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Surf Fishing Weights - Complete Guide to Beach Fishing Sinkers

Updated: Feb 2

Knowing how to choose the best Surf Fishing Weight or Sinker Size and Type is a crucial part of successful beach, shark, pier or jetty fishing wherever you're hitting the water – East or West Coast, Gulf or Panhandle. Consider this article to be your playbook for sinker selection on your next session.

Choose the wrong weight and your rig will be washed away before the fish can find it and you'll likely remain biteless – offer an unnaturally-presented bait or lure, and you'll be struggling to get hooked up too. This is a really common and costly problem...


Once anglers have worked out the best rigs, baits and locations for surf fishing in their area, we've found in our tuition sessions that picking the right size weight and style of sinker is the Number One element of their setup that lots of people get wrong.


The Good News: Although poor sinker selection is a costly error in terms of fish counts – it's also one of the easiest and fastest issues to remedy with a few simple rules and tips around picking the best weights when surf fishing...


Through our guiding service (and numerous other adventures) we've fished in conditions ranging from tropical hurricanes and massive kelp-filled surf with raging currents, to lake-like waters, for a range of species all around the world.


This article will impart as much relevant knowledge as possible, with the aim of helping you select the best sinkers and weights for surf fishing next time you hit the water for species like sharks, rays, drum, surf perch, croaker, redfish, pompano, whiting, corbina, striped bass, sturgeon, rockfish and more...

 

Surf Fishing Weights: Ultimate Guide to Sinkers Page index

 

Factors to Consider when Choosing the Best Size and Type Sinkers for Surf Fishing Anywhere


To succeed in the pursuit of your target surf fish - from striper to shark, bonefish to croaker - it's essential to choose the right sinkers for your surf fishing setup and location.

The type, size, and style of your weight can significantly impact your success rate.


In this section, we will delve into the specific factors to consider when selecting the best sinkers for surf fishing across a range of scenarios and species, with the following factors worthy of consideration:


Weight of Surf Fishing Sinker


The weight of your sinker is probably the most critical aspect to consider. Sinker weights are usually measured in ounces (oz) or grams (gr or g), by the way.


Heavy sinkers designed for bait and wait-style fishing help you cast further and anchor your bait in the turbulent surf zone, if that’s the desired effect.


Or a lighter egg-style sliding sinker may be designed to let the bait and Carolina Rig roll naturally down the current until close to shore, for example, if that’s the killer technique.


A weight associated with lure fishing, like a bullet weight on a Texas Rig and soft plastic weedless swimbait setup, might be balanced between casting far enough out into the surf to get bit, whilst still retaining a natural action


In a nutshell, matching your sinker weight to the tactic that’s going to get you bites is key.


Factors like line strength and thickness (braid is best in most surf fishing scenarios), rod and reel type, target species, bait size, wave size, current, tide, wind, and the desired casting distance are the main factors that dictate the size of weight you should choose.


Typically, two or three different types of surf sinkers in the 0.5oz to 8oz range works well for a range of surf fishing tactics, and cover almost any scenario you’ll find in North America.


Artificial lures may require different sinkers or even no sinker at all, depending on your target species and the action of the lure. More on this in detail a bit later.


Sinker Shape and Style


Sinkers come in various shapes and designs, such as sputnik, egg, bullet, pyramid, coin, or bank sinkers. Below are the three best types of weight for surf fishing.


Sputnik Sinkers for Surf Fishing

sputnik surf sinker for sale

For example, wired sputnik sinkers (also called spider weights, grapnel sinkers or surf sinkers) like the one above are popular for surf fishing because their anchor-like design with wire arms allows them to dig into the sandy or muddy bottom, holding the bait and rig in the right zone for a bite in surprisingly severe waves and current. You can get away with a much smaller sputnik sinker compared to any other type, if your primary aim is to hold bottom with a casted rig.


Pyramid Sinkers for Surf Fishing

surf fishing weights

Pyramid sinkers are a good choice for surf fishing when there's a little bit of swell and current, but very much on the lower end of the scale - in the 1-2ft range and with negligible water movement.


