Surfcasting 101: You Have to Start Somewhere

Starting any new activity that requires a lot of gear and patience can be hard and surfcasting is no exception.

Surfcasting 101

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.

Choosing the proper tackle is key to surfcasting success.
Choosing the proper tackle is key to surfcasting success.

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)

Plug Bag Essentials

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.

Entry-Level Setups

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.
Penn Fierce II Combo
(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.

Daiwa Emcast Surf Rod
Daiwa Emcast Surf Rod

(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.
Tsunami Airwave Elite Bluewater
Tsunami Shield

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.

Starting Locations

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.
  • Drop-Offs:
    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.
  • Current:
    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.

The key is to remember that at one point, even the most experienced anglers had to start somewhere.
The key is to remember that at one point, even the most experienced anglers had to start somewhere.

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.

17 on “Surfcasting 101: You Have to Start Somewhere

  1. Ramzi

    This is a fine article. Great journalistic writing on Mr. Sargent’s part!

    1. Joseph

      Great article. I go out of my way to help when someone ask me for advice , because everyone has to start somewhere and I am still learning every day myself

  2. Sang Ze

    Good article, but like so many, it doesn’t tell you with any precision where on Cape Cod one can surf cast and catch something, where (other than the canal) one can fish without paying a parking fee. I assume selling lures and rods is the point here. Where one can fish reasonably, and when, remains a mystery to the newcomer.

    1. SurfCat

      the whole entire point it is not that you can read one article, ask one person, or look at one website and instantly know where to fish, when to fish, and what to use! it’s a learning evolution that takes time. on the surface fishing seems simple but like any other sport you cannot just jump into it and expect immediate success. Learn the area you fish, learn the tides, learn the bottom structure, learn the currents, watch what others are doing, keep a log book, try different lures, do your own research and make your own success. Don’t just try to piggyback on what others are doing.

    2. Henry Kim

      those who know wont tell. Its a skill to find that 90% of fish live in 10% of the water.

  3. Nick

    Excellent article Mr Sargent!! And the point is well taken. With any endeavor, you won’t know where you stand until you just get out there. Each outing will build on the previous one until one day it all gels.

  4. David Vieira

    Let’s have some fun versus criticizing. What’s the point of that? I love to fish, and while nobody in my family understands coming home with no fish as It being exciting, it it the journey of learning that matters to me. If it was easy, if just go to the farm pond with a worm. Boring!

  5. RebelShadow

    I totally agree with Henry Kim! There is a certain amount of luck (being in the right place at the right time) then there’s the skill factor. Just as he said, the skill is finding the fish! That’s when an angler turns skill into an art! I don’t always tell people where I’m catching fish, but when I do give the location, I’m lying!

  6. JT

    Great article, you have to start somewhere, its more rewarding when you do your own research on how, what, where, and when to fish. lots of practice, the right equipment, persistence, and lots of luck and you will have your big bass eventually

  7. John

    Surfcasting is many things. Solitude, and distant comaraderie with others doing the same. The odds are always against you. Its a big, mostly empty ocean. But the rhythmn of casting and watching your popping plug move through the water is hypnotic. It eases you into a contemplative reverie and renews you for the repetitive life you’ll soon return to. I only use popping plugs as I need to see what is, and what might happen. Kind of like life.

  8. Fritz

    Great article. I’m pretty sure I’m the guy you were writing about. Most of my life, I’ve fished freshwater and now suddenly find myself on Long Island with my Ugly Stick. What I’m learning: The ocean is not just a big pond. I think we get in our heads that we’ve already spent money on our freshwater setup so we will just “try our luck” at surfcasting before we commit to it financially. Unfortunately, I’m learning it doesn’t really work like that.

  9. Klazmataz

    Great reading, thanks! I am moving to Pawleys Island, SC this December, and I can’t wait to wet my line in the Southern Surf. I am mostly a fresh water bass guy, with an occasional party boat into our southern NJ waters. Surf fishing will be a new venture for me, and I will take your advice and talk to local fishermen (women too) My question for the day is what kind of line should I put on my Okuma ABF reel, in fact, is the Okuma reel sufficient for surf fishing?

  10. Pierce

    I been into surf fishing for about 6 months+ now with very little success. Being frustrated, thinking of giving up surf fishing, but after reading this article today just have to keep trying and testing till I get my success in the surf. Thank you.

  11. Paul Delaney

    To pierce…never give up! I’m in my late 40’s and I only started fishing 4 years ago. I’m not going to lie at first it was a struggle big time, I mean it still can be at times. You have to keep at it. If it’s in your blood like it is mine you will happily spend all your free time in the surf. The key is to just keep doing it no matter what and travel around try different forms of fishing. If i strike out to much it can weigh on me mentally. It feels like a form of depression. That’s when I’ll go do a porgy run on a party boat just to keep my spirts up. Last year was my best year yet catching more fish than all three year combined. So you see if I gave up in my first year I would have never been able to experience those moments that are etched in to my memory for ever. I finally fell apart of this amazing sport like a honest to god real surf caster. I was the guy in blitz unable to catch just a few years ago while guys around me were pulling fish ever other cast. Now I’m pulling more then my far share because I never gave up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *