Essential Tips for Surf Fishing Across the Southeast

By Debbie Hanson

Aug 07, 2023

List of essential tips for surf fishing in the Southeast, how to catch everything from pompano in Florida to flounder in North Carolina, surf fishing baits

For many who live in the coastal communities of the Southeastern United States, surf fishing isn’t just a pastime, it’s a way of life. Get a few essential tips for surf fishing so you can try your luck at catching everything from pompano in Florida to flounder in North Carolina.

The first and most fundamental of the surf fishing tips for beginners is to get a saltwater fishing license before you go. Always check the fishing regulations and license requirements through your state fish and wildlife agency’s website or mobile app. In Florida, for example, state residents who only saltwater fish from the land or a structure attached to land, may get the no-cost resident recreational saltwater shoreline fishing license.

Sebastian, Florida Surf Fishing Tips

Places like Sebastian Inlet State Park, on the east coast of Florida, have sandy beach areas where you can cast into the surf for pompano, mackerel, jacks, and seatrout. One of the best pompano surf fishing tips for Florida’s east coast is to rig sand fleas on a pink or yellow banana-type jig (lighter jigs are better for shallow water, heavier jigs are better for deeper water or strong currents). Using a 7 to 9 ft fast action rod rigged with 10 to 15-pound monofilament, cast out into the breaking waves. Pompano will be found on the edges of sandbars waiting to feed on crustaceans that come in and out with the tides.


Hatteras Surf Fishing Tips

If you want to go surf fishing in North Carolina, one of best places is along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore where you have opportunities to catch fish species like striped bass, bluefish, and flounder. To catch bluefish from the surf near Cape Hatteras, use cut baits such as bunker (also known as menhaden), mullet, or squid. Bunker and mullet can be fished using a two-hook bottom fishing rig.

Destin Surf Fishing Tips

Near the Destin, Florida area, John Beasley State Park in Fort Walton Beach has a wide-open area of beach that is secluded from crowds and buildings. Plan on starting as the sun rises on a moving tide for your best opportunities at catching fish like pompano, redfish, and whiting. Many anglers enjoy targeting redfish (also called red drum) using surf fishing gear and either live crustaceans (crabs or sand fleas) or cut baits such as ladyfish and mullet on a Fish Finder rig and 2/0 to 5/0 circle hook (depending on the size of the cut bait). Use a 9- to 11-foot medium-heavy surf rod rated for 15- to 30-pound line.


Panama City Surf Fishing Tips

Panama City Beach is another popular Florida surf fishing destination that is only about an hour and a half south of Destin. King mackerel can be found off Panama City Beach from May to October, while Spanish mackerel can be targeted from February to September. You can surf fish using cut baits such as mullet or herring – both will attract both king and Spanish mackerel. Popular gulf coast surf fishing tips for king mackerel include using a 5000 series spinning reel spooled with 20-to-30-pound test fishing line with a wire leader (mackerel are toothy) paired with a 7 to 8 ft. medium/heavy action rod.


Now that you have a few surf fishing tips for beginners that apply to the Southeast, you can decide where you want to go and which species to target first. The number of saltwater surf fishing opportunities that exist across the Southeast make it one of the best regions in the country to visit if you want to learn or build on your experience.

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.