Choosing the best surf fishing rod can mean the difference between catching fish and losing them. Pick one too heavy, and you'll struggle to feel the fish. Go too light, and you'll never win the fight. On top of that, there's no shortage of junky rods that'll break and waste your money.
I started fishing the way many kids do, with hand-me-down rods and the occasional birthday present. But, once I needed to buy a rod using my own hard-earned, I got serious about learning what makes a surf rod worth buying.
In this guide, I'll give a breakdown of the 10 best surf fishing rods of 2023. Later in the post, we'll discuss everything you need to know to buy a long-lasting rod that will help you catch more fish.
My Review Process
I've gone through many rods, and each new rod purchase has required extensive research. Finding the "best" rod is always a new experience. It requires critical thought about the rods' quality, features, and styles available. It also forces me to consider the local waters, my fishing preferences, and my budget.
With those dynamics in mind, I've chosen high-quality rods that fit diverse needs, preferences, and budgets.
The Penn Battalion II is a dependable, everyday workhorse. I can rely on its sensitivity for small fish and its strength for big hits. It's surprisingly light and easy to cast, considering the durable, heavy-duty construction. The 70/30 graphite/fiberglass blank provides a balanced rod power distribution during incredibly difficult fights.
I love that Penn includes high-end features like Fuji alconite guides and a Fuji DPS reel seat at a mid-range price. These lightweight guides increase casting distance and make for a smooth retrieval. In addition, the high-quality, durable reel seat gives me confidence that the reel won't come loose during a considerable fight.
Although it's only available in three lengths, the nine and ten-foot sizes come in medium and medium-heavy power rod options for a more customized feel. I prefer the spinning version of this rod, but the Battalion is available in both styles if you're looking for a conventional rod.
If you're looking for a top-of-the-line rod at an affordable price, I'd trust the performance and dependability of the Penn Battalion.
The Tiralejo is a prime example of why Shimano is one of my favorite rod manufacturers. The fine attention to detail and use of high-quality parts makes the Tiralejo one of the best-performing spinning rods on the market.
The first feature that caught my eye was their blank construction. We expect to see a graphite blank on a high-end rod, but they've taken it to the next level with an intricate four-layer carbon design. It has two vertical layers, one horizontal and one layer, with strips rolled out in a spiral X pattern. This means the rod has less side-to-side bend and faster forward recovery. The result is a lightweight rod with a powerful cast and plenty of power when pulling up hard-fighting fish.
The Penn Carnage III is a prime example of a meticulously designed, high-performance surf fishing rod.
Just take a look at the blanks. They have an inner and outer layer of carbon fiber that sandwiches a core made of longitudinal strips of carbon and fiberglass. This combination creates a lightweight, responsive feel without sacrificing fighting power or durability.
I love the Fuji K-Series guides with polished SiC inserts. They create less friction which helps casting distance and decreases the chances of line bunching and tangles. The Fuji DPS conventional reel seat uses durable stainless steel and provides a secure hold that won't come loose during a fight.
Unfortunately, the Carnage III is only available in 3 sizes and rod power options, which might be limiting for some surf fishing anglers. I do, however, appreciate that Penn makes this rod available in both spinning and conventional styles.
The Carnage III is a durable, lightweight conventional rod with a perfect match of strength and sensitivity. It may cost a few extra bucks, but you can trust you're getting a high-end rod that doesn't cut corners regarding quality.
When I buy cheap rods to use as beaters, backups, or lenders, I never expect much from them. This surf spinning rod from Berrypro is a different story.
First, I'm impressed that a low-price rod uses carbon fiber blanks. Although stiffer than high-end models, the rod power and sensitivity are worlds ahead of other low-budget rods.
The space-age materials used for the awesome guides and reel seats are great if you have a little extra money. However, the stainless steel guides with ceramic inserts and sturdy reel seat on this Berrypro rod are all you need as an average angler.
Considering the low cost, this durable rod can handle even the biggest fish. I'd recommend the Berrypro to beginners looking for an affordable, quality rod or experienced anglers who don't trust their friends with expensive fishing gear.
