Beach Casting Guide

Is there a more relaxing past time than casting out a baited line from a beach at dawn or dusk?

Bait fishing is the most primal mode of fishing. It gets us out and about, enjoying the coastline and seeing the marvels that it can produce on the end of our lines.

This guide will run through some of the different types of ground we fish while beach or surf casting in the UK, as well as the best beach casting rigs and best surf rods and reels. For the best advice on bait fishing and using beach casters, join up with other anglers via Facebook groups. You can ask questions from experienced anglers and see what other people are catching near you.

If you’re specifically interested in rigs and tackle, skip to the bottom of the page!

Beach Casting

Beach fishing usually requires long casting distances, so longer rods with heavier weights are typically used. I’d use a rod that casts 4oz maximum with braided line and that would easily get the required distance, but many will choose rods that cast 6-8oz. If you’re fishing from an estuary beach or a place will huge currents, you’re forced to either allow your terminal tackle to roll across the bottom, or else fish with heavier kit.

As always with angling, timing and local knowledge are 90% of the work. The people that catch a lot of fish without fishing for marathon sessions know the area and know when to fish and what’s worked in the past. If you don’t know this, copy others that do!

Beach fishing is often best at locations where the water drops off very suddenly into deeper waters. Famously productive marks like Chesil Beach also perhaps owe some of their productivity to the shingle ground. Shingly beaches seem to be preferred by a range of species. Plaice and cod love it. The great thing about beach fishing is that you often have a lot of space to yourself to relax, and in winter you have a chance of hooking some monsters. Of course, fishing over a sandy beach means no snags.

Beaches that allow you to fish over rough ground are a bit less common, though if you fish down at the far end of a beach it may be possible to cast onto or next to rough ground so your bait gets exposed to the species that prefer more cover.

The tackle you will need to fish over rough ground is different from what works best over clean ground. Rough ground requires a stiffer tipped rod than clean ground when using a beach caster.

Surf Casting

Surf beaches are the dominion of bass and predatory flatfish species like turbot and brill. If you fish beyond the waves a huge range of species can be targeted but when there’s a surf the species on most anglers minds is the bass.

Getting out past the breakers can be challenging, but a beach caster or better yet – a continental style 14ft rod – will help you get your bait out there. Bass fishing from the rocks just behind the waves is also popular, though you really need to be careful with this as you can never underestimate the changeableness and mercilessness of the sea. Freak waves, tidal surges, slips and trips happen.

Estuary fishing

Estuaries are often hives of fish activity. They have brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water. Some species thrive in brackish waters, such as mullet, eels, flounder, bass, dogfish and smooth hound. Salmon and sea trout (or slob trout, which are the sea trout that never quite make it to sea) also make their way through estuaries assuming their migrations haven’t been thwarted by developments upstream. Asides from these estuary residents, there are lots of species that pay visits on occasion in great numbers. Cod, cuttlefish, squid and numerous other species can be caught while estuary fishing in the UK. Up river, you may even find areas where perch and trout are caught alongside bass and flounder. I didn’t believe this until I saw it – but the cross over between fresh water and salt water species in some areas can be shocking. In the centre of Bristol for example on the harbourside, one can catch bass and perch in the same spot.

In estuaries, you’ll find a lot of fish feed closer to or on the seabed itself. The muddy or sandy-muddy estuary floor is alive with ragworm, lugworm, crabs and sandeel. These tasty morsels burry themselves in the mud until a predator draws them out. If the estuary has a strong current, species like bass will stick to crevices in the channels so that they can feed on whatever floats past without having to expend too much energy swimming. For this reason, it’s useful to visit an estuary on a spring low tide to learn where the channels are.

Types of estuaries and water movement

Fishing in estuaries can also be hit and miss because fish often move up the estuary with the push of the tide. When a big tide first begins to push in, the fish will often push up with it, feeding on the crabs that scurry about and are active at this time. From a fishes perspective, if you’re the last one up the river you’re missing out on first dibs on food.

The size of the estuary makes a big difference. If the main channel is within casting distance, the fishing may be more consistent throughout the tide. If you can’t reach the main channel however, timing may be more important. It’s been observed that fish often leave the estuary on the ebb through the central channel, despite being more spread out with the push of the tide. Given that fish are feeding on crabs etc as the tide pushes, they can come in very shallow to feed, so it’s not all about long casting.

How to stop crabs taking your bait

Speaking of crabs, they can be a real nuisance. Baiting elastic helps to secure your bait to your hook for longer, but a hoard of crabs is a tough foe to defeat when bait fishing on the bottom. Floating beads that lift your bait up and other floating rigs can solve the issue, otherwise you’ll need to reel in frequently to rebait up. It’s no good casting and leaving for 20 minutes at a time. Crabs may have taken your bait 15 minutes ago, or if using a beach caster you may have had a dab hooked the whole time and not realised it!

Beach fishing tackle

Typically, you need to cast much further when beach fishing. With an 8ft harbour rod, you probably won’t get the distance you need. It’s more common nowadays to see people using 14ft continental style rods. At night, certain species will move closer in. Sometimes bait anglers cast right over the fish at night, when the bass are moving in the shallows.

