Surfcasting 101 – You Have To Start Somewhere
Starting any new activity, especially one that requires a lot of gear and patience, can be hard, and surfcasting is no exception. Even though its objective, to catch a fish from the shore, may seem simple, the way in which one goes about this can quickly become complicated.
There are a seemingly limitless number of factors that affect how a surfcaster goes about catching fish from shore. These include time of year, geographic location, desired species, available bait, weather patterns, tide patterns, moon phase, planet configuration, recent seismic activity, etc. The more you learn about surfcasting, the more it seems as if the tiniest change in the air will affect the fishing, which can leave any angler feeling frustrated.
If the unpredictability of surf fishing isn’t intimidating enough, consider the challenge of choosing the proper tackle. I have spent hours walking catatonically through the aisles of tackle shops, staring at the countless choices of lures and rods, sweating as I weighed my options as though they were my last. I always managed to make it out alive, even if I was a bit lighter in my wallet.
5 Plug Bag Essentials (besides the plugs)
Add these 5 essentials to your gear and be ready when the big stripers move into casting range.
Just because surfcasting success seems conditional and the available gear seems expensive and infinite, this doesn’t mean you should be discouraged from the excitement and satisfaction it offers. As a new inductee to this fantastic sport, I am very familiar with the intimidation that accompanies it. In the beginning, I always felt out of place on the rocks or on the beach, constantly wondering if my setup was substantial enough, if my lure was the right choice, if my waders made me look fat… Wherever I went, I felt as though I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until I was out with a friend who has been fishing with his father on Martha’s Vineyard for his entire life that my perspective changed.
Many companies offer reliable setups at entry-level prices. A 9-foot rod with a 5000- or 6000-size reel is a standard beach and jetty combination. It should have the backbone to launch a 2- or 3-ounce lure into the surf, but not be overkill for smaller bluefish and schoolie stripers. If you’re taller or more comfortable with a longer rod, step up to a 10-footer to increase your casting power.
Your first setup should be versatile, and able to handle a variety of situations efficiently and reliably. Don’t be shy; go to a tackle shop, ask questions, and hold a few combos to see what you like. Sometimes, feel is everything.
(9’ two-piece rod; 6000-size reel – $99.99)
This setup is a great all-around beginner combo that can throw lures or bait rigs from the beach. The medium-heavy rod has enough backbone for a big fish, and the reel can hold plenty of line.
(9’ two-piece medium-power rod – $65.99; 5000A reel – $99.99)
This relatively light combo with the smooth, long-casting Emcast Plus reel is ideal for the surfcaster who plans on casting plugs and artificials.
(9’6” two-piece medium-power rod – $154.99; HD5000 reel – $109.99)
Tsunami offers a range of affordably priced rods, but the Airwave Elite hits a sweet spot for value and performance. Paired with the popular Shield spinning reel, it’s a plugging combo that you’ll never outgrow as you add to your surfcasting arsenal.
We were standing on the rocks of a peninsula that juts out into sweeping current of the Thames River in Connecticut, throwing soft plastics in early May for schoolie stripers. Another angler showed up about 30 feet down the rocks with what looked to be a 5-foot freshwater bass rod and began casting. Pretty soon, the action picked up, and my friend and I were pulling out 12- to 16-inch fish every other cast. Over the next hour or so, we managed to catch and release over 30 stripers, while the guy down the rocks couldn’t even manage to snag a bite. Feeling properly satiated, my friend and I packed up our gear and walked back into the darkening brush toward our cars. As we snaked through the path, I looked back and caught a final glimpse of the mysterious angler on the rocks, still defiantly casting away to no avail. I turned to my friend and made a snide comment about knowing when you’re beaten, expecting a cheap laugh. All my friend said in return was, “You have to start somewhere,” and then kept walking. That shut me up.
You have the gear, the bag of lures, and you’re ready to hit the water. You can follow the crowds to popular surfcasting spots (they’re usually popular for a reason), or use these tips to locate a likely spot anywhere on the coast.
- Rocks & Docks:
Stripers love to use cover, such as jetties, solitary boulders, rocky points, and piers, to hide from predators and ambush prey.
For the same reason stripers love significant structure, they also love significant changes in water depth. This might be the edge of a channel leading into a harbor or a sandbar off a beach; either way, stripers will lurk in the deeper water looking upward for vulnerable baitfish.
Moving water attracts stripers and gets them actively feeding. Breachways, inlets, tidal rivers, and shorelines with sweeping current almost always hold bass and baitfish.
My friend was right. Not more than two years ago, I was that guy on the rocks, throwing 2½-ounce Atom poppers on a 6-foot Ugly-Stik intended for pond fishing. Being a skilled surfcaster isn’t something that is solely determined by innate knowledge; it is a process of learning. We all start somewhere, and sometimes, we start with nothing. But, that’s okay, because with a little practice and some basic gear, getting started is easy.
While the world of surfcasting may feel inaccessible or too complicated at first, the key is to remember that at one point, even the most experienced anglers had to start somewhere. All you need is a rod and reel, and some lures, then start casting. Pretty soon, something is going to bite.