Bill Varney – SURF LINES

WON’s Surf fishing Editor Bill Varney, really knows the California surf. His family has lived and fished in Los Angeles since the 1850s. Besides the four generations of surf knowledge that have been passed down to Bill he also grew up in the South Bay where he worked for TC Tackle, as a hand on Redondo’s 3/4-day Dina Lee and for the surf master Fred Oakley collecting bait for every tackle shop from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Over the years tackle has changed as anglers downsize from the long heavily weighted rods and rigs of the past to much lighter surf gear. It is the fast-growing sector of the fishing industry and Bill’s book “Surf Fishing, The Light-Line Revolution” covers all aspects of West Coast surffishing with information on rigging, baits and dozens of techniques on how to find and catch more fish at the beach.

Bill’s monthly articles in Western Outdoor News cover how-to techniques that help readers find, bait and catch fish in the surf. While his weekly tips, keep surf fishermen up-to-date on new and exciting ways to target local surf fish.

You can e-mail him at

Tips & tricks for fall corbina
Fishing for corbina in fall is a bit different than during spring and summer. The bigger fish are generally around now and tend to be a bit more wary of the average angler. By using the correct rod and reel combination, rigging up and pitching the right baits, you are sure to have a better shot at catching corbina before most of their stock disappears for winter.

No matter if it’s the middle of summer or the end of fall, the rod and reel combination that seems to work for corbina is the same. I like to use a parabolic nine-foot rod rated for 4- to 12-pound mono, with a lure weight rating of less than one ounce. For fishing near rock or very close to shore, I will downsize to a 7-foot rod. The longest trout rod in your garage is a good place to start.

CORBINA TEND TO be more aggressive when feeding on a rising tide.

As for reels, try the Penn Battle II 2000 or 3000 series spinning reel. With its sealed bearings, it’s designed to take a salty, sandy splash once in a while. Also, Shimano makes several good surf spinners including the Sedona and Sahara. Because your reel will eventually get sand in it and seize up like an old jeep, keep the price in the $40 to $100 range.

When it comes to rigging, it’s simple. I like to employ two different set-ups. The first is a very light and stealth rig that I would use on the shorter spinning rod. With this rig, tie your main line directly to 4- or 6-pound fluorocarbon leader. Use a uni-to-uni knot and be sure to pull both lines across your chest until they are tight. A 2-foot leader works great with a #2 Gamakatsu split shot/drop-shot hook or an Owner Mosquito Light hook tied to it. The second rig is the Carolina rig. This is a simple rig made up of a sliding sinker, a bead, swivel, 6-pound fluoro leader and a hook. This set-up works best when fishing the open beach and trying to cover as much area as possible. Be sure to follow these rules when using the Carolina Rig: In larger surf, swell or current, use a heavier sliding sinker and a shorter leader. In small surf, employ the opposite.

When it comes to baits — there are some changes for fall. When spring rolls around, corbina key in on sand crabs that become their main diet throughout the summer. But when the water cools in fall and sand crabs disappear, corbina turn to other baits. Late summer has always had good fishing with mussel and ghost shrimp. Not that the sand crab won’t work but corbina are ready for a new diet and these baits represent those they find in back bays and estuaries during winter. Once fall is in full bloom and we make our way toward Halloween, corbina key in on clams and other bivalves. Recently, biologists from Fish and Wildlife in an Orange County beach study found that 99-percent of corbina had clams (not sand crabs) in their stomachs.

As the summer wanes into fall, try some different bait for corbina. Pull a few mussels from the rocks, suck a few ghost shrimp from the bay or gather a few clams from under rocks in intertidal zones and try those for bait. Certainly, one of the secrets to catching surf fish is having a variety of baits with you… so you may try each to see which works best.

CRAB BEDS THAT are covered with water at high tide are hot spots for corbina.

Now we come to the most important part: Where to find corbina. This time of year is busy for corbina as they are beginning their transition from the open beach into protected areas like back bays, harbors and local estuaries. They are also filling up on the last bits of “easy” food and won’t be reluctant to bite when they find the right bait.

