf fishing, you’ll either be standing on the shoreline or wading into the surf. When you’re first starting out, you may be surprised at the variety of fish you can catch off the shoreline; but aside from deep-sea game fish, you can actually catch most saltwater fish without ever going out onto the ocean. This makes it a great starting location for many beginners, and it’s easy to learn.

Recommended Saltwater Surf Fishing Gear: Your surf fishing rod should be between 12 and 15-feet long with large line guides. Combine your rod with a large saltwater spinning reel and a 20 to 25-pound test line for the best results.

Recommended Saltwater Surf Fishing Bait: Shrimp, mullet and squid are simple and reliable baits for surf fishing. Shrimp will attract most species of fish, but use caution as they can easily pull it off the hook. For bait that will last longer, but attract less species of fish, try using mullet or squid.

surf fishing

Backwater and Flats Fishing

If you’re feeling ready for some hard fights with game fish like Tarpon, head out for some inshore backwater and flats fishing from a flats boat, skiff or kayak. For a freshwater fisherman just getting into saltwater fishing or an intermediate-level angler these locations will feel comfortable and familiar. You can find a variety of species in these inshore waters, like Flounder and Spotted Sea Trout.

Recommended Saltwater Backwater and Flats Fishing Gear: Choose a 6 to 7-foot medium-action saltwater fishing rod and combine it with a spinning or baitcaster reel. Add a 15-pound test weighted line for the best results.

Recommended Saltwater Backwater and Flats Fishing Bait: A gold metal spoon is going to be a go-to lure virtually anywhere you saltwater fish, and backwater and flats fishing are no exception. Invest in several of these lures in case of a line break, and some soft plastic jigs.

fishing the flats

Bay Fishing

Saltwater fishermen will experience some of the best fishing around reefs, hills and shallows when they partake in saltwater bay fishing. Bays are coastal bodies of water that connect to a main body of water. They tend to be large and somewhat enclosed, making them an ideal fishing location to find a variety of saltwater sport fish, baitfish and crustaceans.

Recommended Saltwater Bay Fishing Gear: You’ll have the most success when you bay fish with a 7-foot heavy-action rod combined with a spinning or baitcaster reel. Add a 20-pound monofilament line and you’ll be ready to go.

Recommended Saltwater Bay Fishing Bait: Bring a combination of live and artificial bait while you’re out in the bay. Bring gold metal spoons, some white bucktail jig lures and live bait like shrimp to experiment and see what the fish are biting.

bay fishing

Deep-Sea Fishing

Deep-sea fishing is saltwater fishing for the angler looking for a challenge and the adrenaline rush that comes from long, hard fights with big game fish. This type of saltwater fishing isn’t necessarily recommended for the beginner fisherman unless you bring a guide, and is best-suited for the more seasoned angler because you’ll be going out onto the open ocean, far from shore.

Recommended Saltwater Deep-Sea Fishing Gear: You’ll be able to catch a wide variety of game fish while you’re deep-sea fishing, so you’ll want to bring several different rods depending on what fish you want to catch. In general, you can get by with a 6 to 7-foot medium-action offshore fishing rod with a heavy baitcaster reel and 20-pound test monofilament line. If you’re going for deep-sea bottom fishing, however, you’ll need 50-pound line.

Recommended Saltwater Deep-Sea Fishing Bait: Catching deep-sea game fish is going to heavily rely on technique and experience, so experiment with both live and artificial baits for bottom fishing and jigging, like cut squid, threadfin herring, deep diving plugs or deep-sea bottom jigs.

Saltwater Deep-Sea Fishing Safety Tips: While you’re deep-sea fishing, stay abreast of weather conditions before and during your trip. Evaluate navigation charts before you go out onto the water and bring a GPS along with a VHF radio to call for help if needed.

deep sea fishing

Pier Fishing

Pier fishing may not be as action-packed as other types of saltwater fishing, but it’s a great way to introduce a new angler to saltwater fishing, or for the more seasoned angler to relax. Pier fishing isn’t as dependent on weather conditions, and you don’t need a lot of extra gear like you would need to bring in a kayak or on a boat. That said, however, timing is everything. Before you go pier fishing, you want to research the tides to see what time you should go to have the most fish swimming by your line to increase your chances of getting one on your line.

