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LOST COAST OUTFITTERS PRESENTS

LCO Guide to Fly Fishing
California's Beaches

Fly Fishing the California Surf

In this guide, we'll give you an introduction to fly fishing the surf in California. And as always, the best way to familiarize yourself with the area and the techniques is to take one of our surf fishing courses. Check out our Lost Coast Outfitters classes to get dialed in.

THE OVERVIEW

Stay Safe, Have Fun

Safety First: Never turn your back to the Ocean, the Pacific is an unpredictable place so make sure watch your water.  Be aware. Stay Sober. Watch for rip currents. Remember most of you are wearing waders, so getting too deep can be deadly.

What Can I Catch? Surf fly fishing is a unique way of catching striped bass ranging from the east coast all the way to the west and here in the Bay Area. Surf perch fishing is also a blast and both are plentiful in the Bay and beyond. Plus halibut, leopard sharks, jack smelt, salmon, ling cod, and white sea bass.

Why Salt? Although when it comes to stripers most California fly fishers prefer to fish from boats in the Delta, there are some who prefer the surf. I think what drives a surf fly fisher is the turbulent, noisy ocean, the smell of salt spray, and the thrill of catching a fish in whitewater. These are the things that bring the persistent surf fly fisherman back every migration.

Being able to sneak out of the house and get a couple hours of fishing on a weekend before your family wakes up, or a quick sesh before or after work, can change the way you see life in the concrete jungle. Sure you could always go battle the crowds at Putah Creek, or you can find your favorite fishing spot along the hundreds of miles of coastline in the Bay Area! Thumb your nose at thousands of people sitting in traffic as you hurl a clouser minnow into the deep blue.

Don't believe us? Check out the blue mind theory.

The Gear? The gear is simple and you don't need much. A rod, reel, line, a spool of tippet and a couple of flies.

WHAT TO FISH

Gear For California Surf Fishing

Surf Fishing Fly Rods

Fly Rods for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Rods

We are constantly updating our selection of surf rods. Check out what we're fishing at LCO.

Surf Fishing Fly Reels

Fly reels for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Reels

Fly fishing reels built for saltwater fishing. Shop our favorites from brands like Sage and Hatch.

Surf Fishing Fly Lines

Fly lines for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Lines

Lines can get a bit complicated, keep reading for more info on shooting heads and surf fly lines.

SHOP SURF LINES

Surf Fishing Flies

Flies for fishing the surf

Surf Flies

We tie and sell a selection of great striper, surf perch, and surf flies. Stop by the shop or order online.

WHAT YOU'LL CATCH

Surf Fishing Species in California

Fly Fishing The Surf For Stripers

Striped Bass from San Francisco Beach

Striped Bass

The most common surfperch species in the San Francisco Bay Area are Barred Surfperch, Walleye Surfperch, and Red Tail Surfperch.

Surf Fly Fishing San Francisco

Halibut from San Francisco Beach

Halibut

Pacific Halibut are large usually black or brown with two eyes on one side of their heads. Halibut are visual ambush predators, going after baitfish, crabs that they spot from the bottom.  

San Francisco Surf Fly Fishing

Surf Perch from San Francisco Beach

Surf Perch

The most common surfperch species in the San Francisco Bay Area are Barred Surfperch, Walleye Surfperch, and Red Tail Surfperch.

Fly Fishing The Surf

Leopard Shark from San Francisco Beach

Leopard Sharks

Fly fishing for leopard sharks? What else is there to say. They are plentiful along the coast and provide year-round fun on the fly.

WHERE TO FISH

Surf Fishing Locations in The Bay Area

 

Ocean Beach

Tough place to fish due to the mass amount of current but large fish can be found. Be careful of current, don't wear waders out there.

 

Crissy Field

This area is an all year-round fishery. Hard to beat the view, lots of striper fishing and surf perch.

THE HOW AND WHAT

Surf Fly Lines & Surf Fishing Techniques

Shooting Heads

*Intermediate Shooting Head: (Easy casting, for all weather conditions. Sink rate:1.5 IPS (inches per second). Intermediate is the main line for fishing the San Francisco Bay. 

**Sink 3 Shooting Head:  (Easy casting, for all weather conditions. Sink rate: 3 to 4 IPS. Sink 3 is the second line for the San Francisco Bay, especially when targeting fish such as Halibut and Leopard Sharks, which are bottom feeders. Our ideal setup for Crissy Field.

Sink 6 Shooting Head: A sink 6 is for more heavy surf conditions on our coastal beaches. Sink rate: 6 to 7 IPS.

Running Line: Skinny coated level fly line that connects to your shooting head to your backing.

Integrated Shooting Heads:  We like RIO’s InTouch OutBound Short because it's an integrated system. Unlike a shooting head, the integrated line is one consisted line, making it much more comfortable in staying connected to your flies.

