This vital piece of equipment provides an added measure of safety and efficiency to the surf game.
Surf fishing requires some specialized equipment. Waterproof reels, graphite rods as long as 11 feet, plug bags and surf belts. The latter is one of the most important pieces of gear that we use. When I first started surf fishing my belt was only used to carry my pliers. Today my surf belt is one of the most integral and relied upon pieces of equipment that I use, third only to my rod and reel. Surf belts serve two purposes for us surfcasters. First and foremost, a surf belt helps prevent water from getting way down inside of your waders if you fall in the water, get knocked off of a rock or get swamped by a wave. Keeping water out and trapping air inside can give you enough time to recover from what could be a dangerous situation. I spent the first few seasons that I fished Montauk swimming rather than casting. I still find myself getting up out of the water more than I care to admit. The belt also provides an efficient means of carrying some important tools of the surf game. These belts are generally made of 2-inch wide webbing with some sort of a buckle. Some belts use a simple plastic buckle, some use a double release type buckle while others use stainless dive belt buckles. There are quite a few manufacturers of surf belts nowadays, among them RockHopper, Aquaskinz, Tiderunner and Flatlander. The webbing that a belt is made of can be either very stiff or very flimsy and supple. I prefer a stiffer material to help support the gear that I carry on it. I also prefer to use a belt that has one of the stainless dive buckles that I mentioned earlier. There are a few reasons for this choice. First off is the fact that these types of buckles hold up very well against the saltwater environment in which we ply our craft. The second reason is that they tend to stay closed when doing things like hopping up on a rocky perch or wading through a churned up surf to access an outer bar. They also feature a spring that is mounted between the two pieces of the bottom half of the buckle. This provides a little extra room in the belt when you are bending over to land a fish or getting on or off a rock.
When it comes to setting up a belt, you can keep it as simple as you want, or you can load it up with a wide range of accessories. Some casters put one or more small plug bags onto their belts along with some of their other gear. Many wet suiters will go with this type of setup to make it easier while swimming to, or standing, on top of a rock well off the beach. Personally, I prefer to set my belt up somewhere between the two extremes.
I tend to break down the equipment on my belt into two categories. The first group is made up of things that I consider must haves. The second group is made up of things that I consider expendable. Let’s talk about the must haves first. We all need to carry a pair of decent pliers that we can use to pry a hook out of a fish’s maw, cut line or even to cut a hook out of ourselves. Manley, Van Staal and Sargent are popular among the surf crowd, and I have used Manley’s and Van Staal pliers for years. I used to carry the Manley pliers because they were the most available, but also because they were powerful enough to cut a hook off. Now I tend to crush all the barbs on my hooks so I use a pair of 7-inch Van Staal pliers almost exclusively. Another piece of must have equipment that I carry on my belt is a stainless-steel clip that I attach my plug bag to when wading in deep water or wetsuiting out to a rock. The clip’s belt loop is made of 2-inch stainless steel and slides onto the belt. The only manufacturer that I know of that makes this type of belt clip is RockHopper Fishing but other manufacturers make clips that attach to the belt using a loop made of webbing and either a plastic or metal carabiner style clip. These work just fine but may not hold up as well to the saltwater environment. When the bag is attached to the clip it also helps keep the weight of the plug bag off of my shoulder and holds the bag close to my body so it doesn’t float up and get in the way when standing in deeper water. Attaching the bag to the clip also keeps the bag from coming forward and interfering with landing a fish or making a cast. I also have a D-ring that I keep in the front of my belt to put my rod butt through. This becomes another hand to hold the rod when I’m retying a leader, changing a plug or unhooking and releasing a fish. I also keep a diver’s knife on my belt just in case I get tangled in discarded line. Luckily, I have never needed it for that purpose but I do use it to bleed out any fish that I decide to bring back for the dinner table.
Some pieces of equipment that come in handy but are definitely not necessities are a scale, a fish stringer and a water bottle holder that I keep on my belt. The scale I have used over the past few years is a Boga Grip. It serves two purposes. First, it is able to subdue toothy bluefish without getting my fingers too close to their teeth. The second purpose is actually weighing fish. I attach my Boga to a holder specifically made to keep it secure that is made by Flatlander Surfcasting. You can also use a plain D-ring or a scale pouch made by AquaSkinz. I tend to carry the fish stringer only when I am walking a good distance to where I plan to fish. If I’m fishing close to where I parked my vehicle the stringer stays in the truck. The water bottle holder was made by my buddy Leif Gobel out of the same 2-inch webbing that the belt is made from. It holds a 20-ounce bottle of water or a sports drink very easily and comes in handy on long walks in the warmer weather when you tend to sweat a lot and need to keep hydrated. This too stays in the truck if I’m fishing close by.
