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The latest generation of shore fishing rods push the boundaries of distance, accuracy, power, and performance
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Twenty years ago, I started surf fishing for big red drum with a hand-me-down fiberglass surf fishing rod that was yellowed with age and abuse. I fished for an entire year without catching a trophy redfish.
After twelve months of dogged defeat, I saved up some money and purchased a modern graphite rod with high-grade components. I landed a red drum over 40 inches on my first trip with the new rod. My success wasn’t due to skill or luck; it was the rod. The combination of materials and design resulted in the fish of a lifetime and ignited a lifetime of surf fishing for red drum.
Surf anglers ask the most of their fishing rods. The best surf rods focus on distance, accuracy, power, and finesse. To meet the need, rod manufacturers combine cutting-edge materials and designs with tough components to create action-specific rods focused on surf fishing.
Whether you’re looking to catch your first fish in the surf or you’re an old salt, the best surf fishing rods put it all together to make surf fishing easier and more enjoyable.
Choosing the single best surf rod is impossible. Surf fishing rods are specific to fishing tactics, location, conditions, and personal preference. Comparing a bait rod to a lure rod is apples and oranges.
I started with five general categories of surf fishing.
Then, I queried my surf-fishing friends across the country for their favorite surf sticks.
For a second opinion on each rod, I called in my friend Ryan White, owner of Hatteras Jack Bait and Tackle and a world champion long caster. We spent an afternoon casting each rod and considering the construction, materials, and feel of the rod.
The best surf rod doesn’t mean the most expensive. Yes, some of the rods in my review are high dollar. Quality and performance cost money. Other rods in the review are a bargain. As rod technology improves, it trickles down to lower-price models. While top-of-the-line rods use every advantage at any cost, you can get a high-quality and solid action surf rod for a reasonable price.
I started with the most important questions.
To determine the sweet spot where the rod is most comfortable and efficient. I cast each rod using a variety of lures and sinkers within the rod’s recommended weight range. In addition to distance and accuracy, I noted the rod’s build and fit.
The next test is the most difficult. How does the rod feel while casting and retrieving? Does it load up and snap the lure like a whip? Will the rod bend and sway under the action of a swimming plug?
In surf fishing, there is a direct correlation between the quality of the equipment and the chances of success. Fishing from the beach requires a long accurate cast, hyper-sensitive action, and solid power to make it all come together.
Every surf angler needs an all-around medium-weight bait rod for long, accurate casts. PENN’s Carnage III is the third generation of their top-of-the-line model with great components at a reasonable price. “You get a lot of bang for the buck,” says White.
High-quality components like Fuji K guides with SIC inserts reduce tangles with smooth silicone rings for a long cast. PENN is proud of its S3SL construction, sandwiching layers of graphite and fiberglass for sensitivity and durability. The rod is rated for a 2- to 6-ounce lure, but I felt comfortable throwing a 5-ounce sinker and bait. The Carnage III is a little on the bulky side, but the extra weight translated into extra strength, making the rod tough enough to serve as a reliable medium-action rod for striped bass, redfish, and black drum.
Read Next: Best Surf Fishing Reels
I’ve slowly been replacing the fishing rods in my arsenal with Shimano XX rods. I started with my boat and kayak rods, and now I’m stoked to add Tiralejo XX rods to the surf fishing quiver.
The XX stands for Shimano’s Spiral X and High-Power X blank construction. The blank starts with vertical carbon fibers wrapped inside and out with spirals of carbon fiber tape. This allows Shimano to precisely balance power and sensitivity in exact sections of the blank to achieve performance requirements. Carbon fiber rods are inherently more fragile than fiberglass rods, but the spiral construction keeps the blank from twisting or compressing under pressure without adding weight.
My first Tiralejo XX addition was the 9-foot, 6-inch spinning rod. This model is perfect for an angler casting heavy lures from a rock jetty or pier, where accuracy and crowd control are the most important qualities. A medium power rod has flex to allow a lure to swim freely, but the Tiralejo’s Spiral X wrap’s fast recovery keeps the cast snappy.
With a big fish on the line, I can feel the power translated into the fight allowing the rod to beat the fish. And, when I’m landing a heavy fish, the High Power X construction allows me to hold the rod tip high without snapping the rod.
The rod is rated for a lure up to 3 ounces, but I found the 3-ounce mark a comfortable starting point with the capability to cast a 2-ounce bucktail and rubber jig tail or 3-ounce swimming plug.
