Spiny dogfish taken on an eggbeater reel surfcasting near Riverton, Southland.
Surfcasting Rods and Reels
by Allan Burgess
Surfcasting is perhaps the most leisurely form of fishing there is. I often associate the sport of surfcasting with lazy summer days spent at the beach with the kids, especially over the Christmas holiday period. At such times we would pack up the car and head off for camping holidays at places like Mokihinui, Karamea, Ross and Hokitika, on the South Island's West Coast.
The car would always be "over loaded" with camping and fishing gear. So much so that on one trip the rear axle on the old Toyota decided it couldn't take the strain any longer. As the old car groaned, it's suspension floored, the axle gave out! This slowed the trip only slightly as we waited in Nelson for several hours for it to be fixed. For some reason we always seem to take too much gear along. This is a very difficult habit to break!
We would spend lazy days under the hot sun, interrupted only by the occasional glance up at the rod tip. This would be followed by a sudden frenzied winding of the handle when a fish would take the bait.
Many readers will be un
aware that at Karamea, for
example, the vista of white sandy beach, blue sky, and cobalt blue
The West Coast is one of the best places in the South Island to catch an elusive snapper while surfcasting. There are always plenty of kahawai about too. I would also like to point out that over the winter months the West Coast beaches offer some of the best surf fishing to be had anywhere. Elephant fish, huge red cod, various sharks, and kahawai can be caught in the sort of numbers that will come as a big surprise to surfcasters more used to fishing Canterbury's beaches on the other side of the alps. Getting together a group of surf anglers for a trip to Hokitika, or even Haast, is a great idea at this time of year when the weather is inclined to be more settled.
One of the best things about getting into surfcasting is that it need not be expensive. Nowadays surf rod and reel sets can be purchased at crazy prices that just a couple of years ago were unknown. New 12 foot rod and reel sets are now selling for under $100. Aside from the rod and reel all you need is some monofilament fishing line a few sinkers, hooks, and some bait, and you are in business.
Here are a few tips aimed at those buying surfcasting gear for the first time. The most important thing of all is the rod. In my view you need to buy a rod that is designed to cast at least 100 grams, which is about four ounces. Any thing less than that and you are wasting your time. With a reasonable surf and tide running, you need to be able to cast out a heavy sinker that will hold on the bottom. The heavier sinker, and correspondingly stouter rod required to cast it, will also prove invaluable when casting into any sort of head wind. Don't forget that the bait will also add both weight and wind resistance when casting.
Secondly, you need a rod that is at least 12 foot (3.66 metres) in length. If you have a choice, and can afford it, go for an even longer rod if possible. I prefer a 15 or even 16 foot model. This extra length is needed for casting any sort of distance. Although it is true that the longer the rod the greater the leverage advantage you are giving up to a fighting fish. The most important job your rod must perform is that of tossing your baited hooks and sinker out over the breakers. When the sea is very calm, particularly on a steeply shelving shingle beach, a long rod and heavy sinkers are not so important. Often, in such conditions, a long cast will work against you as you could well be casting over the heads of the fish that can be feeding in the stirred-up water right behind the first breaker. However, these calm conditions cannot always be expected. They will be the exception rather than the rule! It is easy to shorten the distance of your cast in calm conditions whereas a short sloppy rod will be useless when you need to cast a longer distance.
I first stated surfcasting with an old Kilwell solid fibreglass rod. It was a 12 footer. I've rebound new guides on to it so many times I've lost count. From memory I think it had a sticker saying which model it was but this has long since disappeared! I think it was a Beach Baron. By today's standards it is an ugly old thing but I sure caught some fish on that old rod, including half a dozen big sevengill sharks from the beach at Birdlings Flat, on the south side of Banks Peninsula. The biggest of these measured 8 foot 3 inches. That old rod had a very slow action. That is to say that under load it bent on an even curve along all of its length. Today I prefer a fast action surf rod. A fast action means that under load, either from casting or fighting a fish, most of the bend in the rod will take place in the upper third of its length. The bottom two thirds of the blank will hardly bend at all. A powerful fast action rod is much better for distance casting. It will also have power to spare when casting a slightly heavier sinker.
It is worth noting that a good surf rod from a top line manufacturer, such as Kilwell Sports, will have it's optimum casting weight written on the side of the rod blank, down near the handle. Usually there will be a casting weight range displayed, such as 80-110g (3-4 ounces). I'd be immediately suspicious about buying any rod that didn't display it's "recommended casting weight" range in this way.
It is also worth mentioning that many, falsely, believe that the manufacturer has probably allowed for a bit of leeway either side of this recommended range. Following this logic they stick on a much heavier sinker with disastrous results. The rod breaks in half when they try to cast with it! However, you are sure to find that, as with most rod blanks, the rod will cast better at one end of this range than it does at the other. A rod that is not fully loaded during casting won't find you as much distance. Salmon anglers who fish the surf will be well aware of this. Going from a 55 g ticer to a 68 g model will often improve casting distance noticeably. This is because the lighter ticer has not been "fully loading the rod."
Looked at another way when the rod is bent under the load of casting it is acting as a store of energy. This energy being imparted into the sinker to propel it forward. If the rod is not fully loaded because the sinker is too light then it is not storing the maximum amount of energy possible. Yet another way of looking at it is to think of the rod as an archery bow. If the bow-string isn't fully pulled back you will not get the maximum distance from the arrow when fired.
