Surf casting rods are unlike anything else on the angling market, and they’re built to deliver the long casts, unimpeachable strength, and rugged durability surf anglers demand.
Do you know what separates the best from the rest? Looking for a great rod at a price that won’t break the bank? Keep reading!
Here’s a quick glance at the best surf fishing rod:
- Okuma Cedros CSX Surf – Our Pick for the Best Lightweight Surf Rod!
- Penn Carnage II – Our Pick for the Best-Casting Surf Rod!
- Berrypro Graphite Surf Spinning Rod
- Fiblink Surf Spinning
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik Bigwater Surf
- St. Croix Avid Surf
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Surf Fishing Rod Reviews
- 2 Our Picks – The Okuma Cedros CSX Surf and the Penn Carnage II!
- 3 Surf Casting Rod Basics
- 4 Rod Components: What We Look for in an Excellent Surf Casting Rod
Best Surf Fishing Rod Reviews
Okuma Cedros CSX Surf – Our Pick for the Best Lightweight Surf Rod!
Okuma went all-in on their excellent Cedros CSX surf series, and these are definitely rods to be reckoned with for their competition.
A heavy-duty carbon fiber blank provides the 11-foot Cedros CSX with an unbelievably light weight combined with amazing strength and sensitivity. How Okuma delivers this blank at this price point is something I’d like to know!
Expect pretty much unrivaled tip sensitivity from this rod, as well as a blank that may as well be made of steel once the rod bends to a bit more than 1/3rd its length. The Cedros CSX can handle whatever you throw at it: sharks, bull reds, massive stripers–no worries! You’ve got the power you need to muscle big fish, and it has proven to be bomb-proof in the real world.
Tough, strong, featherweight: that’s a lot to ask, and the Okuma delivers.
Okuma went an unusual route with the guides on this rod. Rather than the typically large stripper guide you’d expect, you get guides that look like they came directly off a bass rod. I would expect casting to suffer from line slap, but by setting the stripper guide a bit further down the rod, it seems to work.
I’d prefer a bigger guide there, but the rod casts well despite that. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but I’d give the nod to the Penn here.
It wears eight ALPS stainless steel frames with ultra-hard Zirconium inserts, and their quality is evident the moment you take a look. Tough enough to take braid season after season, these are on par with the Fuji Ks Penn’s Carnage II runs.
The Cedros CSX offers a long, rubber shrink tube handle that’s got all the space anyone could ever want for casting and fighting. The reel seat is excellent as well, and you can expect it to grip like a vise.
Overall, this is an ideal rod for anglers who care a lot about weight. If you cast a lot, hold your rod rather than use a rod holder, or just find composite rods too heavy, you probably can’t beat the Cedros CSX.
Penn Carnage II – Our Pick for the Best-Casting Surf Rod!
Penn specializes in saltwater fishing tackle, and if you’re an inshore, offshore, or beach angler, you’ll know their name is trusted. The Carnage II series are excellent surf rods, built to cast, fight, and last.
Let’s start with the blank. Penn equips the Carnage II with a composite of graphite and fiberglass that pairs the rigidity and sensitivity of the former with the flexibility and durability of the latter. Compared to the Ugly Stik Bigwater (which is about ¼ the price of this rod), you’re frankly getting a lot more rod, and the dollars you spend really do seem to count here.
The tip is quite sensitive, and from nibbles to the action of a crankbait, you’ll be aware of what’s going on at the end of your line. The blank bends easily for the first 40% or so, before hitting the real backbone this rod offers, which is confidence-inspiringly stiff.
Looking for a rod that’ll let you muscle a 4- to 6-foot shark?
You’ve found it!
Guide quality is excellent, as you’d expect from Fuji K components. The Alconite inserts are light, slick, and durable, too, and quality control is outstanding. You’ve stepped up in price from the likes of Fiblink, Berrypro, and Okuma, and it’ll show here. I’d be very surprised if you lose an insert, for instance, or have a problem with guide durability.
One thing I like about the is rod is that, though it features a few extra guides, those high-end Fuji Ks really do their thing well, allowing great casts while more equally distributing load across the blank. That makes this rod tough, and I’d put it near the legendary Ugly Stik in this regard.