Narrowing down the best surf fishing rod for striped bass isn’t easy, so I hit up my friend Nick Honachefsky, host of Saltwater Underground and a New Jersey based surf angler. Without hesitation, Honachefsky recommended the St. Croix Seage Surf spinning rod. “The beauty of the 10-foot, 6-inch model is its versatility,” Honachefsky says. According to him, the rod is capable of working a 3-ounce wooden plug, a 1-ounce StingSilver, or throwing a chunk of clam with a 3 to 6-ounce sinker.
Honachefsky adds that the 10-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy model can beat a 20-pound bluefish or 40-pound striped bass. In my testing, the medium-fast model snaps out a cast and still has enough play to allow a lure to work. St. Croix’s Advanced Reinforcing Technology carbon fiber and Fortifying Resin System work together to create a hearty rod with a striking blue finish and premium wraps. Honachefsky appreciates the low-profile butt section and light blank. “I can throw the rod for hours without bumping into my side every cast,” he says.
Read Next: Best Baits for Striped Bass
When you think of surf fishing, you imagine a warrior angler dressed in GoreTex armor charging the crashing breakers with a long, heavy surf rod clutched in his hand like a lance. Or, you picture a white sand beach, blazing sun, and fishing rod resting in a sand spike while you rest in a folding chair, drink in hand. But there is another side of surf fishing. I’m talking about light tackle fishing in the shore break for small game.
Okuma designed the Rockaway SP for West Coast anglers targeting surf perch with small baits and lures. When Ryan White and I tested the rod, we got excited about using it for pompano, speckled trout, and redfish. The Rockaway SP is an ultralight, super sensitive 24/30 ton carbon fiber blank with a split grip and low-profile guides to transmit every nibble to the angler’s hand. The split 24/30 ton carbon is the key to its versatility. Twenty-four-ton graphite is forgiving, which makes it durable and powerful. While 30-ton graphite is sensitive, light, and fragile.
The reel seat leaves a section of the blank exposed so you can feel the slightest tap. This is important for feeling a light bite and helps me feel the lure bouncing along the bottom. The Rockaway SP is rated for ¼ to ⅝ ounces, but I think it could handle a rig up to one ounce without losing distance or accuracy. Okuma squeezed every ounce of technology into a lightweight, super-sensitive rod capable of fishing light lures for smaller fish.
I’ve been driving a car for 30 years, and I’ve never had an accident, but that doesn’t mean I would last ten minutes behind the wheel of an F-1 race car. That’s how I felt casting the Century Drum Gun for the first time. I’ve been throwing a Hatteras heaver for almost as long as I’ve had my driver’s license, but this was my first time casting a super rod. In fact, my first lob cast ended in a backlash. Luckily, competition-long caster Ryan White was there to walk me through my first day behind the wheel of the Century Drum Gun.
Based on Century’s long-casting blanks, the heavy-action fishing rod has scored distances up to 700 feet in White’s capable hands. Once I realized I could control the power and give it all I got without the rod complaining, I exceeded my best casting distance.
White grew up on the Outer Banks in the middle of the most competitive beach fishing on the planet. A premium drum rod is expected to achieve maximum distance and accuracy with the backbone to fight a 50-pound redfish through the pounding surf and build quality to survive for years.
The best surf rod starts with a high-tech blank. Century uses the same autoclave process as the aerospace industry to bond the carbon fibers together with graphene-impregnated resin. Applying heat and pressure at the same time squeezes out any excess resin for the strongest and lightest base material.
The tip section incorporates fiberglass to improve recovery time, durability, and bite detection. “This is a heavy-action rod, but the tip remains sensitive to feel a fish biting over 100 yards away,” says White. The Drum Gun uses a non-tapered butt section that meets performance requirements by varying the amount and type of material, which is where White says the rod’s power comes from.
When I cast the rod, my right-hand acts as a fulcrum; the left hand produces the force to launch an 8-ounce sinker and a chunk of the bait as far as I can muster. I feel the power translating all the way to my left hand on the rod butt. With all the technology and design in the Drum Gun, the rod remains light enough to hold for hours while fishing the crowded beach at Cape Point.
There’s a reason why an old-salt’s beach buggy bristles with a dozen surf rods: Choosing the best surf rod isn’t easy. Instead of expecting to find one rod to do it all, experienced anglers have a rod for each tactic and target species.
To find the best rod for bait fishing or casting lures, consider how you will fish, how much you have to spend, and how you will transport and store the fishing rod.
Large numbers of surf anglers often gather at a popular beach, jetty or pier. While fishing, competitive anglers check out each other’s rods, reels, tackle, and tactics. The best way to choose the best surf fishing rod for a specific tactic or species is to watch other anglers in action. If the anglers are friendly, strike up a conversation. Better yet, hire a local guide to show you the ropes.
