- Apr 12, 2015
Surf Casting 101: A "how to" from one beginner to another
About a half year ago my wife planned us a family trip to Mexico. Our itinerary was to spend a week at an all inclusive resort located on the pacific side of the Baja of California, down near the tip in Cabo San Lucas. I have stayed along this stretch of beach before and heard that the surf could be bountiful for those that pursued it. I decided that with a week in Mexico I needed to do something productive instead of laying in a chair poolside all week, drinking margaritas, gorging on guacamole and getting fat. It would only seem fitting that fishing from the beach would be a great idea. Since this was a new venture to me I decided to do some research and of course went shopping for some necessities.
After putting in some time on web forums and shopping sites I decided to order the St Croix Triumph 10' surf travel rod. This rod would handle anything between one to four ounce lures and reviews of it's performance and durability were great. Best part was, it broke down into four pieces and stowed into a hard side tube (just a hair under 37" long) included with the purchase for a retail price of $230.00. This handily fit into my duffel bag along with all my gear, clothes and other necessities. After getting some insight on surf cast reels it became clear that three important factors should be taken into consideration when making this purchase; Drag weight, spool capacity and line retrieval. A reel that could hold 300 yards of 40 lb Power Pro was my requirement and a fast retrieval was considered ideal for keeping surface lures on top of the water where they belong. Drag is also an important aspect when hooking into large and powerful salt water fish. Not only do these fish have incredible strength and endurance but one must keep in mind, that at some point in your battle, you will end up fighting the surf as well as the tenacious creature hooked on the opposing end of the line. After a little searching I settled for the Okuma Cedros CJ55S spinning reel. This was an affordable option and provided me good service I feel for the $119.00 price tag. It also offered a power handle which I felt really improved my grip and control on the reel during fast retrieves. I then wet packed the 40lb test Power Pro line onto the reel and spooled it on with as much pressure as I could to avoid any line imbedding issues.
Rigged with a Roberts Ranger lure, the St Croix 10' triumph rod with Okuma Cedros 55 reel sits idle to give my arms some rest. In the background, most of the resort is quiet and asleep at this time of morning.
I also researched shock leaders and what was the choice among surf fisherman. I did not go with the florocarbon and maybe that was a mistake. Perhaps the fish could detect my leader and maybe it caused less bites during the mid day attempts, but I can't verify that assumption. Veteran surf casters have mixed opinions on shock leaders and what materials to use so I figured standard mono should suffice. I picked up a 275 yard spool of Berkley big game 50lb test monofilament line for $8.99. With shock leaders only needing to be 3'-4' in length I figured I would have more than a lifetime worth of leader material. To join my leader to the power pro braid I utilized a surgeons knot which held flawlessly. At the end of my mono leader I attached a #1 snap swivel secured by an improved clinch knot. On my weeks worth of fishing experience neither knot failed and performed exceptionally well. Another key I discovered to eliminating some line twist/snarl issues was to not reel the union knot up into the guides of the rod for casting purposes. This action seemed to create a form of slack and almost certainly was part of the culprit for some of the line issues I experienced.
These knots proved invaluable and easy to execute. Both knots held up exceptionally well with no signs of slippage on Jack Creval up to 20lbs.
The afternoon I arrived I was exhausted from the long day of travel and the previous nights short sleep. I was eager to hit the beach but it would have to wait until later the next morning after having decided to sleep in. I readied my gear the next day and hit the beach in anticipation of a fun afternoon of fishing. My first experience with my gear was not such a good one. It took a bit of trial and error but I found out some lures fish better than others and cause less problems with line twists. My first attempt yielded three lost lures due to line twists and snapping of the line and many yards of lost line. The line twists I figured were caused due to my spooling method and also having some slack line when reeling in immediately following the cast causing a slack spot in the spool. It seemed that if I had a little more tension in the line when I began to reel I could almost completely eliminate those darn line twists and snarls. A few lures however seemed amplify the problem of line twists. These lures almost seemed to spin on casts and retrieves and I quickly eliminated them from my use.
This night watchman enthusiastically observed me casting in the early light before his shift was over. After hooking up with a 2nd Jack on back to back casts I handed the rod over and let him enjoy the fight. He was very proud of his catch and took the fish home to provide table fare and share with his family.
A note on line twist/snarl issues: I utilized the end of a barrel snap swivel to pick through and loosen any knots that occurred. Do not use the point of a hook as my experience showed that this damaged the line more than the tiny blunt end of the swivel snap for untangling purposes. Although it took some time to pick through these twists and work out the knots I was able to salvage a lot of line and continue fishing. Had I not taken the time to get these knots out I would have had to re-spool many times due to lost line. If you are an impatient person and just clip out tangles then don't forget to bring additional spools of line, because it won't take long to burn through the line on your reel if you experience line twists. Once I learned what lures and casting methods were causing the problems, line snarls became less of an issue.