Having the lightest surf fishing rod is critical for the days I plan to spend hours out of the water. Even a little extra weight on the rod makes a difference as your cast count increases, which is why I love the Okuma Rockaway.
The rod is ridiculously lightweight but still has the strength to handle most fish species. The entire rod is a small diameter compared to other rods of the same height. This makes the Rockaway responsive enough to sense even the smallest nibble. It also creates a deep whiplash and quick recovery during casting for a longer cast with less effort.
I like how Okuma provides an unprecedented variety of sizes and power options. The heights range from seven to twelve feet, and each size has two to three power options.
I'd recommend the Okuma Rockaway to anyone who wants the lightest surf fishing rod that makes all-day fishing easier and more enjoyable.
Ugly Stiks have a longstanding reputation for being heavy-duty rods. So it should be no surprise that when I'm gearing up to catch large striped bass, snapper, or black drum, I'm grabbing my Ugly Stik Bigwater spinning rod.
This isn't the rod I want for all-day casting, and I don't care that the Bigwater is a little stiffer than some of my other rods. The "Ugly Stik Clear Tip'' provides enough sensitivity for my needs without sacrificing strength.
I choose this rod because it can toss larger bait rigs, holds up to heavy hits, and makes it easier to pull in big, hard-fighting fish. In addition, I like the no-nonsense, stainless steel guides on this rod. Although they're a bit heavier, they're sturdy and won't pop out like guides with inserts.
I like that the Ugly Stik Bigwater lacks some cutting-edge rod tech in favor of strength and dependability. So if you don't want to spend time thinking about "the big one that got away", this is the rod you can depend on to get the job done.
Many surf fish like to ambush prey where the shallow shoals meet deeper water. Some of the spots I fish stay at a steady, shallow depth for a long distance. That's why I depend on long-casting rods like the Okuma Longitude surf fishing rods to throw big lure weights and heavy bait out where I know they're most effective.
The fiberglass/carbon blanks balance the flex needed for efficient casting with the strength to hold heavier lure weight. The twelve-foot model will give you the longest casting range. However, I wish it was also available in medium-heavy.
I'm surprised to see higher-end guides at this affordable price range. The aluminum oxide inserts are lightweight to reduce cast strain. They're also corrosion-resistant for smoother casting.
I know I won't catch anything if you can't reach where the fish are hunting. So if the spots you fish require a long-distance cast, the Okuma Longitude surf fishing rod is your best bet for launching heavy rigs over a far distance.
Working seasonally allows me to travel for extended periods throughout the year. I pack to fish, whether on the warm Pacific coast of Central America or the cold Atlantic coast of Ireland. This four-piece spinning rod made by Goture is my favorite travel fishing rod.
Every height from 6'6-10' is available in various power options. That means you'll have no problem customizing the rod to handle whatever fish you plan to go after on your trip. Whatever option you choose, the carbon composite blanks have a strong and responsive feel.
The rod breaks down into four pieces that fit into a hard carrying case that's easy and secure to store in a luggage bag. Collapsible travel rods are notorious for twisting at the joints. Goture addresses this issue with a multi-directional carbon weave. This prevents twisting at the four connection points.
I love the wide variety of size/power options and the lightweight, compact breakdown. The Goture four-piece spinning rod is the perfect travel rod for your next trip.
I've always been skeptical of telescopic fishing rods. Most of them are poorly made and always seem loose at the joints. The KastKing Blackhawk II telescopic spinning rod is a game changer.
The construction is top quality and doesn't suffer as much from the common loose joint problem. It's only available from 6'6'' to 8 feet, which might fall short for surf anglers looking for a longer travel rod.
I like how compact and secure the telescopic rod is when broken down. Packing the single piece into smaller bags is easier than multipiece collapsible travel rods. Also, if you plan on hiking with a rod or want the option of a quick setup, the telescopic rods are faster and easier to set up.
Telescopic rods are great for the casual angler who wants to throw a rod in the luggage just in case. They're also perfect for the off-grid trekker looking for the convenience of a compact rod with a quick setup. Whatever your situation, the Kastking Blackhawk II is your best bet for telescopic travel rods.
