Whether you're a seasoned angler looking to upgrade your surf fishing gear or a novice eager to explore the world of beach fishing rods and poles, this comprehensive guide is your playbook to selecting the best surf fishing rod.
From powerful poles designed for battling monstrous stripers or sharks, to delicate models suited for those elusive bonefish, surf perch, corbina, redfish and pompano, we've got you covered with the ideal rod and combo for each species and technique.
Surf Fishing Rod Guide Index
How to choose the best surf fishing rods or poles:
Introduction to Surf Fishing Rods
In this article we're taking a deep dive into the world of surf fishing rods and poles, exploring the critical factors to consider in the decision making process when buying or choosing the best rod for the job; technical aspects, common types and variations, ideal uses, the best brands, and the top models for each species listed in an easy-to-use reference guide.
If you're casting for striped bass, surf perch, snook, croaker, drum, sharks, rays, halibut or any other coastal species from a beach or pier, this detailed guide will ensure you're well-prepared for your next adventure with that perfect pole.
Conventional vs Spinning Rods for Surf Fishing
The first thing to consider in the decision making process is that there are two main types of rod used for surf fishing: conventional and spinning.
The names refer to the type of reel the rod is designed for use with, which is something that’s fundamental to the choice of the rod, so it’s worth considering this before other factors.
Let's work through both types and you'll have an idea of which one suits you first.
A conventional reel basically consists of a drum that winds in line as you turn a handle. The photo below is of a Penn model conventional reel ideally suited for medium to heavy surf fishing.
A spinning reel design describes the style where turning the handle spins the rotor that lays the line onto the spool, with the reel sitting underneath the rod. The photo below is of a spinning reel.
Both spinning and conventional rod and reel combinations have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to surf fishing and shore-based angling, which we'll explore in detail next.
By the way, a conventional or spinning rod is specifically designed for use with this style of reel - the two types aren't really interchangeable because of differences in the reel seat, handle, rings and action.
Advantages of Conventional Rods and Reels for Surf Fishing
To work out which style - conventional vs spinning - is best for you, let's go through the pros and cons of each type.
It's also useful to know that a baitcaster reel (the flatter design of the two below)) is a just a slimline version of a conventional reel (the rounder of the two reels below) designed for use with lighter tackle, usually, than a standard conventional reel. They're a common choice for light lure fishing.
A conventional style of rod and reel combo has the following advantages for surf fishing:
Casting Power: Conventional rods, particularly specialist brands like Zziplex and Century, are renowned for their casting power and are considered a good choice for true long-distance casting techniques. These rods can handle heavy weights and are ideal for casting large baits for species like sharks and heavy lures and plugs for striped bass over long distances, too, which is often necessary when surf fishing
Precision and Control: Small conventional and baitcaster reels paired with this style of rod provide excellent precision and control over your casts. They are favored by anglers who need to accurately place bait or lures in specific spots on light tackle - when saltwater bass, fluke, trout (weakfish) or halibut fishing, for example .
Line Capacity: Larger conventional reels generally offer higher line capacity than a spinning reel, making them suitable for tackling larger and stronger fish species commonly found in surf fishing, such as sharks and redfish The extra line capacity is often useful when deploying a shark bait by kayak or drone. The two-speed Okuma Makaira size-80 (80w) reel below is a reel we use in our guiding service and can recommend for land-based shark fishing anywhere - it's a beast. A size 50 (50w) is also a useful size for when less line is needed.
Best For Big Fish: Heavy and Extra Heavy-rated conventional rods and matching reels like this are also a good choice for targeting larger sharks and rays from the beach when land-based shark fishing because they’ll handle the high drag pressures and bigger fish you're certain to encounter, whereas a spinning reel would struggle
Learning Curve: One drawback of conventional rods and setups is that they can have a steeper learning curve. Casting with a baitcasting or conventional reel requires practice to avoid backlash and achieve accurate casts. Reels with tuned, magnet-braked spools are available and these are easier to use for a beginner who wants to use a conventional reel and rod combo.
Conventional reels and rods are best for the following surf fishing scenarios:
Ultralight and Light lure fishing with small baits for surf perch, flounder, fluke halibut, bass, trout, bonefish, small rockfish (LRF)
Experienced anglers distance casting from the shore or pier
Pier or land-based shark fishing with heavy-duty combos
Advantages of Spinning Rods for Surf Fishing
A rod that’s fished with the reel positioned under the rod is called a spinning rod.
These are probably the most common and easiest combos to use reel for surf fishing, and come in a massive range of configurations and prices, from ultralight to big game-level models.
The spinning reel below is a 4500-size Penn Slammer IV DX model spooled with 30lb braid for bass and halibut fishing with lures - it's a pretty useful size for lots of applications in the surf. We'll delve into more details on setups species-by-species later.
