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Sea Fishing - What Do I Do?

Updated on August 13, 2011

Getting into sea fishing can be a little daunting. Unfortunately many tackle shops in the UK appear to be reluctant to share knowledge and walking into a tackle shop knowing nothing about sea fishing can be intimidating for the beginner. What rod and reel should I buy, what do I use for bait, where does my weight go and how do I cast out? Fundamental questions that all sea fishermen know the answers to but many beginners are afraid to ask.

If this sounds familiar, read on!

Sea Fishing
Sea Fishing

What to Buy

The simplest way to catch fish from the beach is to cast a baited rig into the sea and wait for a fish to bite. For this you will need the following basic equipment as a minimum:

  • Beach Caster Rod

  • Fixed Spool Reel

  • Main line

  • Shock Leader line

  • Ready Made Rig

  • Lead Weight

  • Bait

  • Rod Rest

Beach Caster Rod

Beach caster rods (sometimes called surf or surf-casting rods) are usually 12 or 13 feet long and start at around £25 for a reasonable quality budget rod. If you're able to stretch to an intermediate level rod for around £50 then by all means do but be careful not to buy a rod that is too stiff for you as until you have improved your casting technique you won't be able to apply enough power to the cast to bend the rod and you may as well cast out with a broom handle! The cheaper rods are usually made from fibreglass and tend to be heavier and thicker than the next level up where carbon construction allows a slimmer rod without compromising strength and flexibility. Having said that, there are now many very reasonably priced carbon rods available.

Multiplier or Fixed Spool Reel?
Multiplier or Fixed Spool Reel?

Fixed Spool Reel

There are two main types of reel for sea fishing: Fixed Spool and Multiplier. As a beginner a fixed spool reel is usually the best option. Simplicity is key when you are starting out and although multiplier reels can yield better results in distance casting they are also far more prone to catastrophic tangles otherwise known as 'birds-nests'. Fixed spool reels are less susceptible to tangles and are very simple to use.

Main Line

Line is rated by its breaking strain. A line of 20lbs for example will break when the force applied to it exceeds 20lbs. There are two main types of line: Mono-filament (mono) and Braid. Mono, as the name suggests, is single stranded whereas braid is made from many individual fibres allowing the same breaking strain to be achieved using much thinner line. Again for simplicity stick with mono line to begin with. Many anglers are now switching to braid but it's a lot more expensive and not generally recommended for beginners. The breaking strain should be high enough to cope with the forces experienced when hooking into a big fish but not too high or the line will be too thick to achieve the required casting distance. The type of ground (sea bed) that you're fishing on can be an important factor here and a higher breaking strain should be used over rough ground where snags and abrasion are more likely. A breaking strain of 18 or 20lb would be a good choice to begin with. Fill your reel almost to capacity using the main line, leaving a lip of about 2 to 3mm on the spool. A bigger lip will result in a less efficient cast but be careful not to overfill it or you line will fall off the spool into a tangle before you know it.

Shock Leader

A shock leader is a length of very strong line that takes the brunt of the force applied to the line when casting. If you try to cast out without a shock leader, you will more than likely snap your main line as it's very easy to apply more than 20lb of force during a cast. The shock leader attaches to your main line and runs a few times around the spool, up through the eyes of the rod and about another 3 or 4 feet down to your rig. As a general rule of thumb, you should take the weight of your lead in ounces and multiply this by 10 to give you the breaking strain of your shock leader in pounds. So for example if you are fishing with a 5oz lead, you should use at least a 50lb shock leader.

IMPORTANT: For safety reasons, always use a shock leader of sufficient breaking strain. If your line snaps when casting your lead and tackle can fly off in any direction and cause injury.

