Mike's Tackle Tips
For the surf angler of today there is a great variety of tackle to choose from. Reels range from $30 Silstar combo spinners all the way to $700 Shimano Stellas, with 14 ball bearings. Rods cover a wide spectrum as well, with custom carbon fiber sticks actually running into the thousands of dollars.
Fortunately, there is a lot of good gear to be had that falls between these extremes. Indeed, for someone just starting out, price is often the determining factor in choosing a rig. Many newbie anglers do well to seek the advice of more experienced salts, and it is with this in mind that we offer our humble views and opinions. The owners of this site are well versed in most types of available surf tackle and would like to share some of their experience with some of the many fishermen who regularly ask about tackle.
A glance around the site at the many great photos will show a variety of interesting species. All of these fish were taken from So Cal waters, and most were pulled in right from the beach, with a few coming in from piers. At any rate, the tackle used is as varied as the anglers using it, and this is good photographic evidence to show that just about any decent rig will pull in whatever is out there.
Henry and I tend to prefer conventional reels (especially when going after big bat rays), but the less experienced or less dedicated angler will often do better with spinning tackle. This is fine, because the effort and patience needed to master conventional casting gear often cuts into valuable fishing time, and many new anglers who try casting gear often give it up right away and concentrate on spinning.
Therefore, keeping in mind the intended audience of this guide, I too will concentrate mainly on spinning, because someone who is far enough along to be able to throw casting gear probably doesn't need any basic advice anyway. I myself started out with a spinning outfit for the beach (which included a 6 ft. 6 in. rod and 12# line) and this was fine for small, close-up species like perch and croakers. However, that rig got washed away by a freak wave, and so I decided to replace it with a longer rod and larger reel.
The lighter tackle is fine and fun, but the beginner is much better off by going with a 10 to 12 ft. rod and a large reel with 20# line. The reason for this is that no matter where you fish, beach conditions can go from mild to wild in a matter of hours, and when the surf kicks up and the winds blow, a small rig just won't cut it. You will often need at least 4 oz. Of lead to hold the bottom, and with a big surf rig you can usually get it out past the swells and continue fishing. Indeed, rough seas will often bring on a good bite, and it's lots of fun to battle the elements and come up with a keeper.
In choosing a first rig there are two basic ways to go, and the choice should be made according to the angler's intended degree of dedication to the sport.If only occasional fishing trips are planned - say, a few times a year - then an inexpensive rig would be ok.
One of the world's largest tackle companies, Daiwa, makes a variety of low cost tackle for beginners, (as well as excellent high-end stuff). This type of rig, consisting of a graphite rod and reel, is good, solid tackle that requires little maintenance. The Eliminator series of rods offers something for everyone, and the prices are good. How good? A 12 ft. Eliminator spinning rod can be had for about $55. This rod is heavy duty (but not too heavy to cast) and will last many seasons. It will also condition the new angler to the rigors of throwing heavy tackle, and should said angler decide to try conventional reels later on, this type of rod works fine when used "upside down ". As for reels, there are a number of good big spinners available from Daiwa, Shakespeare, and Penn that are reasonably priced and quite durable. A decent reel of this sort will be around $60 or so, and will balance well with the big surf rods. Most costal tackle shops either stock such items or will order them for the customer.
Also, there is a great deal of mail order and Internet business to check. The two main large mail order outfits that stock surf gear are Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops. Either of these places can provide surf tackle across a fairly broad price range, and they both have very good return policies. So, so far, it appears that a decent surf rig will run around $100. Does this seem like too much? Well, there are cheaper models out there (Wal-Mart; K-Mart; Big 5) but these are not intended for regular, repeated hard use. In short, this kind of stuff is really just toys, and although this tackle will catch fish, by the time you get used to using it, it starts to fall apart (and it will).
So it's better to get one good rig at the outset rather than keep fiddling around with cheesy tackle. After the first few good days at the beach, you will find this sport to be exceptional on many levels, and as you use the tackle you will grow fond of it, and the sting of higher purchase price will soon fade away amongst the many pleasant memories that you will store- up from your new sport.
The other way to approach a first rig is to go for the long run. Again, Daiwa, Shakespeare, Penn and others offer, at reasonable cost, quality surf tackle that, with proper care, will last many years. Probably the best value now in surf rods is the Daiwa Sealine X series. These strong, slim, light graphite rods come in many lengths for surf fishing, with the 12 ft. med. heavy model running about $90.
Another great rod value is the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Big Water series. These are probably the strongest, most bomb-proof rods available, and they go all the way up to 15 ft. Also, they are nicely priced, with the11 footer going for about $70. The only drawback here is weight. The 12 ft. spinner is an excellent rod (I have one) but it is very heavy, and difficult to manage. But, this would certainly be a good choice for a one-rig angler, and it is strong enough to pull in anything that might wander into shore, including sharks. When choosing a quality surf spinning reel, I would suggest going for an alloy model. Aluminum reels are the strongest, especially in the larger sizes, and the supposed weight advantage of graphite is really a moot point when a large surf rig spends most of its time in a sand spike.
The stoutest, most capable surf spinners are the Penn SS reels. In my experience, the 7500 size is the best for 20# line and heavy use. This reel balances well with all large surf rods and its performance record is legendary. It is fully up to the job on the beach and it is a cinch to maintain. This reel is now around $140, but there are many used examples to be found (E-bay) and it is money well spent. Buy this reel and you won't need another.
Another excellent surf spinning reel is the Daiwa BG series. The BG 60 is a good all-around 20# line reel, and it is a somewhat simpler design than the Penn. This series has also been around for years and is made of the finest materials. Relatively, it is a bargain at about $85 new, but there are also examples of this reel to be found used. The BG 90 is the next size up in this line, and it is a big, strong, large capacity surf reel. It is around $100 new, and it's worth it, but this reel is unique in that the line roller is so massive that it throws the reel out of balance, and the whole thing shakes HARD on the retrieve. You can get used to this, but it's always there, and compared to the ultra-smooth Penns, and other Daiwas, it sometimes seems like a bit much.The next step above this mid-priced stuff can get way out there, but really, there isn't much of a performance gain. It would not be hard to spend $500 for a super nice surf rig, but it would not do the job appreciably better than a Sealine X or Ugly Stik set-up. The high-end stuff is finished nicely, of course, and it's equally nice to have something rare or unique, but it is not necessary to go overboard spending to have a strong, durable, balanced rig.
In the interest of saving space, I will not go into the many other types of surf rods and reels here. We have put up photos of the gear that we actually use, so the viewer can get an idea of the different types and relative sizes of a good range of surf tackle. Also, we would have liked to include photos of rods, but it is too difficult to try to capture a close-up photo of a 12 ft. surf rod and display it in any meaningful way.
I invite the viewer to peruse the photos (and don't forget to read "The Bat Patrol"!) to get an idea of what's in store for him should he decide to jump feet-first into the wonderful sport of surf fishing