Fishing hooks

What Size Hook Is Best For Surf Fishing?

When I first started fishing, I was always intimidated by the hook aisle in my local tackle shop. There are so many options, and the measurements are confusing. It's also scary to think that if you pick the wrong one, you'll waste your time waiting for a fish that'll never bite a hook that size.

Picking the best size hook for surf fishing depends on your fishing preference. Do you want to catch more fish? Bigger fish? A specific species of fish? Regardless of your answer, there's an ideal hook size.

First, I'm going to demystify the hook measurement systems for you. Then, I'll arm you with the information you need to decide what size hook is best for your surf fishing goals.

3 Things To Know Before Selecting A Hook Size

Choosing a hook size is not a black-and-white decision.

You're not helping yourself by taking a size recommendation without understanding the fundamentals. Do you want to catch more of the right size and species of fish?

Take a second to read these 3 critical considerations and the following section on the pros and cons of small/large bait hooks.

1. Understand Hook Size Measurements

You'll need to properly understand hook size measurements to avoid becoming lost in a sea of numbers and symbols. There are 2 systems you need to learn.

The first system (containing the smallest sizes) uses the ( # ) symbol. For example, #5.

This system runs from #24 (smallest) to #1 (largest). Also, it only contains even numbers, with the exception of #1. 


The second system contains the largest size hooks of the two systems. It's known as the aught system and uses a ( / ) between the size number and 0. For example, 5/0.

The aught systempicks up in size where the first system leaves off. That means, following #1 in the previous system, you have the slightly larger size of 1/0. 

The aught system runs from 1/0 (smallest) to 12/0 (largest) and includes both even and odd numbers.

Understanding the order of these systems can be confusing at first, so here's a list of consecutive hook sizes from smallest to largest:

(smallest) #8, #6, #4, #2, #1, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 (largest)

Tip: It helps to understand the correct way to say hook sizes when you're in a tackle shop or talking with experienced anglers.

For #6, you'd say: "I'm using a size 6 hook."

For 4/0, you'd say: "I'm using a 5 aught hook."

2. Know The Species' Size And Strength

When I'm deciding what size of hook to use, I always consider my primary target species first.

It's possible to target multiple types of fish (we'll talk about that in the following "big vs. small hooks" section). However, it's easier to start by figuring out the hook size range for one specific species.

You'll want to consider the size and hardness of the species' mouth. You also need to think about their overall strength and fighting style. 

A smaller size hook is ideal for a smaller, relatively weakfish with a small mouth, such as a pompano (#1 - 2/0).

A larger size hook is ideal for the largest fish with a strong fight and big mouth, such as striped bass (6/0 - 8/0).

3. Decide The Bait

The type of bait you use for the target species matters when considering the perfect hook size.

The most important thing to understand is that you're trying to present a fish's food in the most appealing way possible. 

Think about it from your perspective. If someone put a single chicken wing on a massive serving dish and gave it to you, you'd likely find it strange. On the other hand, if you're served a full turkey on top of a small soup bowl, you'd also have some questions. 

You need a big enough hook to hold the piece of bait and hook up the fish without being so large that it will scare the fish off.

For example, if you're fishing using sand fleas, you'll want a smaller hook (1/0 - 2/0). Whereas, if you're using a shrimp for the same species, you'll need a larger hook (1/0 - 3/0). For larger baits, you'll need a larger size hook.

When I want to switch up my surf fishing bait without changing between different size hooks, I like to find a middle-ground size between the 2 bait types I'm using. I also always have a knife and cutting board handy, so I can cut bait to fit the size of hook. 

Small Hooks Vs. Big Hooks For Surf Fishing

Each fish type has an approximate hook size range. Striped bass hooks, for instance, are effective in the 6/0-8/0 sizes. So how do you decide whether to go smaller or larger?

There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the size spectrum. Whether you want to increase your hookup rate or land that trophy fish, it's critical to understand the pros and cons of small and big hooks.

Bigger Hooks: Pros

  • Bigger hooks help you target bigger fish.

For example, a mature striped bass is stronger than a juvenile. So you'll want a larger/stronger hook to penetrate its larger, boney mouth and withstand a tough fight.

Also, using a large size hook allows you to use a bigger bait size. This makes the hook/bait presentation less appealing to smaller, unwanted fish (size and species). It also makes it more attractive to larger fish, more popular fish looking for a bigger meal.

  • Bigger size hooks are less likely to kill or hurt the fish

There's a good chance a fish will die if it swallows the hook and gets caught in the guts. Swallowing a huge hook is more difficult than a small hook. They're also easier to remove from the fish's mouth, reducing the possibility of harm while unhooking. So, huge hooks are a safer option if you're a catch-and-release angler or want to reduce the chance of killing a non-keeper-size fish.

Bigger Hooks: Cons

  • Bigger hooks catch less fish. 

This is true of your primary target species and other types of fish you'd also be happy to catch.

You'll end up waiting longer for a hit because there are less large fish in a species than average-size fish. Also, aside from a few species, most surf fishing species are smaller-medium fish (relative to other species), even at their largest. 

If you're ok waiting for the big one, this might not be a concern. However, anglers who like the fight should understand that larger hooks mean less frequent fish-ons from fewer fish species. 

  • It's easier to steal bait from big hooks.

You'll end up using a bigger size of bait for larger hooks. This makes it easier for small fish to tug at loose ends and steal the huge piece of bait without much risk of getting caught. 

  • It's easier to spit big hooks.

There's more smooth surface area on bigger hooks. That means there's more wiggle room for the fish during a fight, which increases the chance they'll be able to slide themselves off.