Spinning reels and rods are often the best choice for most surf fishing applications because:
Ease of Use: Spinning rods are known for their user-friendly design, making them an excellent choice for beginners. The open-faced spinning reel is simple to use, reducing the chances of line tangles and backlashes, which are easy to fix if it does happen. Parents and newbies take note!
Versatility: Spinning rods are versatile and adaptable. They can handle various line types and weights, allowing anglers to target a wide range of fish species from the beach, from small croaker to medium-size sharks
Casting Distance: Although usually not as powerful as conventional rods, spinning rods can still cast a respectable distance and are easier to handle in general. They are a solid choice for surf anglers who don't need to reach extreme distances but still want to cover a lot of water with a versatile pole for lots of lure and bait fishing applications. We regularly cast 8oz sinkers and a large bait with Heavy-rated spinning tackle with no issues.
Light Tackle: Spinning setups are well-suited for lighter tackle, making them excellent for finesse techniques like bonefish, corbina, halibut, bass and surf perch fishing with shrimp, sand crabs or grubs, jigging or drop-shotting, which can be effective in many surf fishing scenarios
Spinning reels and rods are best for the following surf fishing scenarios:
Ultra Light to Medium-Heavy lure fishing for any species from the shore (striped bass, flatfish etc)
Fishing with any sort of fresh bait for small to medium-size sharks, rays, predators or redfish
Fishing bait-and-wait with fresh bait for any sort of croaker, pompano, surf perch, bass, drum
Light line surf fishing for corbina, surf perch, bonefish, trout, flounder, snook or halibut
Surf Fishing Rod Action
The next factor to consider once you've worked out the spinning vs conventional conundrum, is to select the best rod action for your purposes. The term "action" (sometimes called “taper”) refers to how much and how easily a rod bends under pressure.
Rod action might easily described with the following. Imagine you grab a fishing rod by the handle and wobble it in your hands so the tip moves, just like everyone does in the tackle shop when they try out a new pole.
A rod with a fast action will generally return back to its original shape faster and with less bending action, and fewer wafting / waving motions than a rod with a slow action. A faster action rod has a snap - a crispness - whilst slow rods have a softer, slower-recovering nature.
Surf Fishing Rods action can be categorized into three main Action types:
Fast Action: These rods bend mainly in the tip and top quarter, offering more sensitivity for quick hook sets and fast recovery, which is advantageous when casting distance and fast line recovery is a factor. They are great for lures and techniques requiring precise control; jigging or drop-shot lure fishing for fluke, flounder, small bass or halibut, for example. A fast action rod is also great for fishing with small grubs or plastic lures for surf perch - and distance casting with specialist long poles and big plugs, jigs and spoons for larger predators such as king mackerel, stripped bass and inshore predators
Moderate / Medium Action: These rods bend more uniformly along the length, making them versatile and suitable for a wide range of surf fishing scenarios. They are often recommended for beginners and all-round surf fishing with bait; a surf shark, croaker or pompano setup, for example, or light line fishing with sand crabs / sand fleas
Slow / Slow Action: These rods bend significantly along the length, providing a lot of flex for light line fishing. They’re rarely the best option for surf fishing if you have to cast any sort of distance, but they're great for fishing with very light lines on Ultra Light tackle. A slower action is useful for beginners and kids because of the softer, forgiving rod and often more budget-friendly nature of the soft action poles on the market
Surf Fishing Rod Power
Power, often referred to as "rod weight" or "rod strength," defines the rod's ability to handle various fish species, line strengths (ideally braid main line) and lure or sinker weights. It is typically categorized as:
Ultra-Light to Light: Designed for smaller fish like bonefish and surf perch, and finesse lure or small sinker techniques with lines around the 2-10lb range and weights up to 1/2oz
Medium-Light to Medium: Versatile options for a wide range of fishing conditions with lines in the 6-30lb range and larger sinkers from 1/2oz to around 2oz
Medium-Heavy to Heavy: Best suited for larger fish species and heavy lures with lines over 30lb to 60lb and lures or weights over 2oz, up to 8oz for surf shark fishing with Heavy-rated gear
It's worth remembering that these are vague guidelines rather than exacting standards, so there will be variations between brands and models.
For a general idea beyond the above outlines, this handy chart from Rapala below also summarizes the differences and relationship between rod power and action in a more visual way.
