Written by Steve McKenna
Before setting foot on the beach a surfcaster must acquire several pieces of gear which are absolutely necessary. The foundation of any successful surf fishing endeavor includes proper rod, reel, and line selection plus other fundamental accessories.
Walk into any well stocked tackle store and a new person to surf-fishing will quickly be overwhelmed. There are just too many choices. To reduce your anxiety level a bit, try to adhere to the following simple formula when selecting a good rod for the surf.
First of all, beginners are strongly advised to stay away from conventional tackle, i.e. revolving spool reels and matching rods. This style of fishing tackle can be difficult to master which may detract from a rookie’s overall enjoyment.
Therefore, a spinning rod should be your first choice. Said rod should be at least 8 ½ feet with a 9 footer being the best overall length. Moreover, this stick is best in medium action with lure weight ratings between 3/4 oz. to 2 or 2 ½ oz, and comparable line ratings of 12 to 20 pound test. Your spinner could also have a reel seat made of graphite/stainless steel composite for convenience. And a good surf stick should have a set of ceramic guides and tip top.
Also, depending on your budget try to select a rod that is either graphite composite or 100% graphite. The latter is generally more expensive. These rods will run anywhere between 80 and 400 dollars. Fiberglass rods are still available and usually cheaper but I would still stick with a graphite composite model. These rods are generally more reasonable in price than pure graphite rods. Plus, graphite composite sticks usually have more forgiving action than all graphite models which, in my opinion, make for a better all around fishing tool.
Making a decision on a reel can be as confusing as rod choice for anyone unfamiliar with or new to the art of surf-fishing. There are just too many choices. To me the selection is easy – buy a Penn 704Z.
This model has been around for a long, long time. It has been and continues to be a staple in our sport. For about 100 bucks you’ll have a strong, dependable, and simple reel capable of winching in any striper the surf has to offer. The 704Z is also versatile holding plenty of 12 to 20lb. test line and is at home on surf rods between 8 to 12 feet.
Fishing line is probably the most important item any surf-caster should consider before heading to the beach. Remember, line is your link to the fish so no angler should take it for granted. Consequently, a novice surf-fisherman should buy good quality line.
Presently, there are a lot of good fishing lines out there made from many different materials. My best advice to the new surf guy or gal would be to fill their reels with monofilament. Co-filament and braided lines are very popular these days, but from my experience are not good choices for novices mainly because the knots required are tougher to tie and not as reliable as with simple monofilament. Also, the abrasion resistance of some braids is suspect. Therefore, stick with good quality mono such as lines from Berkley (Big Game), Bagley (Silver Thread), or Ande Back Country. Fifteen, Seventeen, or Twenty pound test strengths would be my choice for the surf (fifteen-pound-test being the lower end). Finally, even good line (mono) is cheap so change it frequently.
One last thought on rod, reel and line; after each surf excursion your gear should be rinsed with fresh water. Also, spray your reel with some type of anti-salt/lubricant such as WD-40 or CRC-656. This five minute procedure will ensure that your gear will be in tip top condition for each successive trip to the sea.
Waders are an absolutely necessary piece of gear if you want to surf-fish correctly. They are almost as important as a good surf stick, reel, and line. Since most surf-casting takes place near or in the water keeping dry and comfortable is paramount. Therefore, buy the best pair of waders that you can afford. The old saying “You get what you pay for” particularly rings true when considering waders. I’d stay away from waders made from 100% rubber. They are usually very, very heavy and will wear you down quickly. Remember, surf-fishing means walking over sandy beaches or tough, rocky terrain. So it would be in your best interest to get the lightest, most durable pair your pocket book allows. Waders sold by Hodgeman, Simms, Orvis, and L.L. Bean companies fit the bill for surf-casters and won’t break the bank.
Also, there are two types of waders: stocking foot or boot foot. Although stocking foot waders are becoming more and more popular among the surf-fishing crowd lately, I would stick with the traditional boot foot models. These are generally cheaper and more durable (but not as comfortable) as the stocking foot type.
In keeping with the staying dry and comfortable theme while surf-fishing, a novice is strongly advised to purchase some type of waterproof jacket. Such a jacket will offer added protection from booming surf, residual spray and windy, rainy weather. Look for Aquaskinz, Guy Cotten and/or Grundens.
Shocker leaders are another important element of a surf-casters overall gear. Running line (from your reel) should never be connected directly to your lure or hook. A buffer zone is needed between line and lure (hook) because fish have spines, fins, and sharp edges which will quickly part even 20 pound test mono. Also, a lot of surf-fishing is done around rocky, reefy areas which will abrade running line causing it to fail usually at the worst possible moment. Therefore, use at least a 36 inch piece of 30 to 50 pound test monofilament or even fluorocarbon material. Tie this heavier trace of line to your running line via a quality barrel swivel (color-black). Use a high quality heavy snap at the other end, also in black, to attach to your lures.
The last piece of essential gear for the surfcaster is a lure bag. After all, one needs something to tote around their lures, leaders, pliers, and other possibles. Don’t buy a real big one though as you should be traveling light. There is no need to carry 47 plugs with you. Try to reduce your collection of artificials to a bare minimum.