My experience fly fishing the surf comes from the school of hard knocks. Classes were attended at California coasts from San Francisco south to San Diego. My first class was far from successful and I was motivated to attend class based on a magazine article. Not one to give up, I tried again and again. When it worked I kept at it, when it didnít work, as frequently was the case, Iíd go home and do more research. Today, I fish the surf with confidence, at least in terms of sandy beaches for surfperch.
If you fish exclusively for surfperch, a 5-6 weight would work fine. However, I prefer 7-8 weight rods for a couple of reasons. Foremost, they handle weighted flies better, cast further, and do better in rough weather, features I appreciate. Further, for 7 weight, and heavier, rods thereís a greater selection of shooting heads/lines.
Given the size of most fish youíll encounter, a reel that holds your line and a hundred yards of backing is sufficient. No need for powerful drag systems, but Iíve not been chasing big game either. A saltwater outfit isnít a necessity, provided, and itís a BIG provided you thoroughly clean your equipment after each use. If youíre going to fish the surf regularly, Iíd make the investment (and have) in salt water resistant equipment, but for just a couple days on the water, fish what you have and clean it thoroughly each day.
Things happen fast surf fishing, and surfperch are mostly bottom feeders, so I fish primarily sinking lines. Actually, Iíve gone almost exclusively to 30 foot shooting heads with an intermediate running line. The advantages are (1) greater distance, (2) things get down quickly and stay there, and (3) the waves donít affect the line as much, it cuts through the waves better.
My leader system is a section of straight monofilament, 3X or heavier. The leader to the first fly is 4-6 feet, and then I add sections of 2-3 feet for each additional fly. Itís not uncommon for me to fish two or three flies at a time, which often leads to two or three fish at a time.
I find waders useful, although the reality is Iím an aggressive wader and typically find that my days end Iím as wet inside as out. During the summer when things are warm, waders are not necessary, but during the winter! A waterproof jacket over the outside of the waders with a good wading belt will go a long ways to keeping one dry, at least until you go swimming after getting knocked off your feet by a wave. As that almost always happens to me, I carry a towel and change of closes.
A stripping basket is a must when fishing the surf. No itís not a basket to hold your wet clothes after taking a swim, rather itís a basket to strip your line into while retrieving it. It needs to have large holes in the bottom for water to drain out. A few posts/pegs/pins up from the bottom will help keep the line from tangling when a wave washes in. I like mine just under waist high on the right side (I cast left-handed). Over the years Iíve tried several, including modified small plastic laundry baskets. All work to some degree. Just find one you can live with and go fishing.
For flies, I carry a mix of smallish crab, shrimp, and streamer patterns. Iíve had good luck with my versions of the surf miki, zen worm, and squirrel Clouser that I found on Glenn Yoshimotoís site the Zen Fly Fishing, one of the more informative sites on surf fishing Iíve found. Another good listing of surf patterns is Gary Bulla Salt Water Fly Fishing. There is one more pattern I use with great success and thatís a smaller version of Bob Clouserís Foxee Clouser, that I tie in a size 8, using dyed Arctic Fox. The best color combination for me has been a gray wing over a pink tail/underbody.
While wading the surf, I only carry a single, water tight fly box with a few replacements, nippers, sunglasses, and leader material. I leave everything else, second rod, spare reels/lines, flies, water, sunscreen, etc. in small backpack on the beach just above the surf line. The only issue Iíve ever had is with dogs off lease that like to use it as a urinal. And yes I give the owners an earful.
Bottom line, 7wt rod, shooting head type III to VI line, 2X tippet, waters, rain jacket, wading belt, stripping basket, box of size 10-4 flies, nippers, sunglasses, and a small backpack with odds and ends and youíre good to go. Leave the rest with a change of clothes in the car and youíre good to go.
Iíll cover rigging, reading the surf and fishing tactics in the near future. Remember the biggest need is simply the desire to go fishing. What are you waiting for, go already!