Fall corbina can always be found in the stock areas like along the open beach, near rocks, jetties, surrounding piers and also transiting harbor and estuary inlets. When fishing the open beach, I survey the sand at low tide and try to find two distinct feeding grounds. The first is any hole or trough that develops along the shore. Find these long shore troughs at low tide and match them up with a permanent landmark. Come back at high tide and line yourself up with the landmark and fish here as this is where the corbina will be feeding.

The second and most productive area to be found at low tide is out on the sand bar found between the inner and outer trough. Look for aggregations of sand crabs that produce a bed about the size of a car’s hood. Line these groups up with something permanent and come back once they are covered with water and cast there. This is where corbina will be feeding at higher tide. A 10-foot cast to the right or left can leave you without a bite, so it’s important to mark these areas carefully.

Take a short walk on a long pier by stopping right above the waves to look for corbina. This is the best spot to see them and watch their behavior. Get a feel from the pier as to what they are eating and where they are moving. Fish from that spot or move down onto the beach and fish the surf line adjacent to the pilings. Corbina commonly forage for sand crabs near a pier because structure that inhibits the movement of sand causes it to pile up under the pier and provide a perfect nesting area for sand crabs.

Lastly, don’t forget that during winter many corbina, spotfin and the largest perch make their way back into inner bays to forage, spawn and find relief from winter storms. As you make your way deep into fall, try to concentrate on these entrances where hard bottom created by jetties meets sand. You are sure to have your best chance to find the biggest corbina here as they make their last trip up the channel for winter.

THERE IS NO better time than fall for switching from sand crabs to ghost shrimp.

FALL CORBINA TEND to be larger and more aggressive than those caught in the spring.

* * *

To learn more about surf fishing check out Bill’s educational site

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Lunker sheephead landed off of Malibu
The halibut specialists made some good catches this week, reported Hook, Line and Sinker in Santa Barbara. Strong tides and lots of bait in the shallows combined to put the fish on the feed. Most of the fish have been in the 18- to 28-inch range. Flash Minnows have been best in the surf. Smelt and anchovy-pattern swimbaits have been best in calmer waters. The stretch near the Goleta Pier continues to produce but other spots like Gaviota, East Beach, the sand bar and Carpinteria have been kicking out fish. Good perch catches were also the norm on most beaches. A lot of smaller fish but some quality kickers up to 1¾ -pounds were reported. Gulp! 2-inch Sandworms, Motor Oil and Root Beer grubs have been the top artificials, cut anchovy and mussel, the top baits. Anglers soaking squid off Campus Point have been posting a mix of calico bass, johnny bass, chocolate rockfish and the occasional leopard shark.


A 28-POUND SHEEPHEAD landed by Chad Skowron of Malibu taken on a whole squid fished on a 9/0 hook.

MALIBU — Catch of the week was a lunker sheephead taken off the reef near Gladstones, reported Wylie’s. The angler was soaking a whole squid on a 9/0 hook targeting bat rays. The fish, landed on the beach, weighed 28 pounds. The corbina bite has been very good with anglers landing several fish in a session. Most of the fish have ranged from 1 to 2 pounds with a few better kickers mixed in. Larger single or two smaller sand crabs have been the baits of choice. Both Malibu and Santa Monica beaches have been holding lots of fish. The long rodders have been scoring a nice mixed bag catch on the reefed beaches. Yellowfin croaker and sand bass have been the top catches. Calico bass, small leopard sharks and shallow water rockfish have also been in the mix. The shark and ray bite was good with a full moon and strong tides putting the fish on the feed. Squid and slabbed mackerel have been the top baits.

REDONDO BEACH — With strong tides and ideal beach conditions, the corbina bite was good again this week, according to Just Fishing. Good catches were reported from El Segundo, Manhattan, Hermosa and Torrance beaches. The sand crabs are still on the smaller side. Some anglers are pinning two or three on, others are screening for larger ones. Some catches were made on bloodworms and mussel. Top fish were tickling the 4-pound mark. Anglers have been averaging a solid 3 fish in a session. Some yellowfin croaker and small leopards have also been in the mix. A few halibut catches were reported but not many anglers have been targeting them. A couple just- legal fish were taken in the harbor on small drop-shot soft jerkbaits. The bonito are showing in and around the harbor with more frequency. Small Krocodiles and Kastmasters have been getting a few bites. The shark and ray bite continues solid off Dockweiler Beach. Whole squid and slab mackerel have been the top baits.