Surf Fishing Rod Materials
Surf fishing rods can be constructed from various materials, each with its own advantages:
Fiberglass: Durable and flexible, ideal for beginners and anglers on a budget. Most cheaper surf rods are made from fiberglass, or a blend containing lots of it
Graphite/Carbon Fiber: Lightweight and sensitive, perfect for finesse techniques and more experienced anglers. Most good, Fast action surf fishing rods are made from graphite / carbon fiber materials and variations, like the rod blanks in the photo below, and this is usually the most expensive material to make a rod from, but often the best
Composite: Combines the best of both worlds, offering a blend of strength and sensitivity, often found on mid-range surf fishing rods and heavy conventional rods
Other Major Factors to Consider when Choosing a Surf Fishing Rod
Now you’ve got an idea of what style of rod is most suitable for your particular branch of the surf fishing game, let’s get into some details about what to look for in terms of length and suitability.
Rod Length: The length of a surf fishing rod is one of the first considerations you'll need to make. Surf fishing poles come in various lengths, typically ranging from 7 to 15 feet.
As a good general starting point; longer rods are better suited for casting long distances and heavier tackle or fishing static rigs with fresh bait, whilst shorter rods are ideal for close-quarters lure and light line fishing.
The two photos below show the contrast between a 9ft Light-rated spinning setup for lure fishing, and a Heavy-rated 13ft rod for surf shark fishing. You can hold the 9ft rod all day, whereas the heavier 13ft pole sits in a sand spike until you get a bite.
Handle and Reel Seat: The handle (the section around the reel and the butt-end bottom of the rod) and reel seat are integral parts of the surf fishing rod. Consider the grip material, length, and design that feels comfortable in your hand.
The reel seat should also be compatible with the reel you plan to use. You'll need to make sure the rod type (conventional or spinning) matches the reel you're matching it with, too. The two aren't really interchangeable
Often, a short handled rod is useful for lure fishing applications and shorter rods because it allows for more maneuverability and a snappier casting action.
You can see the short handle on the 8'6" Medium Light surf rod in the photo below, where is was used for a fishing a small curlytail grub for surf perch and schoolie stripers on light spinning tackle.
A longer handle - usually measuring about 40-50mm from reel to the butt - is more suitable for heavier lure fishing applications and bait fishing rods for species like big stripped bass, sharks, croaker, and pompano.
The photo below shows a longer handle on a Medium-Heavy surf rod suitable for casting larger plugs and lures. A similar handle is also suitable for Heavy-rated spinning outfits for surf sharks.
Line and Lure Compatibility: Ensure that your chosen rod is compatible with the fishing line and sinker weight / size of lures you intend to use.
Different rods are designed to handle specific line strengths and lure weights, and this information is normally printed on the rod just above the handle area, with a rating in grams (gr) for lure rods, and ounces (oz) for heavier bait and lure rods.
Suggested line ratings and corresponding weight designations usually cover a range like 2-6lb for Ultra-Light, 4-10lb for Light, 6-12lb Medium-Light, 10-20lb for Medium, 20-30lb for Medium-Heavy, and 40lb-plus line for Heavy surf fishing rods.
Best Surf Fishing Rods for Each Species
Now we've broken down the different powers, styles, actions and best uses for each type of surf fishing pole, let's have a look at some guidelines around the best surf fishing rods for each species commonly targeted from the shore on the East and West Coast.
Rods for Striped Bass (Stripers) Surf, Lure and Bait Fishing
Type: Spinning Length: 9-11ft Power: Medium or Medium-Heavy rating Action: Fast Line-rating: 20-60lb Lure/sinker rating: 2-6oz
Rods for Bass (Calico, Bay / Spotted Sand, Barred sand) Lure Surf Fishing
Type: Spinning Length: 8-108ft Power: Medium to Medium-Heavy Action: Fast to Moderate Line-rating: 10-30lb Lure/sinker rating: 1/2-2oz
Rods for Bonefish and Flats Fishing
Power: Ultralight or Light rating
Lure/sinker rating: 1/4-1/2oz
Rods for Bonito Fishing (Surf and Pier) Lure Fishing
Action: Fast to Moderate
Lure/sinker rating: 1/2-3oz
Rods for Bluefish Fishing (Lure)
Type: Spinning Length: 8-10ft Power: Medium Action: Fast to Moderate Line-rating: 10-20lb Lure/sinker rating: 1/2-2oz
Rods for Corbina Fishing in California
Power: Light to Medium-Light
Action: Moderate to Slow
Lure/sinker rating: 1/4-3/4oz