I used to just slide all of these things onto my belt and let them slide around. The problem is that if my belt opened and dropped off my gear would fall off and then I had to try and fish my gear out of the water. Several years ago I took a look at how some of my friends and fishing companions set up their belts. I saw that they had permanently mounted their equipment using screws to hold them in place. Wow – what a difference! Now if my belt does open, all my gear is secure. When I first started securing my gear with screws I noticed the screw heads were tearing up my surf top, my waders and my wetsuit. I found plastic screw covers that are smooth and protect my gear. They have held up to several seasons of hard fishing and saved wear and tear on my tops and wetsuits as a result.
When figuring out where everything fits on my belt I put everything on the belt and secure it down with tape to temporarily hold it in place. Once I take the belt off, I drill through both the belt and whatever piece of gear I am securing down. I then heat the webbing with a lighter to melt the webbing to fuse the ends of the material to prevent it from fraying. Some of my friends use a soldering iron or a 10-penny nail that has been heated with a torch to melt though the belt and save the extra step, as long as it’s not leather or metal. Most pieces don’t get drilled through both sides. My plier holster, for instance, only gets drilled through the side that faces my body and I mount the screw inside the belt loop. Keeping any screw heads on the inside of the belt or inside the belt loop provides a measure of protection from nicking my line or getting the line caught in the screw head or screw cover, both of which can result in a breakoff while casting or fighting a fish.
The final piece of the puzzle is protecting tools like pliers and Bogas should they fall into the water, and this is where using a lanyard to secure things comes into play. Let’s face it, we can’t always maintain a decent grip on anything when our hands are wet, cold or coated with fish slime. The lanyards protect our equipment from becoming property of Davey Jones locker. Lanyards are available from several manufacturers like Aftco and Van Staal, but there are also a few on the market from cottage industries like Lloyd’s Lanyards. Lanyards will run between $7 and $20 and provide an added measure of protection. Most are made from heavy monofilament line with large split rings at either end. A few have metal carabiners at the ends. They simply attach to your gear at one end and to your belt at the other. Van Staal pliers can cost more than $300 and a 60-pound Boga Grip will run over $200, making lanyards a wise investment. As the saying goes – “Leash it or lose it.”
And remember, never fish without your belt while wearing waders, either with or without a top. It may save your life. Hopefully these tips will save you the frustration I dealt with until I learned what was required to construct an efficient surf belt.
|SURF BELT MANUFACTURERS|
I have seen quite a few surf belts over the past 30 years. Here are a few belts that I recommend you looking at. They are all made of multiple layers of 2-inch wide webbing. There are a few different styles of buckles being used in the industry but they all will stay secured. These belts are all well-built, using strong rot proof thread to stand up to the rigors of the surf.
Tiderunner Ultimate Surf Belt
Unfortunately the only place I know to get this belt is online at their website. This is one of the first belts I know of that used a stainless steel dive belt style buckle. These belts also use heavy duty Velcro to ensure it stays closed. They are well made and hold up very well to the saltwater environment.
Aquaskinz Pro Series Surf Belt
The Aquaskinz Pro Series belt uses a double locking safety buckle to prevent it from opening unintentionally. It also utilizes strong Velcro to keep the belt where it belongs. It is available in one size that will fit up to a 54-inch waist, and is available in most tackle shops that cater to a surfcasting clientele.
The Flatlander surf belt utilizes a multiple release point style plastic buckle. The belt itself is made of solid materials that will hold up well to the harsh environment of the Northeast surf. You can order the Flatlander belt from their Facebook page, and you may also find them at some of the fishing shows in our region.
The Gear-up belt is another strongly constructed belt. It too utilizes a stainless dive belt style buckle and has strong Velcro to provide a double measure of staying secured. It is available from their website and is also available in many local tackle shops. You may even find Gear-up at a few fishing shows during the off season.
The RockHopper belt is a well-made surf belt, plain and simple. Again another manufacturer that uses both strong Velcro and a stainless steel dive belt to make sure the belt stays closed and secure. I’ve seen these belts for sale in several local tackle shops and at fishing shows but you can also order them directly from their website. You can order them in your specific waist size and they will fit up to a 60-inch waist.