Best Length Surfcasting Rod

Top: Snyder Glass 3.9m, Kilwell Coaster 4.1m, and Kilwell 9 ounce 4.9m. Best Length Surfcasting Rod.
Top: Snyder Glass 3.9m, Kilwell Coaster 4.1m, and Kilwell 9 ounce 4.9m.

Best Length Surfcasting Rod by Allan Burgess 

A question many new, and experienced surfcasters often ask is what is the best length for a surfcasting rod?  

Before answering this question, I scanned the internet and soon discovered that there is a great deal of utter nonsense written on this subject. An example of this is that “a longer rod is better for playing a big fish because you get more leverage”. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Another thing I’ve seen on the web is writers talking about “7 and 8-foot surfcasting rods”. To my way of thinking anything shorter than 12-foot (3.6m), is not a surfcasting rod. It is a heavy spinning rod at best. Such short rods would be useless in most New Zealand conditions. 

Advantages and disadvantages of long versus short fishing rods  

All things being equal a 12-foot rod will outcast a 6-foot rod because the tip of the longer rod will be moving much faster during the cast from the same energy input, thereby tossing our sinker and hooks out further. 

However, once the cast is made and a big fish is hooked, the leverage advantage afforded by the longer rod transfers to the fish. The longer rod will actually now be working against the angler. If you don’t believe me, how come a 24kg stand-up big game fishing rod that measures only 5 foot 6 inches in length can be used to land enormous marlin weighing several hundred kilograms from the deck of a game fishing launch?  

Surfcasting rods at Kaikoura. Photograph, Allan Burgess.
Surfcasting rods at Kaikoura. Photograph, Allan Burgess.

So, without getting into a long-winded technical discussion let’s assume that these two things are correct. 

If a longer rod will cast a greater distance than a shorter one, why not have a 20-foot-long surfcasting rod? The answer is that such a rod would be very heavy, inconvenient to transport, and would require super-human strength to cast especially if a heavy sinker were used. If you have been paying attention so far you would also see that such a long rod would be useless for fighting a big heavy fish!   

Interestingly, when it comes to land-based distance casting competitions rod lengths usually reach a maximum of about 13-feet. This is the sweet spot where other factors including line diameter, reel size and type, and the weight of the sinker being cast all come into play. In these events, competitors are not casting real-life baited terminal rigs into rough swells with waves burying their lines and sinkers. Therefore, they will be using very fine diameter mainlines with a heavier shock-leader to avoid bust-offs when casting without worrying about their gear holding on the seabed! 

Rod Length and the other Factors Involved 

What then is the maximum practical length for a surfcasting rod in a real-life situation? If you want your terminal rig to hold the bottom in a heavy swell and or cross rip you will need a heavy sinker. Let’s say a maximum feasible sinker weight of 9-ounces (255g) with wire spikes to increase grip on the bottom. Rather than 9-ounces for the sinker to be on the safe side let’s say the 9-ounces includes the whole terminal rig including the bait or baits. Building A Mega Surfcasting Rod for Heavier Weights using a Kilwell 9 ounce Blank – Initial Testing 

This 4.9m (16-foot) beast will not be the best length surfcasting rod for everyone. Its long length is great for keeping your line high above the surf so your line is less likely to be buried by the sand and the shingle, holds better is a sideways rip and catches less kelp and floating debris. 

There are other factors to consider if we are to cast this heavy sinker as far as possible. By using quite small clipped-down baits our terminal rig will be much more aerodynamic such as the Pully or Yoke Rig. This is an important consideration and could add at least 20% more casting distance.  

Line Weight 

The lighter and finer the diameter of the braid mainline the more distance we are going to get. If we go too light, we risk an avoidable breakoff. I wouldn’t go lighter than a 20-pound braid for practical surfcasting where big sharks and the like are a strong possibility, especially when fishing shingle beaches.

Reel 

Almost everyone in New Zealand fishes a fixed spool (eggbeater) reel with a long cast spool. Personally, I prefer the excellent casting performance and durability of an Alvey side cast reel.  

Allan Burgess at Kaikoura with Angler Rods Titan Series and Alvey reel. Surfcasting is much more enjoyable with a quality rod and reel.
Allan Burgess at Kaikoura with Angler Rods Titan and Alvey 650C reel. Surfcasting is much more enjoyable with a quality rod and reel.

Baitcasters 

I have had a lot of experience with bait-caster reels both for salmon/surf fishing and surfcasting but I wouldn’t like to be using a bait-caster with a long heavy rod and 9-ounce (225g) sinker. The potential for a horrid over-run wouldn’t be worth the risk. You would have to tighten down the end-float on the spool to avoid this to the extent you would be shortening the casting distance considerably. I mention this because if you prefer to fish a bait-caster as some do, like a Penn Squall, you might want to “tap out”. 

Best Length Surfcasting Rod for use in Rough Conditions 

A long 15 to 16-foot rod when placed in a 3- to 4-foot-high rod holder/beach spike is going to lift the rod tip as much as 18-feet in the air. With slackline retrieved back onto the reel, our line will be well above the swell, with big waves and rough surf. A big advantage when fishing in a public or club surfcasting competition in marginal conditions.        