Smaller Hooks: Pros

  • Smaller hooks catch more fish.

Smaller hooks with smaller bait presentations appeal to small and large fish in your target species. It's also a more appealing setup to a wider range of species. Small hooks will provide more frequent hits if you're looking to maximize your hookup ratio. When I'm looking to increase the chances of putting food on the table for later, I always choose a smaller hook. 

Smaller Hooks: Cons

  • Smaller hooks are more likely to kill fish unintentionally.

Smaller hooks are easier to swallow than larger hooks, especially for bigger fish species. Once caught in the guts, the hook is likely to kill the fish. So if you're primarily a catch-and-release angler and want to reduce kills, you should keep this in mind before choosing a smaller hook.

  • Smaller hooks are less reliable for larger fish.

Although it's possible to land a large fish on the smallest lure, the larger and stronger the fish, the more likely it is to spit the hook. Some larger fish are even capable of bending small, weak hooks. 

  • Smaller hooks are more difficult to tie.

Beginners should know it's slightly more difficult to tie a smaller hook. That said, it's not that difficult, and you'll get used to it after a little practice. 

Hook Size By Surf Fishing Species


Hook size: #4 - #2

Best bait: sand crabs, clams, worms, shrimp

Surf Perch

Hook Size: #4 - #2

Best bait: sand crabs, clams, worms, shrimp


Hook Size: #4- #2

Best bait: clams, squid, worms, shrimp

Yellowfin Croaker

Hook Size: #4 - #2

Best bait: sand crabs, clams, worms, shrimp


Hook Size: #2 - 1/0

Best bait: shrimp, conch, crab, sardines, worms


Hook Size: #1 - 2/0

Best bait: sand crab, shrimp, squid, clams

Spanish Mackerel

Hook Size: 2/0 - 3/0

Best bait: sardines, squid, mullet, shrimp


Hook Size: 2/0 - 4/0

Best bait: pinfish, shrimp, mullet, plastic worms


Hook Size: 2/0 - 4/0

Best bait: green crabs, shrimp

Flounder / Fluke

Hook Size: 2/0 - 4/0

Best bait: squid, mullet, croaker, minnows


Hook Size: 2/0 - 4/0

Best bait: eels, mullet, bunker, mackerel, squid


Hook Size: 2/0 - 5/0

Best bait: crabs, porgies, mullet, squid, shrimp, greenies


Hook Size: 4/0 - 6/0

Best bait: clam, eels, crabs, squid


Hook Size: 4/0 - 8/0

Best bait: ladyfish, mullet, shrimp, crabs, pinfish

Black Drum

Hook Size: 5/0 - 10/0

Best bait: clams, shrimp, crabs, average sandworms, shad

Red Snapper

Hook Size: 5/0 - 10/0

Best bait: bonita, pinfish, tomtate, squid, shrimp, porgies, minnows

Striped bass

Hook Size: 6/0 - 8/0

Best bait: clam, eel bunker, herring, shad, porgy

Why Two Hooks The Same Size Can Be Different

Sometimes the actual hook size can be slightly different between brands. 

For example, a 5/0 Mustad brand hook might be slightly larger than a 5/0 Shaddock hook. However, the size difference, if any, is usually minimal, and the overall standard measurement scale will stay the same. 

Another reason surf fishing hooks the same size can be different is that they're designed for different types of fishing.

Here are some of the most common kinds of hooks you're likely to encounter while searching for hooks. 

Circle Hooks

Circle fishing hooks are my go-to type of hook for sand stake beach surf fishing because you don't need to set the circle hook. The point of the hook needs to create a 90-degree angle with the shank. As the fish yanks on the hook, it will get caught in the lip or the back of the mouth on its own.

Octopus Hooks

It has a rounded bend at the point that isn't accentuated as a circle hook. The easiest way to distinguish this type of hook is by the backward bend at the eye. 

Mosquito Hook

Similar in shape to the octopus hook. However, these types of hooks have the eye in line with the shank. 

Baitholder Hooks

Bait holder hooks have extra barbs built into the backside of the shank, creating a more secure hold on the bait.

Barbed vs. Barbless

The barb at the point of any hook helps to lock the fish in and prevent it from spitting the hook. Some surf fishing hooks come without the barb, or anglers will file the barb down to create the barbless style. This allows for easier catch and release.

In certain regions, using a barbed hook (also treble hooks) for specific species is illegal. You should always check local regulations for your target species before hitting the water. 

Who Makes The Best Surf Hooks

Top Recommendation: Mustad

Mustad is my go-to brand for well-designed, reliable hooks. A true old-school name in the fishing world, this Norwegian-based company has been a trusted name in hooks since 1877.

For my surf fishing rig with a sand stake fishing rod holder, I use a 2/0 demon perfect circle hook when I'm trying to increase my hookup ratio. When the striped bass are in town, I use a 6/0 demon perfect circle hook. 

Other Notable Brands:

  • Eagle Claw
  • Gamakatsu
  • Shaddock 
  • Gamakatsu 

So What Is The Best Hook Size For Surf Fishing

Most of us are looking to catch as many fish as possible. That’s the case for me atleast, which is why I use a Mustad #2 demon perfect circle hook more than any hook in my tackle bag. 

There’s no question that smaller is better when I’m looking to spend more time reeling in fish and put more food on the table. I know that a #2 size hook will catch a mixed bag, from blackfish and fluke to striped bass and large blues. 

If you’re looking for a trophy fish of a specific species, you might want to switch it up for a larger hook. Otherwise, you can go wrong with a #2 if you’re just looking to catch a bunch of fish.

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*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.