That’s saying a lot!
The Carnage II sports a long rubber shrink tube handle, and it’s among my favorite of the bunch. Providing what feels like miles of space, it helps you cast as far as you need to and control big fish when you hook one.
The reel seat is Fuji as well, and it’ll do its job admirably, every day, all day, season after season.
Overall, I think Penn’s Carnage II is a tough surf casting rod to beat.
Available at: Amazon
Berrypro’s series of surf rods are a cost-effective alternative to more expensive options, though I’m not convinced they compete with the Ugly Stik Bigwater at what amounts to the same price-point. That’s not to say that the Berrypro isn’t a capable rod–it is!
I recommend the 11-foot model, and Berrypro uses an IM7 graphite blank on this rod, providing excellent strength and stiffness in a very light package. If you find fishing a big rod tiring, or simply can’t handle most 11-footers with one hand, this might be a good option for you.
This rod has more than enough backbone for most fish, and the fast action means that you’ll definitely feel a light strike. From bait fish to blues, expect to notice any nibble!
Despite the added guide–almost certainly a nod to the graphite blank–this rod can be fragile. That’s simply the nature of graphite and a tradeoff that’s been made for added sensitivity and decreased weight. In practice, this means that you can lose the tip, and even snap the rod nearer the middle, without much warning.
Guide quality is good. Expect stainless steel with ceramic inserts, though quality control can be spotty–leading to inserts that pop loose. I’d definitely give the nod to better rods on our list here, including the similarly priced Ugly Stik. That said, customer support is outstanding, and if you do have a problem, they’ll take care of it quickly!
This rod casts well, but some added flexibility from fiberglass would improve performance on this front.
The handle on this rod is very nice. Long, continuous rubber shrink tubing provides plenty of territory for your hands, and whether you’re casting or fighting, I think you’ll be impressed. Ditto for the reel seat: it’s well-constructed, tight, and very secure.
Ferrule quality is great, and this rod locks up like a vault.
Overall, this is a sensitive, light rod that’s ideal for people who find the weight of fiberglass or composite just a bit too much.
Available at: Amazon
Fiblink’s surf rods are setting a new standard for quality, and more than one angler has been impressed that these affordable options can go head-to-head with far more expensive alternatives.
At the heart of this 12-foot rod, you’ll find a high-modulus graphite blank. That cuts weight way down, making this an excellent choice if fiberglass and composite are too heavy for you. But as I’ve noted above, that weight reduction usually involves a tradeoff in durability.
Well, whatever they’re doing at the Fiblink factory seems to defy physics! This rod is light–as you’d expect–but it’s also incredibly durable. Graphite is strong, no question, so I expected this rod to take a heavy load, but what I didn’t anticipate was its ability to do so without breaking. From big, angry stripers to sharks to massive rays, this rod just muscles and muscles and muscles: no cracking, no snapping, no problems.
Count me impressed!
(That said, a few anglers have had problems with broken tips–probably due to user error. You simply cannot manhandle a graphite blank near the tip–it must be babied.)
You’ll find the real strength of this blank a bit past the 1/3rd mark, at which point it’s simply like iron. The tip is very sensitive, and with experience, you’ll be able to feel ripples in the sand with your sinker.
Guide quality is excellent, though the inserts can pop loose. Here, I’m forced to give the nod to the Ugly Stik Bigwater, simply because single-unit construction just seems to work for surf rods. Another issue is the “stripper” guide, nearest the reel. It’s a bit undersized, and as a result, casting suffers.
Casting is good, though not exceptional, and that small stripping guide is probably the culprit.
The handle on the Fiblink is excellent. Expect continuous rubber shrink tubing and plenty of space for casting and fighting.
The reel seat and ferrules are top-notch; expect no trouble from either.
Overall, this is an excellent lightweight rod for people who find the Ugly Stik Bigwater too heavy.
Available at: Amazon
Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik has earned a reputation for bomb-proof toughness. For your average angler, that may not be important, but for surf casting, that’s something to think carefully about!
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that, if you’re frustrated by expensive casting rods breaking on you, this might be the best option on our list.
