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  1. I find myself in a battle to master surf casting and am looking to the community for help. I would appreciate your efforts to read this post and provide constructive commentary that I can take to the beach. If nothing else, you might find it to be a fun bedtime story, both educational and inquisitive. The story’s backdrop is continuous reels used for surf casting. Its content is generally inapplicable to fixed spool (spinning) reels, but baitcast practitioners struggling to use braid as their main line might find the story somewhat insightful. 3,400 words (6-pages) are used to story my surf casting experiences and struggles to eliminate snap-offs as well as seek your specific guidance on what I might try differently. And in the end, it asks your opinion on what is best surf casting line to use, braid or monofilament, when throwing weights up to 8-ounces? With that prelude the story begins… I kindled a lifetime passion for fishing beginning as a toddler with a fly rod in hand and a backyard in Yellowstone Park. Through life changes, I transitioned from fly fishing for trout to baitcasting for bass, and now in my retirement years, I’ve embarked on another chapter—surf casting for red drum. Just as the equipment used in each approach is unique, so is the fishing process, which is what draws and holds my interest. Besides the number and types of fish I catch, my satisfaction for a surf outing is measured by casting distance achieved and the number of snap-offs realized. My goal is to consistently achieve 100 or more yards casting distance with zero snap-offs. My present challenge is avoiding the snap-off. I suppose its akin to the golfer striving to achieve par with minimal ball loss. I’ve fished the surf one or two days a month for the past 18-months using 40-pound PowerPro braid on continuous reels throwing 5, 6 or 8-ounce weights and bait-clipped pulley rigs. While I have enjoyed many casts exceeding 100 yards, I have also suffered the snap-off plague, a plague requiring buckets of weights and pulley rigs. Actually, I experience two to five snap-offs per day trip; two feeling a lot better than five. And of course, every snap-off is accompanied by a bird’s nest in my reel. Did you note I use braid as the main line? Braid is particularly prone to break because it does not stretch like monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line, although both can also snap, particularly when the line is damaged. Even a rubber band will break when stretched far enough. Based on buckets of lost rigs, I can tell you snap-offs will occur either 1) during the power swing prior to the rig being released or 2) during flight before the rig splashdown in the surf. The practice field is where I learned the importance of shock leaders in avoiding snap-offs during the surf cast. Initially, I would tie a 5-ounce bunker weight directly to the braid. Worked okay for a while but as I increased with experience the power of the cast, I began encountering snap-offs during the cast swing prior to the actual release. The weight flew behind me, parallel to me, anywhere but in the direction of the intended target. The uncontrolled snap-off during the swing of the rod was very dangerous I realized. I learned the remedy was adding a shock leader of 50 or 60-pound monofilament which has more stretch affinity then braid. The shock leader is roughly one and a half times the length of the rod with a few wraps on the spool to avoid the stressing the knot. The monofilament absorbs the energy buildup during the casting process, stretching where necessary, and sailing through the rod guides without interference. I have never experienced a snap-off where the shock leader itself snapped. My current pain is with rigs in flight, i.e., something causes the main line to stop flowing off the spool, the line snaps, and the rig sails into the distant surf leaving nothing but a bird’s nest on the reel. Two issues emerge 1) where and why does the line break, and 2) why does the main line stop spooling off the reel. The break will occur wherever the weak link is between the weight and the reel. It could be a knot, the braid is nicked or frayed, or simply a weak spot in the line. Examining the end of the braid after a snap-off can give some insight. Parts of a knot clinging to the line suggests a knot failure. If the end is frayed, the braid had a nick that damaged several of the fibers. If the end is a clean break, then the line failed or was cut. Nicks and frays in fishing line have caused many a fish to break free of the fight, so it should be no surprise it contributes to rig snap-offs. One must be on the lookout for line damage, and if possible, identify the reason for the damage. It could the