SEAL BEACH — The corbina bite improved this week with an influx of cleaner water and strong, full moon tides, reported Big Fish. The smaller fish ranging from 1 to 2 pounds were biting best. The larger models are present but much tougher to hook. Some are finding success with exotic baits like ghost shrimp and bloodworms. A few better models were pushing the 4-pound mark. Small barred perch, shiner perch, small leopard sharks and yellowfin croakers have also been in the mix. The full moon tides had the croakers on the bite. Yellowfin to 4 pounds and spotfin to 5 pounds were reported taken off the piers, jetties and river mouths. Good catches were reported from San Gabriel River channel, the Seal Beach Pier and jetty, 72nd place jetty and the Bolsa Chica Inlet. The inlet was also good for a few legal halibut taken on white drop-shot Zoom Flukes and one better model on live smelt. The bay bass bite continues strong in Alamitos Bay.

NEWPORT BEACH — With strong tides and good water conditions, the corbina bite was the top draw along this stretch. Anglers reported from 2 to 4 fish in a session. Most of the fish have ranged from 1 to 3 pounds but there have been fish in the 4-pound class reported. Catches were made from the stretch near the piers, the street jetties, River Jetties and Newland. One angler fishing near the street jetties landed 3 corbina to 2½ pounds, 2 yellowfin croaker and a leopard shark fishing the top of the high tide. The long rodders fishing mussel outside the breakers landed a nice mixed bag of yellowfin and spotfin croakers. River Jetties and the street jetties have been good stretches. Most of the yellowfin have been in the 2- to 3-pound class with the bigger spotfin pushing 5 pounds.

DANA POINT — Corbina anglers found clean water at Strands and Salt Creek and posted good corbina catches, according to Hogan’s. Anglers reported landing multiples on smaller sand crabs. Other anglers found success with lugworms and fresh mussel. Good numbers of smaller barred perch, shiner perch and small leopards were also in the mix. The strong tides and bright moon had the croakers on the bite in and around the harbor and off the pier and off Old Man’s. Casting a sand crab or mussel outside the breakers has been the ticket. The yellowfin have been ranging from 2 to 3 pounds and a few of the spotfin were in the 5-pound class. Many of the better spotfin were taken at night. The leopard shark bite has been good at Doheny. No big fish but good numbers of smaller models to 30 inches. Squid and mackerel have been the top baits.

OCEANSIDE — The Army/Navy Academy continues to be a good stretch for corbina specialists, according to Pacific Coast. Anglers are landing from 2 to 4 fish in a session with some big kickers in the mix — a couple of fish in the 4-pound class were reported. Other catches were made from south Oceanside, South Carlsbad and Cardiff. The action slowed a bit from previous weeks but is still good. The croaker bite was also above average this week with strong, full moon and tides. The long rodders have been using a high-low or double dropper loop rig. Sand crabs, mussel and lugworms have been the top baits. A 28-inch halibut was taken at Ponto on a Flash Minnow. A 36- and a 34-inch fish were also reported taken by spear fisherman. The best bet in the lagoons has been a hot spotted bay bass bite. Creature baits, underspins and swimbaits have been working well.

SOLANA BEACH — Another week of good corbina catches, according to Blue Water. Most anglers posted multiples fishing sand crabs on the incoming tides. With larger crabs tougher to find, anglers have been stringing 2 and 3 crabs on a baitholder hook. Lugworms have been a good backup in lieu of bigger crabs. Most of the fish have been in the 2-pound class with a couple 4-pound models reported. Good spots have been Cardiff, Del Mar, Torrey Pines and Mission Beach. Table Tops kicked out some big spotfin croaker for the long rodders soaking mussel or ghost shrimp. The incoming high and outgoing high have been the best tide stretches. Another big striped bass was reported taken off Del Mar on a swimbait.

Compiled by Gundy Gunderson

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Where To Find Fish At The Beach
As the seasons change from spring to summer, so does the contour of the beach. Northern storms are replaced with southern swells coming all the way from Antartica. Long range ground swells like these reshape beaches by pushing sand deposited offshore in winter back up onto the beach. Surf then pounds the redeposited sand and creates long-shore troughs that become a welcome home for summer surf fish.

