My job in Sportsworld Napier puts me in the position of setting up surfcasters from scratch most days of the week. To give you an idea on costs, a basic 12-foot rod (rod lengths are in Imperial measurements, because that's how surf rods are still described. A twelve-footer is a little less than four metres long) and single ball-bearing reel, along with line, hooks, sinkers and a rod stand could cost as little as $100 to $200. The top end of the market could cost up to one thousand dollars. Where you fall in this range is up to you. In most cases the more you spend, the better the quality of the goods.
This should be a minimum of 12-feet in length. Any shorter and long distance casting becomes difficult. It should be no more than of 16 feet long, although there may be some merit in a longer rod if you are wading deep before casting. Buy graphite if your budget allows it. Graphite is lighter, stiffer and stronger than fibreglass. It will generally cast further than glass. Look for quality in the rings and fittings on the rod. Dark coloured inserts are usually the better ones.
Pick a rod with a wooden butt. This will take the knocks in the rod stand and on the beach and rocks.
Rods can be one, two or three piece, so pick one that is convenient for your situation. A one-piece sixteen-foot rod can be a problem if you ride a bike to your fishing spot! One multi-piece rods, check that the joints are firm
Before buying your rod, fit the reel you have chosen on it and see how it balances. Most sets sold in sports shops will be balanced sets if there are fishers on the staff. Shops where no-one fishes could have unbalanced outfits for sale. If in doubt, get a fishing buddy to check out your likely purchase. If you buy right at this stage you could be set up for years. Buy the best gear you can afford and buy from someone you are comfortable with. Let them present all the options in your price bracket.
For someone starting out the range of reels available can be staggering. For surfcasting there are three types of reels that will do the job for you. Firstly, there are spinning reels known by many as eggbeaters. These are simple to use and suitable and for all surfcasting in New Zealand. The Australian Alvey reels have a following here, too. These are single-action reels, which pivot on the rod for casting. They take a bit of practice before you will get the casting sorted out and they suffer from an agonisingly slow retrieve rate in comparison to some spinning reels. They are, however, ideal for fishing surf beaches where you are likely to take a dunking from a wave.
The other type of reels for use in the surf is the revolving spool reel known as the overhead or free-spool reels. These require more attention when casting due to the tendency for the spool to keep revolving after the line stops, creating the dreaded 'bird's nest'. Once you have mastered casting with these reels, however, long distances can be achieved and you will have excellent line control when playing fish. Prices range from under $100 to over $400; similar prices to spin reels, although there are fewer available at the cheaper end.
Look for magnetic or centrifugal casting brakes on this type of reel. If the reel has a metal spool it is likely to be a boat reel not designed for casting. Metal spools are hard to stop once they reach high revs thus creating bird's nests. Be prepared to practice long and hard before mastering the art of casting with frees-pool reels.
There are hundreds of types of nylon available that are suitable for surfcasting. These come in a wide range of breaking strains. For the beginner a compromise is suggested. Lightweight lines give the longest distances but are easily damaged and easily broken when large fish are encountered. My suggestion is to start out with line about 10-kg breaking strain. This line will have a diameter of around .35 to .40mm. This is thick enough to withstand general wear and tear during fishing and strong enough to land most fish you are likely to hook. You will notice many claims from nylon manufacturers, such as ultimate abrasion resistance, extra strong, strong but thin, world's strongest line. Tread carefully before purchasing. Only experience will sort out your favourite. Personally, I look for a line with high abrasion resistance that will suffer less damage if washed through the stones or sand. I like a line that is thin for its breaking strain.
There are other options in lines with the new super braids. These are available in fused or braided styles. The fused line seems best for surfcasting, as it has a stiffness that helps avoid tangles.
These lines have little or no stretch, which is a great asset as far as feeling bites at long distances go. They also cast extremely well. Some care is required in their handing, though, as they will easily cut fingers if they slip. These lines are not as easy to knot as nylon, either. Test all knots to make sure the Spectra line is not slipping. The best knot to use when joining is the uni-knot. Don't forget though - test every knot! Once you have decided on the line you are going to use buy in a bulk spool. That is at least a 300m length if that is enough to fill your reel, or buy a 1/4 pound spool, which is usually around 1000m. This will give you a back up fill you can carry with you to cover for any accidents. The price gets a lot better when you buy bulk spools too.
The next thing you need to consider is a shock leader. This is 10 metres of heavier line joined to your main line to take the strain or shock imposed during casting. It also allows you to put more pressure on a fish at the end of the fight when you are beaching it.
There are a couple of options on shock leaders. The simplest is to use a length of heavier nylon. A basic rule of thumb is to use a 30lb leader (15kg) if you use a 3-oz sinker; a 40lb leader for 4-oz sinker; 50lb leader for 5-oz etc. It is amazing how much power is generated as you cast. If you don't use a shock leader, be prepared to watch your expensive end gear heading for the horizon on a regular basis. You can purchase tapered shock leaders and these are my choice. They are tapered from 16lb to 65lb, which is .37mm to .80mm. This is tied to the end of your main line with a double uni-knot. This must be neatly tied and trimmed as short as possible. These tapered leaders are available for about $4.95 each. They offer a great transition from main line to leader and will greatly improve your casting distance. Ask about them at your local sports store.