reel, the rod guides, rocks, shell beds, fish, or even a pelican flying into the line. I even suspect a series of bad casts can cause braid fibers to break, creating a weak link—much like a nail bending under a series of mi**** by a hammer. I remember one trip where, after casting and placing the rod in a sand spike, noticing the braid was frayed a few inches outside the reel, with only a couple of threads holding the line together. Hmm…what to do? Reel in and strip the line from the reel, or reduce line tension, cut the line, and tie the sections together. I grabbed my scissors, reduced line tension, cut the line, and began joining the sections using UNI knots. Just as I finished one side of the UNI knot a fish started tugging on the line. Then it began to run, my rod began bending and I was holding the line in my hand. I pulled the rod from the sand spike, pointed it at the water to reduce tension, fumbled with the star drag until I got it tight enough to start reeling. I had to keep the fish from stripping the line to the unfinished knot. We fought each other for 15-minutes with multiple runs. I landed a 39-inch red drum weighing 21-pounds. After releasing the bull red back into the Gulf, I dropped my weight, unreeled the line as I walked the beach surf until I exposed the unfinished knot. I completed the knot, retrieved the line, rebaited, and started fishing again. The above story is an exception, not the rule. Nearly all the snap-offs I experience are clean breaks in the braid. Over the past 18-months, I recall two failures in UNI knot splices of the main line and two failures in the knot used to join the shock leader to the main line. (I use a half hitch/Uni knot combination knot to attach the 50-pound shock leader to main line—it is easy to tie in the field and provides excellent performance, failing only once. It is like the blob knot in that the half hitch replaces the blob.) Occasionally I snag and recover a rig lost in an earlier snap-off. These recovered rigs with 5 to 50-yards of main line still attached confirm that the main line is breaking, not the knots. An aside…I routinely splice new braid to existing braid using 12-wrap UNI to UNI knots and then fill the reel to maximum capacity, as a full reel casts farther than an empty reel. I may have as many as 5 splices in the first 150 yards of the main line, but I try to keep at least 20 yards between splices. The above story also reminds me that wetting the braid before the first cast will lessen the likelihood of a snap-off in the first few casts of the outing. Initially, I would simply pour bottled water over the line coiled on the reel. Today I simply drop the rig in the surf, walk the surf stripping line as I go, which allows the surf to wet the line. My experience suggests this step is unnecessary when using simple off the ground casts, but with the power generating pendulum cast, the braid wetting is helpful in minimizing snap-offs in the early stages of an outing. But why does line stop flowing off the reel while the rig is in flight to splashdown? The sudden line stoppage for sure is a component of the snap-off plague. One reason for the stoppage could be a single coil on the reel is embedded and trapped amongst the other coils on the spool. I’ve had this happen recently when during the cast with cold, wet and numb fingers, my thumb slipped off the spool prematurely and the rig sailed nearly straight upward landing a short distance in front of me. Other then the bad cast everything else looked fine and I reeled the line to make another cast. Bad move. The follow-up cast resulted in a snap-off—perhaps if I had stripped line off the reel first, I would have discovered the embedded coil. (Fastening a rubber flapper to the reel is a common solution to the thumb slippage problem—the thumb presses the flapper against the spool and releases the pressure when launching the rig.) The most common reason for the stoppage is the spool is spinning faster than the line is being taken off the spool. As the spool spins, loose coils form, growing in numbers with each spool revolution, and eventually becoming entangled. Once entangled line stops flowing off the reel, which abruptly stops the forward progress of the rig on its flight path to splashdown. The formation and entanglement of loose coils is often referred to as a backlash, or because the aftermath-mess on the reel looks like it, a bird’s nest. A bird’s nest can take 1-minute, 60-minutes, or a knife to untangle; and once cleared, another 20-minutes to set up for fishing, i.e. replenish the mainline if necessary, tie on a new shock leader, and finalize preassembled rigs. Adding to the agony is the fact the specialized rig components I use are from the United Kingdom, taking 10 to 14 days to replenish with