Rods for Croaker (Atlantic, Yellowfin, Spotfin) Fishing with Bait
Type: Spinning Length: 10-12ft Power: Medium to Medium-Heavy Action: Moderate
Line-rating: 10-20lb Lure/sinker rating: 1-4oz
Rods for Halibut, Fluke and Flounder Fishing (Lure)
Power: Medium-Light to Medium
Action: Fast to Moderate Line-rating: 6-20lb
Lure/sinker rating: 0.5-1oz
Rods for Pompano Fishing with Bait (Surf)
Power: Medium to Medium-Heavy
Action: Moderate Line-rating: 10-20lb
Lure/sinker rating: 1-4oz
Rods for Redfish Lure Fishing (Surf, Inshore, Flats)
Type: Spinning Length: 7-9ft Power: Medium Action: Moderate
Line-rating: 8-20lb Lure/sinker rating: 0.5-1oz
Rods for Rockfish and Lingcod Fishing (Rocks or Pier) with Bait
Type: Spinning or Conventional
Power: Medium to Medium-Heavy
Action: Moderate Line-rating: 20-40lb
Lure/sinker rating: 2-6oz
Rods for Snook Fishing (Inshore, Flats, Surf) with Lures
Type: Spinning Length: 7-8ft Power: Medium Action: Moderate
Line-rating: 8-20lb Lure/sinker rating: 0.5-1oz
Rods for Surf Shark Fishing (Sharks to 6ft)
Power: Medium-Heavy to Heavy
Action: Fast to Moderate Line-rating: 30-60lb
Lure/sinker rating: 6-8oz
Rods for Land-Based Shark Fishing (Sharks over 6ft)
Type: Conventional Length: 7-10ft Power: Heavy to XXXH or Unlimited Action: Moderate to Slow
Line-rating: 80-200lb Lure/sinker rating: Not applicable
Rods for Surf Perch Fishing (Lures, Grubs and Bait)
Power: Medium-Light to Medium
Action: Fast to Moderate Line-rating: 6-20lb
Lure/sinker rating: 1/2-1oz
Rods for Trout /Weakfish Fishing (Surf, Inshore, Flats)
Power: Medium-Light to Medium
Action: Moderate Line-rating: 6-20lb
Lure/sinker rating: 0.5-1oz
Recommended Brands and Models for each Category of Surf Fishing Rod
Through our guiding service and years of fishing and writing about fishing tackle of every kind, we've developed a list of rods we can recommend to our clients and friends. These are the exact same models we use to catch lots of the fish seen throughout our website, so you can be sure they're tried and tested!
Rods for Light Line Surf Fishing (spinning)
In terms of Light rods for surf fishing, we use Okuma SST poles in 4-10lb, 9'6" versions matched with a 3500-size spinning reel loaded with 10lb braid or 6lb mono for casting Carolina Rigs with 1/2oz sinkers and small baits or lures in the surf. The soft action is great for light lines and less experienced anglers.
For a Medium Light rod better suited to casting small lures, light drop shot baits and sinkers to 3/4oz and 6-10lb lines, when a faster action might be required, we're really happy with the Okuma Rockaway SP 8'6", 6-12lb rated model and use these most often out of all our rods.
Rods for Medium Lure Surf Fishing (spinning)
In the same Okuma Rockaway SP range, we've also been impressed with the Medium+ models in 10ft and 11ft lengths (the 11ft is shown below) for launching larger baits for flatfish and bass using 4500-size spinning reels loaded with 20-30lb braid main line. Light and a good fast action for working lures up to 3oz in the surf, we're fans.
Rods for Static Fishing with Fresh Bait (spinning)
For a bait-and-wait style of surf fishing with the rod in a holder (surf spike) and a fresh bait on the end of a dropper loop-type rig, we've been using the Penn Carnage III 6-12lb, 12ft pole (below) and can recommend this as a great option.
Rigged with a 4500-size reel and 20lb braid main line, it'll cast 2-4oz sputnik sinkers a mile and has a good action for bait fishing for all sorts of croaker and similar-size fish.
Heavy Bait Fishing Rods for Surf Sharks (spinning)
Lots of custom options available but a great all-round shark rod for surf fishing is made by Fiblink and, despite these rods costing less than $100, we're impressed by the quality for the price and toughnness in casting 8oz sinkers and big baits all day.
Search on Amazon for the two-piece, 13ft Heavy-rated models rated to cast 8oz for a solid all-rounder that'll tackle all kinds of sharks and rays to low triple-figures. The leopard shark below was caught on a 13ft Heavy-rated surf spinning model.
Land-based Shark Fishing Rods (conventional)
A lot of serious shark anglers buy a custom rod for this style of beach fishing, but we've found the Okuma PCH Custom range to have a number of useful options for the shoe-based shark angler looking for a conventional rod for under $300. We own a pair and appreciate the quality and durability at this price point.
Thank you for reading this article on surf fishing rods and poles - hopefully it's helped you work out the kind of rod that's best for you.
If you'd like to learn more about surf fishing rods and poles, we run in-depth tuition and coaching sessions in Southern California - we'd love to help you so get in touch via email@example.com to book a fishing lesson or surf fishing trip.