“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.”Doug Larson
Southern California sportfishing has it’s handfuls of traditions, but surface iron fishing is the most sacred of them all. Long rods, aluminum shaped metal jigs, and ultra smooth free spool has been part of the commandments since the first jig was cast. Now more than half a century later, we have braided line and graphite rods. Where does that take this timeless tradition?
From the start of surface iron fishing there was very little selection for rods and rod blanks. The fiberglass blanks commonly used were built with full fiberglass flags and made for a fully parabolic action. These fiberglass rods have a rubber band casting side effect which is well known for launching light weight surface irons up to 100 yrds. Imagine a slingshot pulled back and then released with the projectile. In modern times graphite technologies have really surfaced to take on much of the rod blanks in the market. Graphite offers lighter blanks, but much less durability when compared to a fiberglass blank. Graphite offers light weight and selective actions built into the rod including shutoff points along the rod blank and very parabolic tips like that of a fiberglass rod. The main point to focus on is this graphite’s light weight.
Rods with reduced weight will allow anglers to use the surface iron for the duration of the day rather than being selective on when they’ll cast. This gives surface iron fanatics more time in the water which does translate into greater opportunities to catch fish on the artificial. The sacrifice made is the durability of graphite when putting pressure on a fish. It is very important to properly fight fish and not high stick a rod to prevent user error and break a rod. A fiberglass rod is more forgiving and therefore can take some user error but not all. Regardless being a good angler, you should try to remember to keep a good angle on the fish to put pressure but not high stick the rod to the point where you’ll break off the rod tip under awkward load.
Rod length is the most important consideration when deciding upon your surface iron rod. The most traditional range in length is 9′-10′ with cork grip tape or tuna cord wrapped around the blank for a handle. This length is great for casting, but offers little leverage when pulling on a fish. By dropping to a 8’6″ rod you increase your leverage tremedously and sacrifice a minimal amount of casting distance. This comes into play for especially large targets like bluefin or extra large yellowtail. On the opposite end, some 12′ rod blanks like the Tady CUI offer amazing casting distance with major sacrifices to leverage pulling on fish. By taking into consideration the tendencies for the rod length in how it affects your casting to leverage ratio, you can decide your ideal rod length for the game you are casting at. An arsenal with several rod lengths might be in order for the avid jig slinger. A 9′ rod is a great starting place for the first time buyer of a true jig stick.
Rod blanks to consider nowadays would include all the local manufacturers in Southern California, like Seeker Rods, United Composite, Phenix, Calstar, Taipan Rods, Lamiglass, Fishing Syndicate, Shimano, Daiwa. The Tactic series made by Seeker Rods are phenomenal and make for a surface iron rod that is light weight and strong enough to hang some of the biggest yellowtail in local waters. Look at the Seeker TAC 909H-9T. There’s plenty of rods to build based on their composite or graphite base. Any of the options for modern surface iron fishing would include a graphite blank or composite blank. Glass blanks still have their place, and they should be considered not ignored.
Now let’s talk about the reels as they’ve changed tremendously over the years. Nowadays it is easy to get away with a sub $200 reel that will last you a lifetime if taken care of properly. Take advantage of these times as we’re seeing phenomenal technologies come out from every reel manufacturer and you can select a reel based on personal preference. One commonality you’ll find in good surface iron reels is their ability to maintain free spool when using light surface irons. The modern surface iron angler has options when choosing between a conventional reel or an extra large baitcasting style reel. Again, this is going to come down to personal preference, but we’ll make an argument for the two different kinds of reels.
Traditionally open-faced reels in size 16 to 20 in the Shimano size range were used with straight monofilament. Note worthy brands in the history of surface iron fishing include Newell and Penn. The advent of braided line has changed the how anglers present lures to fish in heavy cover and also increasing casting distance because of its lightweight and thin diameter compared to monofilament and fluorocarbon lines. With braided line it’s very important to have a reel that can handle the increase in drag power and the added line pressure around the spool. Most surface iron reels including the Shimano – Torium, Trinidad and Tranx, Daiwa – Saltist, Saltiga, and Lexa, and Okuma – Tesoro and Komodo and Accurate Tern all feature metallic spools. These handle braided lines the best and rarely have issues with drags exceeding 20 pounds of pressure.