The Ugly Stik Tiger baitcasting rod is one of my favorite rods for kayak fishing. This rod makes fishing from a kayak easier and more efficient. The short 6'6" - 7 feet rod lengths are easier to handle in a small space and can still hold heavy weight. The medium power 6'6" handles my everyday bottom fishing for porgy, fluke, and seabass fishing.
It has an ideal balance of sensitivity and strength. I love that the Tiger is available in medium power, as well as medium-light, and medium-heavy for the option of going super sensitive or heavy-duty.
This is another one of my "workhorse" rods, where I'm willing to add some weight for durability. That's why I prefer the solid, stainless steel guides on this rod over lighter-weight guides with inserts found on other rods.
When you're out on a kayak, it's critical to have a durable rod you can rely on. I'd recommend the Ugly Stik Tiger to any anglers looking to take their surf fishing from the shore to the sea.
What's The Best Rod For Surf Fishing?
Choosing the best rod for surf fishing is a personal decision you'll need to make based on your situation. Here are some questions to consider that'll make it easier to narrow down the perfect rod for your needs.
- What species of fish are in your region during the time of year you'll usually be fishing?
- Out of those species, which species do you enjoy eating? Which would be fun to fish for sport?
- Where are the best spots to find those species? Sandy beach? Rocky shore? Pier?
- What are some of the challenges those spots present? Rough surf? Shallow shoals with rocks and seaweed?
- Do you want to fish actively (wading in the water, casting lures) or passively (bait rig from a ground spike rod holder)? Or the option to do both?
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding on the best quality surf fishing rod. The exact answer will depend on the type and size of species you're going after, the water you're fishing, and your preferred fishing style.
That said, you can't go wrong with a ten-foot, medium-heavy spinning rod with fast action. It'll give you sufficient casting power and work well enough for small and large fish in just about any environment.
What Size Rod Do I Need?
The most common surf rod sizes are between eight to twelve feet. The rod size you need will depend on how far you need to cast to reach where your target fish live and hunt. If you have to clear a long, heavy surf zone or shallow shoals filled with rocks, you'll need a longer rod to cast further.
The rod size also depends on the size and power of the species you're targeting. A longer rod will give you more control over a fish and make it easier to reel in.
Smaller rods are easier to store and travel. They're also easier for beginners to maneuver than long rods, which can have an awkward, heavy feel. Additionally, shorter rods tend to be less expensive than longer rods.
You'll want to weigh these factors when deciding what size rod is best for you. However, if you're looking for the best all-around size, ten-foot rods are great for beginner and experienced anglers in most situations.
What's The Best Power For Surf Fishing?
You should also consider the rod's power when deciding what size rod to choose. Heavier-powered rods handle the biggest fish and heavier bait. Lighter-powered rods are more sensitive to the first signs of a bite and smaller fish.
The ideal power depends on the size and strength of your target species. You want a rod strong enough to handle the weight and light enough to notice a bend in the rod when it hits. I’d recommend a medium-heavy rod if you’re looking for all-around power that will handle most species but still be sensitive enough to show a bite.
What's The Best Action For Surf Fishing?
The other factor in surf fishing to consider is the rod's action. This is typically described as either fast, moderate, or slow and refers to how the rod bends.
Fast Action Rod= bends at the tip (top ⅓ of the rod)
Moderate / Medium Action Rod = bends at the middle (top ½ of the rod)
Slow Action Rod= bends at the bottom (from just above the handle to the tip)
Fully understanding the pros and cons of each rod action style is complex. For now, it's enough to know that fast-action rods are the best for surf fishing. They're the most responsive to bites, provide the most control over a fish during the fight, and are easier to set the hook with.
Does The Material Matter?
Some rods are exclusively fiberglass or carbon/graphite (terms are interchangeable). However, most modern rods are a composite blend of the two materials.
Graphite rods are lightweight, enhances sensitivity to bites, and flexes for casting. Fiberglass surf rods provide strength for handling heavy loads but is much heavier than carbon.