JETTIES PRODUCE AN eddy circulation that attracts fish.

Every surf angler wants to be able to enhance their chances of success. Being familiar with a wide range of possible locations for fish helps to reduce the amount of time needed to find them. Storm surf along with tidal changes, rip currents and inshore holes work together to produce some of the most productive fishing spots.

Knowing just where to fish and being able to read the beach will come with time and practice. Here are a few of the things I practice to help me find fish at the beach.

The first step when you get to the shore is to find an area where you can get a good view of the waterline. Standing on the beach’s berm above the waves is a good place to start.

Survey the water’s edge and look for where the water rushes up the farthest onto the beach. This is a bay. Look for areas in between these bays where a point pushes out. As you look up and down the beach you’ll probably see several of these point and bay areas. Water circulates around these areas and creates fishing opportunities.

The best place to fish on a point is along its sides where the water slows down as the bottom drops off. When waves break along a point in a triangle, the best place to fish is along the edge of the triangle shape. This is where the current created by the breaking waves slows down and releases the bait and particles it carries.

FISH THE LEEWARD side of rocks for big surf fish.

When fishing between the points, look just offshore and find the long-shore gutter or trough that runs parallel to the beach. If you’re looking straight out to sea, it is 20 to 60 feet in front of you, parallel to the shore. It’s often 6 to 10 feet wide, several feet deep and 20 to 100 feet long. Both an inside and outside trough are created by breaking waves and may be more pronounced after larger surf.

The trough is a favorite place for fish to feed and hide. Corbina use the trough to lay in wait and then rush up the beach to eat sand crabs. Perch stay suspended in the trough and feed on churned-up bait.

One of the best times to search for these troughs is at low tide. Walk the beach and look for where the trough has formed. Line yourself up with a permanent landmark and come back at high tide, when the trough is covered by water and you’ll find fish there.

If you go to the beach at high tide and the trough is not visible, take time to watch swimmers and surfers entering the ocean. If they dip down as they walk out you’ve found the trough and should start you day by fishing there.

Besides troughs formed by waves, strong rip currents also move tons of sand and provide structure for fish. Rip currents are formed by waves which approach the coast nearly head on, then reverse themselves and push both water and sand offshore. As these currents carry water offshore, they also provide both current and food for inshore fish.

Rip currents appear with off colored swirling water, rippled areas and foam. Some rip currents may be obvious while others are more subtle.

THE INSHORE TROUGH is home to corbina, surfperch and croaker.

As rip currents pull water offshore, they also form a trough perpendicular to the shore where fish wait to find food. Rip currents form in the shape of a mushroom and create neutral pockets on each side. These neutral pockets, formed by an eddy circulation along with an offshore trough, provide some promising areas to fish.

Scan the water for rip currents as they will often form and subside. Some may be subtle and only a few feet from shore. Others will be more pronounced and can extend well beyond the surf line. The best place to fish a rip current is along its sides. Cast out and retrieve you bait slowly across these areas were current meets calm water.

Similar to rip currents, rock jetties also provide eddy circulation, which attracts fish. Rock outcroppings produce water movement around its point. This is where currents create a natural feeding habitat due to water movement caused by waves and tidal changes.

As the tide moves up and down throughout the day, water currents vary in strength and intensity. At slack tides, very little water will be moving around rock points. At larger tidal changes, more water and thus stronger eddy circulation will occur.

Eddy circulation is important because it provides a current where fish can suspend themselves while water flushes through their gills providing oxygen. The eddy also provides a current for bait and nutrients to pass within the fishes’ strike zone.

When angling near jetty areas, slack tide conditions and small surf create very little circulation and force fish to search for food. Large surf and strong tidal conditions create too much current and make it difficult for fish to stay in place and feed. Fishing is always best when there is a slow to moderate current condition.

To find where the current has created a fishing eddy, look out toward the jetty’s point and find the leeward or downward side of the current. Look for approaching swells and watch them as they approach the rocks. The opposite side from which they approach is the leeward area where an eddy will form. The eddy has similar characteristics to the rip current: swirling water, rippled areas and foam.

RIP CURRENTS CHURN the bottom and suspend food for hungry fish.

When fishing rock jetties, cast along the outside and inside edges of the eddy. The outside edge may be toward open water and the inside up against the rocks. Fish will lurk in these areas waiting to ambush their next meal.