The larger baitcasting style reels like the Shimano Tranx series, the Daiwa Lexa series, and the Okuma Komodo series of reels are exceptional for prolonged repeated casting. When using these reels there is a greater ease in casting because they offer magnetic controls or centrifugal brakes to reduce backlash. A feature that is best used in combination with braided line as you’ll increase your casting distance with the correct amount of resistance applied during the cast to restrict overflow from the braided line. We’re sure you’ve experienced the unfortunate braided line backlash which does take a good amount of time to undo. A situation that is not going to lead to catching more fish during the most important time like casting on a boiling school of fish. These baitcasting style of reels also offer an amazing amount of drag pressure for their size. Reels in this class are the Shimano Tranx 400 and 500, Daiwa Lexa 400, and Okuma Komodo 463.
The open face style of reels have proven over their lifetime (since the birth of sportfishing) and one can argue they still have better casting distance when in the right hands. In some cases, anglers may opt to use monofilament or fluorocarbon lines in combination with these open-faced reels. This comes down to the experience level of an angler and transitioning from the days of straight monofilament to using super lines. The important take away from using these open-faced reels is their ability to increase drag output in comparison to most other reels in this similar size range. The drag washers on these reels tend to be larger. Whether you use a size 16 or 20 reel depends on the angler. Some anglers prefer a wider spool like a 20 or even a 30-size reel versus the 16 which is a narrow spool. In the right hands, either option will give an angler the upper hand for casting distance. There is a likelihood that some of these reels do not have cast control built into the spool and you will have to maintain good thumb pressure and feather the reel while casting to make sure you do not backlash.
Let’s come back to braided line for one paragraph. Braided line is a great tool to use in most cases for surface irons. Braided line allows anglers to cast longer distances because braided line has a thinner diameter reducing drag through the air and water than monofilament lines. There is also the added benefit of using braided line around structure prone areas and especially kelp forests to cut through kelp and retrieve your trophy fish out of hazardous casting areas. Certain braided lines will cast even better like 16 carrier hollow braided line from manufacturers including Power Pro while other lower carry count braided lines will give you the extra benefit of cutting through kelp like standard non-hollow 8 carrier Power Pro. There’s a time in the place for each line option out there.
Monofilament is slowly phasing out in its use as main line with modern day equipment but there is a place for mono to be used as leader material. It offers amazing abrasion resistance even compared to fluorocarbon. Monofilament also has great stretch which takes up shock while using straight braided line filled reels on surface iron rods. This stretch will give you better hook sets that have traditionally been seen over the years with surface irons and it will also add abrasion resistance when used around structure heavy areas especially for fish like yellowtail.
Asking Southern California anglers if surface iron color matters in getting a bite is like asking what political party family members associate with at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a divisive question that has many answers and many beliefs. This really does come down to personal preference in the end and the perspective from someone’s own experience on the water. Legitimizing your belief should be established based on your own personal experiences and catch rates.
We believed there were many answers to the question, “Does color matter?”. We posted a poll on our social media platform @fishing_reps on Instagram seeking input from the fishing community. According to our participants 62% of anglers believe colors did matter and 38% of people believed that color did not matter. While color does matter to anglers according to our poll, consensus was that the swim did make a difference as well as the color of surface iron. A combination of trusted color with a good swimming jig is what the surface iron connoisseur seeks. This seems to be a consistent set of feedback over the community and over generations of surface iron anglers.
One argument for color choices can be based on your own personal experience and creating a confidence level that allows you to put the jig in the water and with better casts throughout the day. If you’re able to put more time in at the rail and fish your jig better, you’ll have increased the opportunity to catch more fish. Inversely, if you do not have confidence in a certain color and you force yourself to try something outside your own comfort zone you will put less effort and time using that color. Therefore, it is reasonable to recommend that you find a particular jig color and action that has served you well in catching fish. Continue to use this color and jig as you will most likely repeat catching fish over the lifetime of its use. This is why many longtime surface iron anglers have a set of jigs that have no paint. They’ve used those jigs because they have caught fish and built up their confidence; over decades for some people.
A new accessory to surface iron fishing is Quick Clips made by Kicker Jigs. The Quick Clip offers an added benefit of interchanging surface irons or other colors. In addition to its quick-change feature, it also allows for better swimming of a jig. The openness of a quick clip allows for the ring and the surface iron to gain additional forward movement creating wider and more erratic swimming actions when used. In comparison to tying line directly to the ring there is an increase in the action of a surface iron. In some cases, there might be too much action on a jig that does not require a Quick Clip. It’s good to try using a Quick Clip on certain jigs that are not good swimmers. Similarly test tying directly the ring of a good swimming jig. In essence there is room for both sides to take advantage of certain lures with certain swimming styles.
