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A First Timer Tells All About The Surf!

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Like A Fish out of Water: My First Day in the Surf

By Sam Arkin

One of the great joys of working at Lost Coast is learning from my fellow employees.  While I am an avid freshwater fly fisherman, I have always been intimidated by fishing the surf.  Tides, rip currents and shooting head systems along with a few mildly traumatic Ocean Beach swims as a kid kept me away.  Tons of customers come into the shop to talk to Ben, who is our in-house saltwater guru.  I’ve been lucky enough to overhear and absorb a few of his mantras: after a cast, be sure to take a few quick steps back away from the surf break to tighten up your line before you start stripping.  Wind can be brutal, don’t blame yourself! And most importantly: get out there and fish.  This last weekend I took the plunge.  Rather literally, alas, but more on that later! Ben hosts Surf fishing clinics which are a great place to get started: there is one coming up  August 29th and another September 12th both at Crissy Field.  To register click here.

Another employee and friend Ariel was kind enough to meet me south of the city at Montara Beach.  (We met at the southern-most parking lot and fished the south end of the beach.) We rigged up eight weight rods, large reels, and partial sinking lines with leader so thick my delicate freshwater fingers felt like I was tying a non-slip loop knot with copper wire.  I was wearing my freshwater waders and a stripping basket which felt extremely clumsy at first- more ready to sell a hot dog at the ball bark than fish.  The moment I started my feeble attempt at a smooth double haul cast that basket became my best friend- you really don't want line and waves mixing at your feet. Casting in the surf makes even a challenging stream situation feel relaxed, and for me it has to do with all of the variables.  One has to be mindful of the waves, of the current, and of course of the massive amount of line and heavy oh so ready to pierce you ear flies you are whipping around.   My first few attempts didn’t go so well, and as I was admiring my back cast a surging wave slapped me across the face- Ben calls it Poseidon’s kiss. But after some awkward stumbling I developed a rhythm and a kind of wave-based pattern: wait for the surf to break and do everything in my power to land my line and fly in the trough created in between the waves.  After each cast I would take a few quick steps back to tighten up my line and start stripping.  At first I felt like my line was out surfing- it kept ending up as a tangled mess at my feet.  Gradually I grew more comfortable with the stripping basket.  And then, bam! A tug! It wasn’t the mighty pull of a striper, but I am pretty sure I have never been so happy to have a fish on, in this case a small surf perch.  A few more followed, and I can now say I am in love with another dimension of fly fishing.  And the great news is that in San Francisco we are surrounded by places to fish the surf.  I followed up the weekend session with a quick before work session at China beach today and found a few more perch.  A man walking the beach visiting from Washington DC walked over when I had a fish on and exclaimed “ a fly rod in the surf? I didn’t know people did this!”  Well I for one can now understand why. 

This Beginners Thoughts on Gear:

I was using an older single handed eight weight designed by the owner of our shop George Revel which is no longer made.  Ariel was fishing a two handed “switch” rod.  I experienced the benefits of each.  It is wicked fun to put everything you have into a double haul on a heavy-duty single-handed set up- but relaxing into a nice two-handed cast on the “switch” rod felt great.  We sell a variety of surf set ups at the shop: please click on this link to see our surf rods and kits that can have you fishing in no time. 

George and Ben had a hand in developing our very own Lost Coast Outfitters Surf Rods which are two handed- the Golden Gate and her heavier counterpart the Ocean Beach.  Two handed rods are versatile and can also be used to throw a nymph rig from the shore at places like Pyramid lake.  Double hauling can be tricky, and these rods are a cheat code.  Reduce your fatigue, take a deep breath, and experience the joy of flipping a two-handed cast farther than you thought you could. 

This will sound obvious but a sealed drag system on your reel is an absolute must, and I found myself coveting Ariel’s beautiful Abel SDS, or sealed drag salt.  You need a tough reel for the sand and salt, and the beefier stuff we carry from Hatch and Galvan started to make a lot more sense to me.  We have the Abel SDS in stock now. 

We also have the Abel "Super" in stock now, and it is a thing of beauty.  With a sealed drag system that can work from the smallest tippet to the roughest surf conditions, this reel can truly do it all.  We have a Satin Bronze 7/8 that will only look better with a bit of wear and tear.  

Many of the serious saltwater enthusiasts who come into the shop have been waiting on Hatch to release their new "Iconic" series and the reels have not disappointed.  The drag system is stronger and even more impervious to corrosion.  The Hatch 9 Plus is a perfect striper companion. 

And of course the Galvan Torque is a shop favorite.  These fantastic reels are made up the road in Sonora California and they are indestructible.  

 And the stripping basket! Don’t leave your car without it.  Poseidon’s kiss could quickly become Poseidon’s net!

George has created an exhaustive guide to shooting head and other surf-based line systems: click here to access it. This can all seem a bit overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to call the shop and we can simplify it for you.  For our two handed rods we recommend an OPST Groove Head in 225 grain with a 10 foot piece of T-11.  That last bit is a sink tip.  The basic principle of salt water lines is this: you want a heavier line to cut through bigger surf and can get away with less sink in areas where it is more calm.  

For a single handed eight or nine weight line we recommend the Rio Intouch SW Custom Cut also in a T-11- the “T-11” means 11 grains per foot of line.  The Redington Predator in an eight weight is a great starter rod.  Ben recently picked up a Hardy Demon which he likes a great deal. 


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