Another great place to find fish is near rock structure. Beaches from San Diego to Seattle have hundreds of prime fishing areas. Rock groupings and reefs provide great opportunity for fishing and great chances of catching bigger fish.

When walking the beach, look for groups of rocks within casting distance. These partially submerged rocks create a wall against the surf. On their outside a strong surge rakes the rocks but on the inside an eddy circulation is created and deposits both sand and food on the rock’s front side.

Find these formations and you’ll find fish. Down size your sinker and shorten your leader so as not to get snagged and cast directly at the rock. Let your bait settle to the bottom, just in front of the rock and hold on. Some of the largest and best fighting surf fish I have ever caught have been hunkered down in these crevices of structure.

Rock jetties, rip currents, points, bays and the inshore troughs are all good areas to find surf fish. Getting to know the subtle differences at your local beach will help you find more fish and may be the difference between catching fish or just watching sun bathers and swimmers.

* * *

WON Surf Fishing Editor Bill Varney is holding a series of on-the-beach surf fishing clinics this summer. Check out his website for more information. To see the equipment Bill uses everyday at the beach check out his tackle site

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Surf fishing and safety at the beach
Surf fishing, as with any outdoor sport, has it dangers. Every time I go to the beach I think about what bait, rig and spot I’m going to fish but I also think about what dangers might be awaiting me and how to prepare for them. Walking a gentle sandy beach doesn’t seem to be the place where one might hurt themselves, but you’d be amazed with how many ways you can get yourself in trouble.

Just the right (or wrong!) sand berms, rouge waves, stingrays, slippery rocks and sharp hooks can all ruin your day. Being aware of your surroundings and keeping in mind the inherent dangers that may occur will give you peace of mind and a better chance of landing the record fish you hope to catch.

One of the most painful and most often occurring injuries is caused by stingrays sunning themselves in the warm summer water. With just a swipe of their tail, stingrays are sharp reminders of how painful and unpleasant a misplaced step can be.

To protect themselves and injure their prey stingrays have an extremely sharp and barbed stinger loaded with a neurotoxin that is activated by cold water. This stinger is located near the base of their tail and when threatened (or hungry) they slap it against their victim. The stinger then releases a toxin that is activated and intensified by cold water.

Should you encounter a stingray’s barb, immediately soak the affected area in hot water — as hot as you can stand. This will reduce the severity and lessen the duration of the pain.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid the rays of summer. First, do everything possible to keep from being stung. When entering the water, shuffle your feet both ways as you go out into the surf and while coming back in. When de-hooking a ray, use a long set of hemostats or cut the leader. Don’t try to put a rag on the fish.

If you do get stung, get help fast. All lifeguard services have a facility to treat stingray victims. Lifeguards will treat the effected area with hot water. If part of the barb is left in you, seek professional help. Also, any puncture wound that occurs at the beach may become infected. Watch it carefully for reddening.

Another sinister place at the beach is along the sand where the wave berm forms. As waves crash along the beach they often form berms from two inches to ten feet high. These “sand walls” form near the high tide mark and run the length of the beach.

The obvious hazard might be getting stuck between the wall and an oncoming wave and getting wet. But the one that always gets me is the two- to four-inch berm. Just when you are backing up to move away from the surf or fight a fish, your heel catches it and you go head over keester onto the sand. The obvious lesson here is always look back in advance and see where the berm is, so when you do need to run backwards you can do so safely.

One other thing to keep in mind is the waves themselves. When tying hooks, replacing leaders or putting on bait, we many times take our eye off the water. Be aware of where you are in relation to the surf and when you cannot keep an eye on the waves — move up the beach.

Waves also come into play when fighting a fish. When fighting a big fish, you will be pulled toward the ocean as the current pushes away from shore. This is the time to keep an eye on the incoming waves so you can time your retreat up the beach as the wave approaches. Just like in baseball, don’t take your eye off the ball for long or it might clobber you!

Besides keeping an eye on the incoming surf, other factors come into play when fishing from the rocks. Fishing from jetties, rock points and breakwaters can provide some dangerous conditions.