Body Build and Physical Strength 

When all of these factors are taken into account a 9-ounce blank extended to 16-feet is going to give you one hell of a surfcasting rod for use in the roughest conditions but is it practical for everyday use?  

All rods give their optimum casting distance when the correct weight lure or sinker is being cast. Think of your fully bent rod as a store of energy released as the rod straightens. If your sinker weight is too light or you don’t use enough force during your cast the rod won’t fully load. It won’t store all the energy it is capable of storing.  

In the case of our 9-ounce blank talked about above, if you don’t have the physical strength to fully load the rod when casting you are not going to get anything like the distance the outfit is capable of producing. Instead, you are going to produce more of a slow action lob cast during which the rod never fully loads.  

The author from back in the day surfcasting at Birdlings Flat in 1988. I caught a few good blue moki from that spot.
The author from back in the day surfcasting at Birdlings Flat in 1988. I caught a few good blue moki from that spot.

You don’t need to make that many casts during a surfcasting session so you can throw all your effort into the casts you do make, but it is still going to take considerable effort to fish such a rod. Also, as discussed above, when you do hook a big fish, it will take more energy to land than would be the case with a shorter, lighter rod.  

I enjoy my Kilwell 9-ounce blank. I have used it a lot and fished all over New Zealand with it. When surfcasting I like to fish with two and sometimes three rods. It has landed some good fish too but requires extra effort to fish. One thing I have noticed about it is that it often takes skate and sharks at long range when others are not catching anything. There is something deeply satisfying about casting a big heavy breakaway style sinker and hooks a very long distance out over the breaker line on a low flat trajectory even if it is exhausting work.

Surfcasting at Kaikoura. Best length for a surfcasting rod.
Surfcasting at Kaikoura.

How Many Rod Sections

My preference is for a two-piece surf rod. I might be a bit old fashioned in this regard.

Three-piece surf-rods have been available for many years. I have seen the top section of a three-piece rod get cast out into the surf a number of times by fellow anglers. With luck, you will be able to wind it back in with your hooks and sinker. Take a look at Waxing Fishing Rod Ferrules to prevent this from happening.

Nowadays you can buy a 6-piece 4.5m (14.7 foot) surfcasting rod capable of casting 220g (7.5-ounces). That makes it ideal for carrying in your car, caravan or campervan. I have never tried one so I won’t pass judgement one way or the other. 

Best Length Surfcasting Rod

Conclusion

When all of the factors mentioned above are taken into account a 6-ounce surfcasting rod measuring 12 to 14-feet is the best option. It will be much easier, more enjoyable, and a lot less fatiguing to use for day-to-day surfcasting work. There is a wider range of heavier surf rod blanks available nowadays than was the case 20 – 30 years ago. By heavier, I’m talking about 225g (8 ounces). 

Personally, I like to fish two surf rods and would opt for a lighter 170g (6-ounce) rod and a heavier 255g (9-ounce) rod. In calm conditions, the lighter of the two will be fine. Lighter surfcasting rods like the old 125g (4-ounce) Kilwell Coaster pictured above are fine for close-in fishing when the sea is calm but not when fishing rougher conditions and shingle beaches. Going off subject for a moment I also like to have a spooled up spinning rod on hand as well in case a school of kahawai comes within casting range.

Graphite surfcasting rods are lighter than fibreglass and usually smaller in diameter for a given line class which makes them less fatiguing when used over a long period. However, fibreglass is tougher and more durable. It takes the knocks better without fracturing.

Surfcasters at Kaikoura's Whale Watch beach behind the railway station. Bewst length surfcasting rod.
Surfcasters at Kaikoura’s Whale Watch beach behind the railway station.

Graphite and carbon fibre rods return to shape faster making them more powerful for a given diameter. Almost all surf rods sold nowadays are a combination of graphite and carbon fibre.

My all-time favourite general use surfcaster is my 6-ounce (180g) 12.8inches (3.9m) Snyder Glass Titan. Made in Australia, it has a full complement of top-of-the-line Fuji line guides and a low-mount reel seat needed for fishing an Alvey reel. Oddly, it says 4.1m on the rod but I measured it with a builder’s tape and it came in at 3.9m. It has a medium casting action rather than being fast like most of my surf rods.

I hope this article has helped you to decide on the best length surfcasting rod for you. A big long heavy rod isn’t always better. My advice is to stay away from any surfcasting rod shorter than 12-feet (3.6m).    

Composite Developments Surfcasting Rods.

Kilwell Sports Surfcasting Rods.

The author releasing a small sevengill shark at Kaikoura's Whale Watch beach. Best length for a surfcasting rod.
The author is about to release a small sevengill shark at Kaikoura’s Whale Watch beach.

In this video the author is carrying the 4.9m (16-foot) Kilwell 9-ounce blank surfcasting rod described above on this page.