5 Tips for Surf Fishing in Windy Conditions

We’ve all been there. You finally have some time off from your busy schedule. You load up the family for a long weekend at the beach to rest, relax and do some surf fishing. You pull up your FishBrain app on your smart phone and find that Mr. Weatherman has thrown you a curve and you’re facing a windy weekend and rough surf. What do you do? You don’t have the luxury of being able to go whenever the conditions are ideal. Do you cancel, or do you adapt, adjust and make the best of it?

Now, let’s be honest, it’s very rare to find perfect conditions when you go fishing. That’s just part of it, and to some extent, part of the enjoyment and challenge of fishing. Windy conditions present some specific problems, and opportunities, for the surf fisherman. So let’s take a look at surf fishing in windy conditions.

QUICK SHOT:

Surf fishing in windy conditions can present a challenge, but you can still catch fish if you adapt and adjust to the conditions. Five tips for surf fishing when it’s windy and rough: 1.) Always think safety first, wear a PFD 2.) Look for points along the beach that will offer a break from the waves and current. 3.) Set your lines at a 45 degree up current angle. 4.) Use heavier rods, line, lures and weights to assist in casting against the wind 5.) Use a fish finder rig and walk along with it as it drifts with the current. You may have to target the scent feeding species in murkier water, but they are fun and great table fare too.


How Does Wind Affect Surf Fishing?


The weatherman is not always your friend when is comes to surf fishing, and the weather can certainly affect your fishing trip. Wind can be a blessing or a curse and we have no control over what it’s going to do. Wind can push bait up against the shoreline break, build up the waves and make the surf choppy or rough, muddy the waters, push strong currents and rips along the beach and all of this can affect fish feeding activities and success when surf fishing in windy conditions.

surf fishing in windy conditions

When fishing from the beach, we have five possible scenarios for surf fishing in windy conditions. The onshore, where the wind is blowing directly into shore and pushing the water and waves up against the beach front.

The offshore, which is the exact opposite of the onshore, and has the wind pushing the water out and flattening the surf.

There is the cross on and the cross off, which are variations of the previous where the wind is coming either into shore or off shore, but at an angle to the beach. And, of course, the straight cross wind blowing directly up or down the beach.

Offshore and cross off winds will “blow out” the surf. Flatten the waves and push the tide and water levels out. You will be able to cast further with the tail wind, and you can wade the surf easier with less wave action. This can also push the bait offshore however which takes the majority of the game fish with it. The cross off wind will push a downwind current along the beach.

Current is a good thing for beach fishing. It moves bait and when the bait is moving, the game fish will be following. The effects of the offshore and cross on us as fishermen are minimal to helpful, it helps you cast further, the water is less rough, the water clarity is higher and that makes it easier to read the beach when looking for deeper guts and rips to fish.

When we talk about surf fishing in windy conditions, most of the time, we are talking the onshore and cross on or cross winds. They are a different beast all together. These will build the surf and push water higher on the beach.

A strong onshore or cross on wind will create strong wind driven currents along the beach as well as strong, and potentially dangerous, rip currents where the water recedes off the beach and back to sea.

surf fishing in windy conditions - example of sandbars and rip currents along the beach front

The increased wave action tends to reduce water clarity by stirring up sand and mud from the bottom, and the choppy waters make it more difficult to read the beach or find bait fish when looking for fishing spots. These choppy murkier waters and strong currents will push and disorient the bait fish, but it also makes it more difficult for the game fish species that feed primarily by sight.

However, those game fish that feed by scent, and feed on crabs, shrimp, clams and other crustaceans actually thrive in the rougher murkier waters. In my home waters along the Texas gulf coast, that means redfish, black drum, whiting, sheepshead, sharks and the ever present hardhead catfish are all available when surf fishing in windy conditions.


How Do You Surf Fish in High Winds?


If you’re going to be surf fishing in windy conditions, you will be facing choppy waters and stronger than normal currents. Please, above all else, SAFETY FIRST! It only takes a second for a rip current to sweep you off your feet and out to sea. I know, been there done that. I was fortunate enough to be able to swim cross current and get my feet back under me. Every year there are far too many that aren’t as lucky.