Before you go out on the rocks, look to make sure it’s safe from dangerous surf, then plan your route. Remember it’s “slippery when wet.” Rocks splashed by waves at high tide may become very slick because of bait, bird guano, moss and other substances deposited on them.

Be sure to wear a good shoe with traction (like a sneaker or boot) and avoid fishing, no matter how tempting it may be, in flip-flops or sandals. When walking on rocks, know that they may be uneven or unstable or both. Always look down and forward as you walk to measure each step and plan your next.

Check the conditions before you go and avoid big surf. Rogue sets of waves are common and can sweep everything from the rocks. Once at your desired fishing spot, survey the area and make an escape plan should big waves and high tides combine. Know the path off the rocks and to safety before a calamity occurs.

When retying hooks, hooking baits and taking pictures, always step back to a safer area far enough away from the crashing waves. With challenge comes reward — and although you always need to use extreme caution when fishing from rocks, the payoff is the big fish lurking in those rocks that keep you coming back.

On last suggestion… and this has to do with beach etiquette. When you go to the beach, remember that you’re there for recreation and not confrontation. Every so often we run into some bonehead and have to remind ourselves to keep cool. Be patient and enjoy yourself.

If you see someone fishing the beach give them space. If you choose to fish near them, let’s say from the rocks or on the beach, take a moment to ask them for their permission. If they say no, move on. Most often they’ll say yes and may let you in on what they’re doing to be successful.

When dealing with swimmers and surfers, here are a few things to remember: Be respectful. Most swimmers and surfers have little knowledge of fishing and don’t know when they’re in danger or in your way. If you can move a bit or wait for the drift to take them away, you’ll be able to get back to fishing in no time.

Give way to the crowd: If you approach the beach and find it crowded with swimmers and surfers, don’t fish there. Find another place to fish or return earlier and later once they’re gone.

Let them know you’re there: If swimmers or surfers paddle out right where you are fishing, let them know with a call or whistle and point out as to where your line is. Most of the time they will move on down the beach. If they don’t, you move on.

These are just a few of the many ways to get yourself into trouble at the beach. So take it from me, I’ve had plenty of skinned knees and soaked clothes but I’ve learned my lesson: Take safety first and good fishing always follows!

* * *

Join WON’s Surf Fishing Editor Bill Varney for one of his CCA on-the-beach surf fishing clinics this summer. You’ll find all the information about the clinics on his site Plus, check out his surf tackle store at

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Sand Crabs, Free Sand Crabs, Are Here!
Sand Crabs, Emerita analonga, are found along the Western coast of both North and South America, the African peninsula and most tropical regions around the world. As of 2019, 10 species of sand crabs have been recognized across the globe.

In California we have two distinct groups of sand crabs. Those that come to the surface, spawn and feed once the water is 60 degrees or warmer and a sub species, north of Santa Barbara through Washington, that thrives at the sand’s surface in water as cold as 45 degrees.

A PERFECT SAND crab fished on a 4-pound setup tricked this solid bean for Kevin Sullivan of Ventura.

In tropical waters south of Baja Sur, you’ll find yet another sand crab. In water temperatures that range from 70 to 95 degrees, this crab flourishes in soft sand near rock structure. Unlike crabs to the north, these crabs do not congregate on the open beach… but instead, are always looking for rocky shores for a bit of shade and safety.

So why do sand crabs work so well for surf fishing? The simple answer is that they occur in huge numbers along the coast and have become the primary food source for surf fish. But there’s more to the crab than meets the eye. Sand crabs have two distinct characteristics that fish love: First, they often contain bright orange row and provide both a visual and olfactory attraction. Second, the side-effect of growth is the shedding of their hard shell. The result, soft-shell sand crabs provide an attractive food that surf fish can’t resist.

To find crabs , start by looking near the waterline for groups of birds on the beach. Many seabirds use their beak to probe the sand for crabs. Sand crabs like soft sand, they don’t enjoy rock or pebbly areas.

THIS NICE BARRED surfperch couldn’t resist a soft-shell sand crab offered by Larry Betancourt of San Diego.

When you first arrive at the beach, begin your search between the high tide mark and the ocean for signs of sand crabs. Look for moving water, receding from each wave. As a wave recedes, look on the wet sand for little “V’s.” This is the characteristic ripple formed by a bed of crabs. Using their extended feather-like antennae, sand crabs feed on plankton that rides the crest of each wave. With practice you will find they are easy to see grouped in bunches and become exposed as the water recedes between waves. The warmer the water, the closer they will be to the surface.

