Outfitting Essentials for Saltwater Fishing

How to gear up for successful days spent fishing from a pier, wading shores, casting in the surf, or boating to deeper waters offshore.

Saltwater fishing presents a conflicting range of conditions, both optimal and suboptimal. From warm and sunny to cold and wet, the environment often does its best to disconnect you from ‘the big one.’ And when it’s saltwater, the ocean only exposes you to more extremes: harsh UV from above and reflecting from below, salt spray, blistering wind. The wild card of these inclement conditions makes preparation with the proper apparel and gear the difference between a good and great day on the water. 

In this dynamic environment, what you pack and wear is one of the only things you can control. And that goes for any of the unique vantage points you can take when fishing salty waters, whether you’re wetting a line from a watercraft, wading out, or cruising the shoreline. No matter your method or approach, don’t let the weather be the reason you miss the big bite. As it’s often said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. Whatever the conditions, get the goods by equipping according to the following gear guidelines for your style of saltwater fishing.

Gear essentials for: pier fishing 

Fishing saltwater from a pier or bridge naturally places you well above the water. That elevation means added exposure to the elements, especially to the sun and wind. Straining to see the water from above can, most notably, add stress to your neck and back. Having a way to rest in the shade while not staring at the water can make or break your day (and back). Consider a camp chair to help relax your legs and back. Lugging your gear out to the prime fishing spot and back (plus your catch, ideally) can make for more back-breaking work as well; a wheeled cooler or a portable cart (for lugging a cooler, tackle and snacks, plus attached rod holders, potentially), can start and finish your day on a high note. 

Beach and surf fishing 

Fishing from the beach and in the surf can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to access fish in saltwater. Up and down the coastline, fish congregate to chase their forage from right at your toes and out into surf-casting territory. Conditions can vary based on swell, wind, water and air temperature, plus shore features—each of which should factor into what you wear. 

Finding yourself in cold and/or rocky conditions like those of the Northeast and Pacific Coast, a pair of waders and wading boots will help you fight the effects of chilly water and keep sharper surfaces from cutting your feet. If you choose chest-high waders, be careful not to go past your chest; water from submersion or waves in your waders can be both uncomfortable and dangerous. In warm and sandy waters like those of the Southeast and Gulf Coast, a pair of quick-drying shorts with multiple pockets for easy access, plus a waterproof backpack for carrying your tackle and keeping it out of the salty drink, can make a great day even better.

Saltwater fly fishing for Striped bass on Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula, Canada

Wade fishing 

Like fishing from the beach, you’ll be exposed to the water while wade-fishing in saltwater. If you’re not set in one spot, a purpose-built bag to carry your gear is essential. To ensure you’re able to access as much water as possible while wading without barriers, a chest pack or a waterproof bag will both hold your tackle and keep it above the water—or at least keep it dry if you’re in it. 

Wade fishing can take you from knee- to chest-deep water. If the water is cold and/or features a sharp bottom, waders and wading boots are necessary. And they’re helpful for increasing your success rate: If you can maintain your core temperature and protect your feet from sharp rocks, shells and reefs, you can cover more water and keep your line soaked longer—easily increasing your fishing success rate.

Boat fishing 

Saltwater covers over 96% of the earth, much of which can be accessed by boat. Fishing from a vessel grants you access to deeper waters beyond the reach of shore-bound anglers. It also exposes you to more elements: more sun, more wind and more water. Whether you’re targeting fish inshore or offshore, that additional exposure calls for sun protection, for one. Consider a breathable, long-sleeve shirt with a hood or a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect from harmful rays (perhaps even a neck/face gaiter). The advantage of traveling across miles of water comes with cooling temperatures and a high likelihood for exposure to the salty spray—a waterproof jacket is helpful to blocking these less-than-ideal elements from dampening your trip, and essential when temperatures drop and the windchill remains. The slick deck surfaces of a boat also call for a closed-toed shoe with grippy traction that can shed water, or dry fast; leave the flip-flops on shore. 

Kayak fishing 

Whether you’re paddling via kayak, canoe or standup paddleboard, it’s likely that you’ll be making contact with the water. From the splash of your paddle (or a fish), to the contingency of ending up overboard (whether a decision to disembark or an unforeseen event), preparing to be submerged in the water is the number one rule in kayak fishing. 

Across all conditions, one outfitting truth reigns: Paddling in cotton or denim clothes can be a fatal choice; once they’re wet, your body heat stands no chance of sticking around. Opt for neoprene and quick-drying tops and bottoms like, respectively, a wetsuit or a rashguard as your base layer. In the dead of winter, a paddling jacket and/or a dry suit will add an extra layer for protection in case you find yourself neck deep. Finally, a properly fitting, Coast Guard-approved lifejacket is a non-negotiable item you must have before leaving shore (often a legality, depending on your age), which should always be worn.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.