Surf Casting
  |  First Published: October 2005

I have been beach fishing for more years than I care to remember and have always fished gutters that are hard up against the shoreline. Casting too far in this situation would have me on the back bank, miles away from where the fish are feeding.

I own a beautiful graphite surf rod with a long cast threadline spooled with light GSP line that fires out a slug like a bullet. However, even when casting slugs for tailor with this outfit, 90 per cent of the fish I catch are within a short lob of the shoreline. So when the fish are in close, instead of wasting that long cast by firing it out towards the horizon, I cast parallel to the beach and work the lure down the length of the gutter.

I know there are plenty of anglers reading this who will disagree, but long casts only account for a small percentage of fish that can be found in the surf, so it’s more important to get the technique and balance of the tackle right before worrying about how far out the bait is cast. Learning good technique will allow you to use lighter sinkers, give you better feel and result in more fish.

The three styles of reels that surf anglers use are side cast, overhead and threadline. Let’s look at each individually.

Overhead Reels

Overhead reels are not too popular in Queensland but the further south you go, the more you see overheads being used. I have had some experience with an ABU 7000 and the Daiwa Sealine X reel and while I am not a big fan of fishing with overheads in the surf, I found both these reels easy to use and more than capable of handling big fish. The fact that I have only ever used two overheads in the surf means that I am not an expert in this area so while I am more than happy to give you a run down on the basics, as always, it pays to have a good relationship with a reputable tackle store.

Casting overheads takes practice, which means that these reels are suitable only for very keen surf anglers. They work best when casting moderate to heavy weights that can get these big drum spools spinning.

Once the spool has started up, the angler needs to be able to control the speed of the spool during the cast. Allowing it to tear more line off than is required for the cast is how bird’s nests (over-runs) occur. The best tool for avoiding a bird’s nest is an educated thumb that can add just a slight amount of pressure to help slow the spool down as the bait or lure slows through the air. Getting good reel oil into the reel’s end bearings is vital and having some knowledge of how the adjustments on the reel work can also assist in getting the most out of your overhead. Reel oil is a topic in itself but basically if the reel spins too fast during the cast and creates the odd bird’s nest, thicker oil in the reel will slow it down a little during the cast. Adding oil to the bearings every few trips will ensure the reel will perform to its potential.

It is not really possible to have an overhead that doesn’t need some adjustment to allow for various weights and conditions. Once the reel is tuned, adjustments for wind, weights and even bulky baits should be as simple as a tweak on the end bearings or a click of the magnets in the drum.

Rods for overheads have a long butt section with a lot of small diameter runners. When making the cast, ensure that its action is as smooth as possible and your thumb is ready to feel for loose loops of line that might come off the spool.

Threadline Reels

Threadline reels are a lot easier to use and are great for lure casting. Big threadlines are my preferred reel for casting lures, especially when loaded with light GSP line. The better reels have a big drag washer and good gear ratio, and lay the line neatly back onto the spool so the next cast is not restricted.

My kids use light threadline outfits so if they hook a good fish, the drag can help them to land it. A 7-foot rod with a cheap threadline that is replaced every twelve months or so due to the kids dropping it in the sand and water is perfect.

Rods for threadlines also have a long butt section with bigger runners than overhead rods to allow for the loops of line that come off the spool. If you are right handed, the right hand should hold the rod and the line at the reel stem with the left hand holding the butt of the rod. Keeping it all nice and smooth, use the left hand as a pivot point and load the rod with the right hand, timing the release of the line to get the bait out there. Releasing too early will see the bait fly too high and get no distance, while releasing too late will have the bait shooting out low and fast but also getting no distance.

Alvey Reels

Queensland’s favourite surf reel is the Alvey side cast. I have had over 20 years of use out of some of my Alveys so while some are not cheap, they are certainly worth the investment. A simple tune-up kit that has a couple of washers to replace in the centre pin of the reel will ensure that your reel is like new again.

Casting an Alvey is not difficult but can take a little practice to get it right. I see so many Alveys with just half or even a quarter of the spool filled with line and nothing will retard a cast more. Filling the spool to just a few millimetres below the lip will help you get the most out of the reel.

The rods that are made for Alveys have a huge first runner to allow for the large coils of line to come off the reel. The butt end is short because the right hand holds the rod above the reel and the left hand holds the line and the rod at the reel stem. Keep the hands well spread so plenty of power can be put into the cast. Alvey offer a good range of fishing rods that are specially made to house an Alvey reel but whatever brand that you buy, the tell tail sign of a side cast rod is the very short butt section.

Tips for surf casting

Some baits, such as livies and pilchards, require a smooth cast to avoid throwing the bait off the hook. You can put some power into a cast and still keep it smooth, but it pays to keep a close eye on the bait to ensure that it hasn’t been thrown during the cast. The better the rod the more it will load up and assist when you’re trying to get some distance out of the cast. Although you are not trying to cast out over the horizon, keeping weight down to a minimum and aiming the for middle or rear of a shoreline gutter will still require a sound casting technique.

The biggest casting mistake I see anglers making in the surf is trying to cast a weight that is too heavy for the rod and line class that they are using. Pay close attention to the recommended casting weight that is printed on the rod and use this as a guide. Going too heavy will actually retard the action of the rod and shorten the casting distance dramatically. If the rod has too much weight it will be very uncomfortable to cast and the rod will bend way too much on the cast. Instead of the rod loading and shooting the sinker out, the excessive flex will make the cast sloppy and slow.

If you’re using a side cast reel, watch how your finger lays the line back on the spool when retrieving. The neater the line lay, the better the next cast will be. If you have an Alvey, you can dunk the reel in the water to wet the line before a cast: this will also improve the casting distance without being too detrimental to the life of the reel. Having a quality threadline that has a very good line lay will also make a huge difference to the casting distance.

Keep lead down to a minimum. A good-sized sinker for calm surf conditions when using light surf tackle is a size 3 ball sinker and if possible, I go down to a size 2. Bigger baits or bigger swells will require a size 4 or 5; if I need more lead than that, I tend to give the beach fishing a miss until the conditions settle down a little. Use a little common sense when choosing a sinker. Keep it as light as possible but don’t stick to a sinker that is too light just because everyone has told you it’s the best one to use. If you need to get out just a little further, the sweep is too strong or you need more weight to help your pillies sink faster before the seagulls get them, then more lead is a must. Keep a few different sizes in your tackle box and fish smart as well as light.

This month is a great time of year to start putting your beach fishing talents to good use so get out there and let me know how you go.

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