The multi-sided pyramid design plugs into soft sand and mud after a few seconds and will offer some anchoring qualities, but nowhere near as much as wired sputnik sinker.


It's a good mid-way option between a sliding-style of sinker and more anchor-like weight.


Egg Sinkers for Surf Fishing

egg sinkers for surf fishing size guide

Sliding egg-style sinkers are usually designed to move around more in the surf to mimic a small natural bait, or for use with a small plastic lure, and not fished static with a rod in a rest or sand spike.


These types of round, oval and bullet-shape sinkers with a hole are the best choice for Carolina Rigs, Fish Finder Rigs and Texas Rigs.


Each style of sinker design is made for a particular purpose and kind of surf fishing. Knowing the best match for your local tactics, rod and reel combo you'll be using, and target species is a learning process, but with this guide it'll be much easier to work out that magic combination for your favorite spots.


Sinker Material for Surf Fishing


Environmentally conscious anglers may prefer non-toxic sinker materials like tungsten for Carolina Rigs and Texas-rigged plastic baits or steel over traditional lead sinkers. These alternatives are better for the ecosystem and, in some areas, may be legally required.


Most sinkers are made from lead, sometimes with a coating, and stainless steel wires for the loops, stems, rings and arms.


Surf and Current Conditions


Surf conditions can vary significantly, from calm lake-like days to rough surf with strong currents. Planning ahead and checking forecasts is a useful tip that'll enable you to pack the sinkers most likely to be the best for the conditions.


sputnik sinker surf fishing
Casting a large sputnik sinker and shark bait in rough conditions for surf fishing

Be prepared for whatever nature can throw at you and match your sinker weight to the current and wave action to maintain optimal bait placement; in the first or second trough, in a hole, as far out as possible, close to the jetty or rocks etc.


Lighter sinkers work when the surf and current is mild, while heavier ones are necessary in rough conditions to prevent your bait from washing ashore. Carrying a wide range of sizes in a plastic tub to cover all conditions you may face is a great idea.


Tides and Timing


The tidal movements can affect the depth of water, current, wave behavior, and position of fish in the surf zone.


Be prepared to adjust your sinker weight and style as the tide and current changes. Fish are often more active during certain tide phases, so timing your fishing trips and bringing a range suitable sinkers for those conditions can be crucial.


For example: Surf fishing is often best when the incoming or outgoing tidal movements and currents are at their strongest, when the green arrows indicate in the image below.


You may need a different type or size of sinker when fishing at these times, compared to periods of smaller tidal movements indicated by the blue arrows.


Experiment and Adapt


Surf fishing is as much an art as it is a science. Be open to experimenting with different sinker sizes and setups to see what works best for your local surf conditions - then make your own playbook of tactics, tackle, sinker size and bait that works for each season and condition type.


Safety First


When fishing in the surf and casting any size of sinker, always prioritize safety.


Ensure your sinkers are securely attached to your line with a proper knot (we recommend Palomars and Unis to a clip for sinkers, FG and Crazy Alberto for leader to main line knots), and strong enough line to prevent accidental casting injuries or tangled lines.


The rule to remember is this: you need about ten pounds of breaking strain in your line for every ounce of sinker you want to cast.


So, to cast a 1oz sinker properly, you’ll need at least ten pound breaking strain line throughout the setup to the sinker; and so on up to 80-pound line for an 8oz sinker.


When to use a heavy mono casting leader


A heavy mono casting leader is necessary if power casting any sinker to any sort of degree - this will absorb the extra force from a powerful cast and ensure the sinker doesn't break the line.


This is known as a crack off and it's really dangerous, having a loose sinker flying around unattached.


Best mono casting leader for shark fishing


We highly recommend an 80-pound mono casting leader for surf shark fishing with 6, 7 and 8oz sinkers, for example, to prevent this kind of crack off (breakage) happening.




This style of mono casting leader, essential for shark fishing too, is tied to the braid main line with a Crazy Alberto or FG knot.


It's just long enough so that, when the rig is in position for casting, the mono has a turn or two on the reel thus ensuring all the force is taken on the mono section of the line, and your finger doesn't touch the braid section.

Next, let’s dive into some specific surf fishing scenarios and the best sinker choice for each.

 

Best Sinkers for Surf Fishing in Calm Conditions (Small Waves, No Current)


For calm conditions with little wind, water movement (current) or waves - maybe you're in a sheltered piece of ocean, bay, a flat calm day on the beach, or in a harbor - casting distance, target species and bait size will be the main factors when it comes to choosing the best sinker.


Weights for Surf Fishing in calm conditions


Let's assume you're bait and wait fishing with fresh bait like cut bait, shrimp, worms, sand crabs (sand fleas) or FishBites strips for small to medium-size species like croaker, surf perch, redfish, jacks, inshore rockfish, saltwater bass, pompano or whiting.


You're wanting to hold the bait in place, in a trough or hole close to shore, or maybe 20, 30 to 50 yards out, with that highly attractive bait fresh bait on a dropper loop-style rig.


The best sinker in this scenario is a small pyramid sinker matched to the combo you're casting with.


A typical Medium-rated rod or pole with a rating around 1 to 4oz would match well with a 1, 2 or 3oz pyramid sinker for bait and wait tactics, giving you enough weight to cast sufficient distance and hold the bait in place a decent distance out in shallow to medium-depth water on a clean sandy or muddy bottom.


Weights for shallow water Light Line Surf Fishing


For a more roving style of fishing in calm conditions - maybe you're stalking flats for shallow-water species like bonefish or redfish, or in the surf for corbina and surf perch - the smallest sliding egg sinker you can get away with in terms of sufficient casting distance, is the best choice in calm waters.


surf fishing sinkers
Fishing shallow surf conditions with light tackle and small egg sinkers

This egg sinker is usually around the 1/2oz to 1oz size, like the 3/4oz egg sinker below, matched to a Light or Medium Light combo and light braid main line with a fluorocarbon topshot.


egg sinker for surf fishing
An egg sinker for surf fishing set up on a Carolina Rig

The aim is that the sinker should be just heavy enough to cast to the desired spot and behave in a way that mimics a natural food item; washing slowly down the current, for example.



 

Best Sinkers for Surf Fishing in Rough Conditions (Big Waves, Lots of Current)


With many of the best surf fishing spots prone to large waves and strong currents - much of the Pacific coastline, and Atlantic North East, for example - you'll need to be prepared to fish in less than perfect conditions if tackling these areas.


Weights for surf fishing in big waves


Let's start with sinker choice for bait and wait fishing in medium to heavy surf with a decent current causing lots of water movement.


The factors that dictate sinker weight choice in this case will be the style of your rod and reel, severity of the surf and current.


Simply put; if your target species wants the fresh bait anchored in place in a particular area, your sinker should achieve exactly that, and not be washing downstream or in to shore every time a set of waves comes through.


The rig and sinker should stay in place indefinitely.


Sputnik sinkers for surf fishing in big waves


This may require a significantly heavier sinker and different style of surf fishing weight - and the best choice is undoubtedly a wired sputnik sinker, also known as a grapnel sinker, spider weight, super weight or storm sinker.



The four wire arms on this style of sinker anchor the rig in position like a ship's anchor, only dislodging and folding back when the fish picks up the bait and swims away, or the angler reels in.


Benefits of sputnik sinkers for surf fishing


The sputnik sinker is the best choice for surf fishing in any sort of significant waves and current because of these wire anchors - it'll hold bottom much better than a pyramid-style sinker that's much heavier.


This allows you to cast a smaller sinker and lighter rig made with finer tackle, meaning more bites from wary big fish.


Main line advice for casting bigger sinkers


Keep in mind that you may need to up your line strength to handle the bigger sinker.


It'd be unwise to try to cast a 3oz sinker on 10lb braid, for example, keeping in mind the equation of requiring about ten pounds of breaking strain in your line for every ounce of sinker you want to cast.


