Beginners to sea fishing often find the range of different rod types confusing. To help you make the right choice you first need to know what the main different styles of sea fishing are. Broadly speaking there are two main ways to catch a fish: by scent or by visual attraction. To catch a fish by scent, you need to present the fish with a baited hook that closely mimics the scent of the fish’s natural food source. This is the more traditional method of sea fishing where most of your time will be spent watching your rod tip and waiting for the fish to bite. This form of fishing can be practised from the beach (shore) or from a boat. From the shore you will need a beach caster rod. Beach casters are traditionally 12 to 13 feet (3.6 to 4.0 metres) in length, but there has also been a trend recently towards long rods that are 14 to 18 feet long (3.9 to 5 metres). A beach caster rod will normally have a cast rating of 4 to 8 ounces (125 to 225 grams) as typically a 5 to 6 ounce (150 to 180 gram) lead weight will be required for fishing in UK waters. With this type of rod, cast distances in the region of 100 to 200 yards (90 to 180 metres) should be achievable with a lead weight and baited rig and longer distances are achievable with specialised casting techniques.
From a boat, there is no requirement for long distance casting and a long rod would be unwieldy and awkward in a boat fishing scenario. Also, from a boat much deeper waters are more easily accessible and with this comes the opportunity to catch larger and more aggressive fish. For these reasons, boat rods are usually much shorter, typically 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.8 metres), and stiffer than beach rods and instead of a cast rating they have a line rating which corresponds to the line strength. This will typically be around 12lbs (5.5 kilograms) for light fishing, 20 to 30 pounds (9 to 14 kilograms) for intermediate and 30 to 50 pounds (14 to 24 kilograms) for heavy or wreck fishing where the largest of species is likely to be encountered.
To catch a fish by visual attraction, an altogether different tactic is required. You now need to mimic not the scent but the appearance of the fish’s natural food source and this is achieved by using a lure. Lure fishing (sometimes called spinning) is a much more dynamic form of sea fishing as in order to convince a fish that your lure is real you need to make it behave like a real fish. Lures come in all shapes and sizes. There are hard lures (made from wood or plastic), soft lures (made from soft jelly-like plastics or rubber), and spoons or spinners which normally consist of simple metal plates that imitate the glint of a fish as it moves through the water. Lures are normally much lighter than a weighted rig and tend to weigh only 20 to 30 grams. For this reason, a beach caster rod will not be suitable for lure fishing as it won’t be flexible enough to cast such a light weight. A beach caster will also not have the finesse and sensitivity required to make the lure behave like a real fish. For lure fishing or spinning a dedicated rod is required with a much lighter cast rating to match the weight of the lure. These rods are typically 6 to 11 feet (1.8 to 3.4 metres) in length and very flexible. Again this method of fishing can be practised from the beach or from a boat but in this case the rod type is generally universal although a longer rod may become unwieldy on a boat.
There are always exceptions to the above rules. Mackerel fishing for example normally requires feathers or silvers which are very light weight visual attractors. These are often used on a multi-hook rig. When using these lightweight rigs a lead weight is required to allow the rig to be cast and retrieved from the beach or to be sunk and retrieved from a boat. Because mackerel rigs are normally multi-hook and mackerel feed in shoals, mackerel fishing can often be quite heavy work. Six mackerel all fighting at different times requires a lot stiffer rod than a spinning rod and although this is a visual method of fishing it usually requires the strength and robustness of a beach caster (if fishing from the beach) or a boat rod (if fishing from a boat).
Also the above fishing methods are not mutually exclusive. Attraction devices such as beads and sequins are often used to add visual attraction to a baited hook and similarly, fish oils and scent attractants are often used in conjunction with lures to add scent attraction.
To summarize, there are three main types of rod for sea fishing: beach casters, boat rods and lure fishing (or spinning) rods. A beach caster will be required if you intend to cast a baited rig out to sea and wait for the fish to bite (fishing by scent). A boat rod will be required if you intend to drop a baited rig into the sea and wait for the fish to bite (fishing by scent). A lure fishing (spinning) rod will be required if you intend to use a lure and attempt to mimic the behaviour of a real fish (fishing by visual attraction). In this case the rod will normally be suitable for use from both the beach and from a boat although a shorter rod would be more suitable for boat use.