a $25.00 shipping charge for 1.5KG to the USA. To help avoid the spool overrun, reel manufacturers build braking systems into the reel which fisherman adjust based on their current fishing circumstances. It’s somewhat of a trial-n-error procedure to find the best settings and then understand how to adjust for changes in wind, the weight of the bait, or swapping out rods. And of course, settings working for one person may not work well for another person because the way they cast is different. But not all blacklash scenarios are controllable with braking systems. For example, a common blacklash that is so severe and unrecoverable occurs when the bait being cast snags something just as one takes their thumb pressure off the spool and pushes the rod forward to complete the cast. The only recovery is to respool, which most times is a task for another day. The spool tension knob on baitcasting reels is commonly set using a drop test. The test is performed with the baitcaster attached to a rod and with the planned bait attached. The free spool is activated allowing the bait to fall to the ground. If loose coils form on the spool, the tension knob is slightly tightened, and the test is repeated until no loose coils form. The drop test unfortunately is inapplicable to continuous reels used in surf casting as it is too restrictive for casting 5, 6 or 8-ounce weights. Instead, the tension knob is set to allow a slight side to side movement of the spool within the reel frame. Spool overruns can also occur upon splashdown of the rig. It is stopped by a slight tweak of the tension knob on my baitcaster, or on my continuous reel, by placing my thumb on the spool just as the rig splashes into the surf. Yep, I have experienced a few splashdown overruns because of thumb inaction due to distractions like waves, poor footing, and “where’d it go?”. Fortunately, most splashdown overruns can be untangled without retrieving the rig. But it is worth noting, that after recovering, I strip 10 to 20-yards of line from the reel on my way to placing the rod in the sand spike. I have noticed during the stripping that there can be one or two instances where a tug is required to strip the line. The extra tug suggesting a coil or two are still entangled or buried in the spool. I’m sure I would have more snap-offs if I did not strip line after each rig splashdown. I’m sure the machinist out there would agree it doesn’t take much to disturb something spinning at 23,000 rpm. Bird’s nests and the associated snap-offs is perhaps the biggest justification for fishing two rods. I have two continuous reels designed for surf casting with long rods, i.e. PENN 525 Mag2 and Aba Garcia 7000 Blue Yonder. They are similar in appearance to a barrel type baitcaster like the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur or Shimano Calcutta. The Mag2 reel experiences 2.5 times more snap-offs then the Blue Yonder, why? Both reels have magnetic brakes as well as a spool tension knob. I increase the magnetic brake setting when the snap-offs become too frequent, but still experience snap-offs. I rarely tighten the spool tension knob as it kills distance—and I never know where to reset it once changed as it is not calibrated. Neither reel has a line guide, which is a distinguishing feature difference between baitcaster and continuous reel nomenclature. The shock leader knot is one of the reasons for selecting reels without a reel line guide, as the guide can interfere with line release as the knot passes through the guide. It also increases line friction which decreases casting distance. Without a line guide, the thumb is used to guide the line on to the spool. While guiding the line on to the spool with my thumb, I tend to lay the line in the shape of an egg, i.e. narrow on the spool-edge and thick in the middle. The egg-shaped laydown is more evident in the PENN. Could the laydown pattern be affecting the propensity for snap-offs, i.e. coils become embedded and trapped? If so, how avoid? And, could it account for the performance differences between reels? The 40lb PowerPro braid line capacity of the PENN reel is 335 yards and the Aba Garcia reel capacity is 590 yards. Yes, the spool width is different between the two reels. The PENN spool width is 1.5-inches while the Aba Garcia reel is 1.75-inches. When using braid, I learned one must minimize the star drag setting to lessen the extent the braid buries itself in the spool if a backlash or snap-off occurs. I carried this bass fishing experience over to my surf casting practices. Before each surf cast, I back off the star drag. And I continue minimal drag setting when I place the rod in the sand spike to ensure a fish takes the line and not my rod-n-reel. Backing off the drag when using braid is a good practice