Jetty Fishing Tips: How to Fish Jetties

Jetty Fishing Tips: How to Fish Jetties

saltwater jetty fishing
Photo courtesy of Eddy Stahowiak from

Surf fishing off the beach is a blast, but jetty fishing provides opportunities to target different species, plus you stay high and dry (most of the time). Whether you choose to fish close to the rocks or cast out into the surf, there are plenty of fish in both zones for you to have an awesome day. A few personal tips and tricks can be employed to make your trip safer, more efficient and most importantly, more successful.

What is a Jetty?

jetty-in-the-chesapeake-bayA jetty is a man-made pile of stones, cement or other hard structure projecting into any body of water. This wall is made to protect a harbor from rough current and other harsh elements. Jetties can vary in length, materials, and location but one thing is for sure – they are all a focal point for hundreds of species in the surf zone.

Species You’ll Find Along Jetties

Here in the California Bay Area you’ll find a number of different fish species dwelling in the rocks. There are various species of surf perch and rockfish, and depending on the time of year you’ll also be able to target more prized species such as striper and halibut.

The flat sandy areas around certain jetties are also home to different species of sharks and rays which put up quite a fight. The bat rays can get over 100lbs and send you into drag-screaming heaven! The most common sharks are usually smooth-hounds, seven gills and leopard sharks. Occasionally the shovelnose shark comes around, but personally I rarely run into them.

If you’re an avid crabber, jetties are the perfect place to cast a snare while avoiding the huge crowds mobbing on piers. In the Bay we mostly have Rock Crab and Dungeness Crab, both of which are an extremely delicious prize. Make sure you check your local crabbing regulations and bring a crab gauge to avoid some nasty tickets!

Gearing Up For Jetty Fishing

There are two main setups I’ll bring out to the jetty, and it depends on what I plan on targeting. The first consists of a heavier surf rod, preferably rated for at least 5-8 ounces. This will allow you to throw heavier sliding sinker rigs for sharks and rays or snares for crab. If you plan on crabbing definitely lean more towards the 6-8 ounce rod rating since the snares get pretty heavy after lead and bait are added. For line use at least 25lb monofilament or 65-80lb braided line.

Here are a couple cost-effective suggestions to get you started

Surf Rod Surf Reel
Daiwa Sealine 10′  Daiwa BG 5000
Penn Prevail 10-11′  Penn Fierce 5000


My other setup is a lighter rod in the 8-9’ range, usually rated for no more than 1½ ounces. You can find ratings like these in most salmon/steelhead (SST) rods. I’ll pair these with a 3000 size reel spooled with either 12lb monofilament line or 20-30lb braided line.

This setup is perfect for casting lighter sliding sinker rigs or smaller lures for perch, rockfish, striper and halibut. The longer length allows you to cast further if needed while providing a softer action for playing the fish correctly. It’s definitely no fun fighting small perch on a huge surf pole!

Here are a few of my favorite salmon/steelhead rod & reel combos.

SST Rod Reel
Lamiglas X-11 8’6″
Med. Hvy 1/4-1oz.
 Daiwa BG 5000
Fenwick HMX 8’6″
Med. Hvy 1/2-1 1/4oz.
 Penn Fierce 5000

What To Throw Out There

Since there are so many species to fish for, your bait options are pretty broad as well. However, it’s easy to simplify things for yourself and purchase exactly what you need.

Live and Frozen Bait Options

Frozen squid, shrimp, mackerel and anchovies will cover just about everything you can fish for out there. For bat rays and sharks, toss a chunk of frozen squid or whole anchovy on a sliding sinker rig for the best results. I’ll fish the rig further away from the jetty since they patrol the sandy flats.

Smaller surf perch and rock cod will bite strips of frozen squid as well as anchovy, mackerel and sardines cut into tiny chunks. Tip the ends of a dropper loop or Sabiki rig with any one of those and jig it around the rocks.

If you want live bait you’ll have to catch it yourself. There are plenty of jacksmelt, shiner perch and anchovies around jetties, just tip a Sabiki rig with small chunks of bait and drift it around with a large pier float. Throw the live bait on a sliding sinker rig (use a stinger hook if necessary) and you have the potential to catch larger halibut, striper and sharks.