You’ll need the proper gear if your are going to surf fishing in windy conditions. If you are going to try fishing with artificials, you will need a longer stronger rod than normal to cast against an onshore wind. Heavier lures as well.

Heavy spoons like the Kastmaster are designed for just such occasions. If you will be using bait, you will need a longer rod to keep your line up out of some of the larger waves and have the strength and backbone to toss heavier weights against the wind.

Surf weights or spider weights to dig into the bottom and hold position in the rough seas and strong currents will be an absolute necessity. And, they will need to be heavier than normal as well.

I recommend an 11-13 ft spinning rod and Large capacity spinning reel combination spooled with 30lb monofiliament for surf fishing windy conditions. The spinning reels will cast easier and further than bait casters and without the backlash risks that come with trying to cast a bait caster into gusty winds.

Essential Surf Fishing Gear:

  • Surf Fishing Rods, surf rods are typically longer and heavier duty than standard rods. read more.
  • Surf fishing Reels, larger and stronger with greater line capacity to handle big fish. read more.
  • Surf fishing Rod and Reel Combos, pre-matched rod and reel set ups for surf fishing – read more.
  • Sand Spike Rod holder, holds your rods securely while you wait for that big bite. – read more.
  • Surf Fishing Rigs, terminal tackle for fishing the surf. – read more.
  • Surf fishing Carts, for beaches that won’t allow vehicles you need a way to carry your gear – read more.
  • Rod Racks for Vehicles, carry your rods out of harms way and easy to access- read more.
  • Beach Camping Gear, in case you want to fish all night or for several days – read more.

One of the more difficult tasks, when surf fishing in windy conditions, can be “reading the beach” and finding a good fishing location. Choppy seas can make it near impossible to find the deeper guts and cuts in the bars along the beach that one usually looks for when looking for likely spots to fish. If you pay attention to the beach itself, you can get some clues that can help. For more information on surf fishing in rough water that can develop in windy conditions, check out my recent article here:

Looking down the beach you will notice points where the beach extends out into the surf. Points on the beach cut off the guts on either side and can form eddies on the down current side. These eddies are good places to look for fish that are seeking refuge from swimming against the current and waiting for and easy meal to be washed across the shallows of the point and into the gut on the down current side.

Surf fishermen set up on a beach point - surf fishing in windy conditions
Surf Fishing a point on the beach

Points on the beach are shallower and will allow you to wade out and possibly cast into the further offshore guts that will be deeper and fish highways.

Another clue from looking at the beach, is to find areas where the beach has a steeper slope down into the water. This is a good indication that the guts in that area are deeper as the slope of the beach tends to continue out into the water.

A deep first gut along the beach is a good place to try, and you can usually fish it from the safety of shore. Also, walk along the shore and keep an eye out for coquina clams or mole crabs uncovered by the wave action. These are prime food sources for whiting, red fish, black drum, pompano and sheepshead to name a few. If the food is present, there is a good chance the fish will be.

When surf fishing in windy conditions, once you’ve found a spot to try, give it a shot and if no luck, move on down the beach.

If you are setting rods with bait and having difficulty keeping them in position because of current or seaweed and debris being pushed by the current, you can try an old trick of the land based shark fishing community.

Walk up current from your location and make your cast. Set your surf weight and then walk back to put your rod in a sand spike rod holder so that your line is at a 45 degree angler up current of your rod holder.

This will minimize the effect of the current on your line in the water, and any debris that catches on your line will be pushed up the line by the current towards your rod where you can remove it easier.

A deep gut close to the beach can be a good place to fish. - Surf fishing in windy conditions
Deep gut or trough close to the beach

Try to place your baits on the down current side of structure like points and sand bars. These areas create eddies where fish will lay up to avoid the current and ambush anything washed off the point or bars to them. If you are using artificials, the same holds true. Cast up on the point or bar and as you retrieve your lure pause and let it drop into the eddies on the back side of the structure and hold on.

