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I’m an active member of many online forums and Facebook groups specializing in surf fishing, and I can tell that one of the frequently asked questions by novice anglers is : What is the best rod length for surf fishing ?
This is a very legitimate question because I think the main thing that differentiates rods is the length, and when we’re in a fishing store to buy a new rod, what catches our eye the most is the difference in length between all the poles available.
For someone with no experience, the first question he may ask in such a situation is what length to buy ? And what is the best rod length for surf fishing ?
So I did my research and tried to harness all my knowledge and what other experienced shore anglers say about surf rods into one article, where you can find all the answers and information you need.
In order to keep it simple and give a short answer, I will say that 11-12 ft is the optimal length for a surf rod. Why ? Because it’s long enough to provide a long casting distance and a great hook setting capability, but not that long so it becomes heavy and tiring to maneuver.
In the next paragraphs, we will go deeper into this and discuss the optimal length for a surf fishing rod and the most important factors to consider when deciding how much feet your next rod should be, and also, how to compensate for a short surf rod ?
Why Longer Is Better ?
When it comes to surf fishing, it’s agreed that longer is better.
Fish are generally found on the edges of sandbars at 50 – 150 yards from the shoreline. So, as a general rule, you should be able to reach this distance, and to do so, you need a longer rod.
Yes, the longer the rod, the more distance you will be able to reach. Why ? Because during the load, the energy you create adds up to the energy naturally created by the rod flexing and then moves up to the line.
As a result, the longer the rod, the more energy it creates, the more distance your line will be able to reach.
That being said, my biggest concern with short rods is not the casting distance. I’m a big believer that how far I cast has little to do with the amount of fish I catch. My biggest concern with short rods is how much control and leverage they provide to me.
Let me explain…
During a battle, or when trying to hookset a fish, a longer rod will add more energy to the energy I create, and as a result, it will give me more control and power over the fish.
Also, when fishing rocky structures with a higher snag risk, a longer rod will give me more leverage to free the line and retrieve my terminal tackle.
Short rods, on the other hand, will cast fine and allow me to deploy baits where I need in most cases. But when things happen (a bite, a snag, or a battle), a short rod will give me less control and less power.
Ok, I get it. But what is considered a short surf rod ?
Based on my experience and what I see other experienced anglers use, I believe that 9ft (2.75 meters) is the minimum length you should have when surf fishing.
This is what you need in order to be in total control of the other end of the line, and be able to hookset and fight fish effectively.
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Also, this size will allow you to reach the first and second (or even the third) sandbar of most beaches, and this is where you need to be if you are looking for hungry sizeable fish.
Anything less than 9 ft may be fine and can work well in many cases, but it can also be counterproductive and hurt your hook setting and fighting capabilities, especially during choppy weather and surf conditions, and when targeting large fish.
On top of that, and depending on where you are fishing, a pole shorter than 9ft may not be enough to reach the second sandbar, and you will be limited to the first one only, which can sometimes be deserted, especially when the beach is crowded and when a lot of people swim and surf nearshore.
In this scenario, and in order to reach more distance, you will be forced to buy waders and wetsuits so you can cast the line while knee-deep in the water.
Yes, this may help you reach the outer sandbars, you may even be able to catch a good amount of fish, but I wonder about the safety, practicality, and pleasure behind the whole process, especially in cold weather and during high waves.
A rod of at least 9ft (2.75 meters) will allow you to change bait and cast faster, target the furthest zones, have more control on the other end of the line, and catch a lot of fish while sitting comfortably on the beach and enjoying the hobby.
Also, instead of buying waders and wetsuits, why don’t you invest that extra money on a longer rod ?
Another last reason why longer is better is that a longer rod will keep the line above the beach passengers so they can walk easily under your rod 😉
The best rod length for surf fishing ?
Now that we know the minimum rod length for surf fishing, it is time to discuss the optimal and best length.
Well, if fatigue and money are not involved, I would say (again) : the longer the better.
