Rod: 6 – 9 weight rods are all acceptable, but if you hook a big striper, leopard shark, halibut, or big piece of kelp and only have a 6 weight, you could be unhappy. I recommend an 8 weight. I prefer a 10′ rod, but they are not easy to get. With a longer rod you can keep the tip down touching the sand a bit easier than with a shorter rod. Also you have a bit more leverage for longer casts. Many of the folks are using switch rods for that reason. Only problem with a rod longer than 10′ is a tiny fish swinging around while you are trying to grab it. You may be forced to drag it up on the beach to get hold of it.
Line: Generally you will use a sinking line, intermediate or faster sink. I use a shooting head, same gear I use at Pyramid Lake. Personally, I prefer T8 or T11 to quickly cut down below the waves and not have the line thrown back at me by the onrushing wave.
Leader: 20 # dropping to a 15# or 12 # tippet is fine, 5 – 9 foot in length and they are not leader shy. I run two or three hooks, but one hook is fine. Try using a small swivel just below the butt section of your fly line if using multiple hooks. You will get less tangles due to twisted lines. You can’t get a double hook-up with one fly, but if you are getting tangled, you are not fishing, so it is a trade-off.
Flies: See the surf-perch or Zen fishing websites below. I will bring spare flies, to the club fish outs, so “not to worry”. My most productive perch fly is a #4 or #6 hook, bead chain eyes, red chenille body with a short orange yarn (or whatever) tail. Really simple, you can tie three in 10 minutes easily.
Stripping basket: To me it is mandatory and that sentiment is almost universal. I do not recommend the net style baskets for the surf, due to the aggressive action of the waves. A stiff sided, fairly deep basket is best. I will have a couple spare stripping baskets available to borrow, or you can purchase one with a donation to the Club of $20.
Waders: Neoprene is not required, the water is simply not that cold. I use bootfoot waders without felt. As they are easy to get on/off and sand doesn’t get into the boots. You can use sandals over stocking foot waders too.
Jacket: I recommend a light jacket that you wear over (outside) your waders, to keep the water from splashing over the top and down your waders. Many of us are now wearing pull-over waterproof jackets (called kayak or paddling jacket). Stohlquist makes a very god one. When (not “if”) you get knocked down by a wave because you weren’t watching, you will stay dry and not ruin your trip. I have been knocked completely down, hat off, head dripping wet but no more than a teaspoon of water down my neck. In my picture, I am wearing a red kayak jacket from a local kayak shop. Costs range from about $90 – $300 (Sims). Try to get one with a pocket in front for your flybox and spare leader, because when you have the jacket on, you cannot easily get to your pockets inside.
PFD Personal Flotation Device: Nice and a good safety factor if you have one, Many people use them, but they are not required.
Camera: You can use your smart phone in a water proof case, get a small waterproof camera, or buy a small waterproof box from a sporting goods store like Big 5 or REI. When you get the BIG fish or triple hook-up, you will want a picture.
Casting: Cast over the oncoming wave so the line has time to sink a bit, then retrieve. A good double haul cast is easy and will shoot your line 80-100 feet with little effort. Or use a switch rod. But be careful conventional casting with a switch rod, because your back cast is so far back you may hook a tourist or the tourist’s dog.
Retrieve: Everyone has their own style and no one method (fast or slow) works all the time. But you should get your rod tip down in the water, touching or practically touching the sand. As you retrieve you can feel much more with your fingers. Most fishermen are getting hits and don’t even know it. If you get a quick wiggle, then retrieve quickly stripping the line into your basket with constant pressure. Any slack or hesitation and the fish will throw the hook.
My procedure is to put the rod butt under my arm, tip in the water, elbows in tight and retrieve with both hands, stuffing the line into my stripping basket. This way I can feel everything all the way until I raise the rod to cast again. The line stays in the basket better too.
About 5 – 10 percent of my surf perch catches are when I raise the rod to cast again, so don’t be in a hurry.
Time to fish the surf?
Why so many early morning fish outs? Mornings normally are calm or have an off-shore wind so you can cast easier and further, afternoons often have a strong on-shore wind and later the sun is square in your eyes. You can catch fish in the surf any time of day, but early mornings and very late evenings are best. Less people on the beach means less hookups behind you with people and their dogs.
Club sponsored fish-outs:
I never did it before, should I come? Absolutely! There will be experienced people who will be very happy to help. We will start with a general discussion for everyone and provide individualized brush-up instruction as desired. But this is not a good place to start learning to cast as it has been likened to “fishing in a washing machine”.
The surf will make a good caster a much better one, but beginners need to start on grass playgrounds. You do not need to be able to double haul, but trust me, the experience will be better for you if you can. Bigger fish are typically further out.
Here are two old websites with lots of good information. They have not been updated in years, but everything they say still applies. They could have been written yesterday.
Mark’s Journals in Fly Fishing The Surf, an outstanding website with lots of pictures and observations.
Zen Fly Fishing, excellent detailed information. His “Techniques” section should be required reading. I disagree with his choice of a 6 weight rod though and I use 4 or 6 size hooks.
Santa Cruz Club website, (you are here!) full of information in their archived newsletters.
“Basket Perch”, this is a great little video of catching a surf perch on a southern California Beach.
Questions? Email Sam at flyfishtotlcom.com.