Simple surf tackle – Part 5
  |  First Published: September 2005

Surf tackle is a very simple subject but there are still a number of choices and options available to anglers. This article is designed to help you choose the right kind of rod and reel for your needs and to get you set up for your day on the beach.

Reel choice

Alvey side cast reels have been popular on Queensland and Northern NSW beaches for many years now and the main reason for this is the fact that these reels are resistant to the tough surf environment. I have had Alvey reels for well over twenty years and with a tune up every now and again they are like new.

If you want to give your own reel a tune up, it’s quite simple. On the spindle of the reel under the star-shaped spindle nut, there is a hard nylon washer and under that is a fibre washer. Replace both of these as needed and, with the addition of a little grease from time to time, the reel should be around for many years.

After working as a fishing guide in the surf for a few years, I noticed that there are a lot of anglers who take one look at an Alvey and shy away, thinking that they can’t cast them. However, with just a minute of tuition and a few practice casts, most anglers take to them very easily.

Alvey used to include a diagram of the correct casting technique, but these days you receive a DVD in which my old mate and very experienced beach angler, Paul Bert, takes you through all you’ll need to know about mastering the Alvey.

Threadline and overhead reels can also be used but require regular maintenance to keep them working smoothly. Being a Queenslander, I don’t know anyone who uses an overhead for casting into the surf. However, the further south you go, the more popular these reels become.

I have used two overhead reels, an Abu 7000 and a Daiwa Sealine X, and both of these reels surprised me with how well they cast and how efficient they are at working a lure through the surf. They do take a little practice to get used to and maintenance is a must, so they are only really suitable for very keen surf casters.

Threadlines are easier to handle than overheads and are ideal for working lures through the surf. My kids use threadlines because the drag can help them land fish that would see them in a bit of trouble with an Alvey. Big, high-speed threadlines loaded with gel-spun line and matched to a quality graphite fishing rod are perfect for tailor spinning. When spooled with monofilament line, the same outfit can be used for a night of pilchard tossing. Once again, maintenance is a must, especially with the bearing that rolls the line of the bail arm and back onto the spool. If this gets saltwater in it, it will quickly seize, stop rolling and result in weakening of the line.


Matching the rod to the reel that you will be using is important. You’ll notice that rods designed for Alvey reels have a huge front runner; rods for threadlines have a slightly smaller front runner; and rods for overheads have very small diameter runners. This is to allow for the huge loops of line that come off the Alvey, smaller loops from the threadline and no loops at all from the overhead. Matching your rod and reel incorrectly, especially with the Alvey, will result in line bunching up at the front runner.

Rod butts vary for the different reels that are available also. Alvey reels are best suited to a very short butt so that your dominant hand can be placed between the reel and the first runner. The other hard can then be used for leverage and to hold the line at the spool so it can be released. Threadline and overhead reels are better suited to casting with the dominant hand at the spool and the other hand at the very end of the butt for leverage. This makes rods with a long butt section more suited to threadline and overhead reels.

Casting rods

There are three styles of rod available for surf casting: fibreglass, composite and graphite. For casting there is no substitute for a quality graphite rod. Let’s look at just what happens when a cast is made, as this will give you an insight into how these three styles of rod work.

When a lure or sinker is cast, the rod is loaded up and the load is transferred to the lure or sinker. Any load that is not used in the casting is absorbed by the rod. Fibreglass has a poor resistance to bending and therefore won’t load and spring anywhere near as effectively as graphite, which has a much higher resistance. Once a graphite rod has been loaded up and released, the unused energy will be absorbed or ‘dampened’ instantly, while fibreglass rods will tend to oscillate or ‘flog’ when released. This flogging of the rod strips the cast of distance and accuracy. You’ll often see anglers casting huge sinkers on old fibreglass rods with a lot of load going into the cast; as soon as it is released, the rod flexes back and forth until the load has been adsorbed.

Some manufactures have modified their fibreglass rods by stiffening the butt sections and adding graphite to the blend of fibreglass. Known as graphite composite, these rods with stiff butts tend to resist flogging but can be hard work when casting compared to a quality graphite rod. Graphite rods can be loaded like a flyfishing rod and released in a similar manner. Their resistance to bending also forces the fish to work a lot harder, which makes playing big fish easier for the angler.

I bait fish with a composite rod and even lob pilchards with my old Snyder Glass rod that I have had for years, but when it comes to shooting out slugs for tailor, I use nothing but quality graphite.

The beach bag

You don’t need to be a walking tackle store but it pays to have all the gear you need with you to save walking back and forth every time you loose a bait. A wading bag draped over your shoulder is perfect for holding most of your terminal tackle and a bait bucket wrapped around your waist will mean you are in business. If pipis are your preferred bait, make sure you wear shorts with pockets and fill them with pipis on site.

Keep the gear you don’t need to carry with you high up on the beach, especially if the tide is coming in, and keep all spare bait well covered to stop the seagulls from helping themselves.

A wading bag with small tackle box, ruler, spare tackle and a bait bucket to wrap around your waist can all be bought for around $30 and will last for years.


So getting into surf fishing tackle is simple after all. To catch fish, all you really need are the basics, but like many anglers I get carried away with different ways to do the same thing. If you’re just starting, concentrate on the basics and work your way up from there. Enjoy the simple fishing because soon enough you’ll have so much tackle you’ll be longing for the uncomplicated surf fishing days of the past!


Basic beach fishing kit

 Rod and reel suitable for your target species.

 Wading bag that can be carried comfortably over the shoulder.

 Bait bucket and pliers on a belt.

 Small tackle box with some spare hooks, swivels, sinkers, ruler and lures.

 A bag or tackle box that can be left high up on the beach with spare tackle, bait, line, knife and some drinking water. This bag or box needs to be sealable to keep birds out.

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