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LCO Guide to Fly Fishing
California's Surf and 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, come by the shop, or give us a call ( 415 483 2278 ) and we will get you dialed into fishing the surf in no time.


Stay Safe, Have Fun

Why Salt?  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. You never know what you are going to catch. On any cast it could be that monster striper that you have been looking for. These are the things that bring the persistent surf fly fisherman back every migration.

Then there is the obvious that you can 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.

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.

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. Keep reading for more info.


Gear For California Surf Fishing


Fly Rod for Surf Fishing- we have turned peoples 5 & 6wt trout rods into light striper and surf perch rigs. It can be done, but its far from Ideal. 9'6" fast 6wt makes a great saltwater rig for the lighter species. We must say that 7,8, and 9 wts are best for targeting striped bass. If you find yourself fishing the surf a lot consider a two hander for more efficient casting and less fatigue. In our surf clinics we find that beginners can even effectively fish the surf.  

Reel- you will need a reel to match and balance with the rod. We have seen the surf eat many reels so have a pretty good handle on whats is going to last out there.

Line- You will want a sinking line. This get's complicated fast so check out out guide to Surf Fishing Fly Lines.

Tippet- 20-25lb tippet is about perfect for fishing the bay area.

Stripping basket- This is a must have. If you don't have it line will tangle all around your feet and you will end up in a mess.

Flies- A selection of weighted and unweighted striper Flies and Surf perch flies

Getting into non-essentials, but nice to have.

Waterproof pack- Salt is tough on everything which is why we love simms new dry creek hip packs. No zipper teeth to rust out.

Fly Comb- Bait fish patterns get all tangled up and the comb helps get all the fibers swimming good again.

Clothing- For a shirt I like a sun hoody with a pocket and usually am wearing a light puffy jacket as it's usually a bit chilly on CA coast. For the bottom half of my body I wear shorts and wool long johns underneath. I find barefoot is the way to go for sandy beaches and will wear Simms flats sneakers when it gets rocky.

Fly Box- I have boat box I keep all my flies in but usually just through a few in a ziplock bag.

Fly Fishing the Surf Roundtable Discussion

Steve Adachi, Ken Oda, Ben Engle, Evan Praskin, and George Revel. Chat about the nuances of fly fishing the surf from Monterey to the San Francisco Bay. We cover gear, flies, tides, techniques, and reading the water.

Fly Rods for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Rods

Not all rods make great surf rods. Through our surf clinics we have had the ability to test many different rods for castability and durability. Here are our favorite surf rods.  

Fly reels for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Reels

Some reels are quickly destroyed in the surf environment which is one of the harshest environments for fly reels. We have tested many and come up with a few winners.

Fly lines for fishing the surf

Surf Fly Lines

Surf lines can get a bit complicated. We have put together a guide to surf fishing lines. We mostly use shooting head style fly lines so that we can change the sink rate based on different.

Flies for fishing the surf

Surf Flies

We custom tie and sell a selection of the best flies for striper, surf perch, and general surf fishing. Stop by the shop or check out what we have put together for the ultimate Surf Fly Selection.


Surf Fishing Species in California

Fly Fishing The Surf For Stripers

Striped Bass from San Francisco Beach

Striped Bass

Brought from the East Coast Striper are the premier game fish in our local waters. The hope of getting on of the big ones keeps us coming back day after day and year after year.

Surf Fly Fishing San Francisco

Halibut from San Francisco Beach


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. They are a ton of fun to target on our beaches.

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. They are very scent oriented and are tough to catch using pure fly techniques.


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.


Surf Fly Lines & Surf Fishing Techniques

Understanding Shooting Heads

Shooting heads are very short fly lines, 25' to 35' in length, designed to be cast, or "shot," the greatest distances using fast action fly rods with minimal false casting and minimal backcast room. The shooting head is attached, usually by a loop-to-loop connection for a quick, convenient exchange, to a thin running line that has minimal surface contact with the fly rod guides, thus achieving the long distance casts. When considering the geometric taper of a shooting head, think "cannonball at the end of a string." Shooting heads are also usually designed to sink, and a selection of various densities allow the angler, with one reel and spool, to fish a variety of water depths and water speeds. Shooting head systems are often used by steelhead and salmon anglers, with either single-handed and spey rods. If you want to learn more about steelhead and spey line systems click here. Lake, fly anglers as well as striper fly fishers will also benefit from casting a shooting head system. Shad anglers and surf anglers   The only con of the interchangeable shooting head system is the loop to loop connection between the running line and the head can take some getting used to. When the connection is set up properly it goes through without much trouble.


How to Cast

Shooting-head systems have two essential elements: the casting head (shooting head) and the running/shooting line. 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.

A couple of things to know about shooting heads/ Sinking lines

1) Get the line to the surface: You will need to get the head to the surface before you can pick it up. We typically do this by roll casting the head to the surface. First you will want to make sure the head is just inside the tip so your roll cast has maximum effect. When you make your roll cast we like to shoot the head out so that about 3ft of running line is outside the tip. This will ensure that when you begin to haul the knot is not pulled inside the tip of the rod. The amount of running line outside the tip is called over hang.

2) 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. The better at casting you get, the more you can increase the overhang to allow for greater distances. In the beginning keep it small and your life will be easier.

3) Timing is everything - After you you've made your roll cast, you will want to pick up the line immediately, before it sinks. Ideally you want to make one back cast, wait for the head to unfurl and when it is perfectly straight you will want to haul (if using a single hander) forward and release the line precisely after you stop the rod on your forward cast. If you've done it right the line will shoot our and take the running line with it.

4) trajectory - If you aim your cast upward it will have more time to shoot and allow for longer casts.



Fly Fishing Rigs for the Surf

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 video below on making a surf rig, which includes dropper loop instructions).

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


Terminology & Advice

Keep Moving

If you feel like you fished a piece of structure well, keep moving there are likely no fish there.


Time of Day

We tend to have the best luck morning and evening when the light is low and the wind is down. That doesn't mean you won't find other times of the day, but we sure do love that early morning/evening sesh.


Take Notes

If you record date, time, tide, weather, and location you will start to notice patterns as you input data.



One of the biggest questions we get in the shop is what tide should I fish. The truth is the answer is different for everyone. We say go when you have the time. Fish always surprise us. The joke is when the folks who like high tide are done fishing the folks who like low tide are just showing up.


Stripping Baskets

Stripping baskets are an essential piece of surf equipment. If I leave mine behind I rather watch than battle the line getting tangled up.


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. Surfline is a great resource.


Read the Water

Look for any visible change in the way the water moves or jiggles. if something looks our of place fish it.


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.



Like busting bait birds can be a good sign that fish are pushing baitfish around. Seagulls and pelicans crashing the surface can be an excellent sign, but shore birds can tell you where all the sand crabs are and egrets on the bank can tell you that striper are pushing bait against the bank.



Look for visible depth change.


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. Ben Engle 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.