When it comes to jigs there are so many opportunities to test your own favorite brand out there on the water. But you know the Fishing_Reps only fish what they rep and we are believers in Kicker Fishing brand products. The best surface iron Kicker Fishing makes for local inshore fishing is the Kicker 25 Light. This size offers great casting distance, and tight swimming action with the predictable kick like a great jig should have. If you find that the Kicker 25 Light is skipping the surface of the water, then you need to bring your rod tip down closer to the water’s surface to bring that lure down under the surface of the water. Also try adding a Quick Clip to the lure to add weight to the nose. Second to that option is the Kicker 15 Heavy which is not a traditional surface iron but has the weight of a Kicker 25 Light in a smaller package. You can cast a Kicker 15 Heavy very far. It is a great introductory sized jig to begin your surface iron journey if you are not an avid surface iron fisherman or just beginning your journey. A Kicker 15 Heavy will rarely skip so you can still retrieve it with good speed like a surface iron.
There is merit to using a Kicker 15 Light in and around calico heavy zones where you’re trying to bring a lighter and smaller jig through a baitfish prevalent zone. Think boiler rocks and inside kelp lines that are shallower. The Kicker 15 Light is especially good for overfished areas. An added idea is to use a color of surface iron that is not common like the Bunker color Kicker offers.
Immediately when you start using a surface iron, you’ll realize that casting is a struggle in comparison to using a heavier denser jig like a Kicker 15 Heavy. The best advice that has been provided by Captain Benny Florentino of Coastal Charters is to angle the rod at 2:00 and release the line at 10:00. In a position of a clock, you’ll see that this span of distance is about 60 degrees. By casting within this range of angle, you will reduce the amount of overcompensating and not releasing the line late enough. From the start you’ll want to have all your centrifugal brakes or magnetic brakes turned to the maximum amount of resistance possible. After you’ve gotten the hang of casting with a true surface iron like a Kicker 25 Light, you can bring down the amount of resistance on a centrifugal or magnetic brake reel. In time, you’ll learn that there’s a perfect balance of having just enough resistance that will give you the distance you’re looking for without getting backlashes. Take it slow and try to do your best to reduce the number of backlashes. It’s better not to backlash for you to retrieve the lure and actually have a chance of catching fish.
After you’ve managed to get decent casting distance, you’ll need to focus on placing the jig in a certain spot on the water. When the time comes and the fish start boiling around the boat, you’ll need to be able to watch the fish, moving in a certain direction and place the jig ahead of them. By doing this, you’ll give the maximum amount of time for the fish coming through to see the lure, anticipate its movement and then attack. Just like shore fishing, fan casting can be an excellent way to start developing habits for directional control. Start making a fan cast around the bow of a boat and see how many different angles you can cast accurately. When the time comes and boiling fish are around the boat, you’ll have a good understanding of where your rod and your jig needs to be in position when casting.
An added piece of advice is to remember to wind into the fish and resist the urge to set the hook when using surface irons. On occasion, the fish will not have hit the jig properly and could either be skin hooked around the lips or foul hooked. If you decide to wind into the fish, you’ll get a potentially better hook set or the hook might come out right when the fish strikes allowing you to hook another fish that’s around the area or even the same fish. This is a common strategy with all surface iron fisherman. Remember that when using braided line, you’ll potentially pull-out hooks even faster than if you’re using all monofilament line. The stretch of monofilament line is much different than using braided line with a graphite or composite rod. Bottom line, wind into the fish.
How to pull all of this together and start using surface irons more regularly with greater success comes with experience. Time on the water and finally connecting with the fish gives you understanding and the ability to replicate your success. Until you make the commitment to using surface irons more often and gain confidence in the technique, any information and advice is mute. The best opportunity to learn how to use the surface iron technique is to go and try your hand at it. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced user it is a great idea to hop on trips with great frequency like half day trips. Half day trips run for shorter periods of time and they get you in range of surface iron eating species.
Tuning the surface iron technique to match your own style is the coolest part of the tradition. Everyone has their own style, their own input and their own trusted irons. Take the time to find what works best for you and listen to others who have figured out their own way. There is nothing like getting bit on the iron and it makes the California angler unique in the fishing community.