It’s never too early to strategize and analyze gear for a new surf season.
What a wonderful world it would be if just one rod and reel combo covered all situations throughout the long surf fishing season. Although that one combo outfit would greatly simplify our lives, it is not realistic. There are too many variables found every fishing season, no matter how or where you fish or what you fish for.
There are times when one rod and reel combo does fit your needs, like late in the season when striped bass are the only show in town. Surfcasters at that time like to walk the shoreline tossing and retrieving plugs, traveling with as little gear as possible so they could cover as much beachfront as their bodies’ energy will take them. A short rod teamed with a compatible reel designed to cast short to medium distances works fine since most bass are found close to structure or to the shoreline.
However, the one-combo approach is not advisable for much of the season when species variety is a little more diverse. If you carry only a short, lightweight outfit designed for near-beach stretches, then you are vulnerable when fish are feeding far offshore; or if you bring just a long, heavier set-up for long-distance casting, then you are sacrificing in-close sensitivity in addition to burdening your body with weightier gear. When fluke, bluefish, and southern speedsters like bonito and false albacore are in the mix, you need the proper gear to be able to reach them wherever they are feeding and to present your offerings appropriately.
Ease Of Mobility
For most surf fishing ventures, it is advisable to bring two rod and reel combos with you so you can cover water both far and near. Distance and proximity coverage is a great asset; one rod can do it, but not often and not well. Rod length, strength, and action are all variables that have to be factored into any presentation equation. Ideally, the best rod combinations when the surf is holding a variety of finned species are endless. Still, I like to walk onto a beach with one rod designed for distance casting and another for close-in presentation.
A well-matched reel is just as essential to surf success as a rod custom-made for a given situation. Reel choices are limitless because surf fishing scenarios are infinite. Reels capable of long casts, very fast retrieves, together with a multitude of spool sizes that can accommodate both mono and braid, are all great options to your presentation package. When you are working lures, correct reel application is critical. Retrieve ratio capabilities assume a very high priority.
A majority of reels can adequately handle the presentation requirements – slow to medium retrieves, which you can manage depending on how fast or slow you turn your lure handle – needed for working most plugs like swimmers and poppers, soft plastics, and most metal jigs. However, when southern speedsters like false albacore, Spanish mackerel, and bonito crash the summer surf, the use of reels with high-speed retrieve ratios becomes crucial to your presentation. In this case, speed may not kill but it catches fish that only respond to fast-moving targets.
When southern speedsters are in the mix in late summer, having two rod/reel combos capable of long-distance casts and ultra-fast retrieves rigged with two different lure profile types is smart. You can switch lures without removing one lure from your line and attaching another. This tactic saves time and often catches fast-moving fish that are zipping by.
Bait, A Natural Selection
Reel choices for fishing bait are a lot simpler. Retrieve rate is not critical; strength is. Using a heavier reel on a longer, hefty rod is a smart coupling; the same goes for teaming a middle-range reel with a shorter, lighter rod. Reels should be compatible with the rod they are matched up to as a combo. Using a combo that can get your bait rig far off the shoreline together with a more lightweight combo, which can put your rig close to the shoreline, samples the bite in two different feeding zones.
Many surfcasters, including me, use a hybrid system in selecting rod/reel combos when both bait and lures are catching fish at certain times of the year. One combo for fishing bait; another for working lures. It doubles your chances of catching something and it makes sense. You can be casting with lures while your bait rig is doing its thing.
One other thing; if you fish an area that requires some walking to get to and you have an equipment malfunction – your reel or rod becomes inoperative – then you are stuck. Carrying a second combo – a spare – enables you to have a replacement if your main combo becomes unusable. Unless you are walking the shoreline in search of striped bass – and wanting to travel light – it just makes common sense to have a backup with you.
Obviously, the entire scenario changes a bit if you’re able to go mobile, whether it’s a buggy permit in the shoulder season at most shore towns and municipalities or if you were on the ball enough to get in on a 2021 permit at Island Beach State Park (yourpassnow.com/parkpass/nj).
Surfcasters are always faced with challenges no matter where or when they fish, whether they fish bait or work lures. Going onto a beach with two rod and reel combos makes a lot of sense. Different type rods and reels give you the ability to work water close in, far out, or both in-and-out as well as with slow or speedy retrieves. And in case of an equipment malfunction, you have a backup with you.
Suffice to say, one rod and reel combo often are not enough.