Sand crabs always swim, crawl and dig backwards. When a wave washes over them they can quickly relocate and dig back in leaving only their eyes and breathing antennules exposed. These are the appendages that reveal their location as the waves recede. They always settle in looking out to sea. You should approach them from above, on higher ground, to improve your chances of catching them in numbers.

Beginning in May, crabs congregate near the high tide mark to begin their spawn. As summer progresses crab beds will appear at both the high tide mark and on sand bars only accessible at low tide. So look for them near the high tide mark in spring and as summer progresses, they will also be found on the outside sand bar easily accessible during low (and especially at minus) tides.

COVERING YOUR SAND crabs with a wet piece of kelp is an effective way to keep them fresh.

Watch carefully as the waves roll out for anomalies on the beach that appear as ripples on the surface of wet sand. Dig here as this is where you will find the crabs.

The best way to catch crabs is with a galvanized crab net. Promar makes an excellent galvanized crab rake, which can be purchased at your local tackle store. You’ll also find a light-weight crab catcher that clips to your belt at Make sure all parts are well galvanized and rinse thoroughly with fresh water after each use.

When picking through crabs, touch each crab to see if it’s soft and pliable. I’ve found that medium-soft crabs (those with a shell softness equal to pressing in a pop can) are the best bait. Test the waters by trying different hardness and sizes of crabs to see what fish in your area are foraging on.

After finding a patch of “V’s,” approach slowly and wait for the water to rush in and over the area before standing on it. Once covered by water, step forward and place the net in the water and allow it to settle to the bottom. A surprise approach means crabs will be less likely to dig deeper into the sand and will be easier to catch. Continue as you “crab” to look up and down the beach to find more V-shaped clusters.

Other effective ways to catch sand crabs are by hand digging and by using a colander or a clothes washing bag. A clothes’ washing bag is something your mom may be aquatinted with: a bag the size of a pillowcase that is made of netting and is used for cleaning fine washables. Simply, unzipped the top, scoop sand into the bag and then pull it to the water’s edge where the sand washes away and leaves a net full of crabs.

SAND CRABS IN tropical climates, like those found in the East Cape in Baja, have longer legs and are almost white in color.

Two good times to catch crabs are on a large incoming high tide and at peak low tide. Peak high tide is usually going to be your most productive time. Time of day is not usually important unless there is excessive beach traffic that may drive crabs down. Peak low tide is when you will find congregations of crabs on exposed sand bars.

Pay attention to the sand once you reach the beach. When you first walk on the beach near the water, feel the sand with your bare feet. As you walk you’ll notice that the sand varies from soft to firm as well as coarse to fine grain in different areas. Crabs prefer soft, fine-grained sand that is easy to burrow into and rely upon it until their hard shell develops.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your sand crabsfresh and lively. Keep and transport your crabs in a waist bait bucket. A small piece of wet kelp helps to keep the temperature down and the bait fresh. If you plan to keep the crabs overnight, place them in a dry plastic container (no lid) and cover them with damp newspaper or a moistened cloth.

Be sure not to crush them. I place the bucket in a cool dry place inside a large ice chest. If you feel they may become too warm (as they prefer the air temperature to be between fifty-five and seventy degrees) you may place a frozen bottle of water adjacent to their container. By all means, don’t place them in saltwater or the refrigerator, as they will expire in just minutes. Lastly, be sure not to disturb them. Otherwise, they will be cranky (and dead!) in the morning.

Summer’s almost here and so are the crabs. So take a few extra minutes to search and find sand crabs and you’re sure to find the fish that are looking for them too!

* * *

Learn about equipment, bait and how to find fish at the beach by joining Bill Varney and CCA California this summer for a series of on-the-beach surf fishing clinics. Visit and look under “Topics/Seminars” for all the details. Check out Bill’s Surf Tackle and New Line of Surf Rods at: .

FRESH CRABS ARE a great way to get into some big, early-season corbina like this one caught by Keath Beifus of San Diego.

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Page 1 of 10 First | Previous | Next | Last

Advertise with Western Outdoor News