While the Bigwater series is available in a range of surf lengths (8, 9, 10, 11, and 15 feet), my recommendation is the 11. Featuring a composite blank formed from graphite and fiberglass, this rod has the flexibility to load well on a cast and the strength to muscle a big shark onto the sand.
Sporting the clear tip you’d expect on an Ugly Stik, I find this rod to be plenty sensitive for flounder, skate, croaker, and the like, while only really strutting its stuff when you hook something larger like a redfish, striper, or shark. You’ll find the full power of this heavy blank about a third of the way back from the tip, where it feels more like a steel rod in your hands.
Suffice it to say that I’d put this rod up against real brutes, but by the end of the day, its weight is going to be noticeable in your arms and hands.
The line and lure weights this blank is rated for are excellent, allowing you to throw everything from lures to heavy sinkers and live bait. Casting is superior across this spectrum, no doubt due to the combination of flexible fiberglass and rigid graphite. This is further enhanced by a long, comfortable EVA foam handle.
For the money, I wasn’t expecting much from the guides, but I’ll admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised. First, they’re tough, tough, tough. No worries about a bang against something in the parking lot or a hard fight. Second, though they’re made from polished stainless steel, these guides are admirably slick. I’ve tested them by sawing with 6-pound mono–and the line was totally undamaged!
The reel seat is graphite, and while not attractive, it’s both tight and secure. No wiggle, no trouble.
The Ugly Stik Bigwater is equipped with a generously long, split EVA foam handle. I’m fine with that, though I generally prefer continuous designs and rubber shrink tubing. That noted, there’s plenty of space for casting and fighting. The foam is durable, too, and there’s not much to complain about here.
Shakespeare’s ferrule quality is great, and when properly assembled, this rod’s pieces stay put. On a heavy-powered rod, flexibility at the joint isn’t to be expected, but I find plenty of sensitivity makes its way to the handle.
Overall, the Ugly Stik reminds me not to judge a book by its cover, and this is an amazing bargain if you’re looking for a durable surf casting rod.
St. Croix is a legendary rod company, and the Avid Surf lives up to its reputation for unbeatable quality–if you can pay for it!
Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that this rod is roughly three times the price of the next most expensive option on our list. The real question, then, is does it deliver three times the performance?
As big a fan as I am of St. Croix, I’m going to have to say no.
Without question, the Avid sports an awesome blank. Made from stiff, strong, sensitive, lightweight carbon fiber, it’ll tell you about every nibble and bump while still turning a 30-pound striper on a dime. It’s tough, it’s light, and it’s pretty much everything you want in a surf rod, full stop.
For anglers who want a light rod, this St. Croix is ideal, delivering top-notch performance in a featherweight package.
The Avid wears 10 Fuji K guides, distributing weight along its length far better than most surf rods. Almost certainly a necessity given the carbon fiber composition, the result is that it’s more durable than less expensive rods wearing fewer guides.
Casting doesn’t suffer, however. Between the excellent Alconite inserts and the large stripper guide, you can throw light lures farther than you’d expect, and the heavy stuff just seems to travel forever.
If there’s a niggle in my mind about this rod, it’s the cork tape handle. Smooth, comfortable, and grippy, it’s fine for what it is–until it needs to be replaced. It just can’t stand up to the real world the way rubber shrink tubing does, and I’d prefer that by a country mile.
The reel seat is as awesome as you’d expect from St. Croix.
Overall, I’d say the Avid is simply a superb surf rod. But that’s to be expected at this price, and the issue is whether it’s really worth three Okuma Cedros.
I’m forced to say no, though this is undoubtedly the better rod. But dollar for dollar, foot for foot, I think you get more bang for your buck from lower-priced competitors.
Our Picks – The Okuma Cedros CSX Surf and the Penn Carnage II!
This was a tough competition, and there are many good choices for surf casting rods. Ultimately, my assessment resulted in a virtual dead heat, with the Okuma and Penn rivaling each other so closely that it’s impossible to pick a winner.
The Okuma brings ultra-light weight to the table, providing excellent components throughout, as well as the strength, sensitivity, and durability you want in a good surf rod. The only flaw? A smaller-than-normal stripper guide may shorten your longest casts a touch, but for anglers who demand lightweight, that’s an easy trade to accept. The Okuma is also priced right, offering an incredible bargain for the money.