But, obviously, a longer rod is more expensive.
More importantly, a longer rod is generally a heavier one, and maneuvering an extra-long rod all day can be so tiring for the wrists, forearms, and shoulders.
When you’re in a tackle store, the difference in weight between a 9 ft and a 14 ft rod may not seem huge, but you’ll get tired faster if you use a longer rod to retrieve the line and fight fish for several hours per day, especially in bad surf conditions and strong currents.
So we need a maximum here. How much up can you go on the scale ?
The simple answer to this is : as far as you can handle and maneuver without compromising comfort.
If you can use a 13 ft rod, go for it.
If you are able to cast and fight fish with a 14 ft rod without fatigue or pain, that’s your best rod.
If your limit is 11 feet, don’t go for more.
As a general rule, a rod of 9 – 12 ft (2.75 to 3.65 meters) is considered sufficient and optimal to catch most fish that hold nearshore effectively. So anything within this interval will work great, but personally, and also based on what I see others using and capable to deal with, I believe that 11-12 ft is the sweet spot.
For most adult fishermen, this range allows good casting distances, effective hooksets, and great fighting capabilities, without hurting comfort.
But again, longer is better, until fatigue is involved. So if you can go for more, and you want to target sharks or the other large fish that tend to hold beyond the 200 yards mark, like tuna, cod or red snapper, then It’s better to have a 13 – 14 ft rod, a rod handler, and some muscle 😀
How to compensate for a too-short rod ?
Add more weight
Increasing the casting weight is a good solution if you want to use a short surf rod.
Increasing the weight is useful not only to gain more stability during strong currents and difficult surf conditions but also to increase the casting distance.
As a rule of thumb, the more weight you use, the greater the distance you will be able to reach, which compensates for the short length of your surf rod.
The same rod will cast a 5 ounces lead further than a 4 ounces lead.
So, if you have a short rod and you don’t want to invest in a longer one, the first solution to consider is to increase your casting weight.
However, you must always remember that increasing the weight comes with some disadvantages too.
First of all, the more weight you use, the heavier the rod becomes, the more it will be tiring for your arms and shoulders.
Secondly, a larger lead is more likely to get snagged between the rocks of mixed underwater terrains.
A heavy sinker will also absorb most of the energy you transmit to the line, and as a result, fish fighting and hook setting will become challenging.
Therefore, I wouldn’t go over 8 oz when surf fishing, and if I still can’t reach the desired casting distance, I would systematically buy a longer rod.
For more information, read this guide about the best weight for surf fishing.
Use a thinner line
Another thing to consider when the surf rod is too short is to use a thinner line.
Yes, the thicker the line, the less distance you will be able to reach. Why ? Because when casting the rod, the line receives more friction from the air, which slows it down and reduces its speed.
As a result, using a lighter line will reduce the impact of air, and as a result, you will be able to reach a greater casting distance.
However, be aware that the thinner the line, the greater the risk of break-offs, especially when fishing a mixed seabed or when targeting large fish.
The use of braided lines is a great solution for that. Why ? Because braid comes in thin diameters without compromising the breaking strength. Therefore, you can cast far and target sizeable fish without fearing the line to break.
Use a slow action rod
If you are still convinced, for whatever reason, that short rods are the best for surf fishing, then I would at least invest in a slow action rod.
Although slow rods are not recommended for surf fishing, they are the best solution if you want to compensate for short casting distances.
During the load, and as the entire rod bends, it adds more energy to the energy created by the fisherman, allowing a greater casting distance.
However, a slow action rod comes with many disadvantages when shore fishing. Why ? because when fighting against fish, whatever motion you do in order to hookset the fish or to bring it closer, the rod will cushion the energy you transmit to the line, and as a result, you will receive a late and weak response to what you intended to do.
A slow action rod is also less sensitive and does not allow to detect bites easily.
Read this post for more tips on how to detect bites when beach fishing.
Some recommended surf rods (*)
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