Artificial Bait Options

My favorite artificial bait of all time is the Berkley Gulp Sandworm!. These little pileworm/bloodworm imitations are an absolute surf perch and rockfish killer for any saltwater situation. They work best on a smaller dropper loop or the standard sliding sinker rig. My favorite hook to use is the #6-#8 Gamakatsu Baitholder since it keeps the worm straight and secure. You want to fish the worm as straight as possible so it won’t spin and cause line twist.

Fish the Sandworm close to the rocks for an array of rockfish and pile perch. If it gets too snaggy then toss your rig out a bit, working the surf zone for surf perch and other species.

Lure Options

When I fished on a jetty for the first time, I aimlessly tossed a white bucktail jig with curly tail trailer, bouncing it parallel to the rocks. I ended up smashing a couple keeper lingcod and was hooked for life. Bucktails such as the Spro Prime Bucktail Jigs are super lifelike and offer a beefy hook that won’t bend out on the big ones, just make sure you pair them with a curly tail or swimbait trailer.

A swimbait and lead head combo is also perfect for just about any species on the jetty. The most durable ones I’ve used are the standard Big Hammer swimbaits in both 3” and 5”. My favorite colors are Pacific ‘Chovy, Pearl and Bay Smelt. I’ll throw these on a ½ – 1oz. lead head depending on the size of swimbait I’m using. The Big Hammer “Hammer Head” jig heads are the perfect pair for these swimbaits. Fish swimbaits the same as bucktails – cast along the jetty and drag your bait up and over each rock, keeping your rod tip high so the bait doesn’t fall in crevices and snag.

Fast-moving lures such as the Daiwa SP Minnow, Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 110SP and Acme Kastmaster are perfect for more aggressive species such as striper and halibut. Any white and blue/chrome color combos are great as they closely imitate baitfish such as anchovies, sardines and mackerel. Cast these out into more open waters since the trebles will easily snag closer to the jetty and do a slow and steady retrieve, jerking the rod tip every few seconds to make the lure dart erratically.

Personal Jetty Tips & Tricks

Check the tides. Personally, jetty fishing has always sucked at low tide. My perfect scenario is to fish a few hours before full high tide and then a few hours after the peak. This gives me the largest window plus all the fish come in to feed. I use the official NOAA site for most of my tide charts.

Keep an eye on the ocean at all times. Mother Nature is always unpredictable! Always look at how the waves are coming in, it just might save you from getting knocked over.

Avoid wearing waders. You rarely need to have your feet in the water unless you’re trying to land a fish by hand, but it’s best to avoid waders. Wearing waders may keep you dry but if you happen to fall in the water it will fill up and sink you like a rock. Morbid, I know.

Watch your feet. Waves are constantly bashing against jetties, making them extremely slippery. Make sure you wear shoes with decent grip and try to wear long pants (if it’s not too hot) to protect yourself if you do end up falling.

Bring a little extra of everything. Jetties will eat up your gear! Expect to lose more than a few lures and terminal tackle to snags so always bring two or three of each item. Better to have excess than waste the whole trip losing everything.

Keep an eye on your tackle. I usually prefer packing light and wearing a backpack to avoid placing my gear on the rocks. I’ve had countless items fall between the crevices and it definitely adds up! I’m a natural klutz though…

Bring a fairly long gaff or net for landing fish. The last thing you’ll want to do is to maneuver down rocks to reach your catch. The rocks closer to water are usually the most slippery, making it extremely dangerous to land your fish by hand. A long gaff or net will keep you at a safe distance from both rocks and waves. Keep an eye on your footing!


I hope this article has helped you gain more confidence out there on the rocks. Always remember to be aware of your surroundings as it can save your life one day. With so many different species to target, it’s important to try a little bit of everything and fish hard! If you have any questions or suggestions please let us know in the comments below. Good luck out there and tight lines.


  1. These are great lure recommendations! I find that the white bucktail jig with the curly tail has frequent hookups when you jetty fish close to the structure where it drops off.

    • Thanks for the support. I definitely love the bucktail when hitting the jetty since it tends to snag less rocks and hook more fish! Tight lines.

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