Anyone who has ever visited a Bass Pro Shops store or any other large retailer that sells fishing equipment is probably familiar with the dizzying assortment of rods for sale. There are tiny ultra-light rods for trout and panfish , giant surf rods that can be as much as fifteen feet long and everything in between. It can really be confusing for a beginner. Prices can vary from $15.00 to $20.00 for small generic rods all the way up to $1000.00 or more for handmade custom rods. It is possible to get nice rods that cast fairly well and hold up to the abuse most fishermen will put them through for a reasonable price.
When selecting a rod , the most important thing you can do is decide what type of fishing you plan to do with it. While it's possible to find rods that work well for several types of fishing , this is the exception rather than the rule. Most rods are designed for one particular style of fishing. Using equipment that is too small is a good way to destroy your gear and lose fish , and using rods that are too large can cause you to miss fish and take the fun out of fighting them.
I usually recommend that first time surf fishermen start out small by fishing with a bass rod from a pier. This allows you to get a taste of the way saltwater anglers catch fish without breaking the bank. With this setup it's possible to catch several different species on bait and also with lures.
Once you've decided that you just can't live without some dedicated saltwater gear , there are several factors that you'll need to consider. There are three general categories of surf/pier fishing. The first is just light duty bottom fishing for smaller species like the Spot , Northern Kingfish and a host of other species. Second would be the use of lures for Bluefish and fast swimmers like the Spanish Mackerel. Third and last would be the use of 10-12 foot rods to target large species such as Red Drums and sharks.
For light duty bottom fishing a good choice would be a seven to nine foot Medium or Medium Heavy action rod. I recommend going for a larger size rod simply because it is possible for larger fish to pick up your bait even if you aren't trying to catch them and the longer rod will be able to cast farther from the sand. You'll want a rod that is sensitive enough to pick up light bites from small fish like Spots , but with enough backbone to cast three ounces of weight.
Casting lures to Bluefish and Spanish Mackerels requires completely different gear. Because most lures for saltwater fish average 3/4 to 1 1/2 ounces , a lure rod doesn't need to be as heavy and bulky as a bait rod. I've had good experiences with $60.00 Shimano rods , but if it's in your budget there are a lot nicer rods out there. St. Croix offers several rod designs that would work quite well for throwing lures. These rods could also be used for light bottom fishing applications in a pinch , but personally I don't like to put my lure rods through the abuse caused by casting large sinkers. Whatever you decide to buy , make sure it is light enough and comfortable enough for you to be able to cast it for extended periods of time.
If you've decided to step up and try to catch something big , you'll need to invest in a " Heaver ". There are many different brands available and also a surprising number of shops that offer custom made surf rods. These rods are designed to cast up to eight ounces of weight and to handle fish that would ruin smaller rods. Even though the higher end custom rods can cost several hundred dollars , it's possible to get your foot in the door fairly cheap. A good choice for around $100.00 would be this Lamiglas Casting Rod . You can find them even cheaper , but I would be worried about their durability when casting heavy lead and fighting trophy sized fish.
It's best to shop for rods at an actual store instead of online unless you are buying a duplicate of a rod you already own. For me a big part of the decision is how the rod " feels ". There are several things that you just won't know about a fishing rod until you are able to get your hands on it.
Sensitivity is one thing that cannot be explained. If you can , tie a piece of fishing line to the rod tip and have a friend flick it. The most sensitive rods will transmit the vibrations from this to the palm of your hand. I really like sensitive graphite rods if I'm going to be fishing lures for fish , especially something like a bucktail or jig.
Another important thing to consider is the way the rod " Loads ". This is what happens when you begin your cast. As you start your cast , the tip of the rod loads from the weight of the lure or sinker. When you cast , the loaded tip of the rod whips forward adding distance to your cast. Lighter action rods are better if you plan to fish with small lures or light weights.
Just remember to choose your rods carefully. If you love to fish as much as I do , the purchase of good quality gear should be considered an investment.
The video below should give you an idea of how tough some of the more expensive heavers are and what they are capable of. It certainly explains why they can be so expensive.
The video is from the guys over at Hatteras Island Fishing Militia , you can find them here : FishMilitia.com. There are several good videos there and also a wealth of information and reports about surf fishing. Be sure to check them out!
Have a great weekend!