Obviously at the outer extreme a very powerful rod requires a strong fit person to obtain maximum tip-speed during the cast. Without sufficient muscle strength you still won't be able to fully load the rod even if the sinker weight is a perfect match. As with a powerful bow you won't get maximum distance from the arrow if you lack the strength to draw the string all the way back.
I find that good distance can be obtained from a 16 foot rod with a type of "lob cast" even if the rod isn't fully loaded. Therefore I would choose the longer rod (15-16 foot) if given the choice. Casting weights for surf rods range between 75-200g (3-8oz). Again for most fishing conditions a rod rated for casting weights between 100-150g will be fine. But personally I would go for the heavier rod capable of handling up to 200g weights. In a big rolling surf with a strong rip running along the beach the heavier weights will hold on the bottom better. Perhaps the disadvantage of such a long rod and heavy sinkers is that casting and retrieving requires more effort and so will be tiring after long use. Surfcasting is one of the few types of fishing where you can use more than one rod. In which case get both!
Another consideration when buying
a rod is whether to get a one, two or three
piece. A one piece is the best. It can't fly
To my mind the two-piece is the best compromise. Each section will be between six or seven feet in length, and as such will be lower than the ceiling when stood against the inside wall of a house. Rubbing candle wax on the inside section of the rod joint will go a long way towards ensuring a good tight friction fit. Portability will also be enhanced if the rod features a folding stripping guide. This is the biggest line guide closest to the handle. When folded down the sections will fit into a narrower rod tube.
Reels have also become much less expensive in recent years. A fixed spool (eggbeater) is by far the most popular choice for most surfcasters. Reels like the Jarvis Walker GEN-X 7000 offer excellent value for money. Such reels retail well under NZ$100 and provide solid reliable service. The GEN-X has all the modern features including: a long cast spool design, 4 ball bearings, balanced handle and rotor, oversized line roller, brass pinion gear, and Teflon drag. Most importantly it holds 340 metres of 11.0kg (25 lb) monofilament. This is about the right line capacity for a surf reel. There are many inexpensive reels of this type available. Surf rod and reel sets can now be bought in New Zealand for as little as NZ$60.
I personally prefer the Alvey side cast range of surf reels. My favourite being the 650c. These are made in Australia from the finest materials available. Their design is simple and bulletproof. Their main advantage is that there is almost no resistance to the line as it leaves the big spool. This allows lighter rigs to be cast greater distances. They are very popular in their home country, but you don't see many here in New Zealand. Perhaps the reason is that they are more expensive than the more familiar eggbeaters and so never really caught on. I spoke once to a second hand dealer in Christchurch who told me that used Alvey reels are very slow sellers even when sold at give-away prices! An Alvey reel will go for ever no matter how often you fish with it - or however many big fish you land on it. There are few eggbeaters you could say that about!
For many years I fished with a Seascape free-spool reel when surfcasting. This thing could cast for miles. This reel was a bit of a strange beast that was also made in Australia. It was manufactured by Wallsend Engineering near Newcastle. It had a very fast retrieve for back in the 1970s of 5.5:1. It was designed to cast and retrieve big lures for tuna from the rocks hence the high gear ratio. It would retrieve over a metre of line with every turn of the handle. Unfortunately the pinion gear had only ten teeth and eventually split in half. A local tackle store retailer did his best to manufacture another pinion gear for me but it grates horribly when you wind the handle.
Free-spool reels will deliver excellent long distance surf casting performance. However you have to keep a couple of things in mind if you intend using one for surfcasting. You need a large model that will hold plenty of heavy line 20-25 lb. Lighter line can easily be crushed and nicked on a stoney beach. You must have a star drag reel which totally disengages the gears placing the reel in free-spool for casting. Suitable models I have used include: Abu 7000 and 10,000, the robust Shimano Speedmaster TSM4, and the Penn Mag Power. These reels are more expensive. They cost as much as six times the price of a reasonable eggbeater.
Free-spool reels requires a bit of thought before casting if you are to avoid the dreaded "birds nest." This is caused by the spool revolving and paying out line faster than the sinker is taking it away. It can occur in mid-cast as well as when your sinker splashes down. The answer is to tighten the knobs on your reel's side plates so that the sinker only drops to the ground in free-spool if you lightly jerk the rod. When you first get to the beach it is best to slightly over tighten the spool to begin with, make a few casts, then back it off a little at a time. A sinker and baited hooks are more difficult to cast than a salmon ticer because of greater wind resistance. For this reason it is better to use small baits. Better still employ Breakaway bait shields if possible. Also try to cast baits and sinkers of a consistent size and weight. For surfcasting it is also a good idea to leave all the brake blocks in place.
When selecting a free-spool reel remember that a big heavy spool is harder to control than a small lighter one so pick the smallest reel you can get away with. A shock leader and lighter line is one way around the problem of bust-offs when casting. In this way you can fish 20 lb mono on the spool with say two rod lengths of 40 lb shock leader. Finally the wind conditions can have a big effect with a free-spool reel. A tail wind makes casting easier, whereas a head-wind tends to stop the sinker and baited hooks in mid-air while line is still peeling from the spool.
Return to: How to go Surfcasting Around New Zealand