Aerial view of where to set your baits when surf fishing in windy conditions.
image courtesy of tailored tackle

Surf fishing in windy conditions, sometimes the current and or debris is simply too much, and you can’t keep your bait set, you can switch over to a fish finder rig. Ditch your surf/spider weight and use a weight just heavy enough to keep your rig on the bottom and slow it’s drift with the current. Then you walk along the shore as your bait gets pushed along keeping your line at 90 degree angle to you.

This will keep the bait in the same distance from shore as you walk instead of drifting up on the beach. This is a great method for locating fish. As the bait drifts, gamefish will grab it as it gets washed in front of them. This works equally well when there is too much current, or too much seaweed or debris washing along in the current.


Do Fish Bite in Windy Conditions?


Author with a nice bonnethead shark - surf fishing in windy conditions
Bonnethead Shark from a windy surf

Yes, fish do bite in windy conditions. Remember, they don’t have a pantry stocked with food. If a fish is going to eat, it has to hunt and catch it’s food. If it doesn’t, it goes hungry. Now granted, windy conditions may move the fish to locations we can’t reach as shore bound surf anglers, but they will still bite.

In fact, some species will actually bite better in windy and murkier conditions. The redfish, black drum and sharks for example, feed not only by site but by scent as well. In the murkier waters of a rough wind blown surf, they are actively feeding on disoriented bait fish, crabs, clams and shrimp.

The game fish that feed primarily by site will not bite as well in windy murky conditions. If the surf stays relatively clear, however, they will still bite. They will find the eddies in the currents and push the bait up against the structure to trap them for an easy meal.

Direct offshore winds can slow the bite by pushing the bait and game fish offshore out of casting range, and by reducing the current along the beach front. Current is good, it keeps the bait moving and moving bait gets the game fish in a feeding mood. Too much current can be dangerous.

Too little current and fish feeding activity will be reduced. But, most of what we face in windy conditions is onshore or cross winds and that produces plenty of current. So, don’t let a windy day ruin your fishing plans, Fish do bite in windy conditions, you just have to work a little harder and adapt your tactics to catch em.


How Much Wind is too Much for Surf Fishing?


But, when surf fishing in windy conditions, how much wind is too much? Well, that depends on wind direction, waves and current. Your first concern should be safety. If the water is too rough and or the current too strong for your to safely fish, then that is too much wind. I know that every part of the world has it’s own unique surf fishing conditions. Here, on the Texas Gulf Coast, a 25 – 30 MPH onshore, cross on, or cross wind makes fishing the surf very hazardous. The rip currents and choppy seas along with debris pushed along by the strong current, make fishing difficult…but not impossible. 😉

Surf fishing in windy conditions - fisherman being swamped by a wave

Fisherman along the east coast of the US, fish in some surf conditions that many less hardy souls would consider too dangerous. In places like South Africa, the normal surf conditions can look daunting. So, it depends on you, your location, the fish you are targeting, and most importantly your safety when surf fishing in windy conditions. No fish is worth drowning. Watch the wave heights, the strength of the current, floating debris, seaweed, the water clarity and any bait or fish feeding activities. If you feel comfortable, give it a try. Take a friend, don’t try it alone in case you get in trouble, and wear a PFD if you are going to venture into the water.


Surf Fishing in Windy Conditions, You Can Still Catch Fish?


So, if you have a surf fishing trip planned and the forecast calls for windy conditions, take it as a challenge and an opportunity to sharpen your angling skills. There are still fish there to be caught, you just have to adapt your gear and methods to the conditions.

It may be more difficult, but any day fishing is a good day regardless of the conditions. We can’t always wait for perfect conditions. Sometimes we just have to go fishing when we can go.

As always, stay safe, enjoy the journey and please try to leave it cleaner than you found it. If you have any comments, questions, ideas or suggestions please leave them in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you asap. You can follow us on Facebook: Rex The Beach Angler, Instagram: thebeachangler7, Twitter: @AnglerBeach, and YouTube: Man Art Creations.

Big black drum caught from a windy and murky surf - surf fishing in windy conditions
Big Black Drum roam the surf in windy conditions

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