Depending on conditions you can use a variety of these outbound short lines. For Crissy field, we recommend the Rio Outbound Short Sink 3, it seems to have perfect depth for stripping files for that in-between bay and surf locations.  

Two-handed and some single hand rods are best with a custom cut.

RIO’s InTouch OutBound Custom lines are extra-fast sinking.

For example, Evan Praskin, our LCO Monterey Bay Fly Fishing guide uses a 6wt 12’6 Sage Method with a Galvan G Grip Reel, T-14 custom cut of 35ft making it a 490 grain. A fantastic set up if you want to fly fish the open ocean surf.

In the Bay Area surf, we like the Rio T-11 custom cut on a single hand step up. It makes for more efficient casting and keeps flies deep in areas such as Ocean Beach.  

All of these shooting heads made with factory welded loops that can take on the harshest conditions.

 

How to Cast

Shooting-head systems have two essential elements: the casting head (shooting head) and the running line. But unlike other weight-forward lines, both parts can be individually customized (which makes switching from bay to beach so easy). It is this flexibility that makes the shooting-head setup so versatile.

When casting floating mal fly lines, false casting is an essential tool, and it is necessary to understand this is not the case when throwing a shooting head.

Instead of sailing through the air like a floating line, a shooting head slices through the air like a knife. The double haul is what makes the shooting head accelerate so quickly – its speed changes from a slow pull at the beginning to a fast snap just prior to the lines departure.  

Overhang: This term refers to the amount of shooting line (not shooting head) outside the top guide during false casting. For normal fishing distances, use only enough overhang to permit double-hauling without repeatedly pulling the splice between head and shooting line through the guides. 3-5 feet of the overhang is about right. As soon as you have too much overhang, you will start to lose control of the line while you are casting.

Timing is everything! The delivery of the cast needs to be precise and consistent or else you will lose significant distance each time, what has helped many people is finding the perfect rod for your casting style and preference. We tend to light stiff, fast action rods.

Shooting the line: From the moment you feel the time is right while false casting, you need to act decisively. The shoot needs to have a maximum amount of speed with a hard stop that can create a turnover of both your flies and line.


Rigging Info

Five feet of tippet, usually 20lb-25lb fluorocarbon.

A dropper loop 2 feet above the fly at the end of your leader (check out our LCO video on making a surf rig, which includes dropper loop directions).

Baitfish pattern and a crustacean fly pattern on the dropper is a great combination for surf species.

PRO TIPS

Terminology & Advice

Keep Moving

If you fish a hole well odds are the fish are not there.

 

Stripping Baskets

These items are essential, but there are no rules in where you put them on your body. Some anglers like to have them more to the side to help with stripping; while other like them directly in front for better line management.

 

Recon the Fish Areas During Low Tide

A reconnaissance mission is a great way to improve your success when surf fishing. Use low tide to check out your fishing area for dips, hollows, sandbanks, structures, etc. to get an idea where fish might be feeding or hiding when the tide comes back in.

 

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Check out surf webcams and apps to see the condition of the swell before deciding what beach you are going to. Two apps I recommended are Surfline and Fishheads.

 

Read the Water

Foam lines: just like in a river foam is home, but in the San Francisco Bay, the foam lines can change in a matter of minutes. Fish use these foam lines to ambush bait that are protected by the current.

 

Rip Currents

Another area that fish use to ambush their prey. The rip sucks bait into its current – the fish wait for the bait to come to them.

 

Busting Bait

Sometimes if you look closely you can find bait busting on the surface. This is caused by stripers pushing bait out of the water.

 

Channels

Look for visible depth change.

GUIDES & CLINICS

Get Into Surf Fishing With LCO

Fly Fishing The Surf with Lost Coast Outfitters

Clinics are perfect for anyone looking to learn about the surf

Surf Fly Fishing Clinics

Lost Coast Outfitters offers a whole host of surf fly fishing clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area. These Surf Fly Fishing Clinics teach you the ins and outs of fly fishing for stripers and surf perch in and around San Francisco. Check out upcoming clinics on our events page.

Fly Fishing Guides in San Francisco

Guided fly fishing beach trips along the Northern California surf

Guided Fly Fishing Trips: Beach

If you are looking to chase to stripers from the beaches there is a lot to learn consider booking one of our guides from San Francisco to Monterey. Capt Kevin DeGulis is our resident beach guide with Evan Praskin guiding the beaches south of San Francisco.

Surf Fly Fishing Guides in Northern California

Guided fly fishing boat trips throughout Northern California

Guided Fly Fishing Trips: Boat

Let's face it, fly fishing from the beaches is tough and unpredictable. If you are looking at you best possible shot of getting into fish booking a trip on Capt Gregg's killer boat is as close as a sure thing as there is in the bay area for getting a striper on the fly.