May 2006

Three Rods for the Surf
By Joe Malat


Three rod and reel combinations will cover most beach fishing situations. Photo by Joe Malat

A four-wheel-drive vehicle tracks slowly down the beach, as two fishermen stare in disbelief at the dozen or more fishing rods and reels bristling from the beach buggy's front rod carrier. The driver is alone. As the vehicle passes, one of the anglers turns to his buddy and mutters, "What is that guy going to do with all of those rods?"

Like a golfer with an assortment of clubs in his bag, an experienced surfcaster may choose to carry a full-blown arsenal of fishing outfits, each designed to do a specific job. He wants to be prepared for any fish, surf condition or weather that might come their way. As one grizzled beach fishermen once told me, "You never know who you might meet on the battlefield."

But is all that gear really necessary? I don't think so. More is not always better, and I've found three rod and reel combinations that can cover most of the fishing situations a beach angler is likely to encounter.

There's something to be said for the "Keep It Simple" approach. Newcomers to the sport may be able to take the plunge with a single rod and reel combination that will get them started and serve as a foundation for their future tackle purchases. As their experiences grow, their equipment tackle can grow with them.

Big fish, such as blues, stripers, or red drum often go on feeding binges when the surf is rough and the wind is howling. These conditions demand a powerful outfit to cast the weights necessary to hold a baited rig on the bottom and to wrestle these jumbo fish to the beach. A 10 to 11-foot rod mated to heavy-duty reel filled with 20 to 25-pound monofilament line will do the job. Such a rig will easily cast weights of five to eight ounces. The 11-foot rod is the big gun of the trio.

There is no "best length" rod for surf fishing. Because of the constantly changing surf and weather conditions any rod may be a compromise from time to time, but a rod that hits the mark most of the time is about nine feet long. Such a rod can be used to cast lures from 1 to 3 ounces, or cast bottom rigs baited with up to 4 ounces of lead. In my opinion, the nine-footer comes closest to doing most of the jobs.

Mac Currin was fishing with a fireball rig and a nine foot surf rod when he landed this bluefish from the beach. Photo by Joe Malat

Mac Currin is an expert surfcaster who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, but spends a significant amount of his fishing time on the coast. He likes a two-piece, nine foot spinning rod for several reasons.

"The graphite rod is light and that can make a difference when you're on the beach, casting all day. The light weight and moderate length make it easy to hold the rod when fishing with bait or casting lures," he said. "But if you choose a nine footer, be sure the rod has enough backbone to handle up to 4 ounces of weight, whether that is a lure, a bottom rig with bait and sinker," he added.

To increase the rod's versatility, Currin suggests having a couple extra spools for the spinning reel that will be used on it. "Fill the primary spool with 14 to 17-pound test line for fishing with bait or heavy lures," he suggested. "Then fill the spare spool with 12-pound test, so you can cast light lures to bluefish or Spanish mackerel that might be a long way off the beach." The smaller diameter of the light line will provide less wind resistance to the lure, thus increasing casting distance.

Some days the "battlefield" of the beach might offer small fish and calm surf conditions, and an opportunity to fish with a light lure or small bait. A seven-foot spinning rod, balanced with a light salt water spinning reel filled with eight or ten-pound test monofilament is ideal for casting lures that top out at ¾ of an ounce.

Flounder fishermen who work the beach also use light weight rods to cast small baits and to be able to detect the subtle and tentative bites of a nibbling flatfish, but the rods should handle up to one ounce of weight. Rarely will you see a serious flounder surf fishermen use a rod longer than 7 feet. The light weight rod and reel completes the trio of tackle.

The light rod is also suited for summertime conditions, when the weather is calm and most surf fish are small. Currin also had some thoughts on a light outfit. "During the spring and fall I like to fish with lures for speckled trout that may weigh several pounds, but my seven foot 'trout rod' is also great fun to fish with in the summer when the fish are small. The light rod is perfectly matched to the spot, croakers or sea mullet I might catch during the summer," he said.
These three rods will allow a surfcaster to fish anywhere for anything, under practically any conditions, without having to mortgage the farm to buy a tackle shop full of equipment.


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