Loading up for a long cast as the sun sets behind the rocky background. These outcrops are an effective ambush area holding a trove of hard fighting fish.
I purchased some name brand lures and also some cheaper run of the mill jigs, poppers and spoons. Some performed exceptionally well and some of the lures I was really excited to use I quickly deemed not suitable for this type of fishing. The surf on the pacific side is very inconsistent and super dangerous. The beach was permanently marked with red flag conditions and life guards were always standing by to usher guests away from the powerful surf. These conditions dictate the need for a long rod and balanced lures that have a fairly aerodynamic design with a heavy, weight to length ratio to be able to cast long distances. I learned that some of the more expensive lures I had purchased were simply worthless due to their large surface area and lack of weight. This meant that they could not cast far and caught lots of air on the cast which limited their distance potential even more. This included the Shimano Waxwing 118mm ($17.99), the Yo-zuri Sashimi Squirt ($22.99) and the Rapala Magnum-14 ($14.99). All of these lures were too light for their surface area and did not cast well at all. Attempts to power cast these simply resulted in them spinning in the air like a kite caught in a tornado and landing far short of a reasonable distance. The best producer I found was the Roberts Ranger in 3oz, red/white ($9.00). Due to it's weight distribution this lure casts super long and because of it's well proportioned surface area, it stays on the surface with ease. The Lucky Craft 6"surface lazer popper ($12) casted and retrieved very well although it never produced any hits, but I also never got to fish it in what I considered prime time either. I also found that Cabela's 2oz Real image jigging spoon ($3.50-$4.50) worked well for moderate speed retrieves and this also generated a few hits mid morning and a caught fish as well (hooks may need replacing however due to light wire). Jansen's tackle in Cabo boasts an original lure for surf fishing that is called the Cabo killer. While I never got to try this lure out it is considered a favorite of many in the area. Another go-to lure was the 65 gram Matador (Roughly $5.00). This is a metal spoon, kind of diamond in shape that can be moderately retrieved along the bottom or speed reeled and skipped along the surface to mimic stressed bait fish. I never produced a hit on this lure but talking to several veteran casters along the beach it was stated to be among their favorites.
1. Offshore Angler Lazer eye popper; 2. Roberts Ranger 3oz red/white; 3. Yo-zuri sashimi squirt; 4. Rapala Magnum 14; 5. Shimano Waxwing 118mm; 6. Jansen's swimming jig 3oz; 7. Jansen's Matador 65 gr; 8. Cabela's real image jiggin' spoon 2oz.
My best luck came on the Roberts Ranger before sun-up, just skipping across the surface like a flying fish. This is a similar tactic utilized by fisherman with this same lure to muster a Rooster fish bite, however, it appeared to be a bit early for that specie in this area. It was very effective on the Jack Crevalle for the early morning bite, but then you could just as well put the lure away when the sun broke the horizon. Upon daybreak a smaller jig such as the Cabela's jiggin' spoon or another casting lure of that style could occasionally induce a bite when fishing sub-surface. It seemed though that these fish were very educated and the best time to catch them was about forty minutes before sun-up to actual sunrise, when their eyes weren't as sharp in the low light conditions. This allowed for just enough time to land two feisty Jacks per morning with a few other missed strikes. Overall I found the pre-dawn bite to undoubtedly be the best time for action. I fished late afternoon into the evening several days with nary a bite but never fished until pitch black. One of the fisherman I spoke with said he often has very good luck in the last 1/2 hour before dark, right after sunset.
My first surf casting reward, a nice Jack Crevalle. I could have sworn I hooked a 200lb Marlin the way this thing ripped the line from my reel!
I found a back pack to be a necessity to carry the additional gear one might require when surf fishing. In my pack I brought an eagle claw 30" extendable rod holder to keep my reel out of the sand when resting or changing lures and a tape measure for documenting those catch and release fish. I also purchased a cheap tool pouch and attached my titanium pliers to them. This not only worked for tool storage but the bucket of the pouch served as a holder for my rod butt when fighting a fish, kind of like a fighting belt. This setup worked super slick and I was glad I brought this item. I found this small utility belt at a large hardware/lumber retailer for around $12.00. Besides the cutters often built into pliers, a finger nail clipper would come in handy for trimming line tags after tying knots. Electrical tape is also essential in the fisherman's pack for any emergency repairs or finger protection from long hours of casting braided line. I also brought a pair of light duty work gloves in case my hands or fingers got too raw but I found that I didn't need them. Sunscreen, a good hat and a buff mask are also good items to have along in your bag. Steel leaders should also be included, just in case you find that the Sierra Mackerel are biting. Also, don't forget to pack a bottle of water for drinking/rinsing purposes. My first day out I was super excited and eager to pound the beach. Due to my lack of attention to the incoming waves I met a large breaker head on. I quickly turned out to be the loser in that battle as I was knocked down into the surf. Not only had I been thrown down like a rag doll but the rip current grabbed a hold of me and was pulling me back toward the open water of the Pacific. I had very little control with my rod in my hand and scrambled hastily to get out of the tide. Once out of the oceans grip I stood on the beach, soaked to the core. As I tried to regain my composure I quickly realized that the surf was nothing to mess with. I was further insulted by my reel having been packed full of beach sand and rendered completely useless. Luckily I had my drinking water with and was able to rinse the debris loose to continue my casting efforts. I noticed that I was not the only novice on the beach as I watched a photographer (and his expensive camera) get knocked down by the surf, as well as another fellow fisherman a few days later. The surf there is vicious and is seriously nothing to mess with. Make sure you are always on alert and move back as the big waves build and come rolling in. One false move and you can easily be swept away making for a very bad ending to what was supposed to be a fun vacation.