Line’s are generally between 20-30lb for most beach fishing. Heavier leaders will be needed for rough ground fishing for conger and huss. Line that’s inappropriate for your reel, either by being too heavy, too light or too cheap, is going to make birds nests more likely. Heavier lines are needed on some occasions, but if you’re using line heavier than 25lb you’ll need to know what you’re doing, otherwise you may just make the fishing tougher on yourself. A lot of people like to you braided lines with beach casting reels nowadays for the long casting distance.

If you visit a beach on a spring low tide, you will be able to look out for worm-holes and razor clam feet as you wander along the beach. When fishing, you want your bait to be in the areas where the worms and clams are. If there are places where a stream meets the sea, or where there are stronger currents or white water, these are also promising places to fish, because they churn up the seabed which fish love.

Bottom Fishing / Ledgering

Many species feed on the sea bed, particularly in winter when there are fewer bait fish in the middle and upper sections of the water to feed on. Many species that feed on the bottom are more active at night, which is why so many anglers with beach casters head out with head torches for night sessions fishing on the bottom. This fishing equipment has to be heavy-weight, since you need heavier leads of 4oz+ to get a good casting distance and hold the bottom in many areas. However, the tackle used may feel overgunned for the fish, but it’s a trade off you make when you need a long cast, a lead that holds, and a chance at landing species like conger and bull huss which will bolt straight into the rocks if you can’t keep them out of it.

There are a few different rigs you can use, that each have their own place and purpose in your angling.

Beach casting rods

As with many things, spending a bit more money will get you more from a beach casting rod. The high end continental rids are particularly fancy looking and tempting, and who doesn’t like being able to cast to the horizon? However, it’s unnecessary to push your budget much, since decent rods are available so cheap these days and they do all do the job in the end. Having balanced tackle is the most important thing, of course (the right weight for the right line on the right rod).

Beach casting weight classes

  • 2 – 5oz – Best beach caster weight cleaner ground like you find in estuaries and beaches that don’t have particularly strong currents or tidal movements. Lighter rigs can allow for a more finesse approach, with superior bait presentation for more elusive species. This weight class is versatile and allows for lots of types of shore fishing, beyond ledgering.
  • 5 – 8oz – Weights over 5oz are needed for holding the bottom in areas with lots of water movement. They also allow for much longer range casting. If you want to be able to reach the fish that are further out or be able to hold the bottom in the swell or land huss and conger over rough ground, this is the rod class that can help you do that.

If you’re new to fishing then grab a rod that can cast 6oz and use 5oz leads. It’s easier than using the heavier or lighter end, as casting will be straight forward, as will holding the bottom in 95% of cases.

Best budget beach caster rod

A budget beach caster will set you back about £40. For double that, you can get something nice. Most of us started out fishing with lower end rods and had a great time fishing with them, but once you’ve used one in a higher price bracket you may not want to go back. Nothing wrong with looking for a good deal on beach casters on Amazon. I would recommend avoiding the very cheapest reels though, as they will just fall apart and you’ll have to buy another!

Beach casting reels

The main choice you have to make is that between a multiplier and a fixed spool reel. Multipliers are more prone to birds nests (ling tangles) but are stronger and tougher. If you think of reels in car terms, a multiplier is like a car that has more torque. This can come in handy when trying to turn the handle against a large ray or conger. Fixed spool reels however are easier to use and have very few limitations, so most people prefer them most of the time.

PENN Reels have been around forever and are still seen by many as the gold standard in reels.

Best Bottom Fishing Rigs

Paternoster Rig

Perhaps the most popular rig of all, this simple rig features a swivel attached to your mainline, leading to a section of leader with two further swivels attaching two hooks to the leader. The weight attaches at the bottom. This rig allows you to fish for different species at the same time, since you can have one hook set up for larger species like conger and another set up for smaller ones. Bite detection is not the best, because your mainline is not attached directly to the hook, so it will take a fish to actually run with your hook for a few inches before you detect anything. Having more hooks can increase the risk of both snags and tangles. Fish cannot run with the bait for long before meeting resistance from the lead weight. This can spook fish if they aren’t properly hooked and yet meet unexpected resistance when taking the bait, but can also help to set the hook. Conger for instance will often grab a bait and swim away with it before actually devouring your bait.

Free-Running Leger

This rig has no fixed line between the weight and the hook, which allows a fish to grab your bait and run with it without meeting resistance from the lead. You just need a lead on your mainline, a swivel after it and then another section of line with the hook on the end. A bead is used between the lead and the swivel to prevent the swivel breaking or the eye of the lead causing problems as it meets the swivel unprotected.

The Wessex Leger

The Wessex Leger combines the advantages of both the free-running leger and the paternoster. This rig has been used a lot for bass fishing but can be used anywhere really, so long as you can tolerate the snagging that results from having multiple hooks. Personally I find this rig excessively complicated and for me, more prone to tangles. Others will disagree!