Combining these two materials allows for a balance between weight, strength, and flexibility. The ideal ratio of fiberglass to carbon will vary based on your target species and style of fishing. Carbon is also more expensive than fiberglass surf rods, so your budget will be a consideration when deciding the rod material that's right for you.
What Are The Best Surf Fishing Rod Brands?
When you're looking to buy a new surf rod, it can help to know who some of the major players are in the industry. Some companies are household names with longstanding reputations for making quality rods. Others are new to the game but have gained popularity by delivering a mix of value and quality.
Here's a list of the best surf fishing rod brands.
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik
- St. Croix
Important note: Brand popularity does not always equal a high-quality saltwater fishing rod. You should keep in mind that most brands will have a quality range between specific models.
Also, high-end models from reputable brands may not be worth the price tag. So, be wary of the potential for "name brand" pricing.
Surf Fishing Rod Buying Guide
While shopping around, you may see product descriptions with rod parts you're unfamiliar with. It's critical to understand these parts if you want a rod that will fit your budget and help you catch fish.
We've broken down the key rod parts you need to consider in this buyer's guide.
Before we get into each part, it's important to consider how much you're willing to spend on a surf rod. Rods can run you $50 for a low-end budget rod and up to $300 or more for a premium, high-performance rod.
The price is usually dictated by the components that make up the rod. Higher-quality components/materials and complex surf fishing rod designs will generally cost more than simple designs made with low-quality parts.
That said, sometimes, low to mid-range priced rods will use high-end materials. And to make things even more dynamic, sometimes companies slap a high price tag on a rod with lower-end materials. That's why it's important to understand the values and functions of components and materials when weighing the value of a rod purchase.
Take a look at the tube handle length and the grip material. Most handles are around the same size (compared to other rods of the same height), but not always. Whether you like a longer or shorter tube handle depends on your preference for "grip distance" between your hands while casting.
Grip material is usually either cork, exposed foam, or a non-slip/gripped shrink wrap. What you choose is a matter of personal preference. Remember that you're working in a wet environment and repeatedly casting for hours with potentially sweaty hands. So go with whatever you think provides the best balance between comfort and grip security.
The rod's blank is the correct term for what's commonly referred to as the "rod" part of the rod. It's the long flexible pole that makes up the primary part of the rod.
The rod blank is the most important factor when deciding what rod is right for you. When you're checking out a surf fishing rod, look to see the blank material it's made with. Is it a fiberglass rod blank, graphite blank, or a composite blend of both materials? The material breakdown will determine the rod's strength, sensitivity, casting ability, and cost.
Also, look into the specific construction method of the blank. For example, many blanks are a composite blend of fiberglass and carbon fiber. However, only some rods use complex layering techniques to enhance strength and performance.
The circular "eyes" on the rod the line passes through are guides. High-performance style guides such as alconite and SiC are strong, lightweight, sensitive, and smooth. They're also excellent at conducting heat, which prevents braided lines from burning grooves when it runs out during a hard fight. As a result, they provide better casting/retrieval. Plus, they have increased responsiveness to bites without sacrificing strength.
Low to mid-range guide options include ceramic, stainless steel, or titanium. Ceramics are light and corrosion-resistant but lack strength and durability. Stainless steel is strong and easy to bend back to shape when twisted but heavy and can corrode over time. Titanium is lighter, stronger, and resists corrosion better than stainless steel. But it's more brittle and will break instead of bend when it can't handle the pressure.
The reel seat holds the surf fishing reel in place using hard plastic, carbon/graphite, stainless steel, or a combination. Graphite composite is lightweight, strong, sensitive to bites, and expensive. Stainless steel is strong and usually combines with carbon or hard plastic to decrease weight. Plastic is lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and cheap but not very strong or sensitive.
The rods I reviewed all have their place depending on your budget and fishing style. That said, the Penn Battalion II will satisfy the needs of both beginners and seasoned anglers without breaking the bank. You can't beat getting high-end quality at a mid-range price. If you're willing to spend a little more, the Shimano Tiralejo is the best you can get. Otherwise, I'd recommend the Battalion II to get the job done.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.