A headlamp comes in handy when commuting to the beach or re-tying line in the dark. Above is the tool pouch/rod butt holder with titanium pliers, a swivel that I used for picking my line twists and other handy items one might need.
After watching and visiting with many fisherman it seemed as though a 10' rod was the minimum one should purchase for this area. I met one fisherman who was a veteran surf caster and he threw a 12' and a 13' rod. A lot has to do with casting technique though and I found that I was able to get my 10' just about as far as the gentleman with the 12' rod, if not the same distance, once I had gotten the casting technique down. I watched others trying to use 7' to 9' rods and they often seemed to be lacking in spine to whip those heavier weight lures a long distance. If you would be visiting the Sea of Cortez side, (with less surf) then maybe a shorter rod may suffice however on the Pacific side, wind and surf size are constantly an issue therefore validating the use of a longer rod. I researched several rods and found many notable brands on the market that one can purchase without breaking the bank. Tsunami makes a three piece travel surf rod which stands at approximately 9'6" for roughly $150, travel case included. If you feel you have the ultimate casting technique they also make a 9' two piece rod for around $90.00. Okuma also makes a nice 9' three piece travel rod that comes with an additional tip section. This allows fisherman to customize their rod spine for the weight of the lures they are throwing. A plethora of 10' rods are available in two piece configurations as well. The only issue with the two and three piece rods is they often require additional luggage fees since they typically won't fit into a large duffel bag and require the use of a separate checked rod tube.
A fellow fisherman prepares to cast a 12' rod, which sends his lures out a great distance with ease. Here the sea looks calm, but don't be fooled...It most certainly isn't.
With airline restrictions I found it very beneficial to purchase the St Croix travel rod since it fit snugly into my duffel. I was able to pack all of my fishing gear and clothing in this bag and keep the weight under 50 lbs, which is the maximum allowable international weight limit without paying penalties. This also included a smaller 6.5' rod/reel travel combo that I found to be a complete waste of space after assessing the surf conditions at my resort. Most of the reels I found to be suitable for this surf casting combo were in the $100-$130 price range with prices going well above $1,000.00. For the beginning surf caster, I don't believe a reel above the $150 price range is a necessity unless you plan on spending months out of the year surf casting. I also purchased a Quantum Optix 60 on the recommendation of another fisherman and kept this reel as a backup, should my Okuma fail. According to my friend, the Quantum reel would tame any fish that cared to bite, all day, everyday for the low price of $30.00. My only gripe is that the Quantum does not offer instant anti-reverse, but hey...thirty smackers for a reel that can take a beating...why not?
Another nice Jack Crevalle caught in the morning twilight. When they hit your lure this early you might be lucky to see a surface boil before your rod bends over and the drag on your reel starts screaming.
When all was said and done I had approximately $500.00 invested into my surf casting combo by being thrifty and shopping around. This included line, leaders, and a wide selection of lures and tackle. I considered this to be a reasonable cost although one could handily compile a rod/reel combo and gear for less. As it turned out, I was rewarded with lots of bites, some really nice landed fish and an overall great fishing experience. I also brought along some Berkley saltwater Gulp and terminal tackle to try my hand at some bottom fishing but never got around to doing it (I'll maybe try this on my next visit). By the time I was done casting plugs each morning my belly was telling me it was time for some breakfast then on to soaking up sun and margaritas by the pool reminiscing about the mornings fishing action. But one thing is for certain, anytime I head back to Mexico I'll leave plenty of room in my luggage for my surf casting gear.
Some assorted tackle carried in my pack to address different tactics used by surf fisherman..
A special note in regards to your equipment: It is imperative to rinse your gear with fresh water after every outing to keep sea salt from causing any harmful corrosion to the metal parts of the reel, rod, gear or tackle. Once rinsed, drain well and set in the sun to aid in prompt drying. This will ensure a long life for the components and prolonged enjoyment of your investment.