The Penn, on the other hand, combines graphite and fiberglass, edging the Okuma in toughness. It also weighs a good bit more but casts better in most angler’s hands. Component quality is excellent, though the price is a bit higher than the Okuma.
Ultimately, which rod is right for you is a question of weight versus casting distance. If you can accept the heft of the Penn, it’s an outstanding rod. But if you plan to fish with your rod in-hand all day, I’d definitely give the edge to the Okuma.
Surf Casting Rod Basics
Surf casting rods aren’t just overgrown spinning tackle. Instead, they’re custom-designed to provide ultra-long casting and tremendous strength. And whether you’re hunting for bluefish, throwing for specks, or hoping for a shark, they’ve got to deliver across an incredible range of conditions and species.
To better understand what sets these rods apart, let’s begin by breaking down the most basic elements of a surf casting rod.
A rod’s action describes where on the blank it will begin to bend under load. The faster the action, the nearer to the tip you’ll start to feel it’s true strength.
For instance, a fast action rod will remain stiff though most of its length, usually bending about a fifth to a third from the end. By contrast, a slow action rod will bend along most of its length, forming a long arc that begins very near the handle.
Power is a measure of how much force it takes to begin to bend a rod. Whereas action tells you where it will bend, power tells you how much it will bend under a given load.
Power and action together describe how a blank behaves. Fast action, heavy rods take a lot of strain to bend, and most of their length will remain straight. On the other hand, a medium action, heavy rod will take the same weight, but it’ll start bending nearer the handle. You can keep combining action and power terms–running through all the possible combinations–and in each case, you’ll have a good sense of what a rod with those descriptions will do.
This matters for determining how a rod will behave in a fight as well as how it will load and cast.
Virtually all surf casting rods will be medium power and heavier, though action varies quite a bit.
All other things being equal, rod length affects casting accuracy and distance.
The shorter the rod, the more accurate the cast. The longer the rod, the farther it will cast, and the better it will load–acting like a spring–under a heavy lure or weight.
But length also impacts how action and power work together, and the longer the rod, the more it will bend at a given power.
Surf casting rods tend to be quite long–generally no shorter than 9 feet or so, and often much longer. This contributes to excellent casting distances–a necessity for surf fishing. That length also gives anglers with the right rod quite a bit of leverage in a fight.
For all conditions, I recommend a rod between 10-12 feet, with 11 being my personal sweet-spot.
Three materials dominate the surf casting rod market: fiberglass, graphite, and carbon fiber.
- Fiberglass – is generally heavier, tougher, and less expensive than graphite. Indeed, its chief advantage is strength and durability, and rods like Shakespeare’s Ugly Stiks, legendary for their toughness, are composed of fiberglass.Fiberglass also flexes more easily than graphite, which can be a good thing when you need a rod to load well or cushion a hookset on a treble-hooked lure.
- Graphite – is generally lighter, less durable, and more expensive than fiberglass. It’s very stiff and sensitive and allows large, heavy rods to maintain a good feel. Many rods are now made from graphite, ranging from whip-like ultralights to heavy bass rods.
- Carbon fiber – is the lightest, strongest, and most expensive rod material you can find. Ultra-light and incredibly stiff, it makes a great rod if it can be made sufficiently durable and perfectly flexible through the addition of fiberglass.
- Composites – some rods combine a graphite or carbon fiber core with a fiberglass wrapping, using both materials to draw-out the advantages they offer. Ideally, the result is a rod that’s strong and sensitive, that loads well, and that’s tough as nails.
Surf casting rods are subjected to extreme stress with every cast, and unless the blank is very well made, they have a tendency to break. This is a common failing–even on expensive rods.
Note: The blank is one of the more expensive components of a rod, and given how long surf casting tackle is, expect good rods to be fairly expensive.
Line and Lure Weights
Line and lure weights are usually printed on the side of the blank near the handle. They’re based on the length, action, and power of the rod, and sticking within the recommended range results in the best casting performance it can deliver.
Rod Components: What We Look for in an Excellent Surf Casting Rod
Surf casting rods are built tough, and they’re designed for serious fights, ultra-long casts, and all the abuse Mother Nature can dish out.
Surf casting rods need very long handles for two reasons.