Recommended Saltwater Pier Fishing Gear: For successful pier fishing, you will want to bring a 6 to 9-foot long medium or heavy-action spinning fishing rod. A 20-pound test line should do well for general use. Just be sure to bring a hoop net or pier graff to make it easier to pull up your catch, or reeling it up will be difficult and you run the risk of breaking your line and losing the fish.

Recommended Saltwater Pier Fishing Bait: Live bait is going to do well when you’re at a pier. Bring plenty of bloodworms, shrimp and squid. If you’re after a specific species of fish, ask local angler for their recommendations based on what works for them.

man and child pier fishing

What You Need to Saltwater Fish

Saltwater Fishing Gear

Your saltwater fishing gear can literally make or break your saltwater fishing experience, and will change depending on where and when you are saltwater fishing. From saltwater fishing rods and reels to the clothing you wear, your gear can not only make the sport easier, but safer as well.

Saltwater Rods and Reels

Choosing a saltwater rod and reel is dependent on whether you plan to fish with metal jigs, troll or baitcast, where you plan to do your fishing and what type of fish you’re aiming to catch. Generally speaking, there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. Longer rods will cast father, while shorter rods are more powerful for when it comes time to fight the fish.
  2. When you see the term “power” on a rod, it refers to the weight the rod is capable of lifting.
  3. High-speed reels are better suited to fast baits, whereas low-speed reels are more powerful for fighting the fish.
  4. Match the reel to the line weight of your rod.
  5. To pick the right rod, match the lure weight to the size saltwater bait or lure you plan on using.
rod in saltwater boat

Saltwater Fishing Tools

No matter where you plan on saltwater fishing, there are four saltwater fishing tools you want to bring with you:

  1. Saltwater Gaffs and Nets to land the fish. These also make it easier and safer for catch-and-release fishing.
  2. Saltwater Pliers and Scissors to cut wire, remove hooks and tighten knots. Learn to tie saltwater fishing knots.
  3. Saltwater Fishing Knives for cutting bait or cleaning fish.
  4. A Saltwater Hook Remover to make removing the hook quicker and safer.
saltwater fishing net

Saltwater Fishing Clothing

To keep yourself safe and comfortable no matter where you’re fishing, make sure you are wearing the right gear:

  1. Foul-Weather Gear, like boots and a rain jacket to stay clean and dry.
  2. Breathable Saltwater Waders when the water is 65 degrees or warmer, or neoprene waders for colder waters.
  3. Sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun, in addition to a comfortable long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
  4. Polarized Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays and make it easier to see into the water.
  5. Cold-Weather Gear, such as a waterproof/windproof hat and top layer of clothing, and neoprene gloves.

Bait You Need to Saltwater Fish

saltwater fish bait

Saltwater fishing bait is largely dependent upon how the fish you want to catch feeds. This considers three things: scent, sound and movement. When you put these three things together, you should be able to determine what kind of bait you need to use in order to effectively trick the fish and lure it to your line. From there, it’s a matter of knowing where you plan to fish and deciding whether you want to use live or artificial bait to get the strike.

Live Saltwater Fishing Bait

  • Bait Fish
  • Crabs
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Shrimp
  • Squid

Artificial Saltwater Bait

  • Lead-Headed Jigs to imitate live saltwater bait.
  • Metal Jigs to bounce across the bottom of the ocean floor.
  • Poppers to splash across the water’s surface.
  • Plug Fishing Lures to imitate a swimming fish.
  • Spoon Fishing Lures to flash and move like a swimming fish.
  • Spinnerbaits to trick a fish’s sense of sound and movement.
  • Soft Plastic Lures for flexibility of use.

Tip: Speak with the Locals

When it comes down to it, local anglers know saltwater fishing better than any general guide you can find. Once you’ve picked out a place and know what fish you’re going for, speak to other fisherman in the area at bait and tackle shops, on the shore or on the pier to see what they’re doing to get successful strikes. Just remember that every fisherman has their own preferences, and not every bait will be as successful on any given day, so don’t be afraid to experiment.