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Leveling the Playing Field in the Surf
Part I
by Chris "Gil" Gillin

t's fairly safe to say that at one time or another we have all felt that surf fishing is one of the most frustrating and unproductive pass-times we could possibly pursue. Mother Nature controls "the game", and I hate to tell you, dear reader, that the playing field is tilted in her favor. Ah, but there is hope for us!

Through experience, research, and preparing our gear we can even the odds a bit. Since this is a fairly large subject, it's probably best to cover it in "installments".

Granted, it is not always necessary to cast a country mile to catch fish in the surf, but sometimes we DO need a long cast to reach the fish. After much frustration and snapping off rigs, I learned that one of the most important parts of a surfcaster's setup is the use of a shock leader. A shock leader is much like a fly fisherman's tapered leader, but in reverse. It allows the surf caster to throw weight & bait with muscle and not snap rigs off. The "rule of thumb" that has been associated with choosing which pound test to use as a shock leader is 10 # for every ounce of lead. As a starting point I would say that this is fine, but I can tell you that many of us exceed this ratio and throw 8 & bait with 40# or 50# shock leader. I must also include a warning that casting these heavy weights can be potentially dangerous to an onlooker or a windshield. It is still possible to snap your rig off due to a bad knot, line wrapping around a guide, the bail slamming closed, or the knot being caught in the foot of a guide. So be careful and take the time to get used to this setup!

Another rule of thumb to remember is that the length of the shock leader should be at least 5 wraps around the spool of the reel, in addition to the "drop" to your rig. I have also pushed this limit and can tell you that a short shock leader WILL snap off ON the reel.

Probably the most important part of this setup is the shock leader knot. There are different line to line knots one can tie but I have found the blood knot and Albright knot to be the most popular with surf fishemen. Personally, I use the Albright knot then a couple drops of super glue; I finish by spinning the knot when almost dry (careful not to glue my fingers together…and yes, I have done it…thanks for asking). I feel this gives a more tapered effect to the edges of the knot as well as added strength.

The Albright Knot

  1. Make a loop in the heavier line.
  2. Run the lighter line through the loop and down around an inch of the loop's length. Pinch them and hold each wrap! Twist the lighter line around the loop 8 or 9 times (some say up to 14).
  3. Run the tag end of the lighter line through the loop toward the main shaft of the lighter line.
  4. Wet the knot and pull it tight (Keep wraps from jumping, work tight slowly into a smooth barrel. Trim excess. (some use 1-2 drops of superglue & spin smooth)

The line and shock leader should be the smallest diameter you can find with good softness, abrasion resistance, and low memory. Technology has given us many new lines to include the braided lines, but it has been my experience that braids are not very well suited towards throwing weight & bait in the open surf. I have seen them tangle with other fishermen's monofilament and shred or cut their lines, as well as dig through the line on the reel, after dragging in a heavy skate. This is not a good way to make new friends. Personally, I use copolymer line and shock leader and couldn't be more pleased with their performance. Other than that, monofilament line still is best suited to fishing the "high surf".

Anyone, who has sliced his or her index finger casting a spinning rod in the surf, will agree that a finger guard or glove should be used. Once you slice that finger and touch bait or salt water, you'll surely be inventing some new words! And, in the future, you won't care if people think you're doing a one glove Michael Jackson impersonation.

Another thing that can give you a better experience while surf fishing is your sand spike. A long sand spike can give you several advantages. First of all, if there is weeds or grass in the water, the increased angle will have less of your line in the breakers to catch weeds and be dragged. Even without grass in the water, the breakers will cause extra slack in your line. The added height & increased angle allows you to keep a tight line and pick up more fish.

You can build your own long sand spike with PVC pipe, a drill, a hacksaw, and a long nut & bolt. I think mine are about 5 feet long. I use my older short ones for baiting up by the truck. And remember; hammer that spike in to the sand, a sandy reel will ruin your day!

In an environment like the open surf, we must take every advantage available. During the coming months, we'll look at some other ways that will hopefully help to level the playing field, in your favor!

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