Always Use a Shock Leader
Always Use a Shock Leader

Ready Made Rig

The rig (sometimes called a trace) is an arrangement of hooks tied in a particular configuration. Once you get more into your sea fishing you may want to tie your own rigs but to begin with it's much easier to buy one ready made. You can then use this as a template to make your own rigs in the future. There are many different ready made rigs available for around 2 to 3 pounds. A good choice for the beginner would be a three hook flapper rig. This is a very basic rig with three hooks tied in a simple arrangement. Each hook can be baited with a different bait to give good scent dispersion and to provide more chance of catching a fish. The rig will attach to your shock leader preferably using a trace-link to allow quick release when changing your rig or packing away.

Lead Weights
Lead Weights

Lead Weight

The lead weight (normally just called a lead) has 2 purposes. Firstly it provides weight allowing you to cast your baited rig a long way and secondly it keeps your baited rig anchored to the sea bed instead of floating off aimlessly and tangling up with the person fishing next to you. Because currents can be strong in the sea, it's best to use a lead that has grip wires (or prongs) that dig into the ground. Some of these are simply made from pliable wire that springs loose when pulled and some have stronger wires that clip into the body of the weight and release when pulled firmly. Gemini Breakout Leads or Break-Away Impact Leads are both excellent choices. The lead will attach to the bottom of your rig ideally using a lead-link or lead-clip to allow quick release when changing your rig or packing away. For sea fishing in UK waters, a 5 or 6oz lead should be sufficient however it will depend on how rough the sea or how strong the current is.

Mackerel baited hook
Mackerel baited hook


There are many different types of bait that can be used for sea fishing. Lug-worm, mackerel and squid are popular choices. It's a good idea to have more than one bait to give yourself more chance of catching the fish. If using a multi-hook rig (a three-hook flapper rig for example) it's also a good idea to use a different bait on each hook. This is great for scent dispersion and allows you to judge which bait is giving you the best results. Be sure to secure your bait by threading the hook through it several times or it may get dislodged during the cast.

Rod Rest

The rod rest is a simple stand that holds your rod at the right angle while you are fishing. It's not absolutely essential but highly recommended as without one you'll need to hold your rod in your hands and this will very soon become uncomfortable. It's also a lot easier to have your rod upright when attaching tackle and baiting up or removing fish from your line.

Sea Fishing Starter Kits

If you're looking for an inexpensive way to purchase the above you may wish to buy a Sea Fishing Starter Kit. This generally works out cheaper and ensures that everything you buy will work together.

How To Fish

Now that you have all of your tackle and equipment, you need to know how to use it. In simple terms here's what to do:

  1. Put your rod together and ensure that the eyes line up in a straight line.

  2. Attach your reel to the rod.

  3. Fill your reel with line. Tie a simple loop around the spool of the reel to hold it in place and then gently wind it on until the line has tightened. Continue to wind the line until the reel has been filled. Be sure to draw the line off the top of the supply spool (where the breaking strain is indicated) and not the side or the bottom. The supply spool should not rotate. If you draw the line off the side or the bottom of the supply spool the line will twist and this will cause tangles.

  4. Tie the shock leader onto the main line using a shock leader knot or a blood knot. The shock leader should be long enough to wind around the spool of your reel four or five times, pass up the length of the rod and drop down by a further 3 or 4 feet where your rig will be attached.

  5. Tie a small loop in the end of the shock leader and attach a trace-link to this loop. Then attach your ready made rig to the trace-link. Be careful to avoid snagging yourself on the hooks!

  6. Add a lead-link to the loop at the other end of the rig (if it doesn't have one already) and then clip your lead in to the rig.

  7. Bait up each of the hooks.

  8. Cast out gently but firmly using a simple overhead cast to avoid any sudden snatches which could snap your line. To do this you need to hold the line under your thumb and pull back the bail-arm of the reel. Once you have cast out flick the bail-arm back into place and reel in the slack. For more guidance on casting it's a good idea to observe other fishermen and perhaps ask someone to show you how.

  9. Finally, place your rod onto the rod rest and watch the tip for a bite! If you don't have any bites within half an hour or so, reel in, change your bait and repeat.

Have fun!

Sea fishing is a fun hobby that is simple to learn and very rewarding. Don't be put off if you don't catch anything first time. It's a game of patience and sooner or later you will succeed!


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