The next best source of information is a local tackle shop. The in-house experts know the best tackle and have a variety of options to fit your needs. As you search for the best surf rod, you’ll quickly realize the most successful anglers have carefully chosen high-quality fishing rods matched to the local fishing.
The first step in choosing the best surf rod is matching the rod to the tactic. A bait rod needs a strong backbone to launch a heavy rig and hold a sinker in the bottom. Lure fishing requires more sensitivity to work the lure.
A longer rod provides extra casting distance, while a shorter rod offers better control. Fast action produces an extra kick on the cast, and a slower action loads for a heavy lure. Bait rods emphasize power to bring in the heavy sinker and a big fish. Lure rods are fine-tuned to swim a plug or streak a spoon with fish-attracting action. Whatever the tactic, there are several rods perfectly suited for the scenario. Matching the rod to the tactic is the first step for success.
Surf rods are long and delicate. Most rods come in two pieces to make storage and transport easier. However, you still need to choose between a 50/50 or 60/40 break.
A 50/50 rod breaks down into two equal parts. This is great for shipping and storage. Not only is it easier to fit in a closet or a hatchback, but the 50/50 rod is easier to carry to the beach.
For the best casting action, choose a 60/40 or similar break. This type of rod has a shorter butt section and longer tip. For example, a 10-foot rod would have a 4-foot butt section and a 6-foot tip. The longer tip produces a more even bend through the rod length for a more powerful cast.
No way around it; good fishing rods are expensive, and really good fishing rods are really expensive. Surf anglers face many challenges, and the best surf rod improves the odds of pulling a fish from shore. Serious anglers will pay any price to get an advantage over their adversary.
That said, the best surf rod is the one you can afford. In recent years, features previously found on expensive fishing rods are now available on mid-range models.
In the end, ask yourself what you expect of the fishing rod. Are you going to cast out a couple baits, kick back in the beach chair and crack open a cold beverage? Then a solid mid-range rod provides hours of beach fishing fun.
But if you plan to go toe-to-toe with the best surf jockeys, charging the shore break in any weather to target the biggest, meanest fish in the sea, then investing in the best surf rod will feed the passion.
Surf fishing falls into several categories, including beach, pier, and jetty. Beach rods are longer and stronger to launch lures to the outer bar. It’s not unusual to have a 13-foot-long surf rod.
Jetty rods are generally shorter for casting in a crowd with more accuracy. A 9- to 10-foot rod provides casting distance with the ability to control a fish close to the rocks. You can cast a lightweight jetty rod for hours without fatigue.
Pier rods are shorter. A few tactics require long pier rods for casting heavy sinkers, but the typical pier rod is 7 to 8 feet long with a strong backbone to crank a fish from the water to the pier.
Each fishing rod is labeled with the matching line weight. For example, the 11-foot Carnage III is rated for 20- to 40-pound test, while the 8-foot, 6-inch Okuma Rockaway SP is gauged for 8- to 16-pound test. Not only does line weight determine the pound test line ideally suited for the rod, but it helps choose a matching size reel. For example, a rod labeled for 12- to 20-pound line matches a 12- to 20-size reel or a 2500 to 4000 spinning reel.
The rule of thumb is lighter, thinner fishing line is more aerodynamic to cast farther. But, the lighter line is also weaker and less abrasion resistant. The key is to balance the line diameter within the recommended range with the size of the target fish and the fishing conditions. Targeting large fish in heavy surf requires heavier line, while smaller fish in the shorebreak is best targeted with light lines.
Everyone thinks a longer surf rod is better for a longer cast, but a shorter rod is easier to cast. For example, a 13-foot-long rod launches a bait the longest distance but an 11- or 12-foot rod is easier for a new angler to swing.
Fish often swim close to shore, and a shorter rod makes it easier to fish in the shorebreak. And you don’t want to throw a long fishing rod around a crowded pier or jetty. Sometimes a shorter rod makes more sense.
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Boat and kayak anglers will never understand the excitement of fighting a fish from shore. Standing stationary, heart racing, while a big fish empties the reel. The breaking waves pound the line. The fish uses the shallow water to its advantage, running through sand, rocks, and reefs like a linebacker. You use the long, powerful rod as a lever, feeling the rod slowly work against the fish. With each run, you watch the tip surge and bow. The surf rod is beating the fish. And then, you run backward out of the surf using the rod to drag the catch up the beach.
The best surf fishing rods put together distance, power, and durability ultimately puts more fish on the beach and a smile on your face.
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