First, when you do hook a monster, you’ll need that length to fight, and longer handles mean greater leverage. Second, the long handles allow you to place your hands far apart, using a technique known as snap casting to launch a lure incredible distances.
Handles are generally composed of one of three materials: cork, EVA foam, or rubber shrink tubing.
- Cork – is warm to the touch, often attractive, and generally more expensive. It’s typically not quite as durable as synthetics, nor can it offer as sure a grip as rubber shrink tubing.
- EVA foam – is a tough, durable synthetic that provides a thicker grip than rubber shrink tubing.
- Rubber shrink tubing – is a common–and excellent–choice for surf rods. No slip, it provides grip as well as continuously uninterrupted territory for your hands. It’s durable, long-lasting, and relatively inexpensive, too.
Whatever the material, I look for high-quality manufacturing, excellent fit and finish, and the contour, texture, and space for casting and fighting. But rubber shrink tubing is common for a reason, and it’s probably the best handle material for this purpose.
The blank is the heart of any rod.
When designing rods, manufacturers choose the best materials for the price-point, keeping the intended use of the blank in mind. For instance, a rod that’s designed to pier-fish for sharks won’t feature the same blank as a rod that’s intended to surf cast for flounder.
Generally speaking, higher-quality blanks will preserve sensitivity while still delivering long casts and plenty of power in a fight.
I look for strong, sensitive blanks, usually starting at medium power or heavier. I prefer fast or medium-fast action rods for surf casting, and I think you will, too.
I’m agnostic about which components a manufacturer selects, as long as they’ve chosen the right tools for the job. That said, fiberglass tends to be both heavier and more durable than graphite or carbon fiber alone, as well as less expensive. The tradeoff? It’s less sensitive and stiff, too.
I’ll note the action and power of each rod I review, and give you my general impressions of the blank’s performance. And as I mentioned above, surf casting rods can get expensive given how much blank material is needed for each one.
Reel seats are easy to overlook, but they’re an essential part of a good rod. Because they need to lock your reel in place and hold it like a vice, they need to fit a large array of reels well, tighten-down securely, and resist coming loose.
I like solid brass reel seats, but I’ve owned and fished tough plastic models, too.
It’s difficult to overemphasize the importance of guide quality on a surf casting rod.
Guides distribute the strain of a big fish along the length of the blank, but they also create friction during casting and add weight to the rod. Surf casting rods sport far fewer guides than other styles of tackle, typically just 5-6, regardless of length.
That may seem strange to anglers who are used to a more-or-less standard rule of one guide per foot, but it helps when you’re looking for ultra-long casts from the beach. The downside? Surf casting rods are a little more prone to breakage under a heavy load, as that force isn’t as evenly distributed along the blank.
These rods require a large “stripper” guide–the first guide after the reel–to accommodate big spinning reels and avoid the line slap that impairs casting. Typical diameters for the stripper guide are 40mm, and any smaller than that risks shorter casts.
They also need to be strong enough to take a beating on the beach and in transit without breaking.
But guide material is important for more than durability: this component has work to do!
During a fight, your line will be forced against and through the guides. This generates friction, and even a little heat will quickly break heavy line! Smooth guides that provide as frictionless a surface as possible are ideal, and ceramics and silicon oxide inserts are common at the high-end.
But I’ve tested stainless steel guides, and when well-made, they’re very, very good, too.
An easy way to check guide quality is to saw at the largest one with some 6- to 8-pound mono.
If it breaks, take a pass on that rod!
I’ll be sure to assess guide quality carefully in each review.
A surf casting rod needs a sensitive tip to detect light strikes.
Whether that tip is fiberglass, as many are, or a continuation of the graphite or carbon fiber blank, what matters is that you can feel a nibble without losing the last 8 inches of your rod in a fight!
I’ll let you know how the tip fishes in each review.
Ferrules are the points at which a multi-part rod is joined. They need to be secure and as flexible as possible.
Well-constructed ferrules transmit vibration, making a multi-part rod almost as sensitive as a one-piece competitor. They also flex well, acting as much as possible like a solid part of the blank.
It’s important to assemble a multi-part surf rod properly, but it’s simple to do:
I assessed ferrule quality on each rod I review above.