A move up to 30lb braid main line would be fine with a 3oz or even 4oz sinker with a gentler cast, and this extra ounce can often be the difference between holding a bait in the zone long enough to get a bite, rather than it being rapidly washed inshore.


So, the main points when choosing the best sinkers for surf fishing in big waves are that upping the weight size until the rig stays in place is the name of the game for static bait fishing anywhere.


Do not tolerate the rig coming unstuck with the first set of waves - reel in and change that sinker size or style if it's not staying where it needs to be long enough for a bite!

 

Best Sinkers for Shark Fishing in California, Florida, East Coast, Gulf Coast


Sharks feed primarily by scent, so anchoring a bait in place and maintaining the unbroken scent trail in the water until the fish finds the bait is important.


Weights for Surf Shark Fishing


The best way to achieve this attractive and unbroken bloody scent trail is to use the largest sinker you can cast on the combo at your disposal; either a pyramid-style for spots with no current and waves (in a harbor or calm bay, for example), or a sputnik-style sinker for surf shark fishing in any sort of waves or current. This will pin the rig in place indefinitely.



Assuming you're tackling an open beach with an average level of of swell and current, a common sinker set-up for surf shark fishing with a Heavy-rated 10-15ft spinning combo and 50 to 80-pound braided main line is a 6, 7 or 8oz sputnik sinker that'll stay in place for a long time until the bait is picked up.


Weights for Land-Based Shark Fishing

For land-based shark fishing with heavier conventional tackle, and kayak or drone-deployed baits, we simply double or triple up big spuntik sinkers and cable tie the arms in place so they can't disengage.


The extra line in the water from a long drop creates lots of pressure on the rig and sinker, so the extra weight is needed.



To summarize; heavy sinkers with maximum anchoring power are best the best weights for land-based and surf shark fishing - either large pyramids or usually sputnik sinkers depending on severity of wave and current.



 

Best Sinkers for Croaker, Pompano, Whiting, Drum and Redfish Surf Fishing


Static bait and wait-style tactics, with multiple rods cast and left upright in a sand spike until the bite, are a great fun way of targeting a range of species on any coastline.


Sinkers for Surf Fishing with fresh bait and FishBites


A fairly universal 10 to 12ft, Medium-rated spinning combo capable of casting 2, 3 and 4oz sinkers will cover most scenarios in this popular sub-category of surf fishing with fresh bait and FishBites, and the deciding factor when it comes to weight selection is location and the local conditions.


For example: a calm, bluewater Gulf Coast, Panhandle, Alabama or Florida beach with small waves and a minor amount of current lends itself perfectly to bait and wait fishing with 2 and 3oz pyramid sinkers.


You want the sinkers to be just big enough to hold bottom and keep tension in the rod tip and main line, usually 20lb braid or 10-15lb mono.


If the current picks up with the tide or wind, a switch to a larger 3oz or 4oz pyramid sinker, or sputnik syle of sinker in the 2 or 3oz weight class will be more effective in casting the desired distance and holding the rig in place - both important considerations.



Sinkers for Surf Fishing with bait in rough conditions


On the higher energy coastlines such as the Pacific and North East, light bait and wait fishing is best achieved with a small sputnik sinker in 3, 3.5, 4 and even 5oz sizes and Dropper Loop rigs.



Think 2 or 3oz for most SoCal Light to Medium-rated bait and wait fishing gear, and 3.5 to 5oz for slightly stepped up gear for Central, Bay Area, Northern California and Oregon surf fishing.


With most croaker, surf perch and bass living in areas that receive consistent swell and current, a pyramid sinker is rarely an effective choice in these higher energy areas.


We rarely use pyramid sinkers for West Coast fishing, to be honest - it's usually a sputnik for bait fishing or an egg-style of weight for roving light line tactics.

 

Best Sinkers for Surf Perch Fishing in California, Bay Area, Oregon and Washington


For surf perch fishing on the West Coast, we mostly rely on small egg sinkers and a Carolina Rig combined with natural baits like sand crabs, sand worms, shrimp or mussel - or small grub-style lures.