Nov. 15, 2003, by Gene Kira, as published in Western Outdoors Magazine:
Extending all along Baja California’s Pacific coast shoreline, there is a long, narrow strip of productive water, packed with a myriad of game fish species, that is almost never fished.
The exact shape of this meandering ribbon varies, but typically, it is about 100 yards wide--ranging from about 50 yards off the beach, out to about 150 yards--and it can be thought of as roughly a thousand miles long!
Even today, this zone is largely unexplored, because it is beyond the range of most beach casters, and yet, it is often too close to dangerous surf for small boats. On calm days, commercial pangas may sneak in to set their nets, and a tiny handful of surfers and kayakers may paddle out to troll a Krocodile or cast a rubbertail at the kelp beds, but otherwise, this close-by water is pretty much left to its own devices.
Due to strong, cool water upwellings off the major points, and to Baja’s sheer north-south latitude range, the water temperature variations found in this zone are truly astounding. On any given midsummer day, for instance, one might reasonably expect to find a water temperature differential as large as 25 degrees, ranging from, say, 63 degrees at Ensenada’s Punta Banda, to a high of perhaps 88 degrees at Cabo San Lucas.
A shore angler (albeit one with a very, very fast dune buggy) fishing along this entire expanse of coastline, might reasonably expect to catch everything from cool water lingcod and ocean whitefish, to subtropical roosterfish and even dorado, all on a single day.
But that would only be a shore angler capable of casting far out into “the zone,” beyond any mud flats and rocky barriers, and into the deeper water that lies “out there”--and that requires somewhat specialized tackle.
For surf casting, I’ve been using my custom-wrapped, nine-foot “Super Spin Stick,” a 9.5-ounce marvel wrapped on a Graphite USA 18WT flyrod blank, and I love this rod, but for punching far out through Pacific wind you need heavy artillery. You need a big, long monster rod--an NBA version of my nine-foot spin stick.
As a starting point, I recently interviewed South African surf fishing guru, William Taylor, who now lives in Southern California and imports high-performance Purglas graphite surf casting rods from his native country.
I wanted to get William’s expert advice on this family of rods, including the cheap-o entry level stuff, the nice-for-the-price Daiwa Eliminators and Sealines, and the surprisingly different Ticas. These rods range in cost from about forty bucks on up, and at the high, high end are William Taylor’s Purglas thoroughbreds. How high, you ask? If you want one of these connoisseur’s weapons, be prepared to pony up about $250 to over $300, depending on length and power.
That’s a pretty heavy hit for a dumb old surf pole, right? I thought so too, until I started researching the subject. If you check into it, you realize that in Southern California, and especially Baja, we’re kind of at the butt end of the surf casting scene. The real action takes place on the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts, in Europe...and in Africa of all places. (In fact, William Taylor once competed for a state surf fishing team in South Africa, where he had to beat out thousands of other equally crazy people in order to win a coveted spot on the national team. Say wot?)
At Hugh Cobb’s well-stocked Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle in Oceanside, CA, William scattered most of the store’s inventory and a bunch of his own rods around the floor, and he patiently demonstrated their differences in weight, power, sensitivity, balance, and the “speed” of their actions. By the end of William’s discourse, I could feel the differences between the rods, and I could even imagine ones I haven’t yet tried, such as the Lamiglass rods recommended by former national tournament casting champion Ron Arra, the Breakaway rods from Texas, and the Zziplex and Conoflex tournament casting rods made in England.
(By the way, you should never confuse tournament casting rods and techniques with actual fishing. In casting tournaments, spectators are protected in safety zones, far from the caster, who uses a whirling “pendulum” cast to throw a sinker distances approaching a sixth of a mile. If a safety leader should break during a “pendulum” cast, the sinker becomes, quite literally, a deadly missile--traveling in Lord knows what direction--that can pass completely through someone’s head. Never use this cast for fishing unless you are absolutely, completely alone, and there is no property around, such as your car, for instance, that you wouldn’t want perforated. For fishing, William Taylor emphatically advises that people only use a much safer “overhead” style cast, never the “pendulum” cast, and of course, always use a heavy safety leader.)
So, what’s the difference between a $40 rod and one that costs over $300?
As a general rule, surf-style rods have increasingly fast actions, more length, more power, and more reflex speed, as they become more and more performance-oriented. The expensive, full-on tournament rod, such as the Zziplex, would be very long (to over 14 feet), with an almost completely rigid butt section and a very fast, very whippy tip section. It would be most unpleasant to fish with, performing as designed only with precise, maximal effort by a trained athlete.
At the low end, are cheap fiberglass “noodle” rods, that are almost comically limp and loose, and incapable of transferring the casting power of, say, your eight-year-old kid.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is where good surf casting rods reside, and there you pretty much get what you pay for. Although competent examples are available for less than $100, figure at least $200 for a good-quality, relatively forgiving rod that can really launch.
After perhaps an hour of waving ten-foot-plus rods around Pacific Coast Bait and Tackle--like Errol Flynn in a Robin Hood movie--I picked out a Purglas 350-1 to take on a series of Baja trips that will include plenty of surf fishing from Ensenada all the way around to East Cape on the Cortez side.
This graphite jewel’s butt section alone is slightly more than 7 feet long. The tip section adds another 5 feet 11 inches, for an assembled overall length of 12 feet 8.5 inches.
Yet, the whole thing weighs only 21 ounces. This rod is rated for 2 to 4-ounce sinkers and up to about 22-pound line. With a little practice, okay, a lot of practice, I am fervently hoping to reach about 140 yards with it, using a safe, overhead-style fishing cast. (With a slightly longer, slightly heavier Purglas blank, William Taylor says he can cast 200 yards without resorting to tournament techniques.)
In order to give myself the best chance of not screwing this up, I bought the reel that William recommends for long casts, practical line capacity, and excellent tolerance to beach sand, the Daiwa Sealine-X 30SHV. And, not letting anything go by, I also loaded up with his recommended line, the extra limp, low memory “Cuda” brand, which I spooled in 18-pound test, super high-visibility yellow. (Taylor designed this line especially for long casts and good fishing characteristics, and he imports it from Japan and Brazil. It really is low memory, and feels something like the Araty Super-Flex handlining mono from Brazil.)
As of this writing, I have only taken this rig on a couple of Baja trips, but already, my casts are going out over a hundred yards, well into “the zone,” without applying any real muscle, and with surprisingly few backlashes. Look out, Baja, here it comes.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")