to embrace. I use the Mag2 reel on a 2-piece 12-foot PENN Carnage II rod and the Blue Yonder reel is placed on a 3-piece 13½-foot Shakespeare Agility rod. The PENN rod is designed to throw 4 to 10-ounce weights while the Shakespeare rod is designed for 5 to 6-ounce weights but I found it can easily handle 8-ounce. The action of PENN rod is significantly faster than the Shakespeare. The PENN rod experiences 2.5 times more snap-offs then the Shakespeare rod, why? Is it the rod, reel, or the system? Perhaps further insight could be gathered by switching reels between rods? Not to confuse, but to further explain, my first surf casting reel was a PENN Squall 30, which I fastened to a 10-foot PENN Carnage II rod. The reel did not have a line guide, nor did it have a braking system. I had to feather the spool with my thumb, but I soon learned that I needed protection for my thumb to avoid rope-burns and cuts. (The spool spinning at 23 thousand rpms creates a lot of heat at the surface of applied friction.) I got the necessary protection by wrapping my thumb with surgical tape to form a cocoon, but I lost all feeling of touch. I also found I needed to remove the tape cocoon after making the cast and then have the cocoon fall out my pocket into the surf. I found this process so frustrating I replaced this reel with the two reels I now use. I no longer feather the spool. I no longer use tape cocoons. Instead, I rely on the braking systems built into the reels. As I reflect on this snap-off plague, I’m drawn to the fact that I have never experienced a snap-off fishing 10-pound braid on a baitcaster throwing a ¼-ounce bait (total weight) but increasing the bait weight to ½-ounce on the same line and rod does result in an occasional snap-off. To cross the bridge from bass to surf casting can we borrow from physics the equation for force, where Force (f) = mass (m) x acceleration (a)? The acceleration formula is the change in velocity (v) over a period of time (t); say, from 250 mph at release to nearly 0 mph at point of snap-off? If so, we could postulate the breaking strength of braid required to avoid snap-offs. Based on the ¼-ounce bait experience presented, we could postulate a ½-ounce bait requires a 20-pound braid to minimize the occurrence of a snap-off, while a 1-ounce bait requires 40. Too simple? Absurd? Perhaps, as an 8-ounce surf casting weight would require 320-pound braid—suggesting braid is an impracticable main line for surf casting heavy weights using a continuous reel. I have the impression that an 8-ounce weight thrown by a surf rod travels faster than a ¼-ounce weight thrown by my 7½-foot inshore/bass rod. Obviously, the applied force is different, but the difference seems to increase rather than decrease the demands on the breaking strength of the braid. I’m leaning towards trying monofilament as braid is beginning to appear impractical to use as the main line in surf casting. The literature says distance casting tournaments have been won using monofilament having a line diameter of 0.40 mm. The diameter of 40-pound braid I use is 0.30 mm, and because of smaller diameter enables longer distance casts. Examples of a monofilament having a diameter near 0.4 mm are 15-pound Ande Back Country (0.40) and 15-pound Trilene Big Game (0.38). I’m unfamiliar with either line, but Ande enjoys a slightly higher social rating then Trilene—4.8 vs 4.6. Several issues come to mind should I replace the braid with monofilament. One is casting distance. Another is line capacity of the reel, and then there is the issue of catching fish exceeding the breaking strength of the main line. Large fish will need to be played until tired and no longer resisting the net, presuming the fish doesn’t find cover before then. This means a low drag setting and long pulling runs by the fish. Long runs though are limited by the reel’s line capacity, and once exhausted, the line will break as the fish continues to pull. One solution might be to use 150 yards of15 or 17-pound monofilament as a top shot and fill the remaining balance of the reel with 30-pound braid (0.28 mm) as backing to the monofilament. I would continue using a 50-pound shock leader with the monofilament main line—even a rubber band breaks. I’m beginning to think the distance benefit I’m chasing with braid is so overshadowed by its problems it is time for a change. But monofilament has problems that braid solves, which is why I started with braid to begin with. I am interested in learning your experience using monofilament as your main line as all my surf casting experience is entirely with braid. Thank you for reading. Looking forward to your input. Remember, the charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
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