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Surf fishing... What kind of rod and reel?

“I see people casting off the beach. What kind of rod and reel
should I buy? How much does it cost? What should I look for? “

Surf casting from the beach is one of the most pleasurable kinds
of fishing there is. There’s rarely a snag, there’s plenty of room as you
have the whole beach to fish, the scenery is great, and you can catch fish

“What do I need to buy?”

First of all, you need a rod and a reel. Most anglers choose a
10 to 11 foot surf rod with a reel that holds approximately 250 yards of
20-pound test monofilament. If you have an extra $60 to $70 bucks, you can
afford to buy an inexpensive rod and reel and the bare essentials to go surf
fishing including a couple rigs and the bait.

“What’s the difference between a $50 surf outfit and a $250 surf

The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true. A basic,
“starter” outfit is usually a 10-foot Silstar, Invincible, Shakespeare,
Master, or Sea Striker “fiberglass with a little graphite mixed in” rod with
foam grips. The reel is usually a basic Silstar, Shakespeare, Okuma,
Invincible or Master reel with no or one ball bearing. These are fine
outfits for getting started. Some people don’t know if they are going to
like surf fishing. Some anglers may only get down once or twice a year and
do not want to invest a whole lot of money. Others know themselves well
enough to know they aren’t going to take care of it, and would rather buy a
new rod and reel every couple of years.

A more expensive rod would have more graphite in it, thus making
it more sensitive and lighter in the hand. It doesn’t necessarily make it
stronger, just more pleasant to use. Some higher dollar surf rods have a
“skinny” cork wrapped grip that also makes the rod lighter to hold. (A
higher dollar surf rod probably weighs half what an inexpensive surf rod
weighs.) The guides are usually of a higher quality. The rings on an
inexpensive surf rod are made out of ceramic and are thicker and heavier.
The rings on a more expensive surf rod may be made out of Aluminum Oxide
that is thinner yet stronger and they also weigh less. Since the diameter of
the rings is larger, your casting distance will increase. They will also
hold up longer. If you are using a “Spectra Fiber” line such as “Power Pro”,
it is important to invest in a higher quality rod. The thin Spectra line can
eventually cut through ceramic guides.

Most of the name brand, fishing tackle brands carry the higher
quality surf rods. Penn, Daiwa, Tica, St. Croix, Sea Striker Beachrunner and
Star are a few of the brand names to look for. While you can buy an
inexpensive 10-foot surf rod starting around $20, you will be looking at $60
to $190 to buy a quality surf rod. If you plan to surf fish a lot, it is
well worth the extra bucks.

“What makes a quality surf reel?”

A higher quality surf reel will have more than one ball bearing,
anywhere from 2 to 13. The more ball bearings, the smoother a reel will
feel. Some reels, such as Shimano, boasts ball bearings that are “sealed.”
Although most Shimano reels have no more than four ball bearings, they are
“high quality,” stainless, sealed ball bearings. A $50 reel with 11 ball
bearings is not better than a $150 reel with 4 ball bearings. Again, “you
get what you pay for” is true.

“Where are the ball bearings in a reel?”

If a reel has one ball bearing it is located between the rotor
(head) of the reel and the main body. If a reel has a second ball bearing,
it is located next to the main gear. If a reel has a third ball bearing, it
is placed on the other side of the main gear. A forth ball bearing is
usually located beside the bail roller. This is a “plus” when it comes to
ball bearings. This keeps your line roller on your bail rolling so your line
does not make a groove in it. This is extremely important if you use the
thin diameter “Spectra fiber” fishing lines. Some reels will say they have
“3 plus 1 ball bearings.” This means the “plus one” is in the line roller.

A higher dollar reel may have heavier gears, (stainless and
brass are always good things to hear, though it may make the reel heavy in
the hand). A quality reel will have more drag discs in the drag system to
make the drag work well. (Inexpensive reels may only have 2 to 4 disks in
the drag, where a high quality reel may have over a dozen!) Some reels, such
as the Shimano Baitrunner brag having a Waterproof Drag System. (Please,
this does not mean you can dunk it in the ocean and it will continue to work
well!) Most quality reels are well balanced and do not wobble because they
have some sort of internal balance system that makes the rotor stop
immediately when you stop cranking the handle. Shimano calls this “Super
Stopper II” or “Dyna- Balance.” Daiwa calls this “Infinite Anti-Reverse.”
Tica calls it “Computer Balanced.” Penn calls it a “balanced rotor.” Look
for anything with this type of wording. You can crank the different reels in
the tackle store you can definitely feel it.

Other qualities some more expensive reels may have are extra
spools, a fold- down handle for easy storage, a wood or rubber handle that
feels good when cranking, and a nitrated line roller. Nitrated line rollers
are usually gold, rather than silver, and are made of a harder space age
material. This extends the life of the line roller and is good to have if
you are using the “spectra” lines.

An inexpensive surf reel can cost as little as $20. A medium
quality reel may cost between $50 and $70. A high quality reel generally
cost $100 or more. No matter how much you pay for a reel however, it will
not withstand falling in the sand or washing in the ocean. Often times, if
your reel gets salt and sand inside it, the anti-reverse quits working.
(This means the reel turns both ways, whether you have it in gear or not.)
It has to be taken apart to be fixed and may cost you time and an hourly
rate at a repair shop.

So, after buying your surf rod and reel, no matter whether it is
a $40 combo or a $400 dollar combo, you want to protect your investment by
buying a simple sand spike. The sand spike, made out of PVC or metal, is
pushed in the sand, so you can put your rod butt in it while you’re fishing.
You can bait up, rest, take your fish off the hook, etc… while placing your
rod in the holder. (If your reel accidentally falls in the sand don’t wash
it off in the ocean. I grab my bottled water, and give it a quick flush as
soon as possible.)
When you get home, always wash off your rod and reel with fresh water.

“What kind of line should I buy?”

Some outfits will already be spooled with line. I always suggest
15, 17, or 20 pound test monofilament on the average rod and reel
combination. The lighter the line, the further you can cast and the less
sinker weight you will have to use. If you are buying a higher quality
outfit and want to try the spectra line, go with 30-pound test. (This is an
8- pound test diameter.) If you use the spectra line, always put
monofilament backing on the spool. (If you don’t, the line can actually spin
on the spool!) We tie the spectra line into the monofilament backing with a
uni-knot and try to estimate about 200 yards of the spectra line. Always
fill up your spool to within 1/8 of an inch of the lip so you get a full

Spectra lines have no stretch, so it is very sensitive. But
since there is no stretch, it is very important to set your drag and also to
make sure your drag is working correctly! That’s one reason I don’t suggest
putting spectra line on the “bargain basement” surf reels. The drags, line
rollers, and gear systems are just not sophisticated enough to endure the
spectra line. In time, you will wear out your reel. (You can put it on
anyway of course, but keep in mind that your reel may not last as long as
you would like and the line may cost you more than the reel!)

Spectra lines are thin diameter, so it can cut through tender
fingers. Buy a finger guard or wrap your casting finger with a band-aid or
duck tape.

So now that you have your rod, reel, line and sand spike, you’re
almost ready to go. Get two or three surf rigs, some hurricane type surf
sinkers in the 3 to 5-ounce for typical everyday fishing, a rag, and a pair
of needle nosed pliers. Get a 5-gallon bucket to put your rigs and bait in.
(Those sea gulls will steal your bait!) There’s lot of other accessories you
can buy of course, but these are the essentials to get started.

Surf fishing is fun and relaxing.

Good fishing…