Over the Horizon

With thousands of miles of beaches, Florida’s coastline provides anglers a wide variety of easily accessible surf fishing opportunities. While there is indeed tremendous potential, anglers are limited by the distance in which they can present baits and lures, and for almost all scenarios it’s best to get your bait beyond the first sandbar.


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Photo: Steve Dougherty

While the most successful surf fishermen realize the importance of observing and patterning feeding habits of game fish patrolling the surf, they also know the importance of casting distance. In addition to understanding how the changing tides and seasonal weather patterns influence game fish staging and feeding habits, equipment selection is a major factor that greatly influences the success of all surf fishing exploits.

If surf casting is emphatically about distance achieved with ease of casting, stiffness is a negative attribute.

The best graphite rods utilize blanks that have prescribed IM (Intermediate Modulus) ratings. However, not all manufacturers openly state the ratings because it would essentially reveal the cost of materials utilized. The three universal rating categories are IM 6, IM 7 and IM 8. The one thing you need to know is that the higher the rating the stiffer the material. If surf casting is emphatically about distance achieved with ease of casting, stiffness is a negative attribute.

The three grades of graphite are priced with substantial variances. IM 6 graphite is the most expensive and displays both elasticity and strength. By far this class is the least brittle and built to absorb the strain and release energy associated with the longest casts. The line ratings for these surf rods are generally 14 to 20 lb. The IM 7 and IM 8 grades are less elastic and potentially brittle at the tip. Substantially long casts are difficult for the average angler due to the slower action at the tip. When you cast a fast-tapered rod you’ll notice only the top section of the rod bends quickly upon casting and releases energy on the midsection of the cast. Heavy-taper rods have a slower action, and much more energy and strength are needed to attain impressive distances.

At the recent ICAST show I was given the opportunity to get my hands on some of the newest surf casting equipment. Shimano recently released their Tiralejo 12 foot surf rod. This is a 100 percent graphite rod with four outer layers of 90 degree graphite and no listing of the IM rating other than high modulus. The blank is wrapped with layers of carbon tape and carbon pre-preg. While I have yet to cast with a Tiralejo, the design is said to help add strength at the butt, increase recovery rate, and eliminate blank twist under load. It specs as a heavy taper and it features an integral weight system in the butt, although historically balancing is accomplished through the appropriate reel size and weight. The adjustable reel seat is a nice feature, but is really only beneficial for champion casters who know exactly how to use it.

The newest release from Penn, the Battalion, is also a heavy-tapered rod. The 12 foot model is rated for 2 to 10 oz. lures and bait and specs for 20 to 40 lb. monofilament. With Fuji aluminum oxide guides mounted on the composite blank featuring 70 percent graphite and 30 percent glass, this off-the-shelf surf rod will get you in the game for under $200. While Shimano and Penn make a plethora of great rods for a wide variety of purposes, to really achieve impressive casting distance you need to invest in highly specialized equipment designed for the task at hand.

Unless you’re deeply devoted to surf fishing, you’ve probably never heard of Tommy Farmer. A competitive distance casting champion from North Carolina, Tommy currently holds the USA distance casting record of 859 feet! Tommy recently designed and engineered the most complete lineup of IM 6 surf rods in the U.S. under the label Carolina Cast Pro. Each rod was designed for lures, sinkers and chunk baits of various weights. His goal was simply to help surf fishermen cast longer with greater ease and catch more fish in the process.

For Florida pompano fishermen, the 13 foot, 3 to 6 oz. casting rod is the best surf rod money can buy. What sets this high performance rod apart from the competition is the fast action and lightweight construction. Built to withstand applied force and resist strain, this rod features an extremely strong backbone that enables a powerful swing. One of the most important features of the Carolina Cast Pro rods is the strike detection. While the slender tip visually displays the strike while the rod rests in the sand spike, the tip does a whole lot more than detect feeding fish. When it is rough or there are strong rip currents, the flexibility of the tip maintains the sinker in a stable position. Without the soft tip the weight will continuously pull off the bottom and if a fish hits with slack in the line, the hook may not find a home.

Although a specialty rod will greatly enhance your casting ability, you’ll want to match it with a specialized casting reel to reach your maximum potential. It may not be a household name, but Akios reels were designed by one of the original product developers for Abu Garcia. The flagship reel in their lineup, the S-line 656 CTM, features brass gears, carbon drag washers, upgraded spool release springs to stop the reel from re-engaging during the cast, a centrifugal brake and fully adjustable magnetic brake. Furthermore, since the reel has bearings within the spool instead of in the side plate, the spool is free floating and will cast to the horizon.

While you can certainly catch fish with off-the-shelf rods produced for the masses, to be consistently successful you need the best equipment available. If you don’t trust my recommendations, visit your local stretch of sand during a hot pompano bite and I guarantee the guys catching the most fish will all be fishing the rods and reels outlined above. With just one cast you’ll be a firm believer.