Saltwater Fishing Tackle, Recommendations from a Charter Captain!
In this article, I will thoroughly cover saltwater fishing tackle. Anglers are presented with a wide variety of options when it comes to saltwater fishing rods, reels, lures, and other tackle. My hope is to simplify this for novice anglers while giving some insight to products for more experienced anglers.
My name is Capt. Jim Klopfer and I have been a saltwater fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. In that time I have used a lot of different saltwater fishing rods, reels, and lures. I will offer recommendations on the best saltwater fishing tackle based on my experience, with a reasonable budget in mind.
Saltwater fishing tackle, best rods and reels
The primary pieces of fishing equipment that anglers purchasing tackle will choose is the fishing rod and reel. There are many different options, however they can be broken down into several categories. These are spinning rods and reels, bait casting rods and reels, and conventional rods and reels.
Spinning rods and reels for saltwater fishing
Spinning tackle is used by the vast majority of anglers who engage in inshore saltwater fishing. It is versatile and effective and outfits can be purchased at a reasonable cost. Spinning tackle is by far the best choice for anglers casting light artificial lures and live baits when pursuing small to modest sized fish. Heavier spinning tackle can be purchased for anglers fishing offshore as well as for those surf fishing.
Best spinning rod and reel for inshore saltwater fishing
While there is no one rod and reel combination that is perfect for every single inshore saltwater fishing situation, there is one that I have found works best in a majority of applications. I use a 7 foot medium action rod with a Daiwa Black Gold 2500- 3000 series reel for virtually all of my inshore saltwater fishing charters. This is a very versatile outfit that can cast a light lures and baits while still handling a decent sized fish.
Right now I am using the St. Croix Triumph line of inshore fishing rods. These have a very fast action. This means that the rod is stiff at the butt section and for most of the length, but becoming limber at the last section at the tip. This allows for the power to fight a decent sized fish while the limber tip facilitates better casting, especially with light or lures and baits. This outfit retails for around $225.
Anglers can shop at Amazon for a Daiwa Black Gold reel and St Croix Triumph 7′ MF spinning combo
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Anglers can save a little bit of money by purchasing factory made combos. The Penn Fierce rod and reel combinations are available for around $100. It is a decent all round outfit, especially when using live bait. I do find the rod a tad heavy for casting lures for several hours. However, it is a decent alternative for anglers wanting to save a little money.
Click to shop Amazon for Penn Fierce combos
Best spinning rod and reel for offshore fishing
My personal favorite line of heavy saltwater spinning tackle is thus Shimano brand. The Baitrunner reels have a great feature which allows for a little pressure to be put on a fish while it picks up a bait and runs off with it, but not enough for the fish to sense that there’s a problem. This feature can be engaged or disengaged, depending on the need. When not engaged, it performs just like any other spinning reel.
I like to pair this reel up with a Shimano Trevala rod. The 8000-10,000 series reel paired with the Trevala rod is an excellent all round choice. This is an excellent combination for most situations for an angler requiring spinning tackle for offshore saltwater fishing. Once again, anglers looking to save a little money can go with the Penn Fierce combo. The weight of the rod is less of an issue for this type of fishing.
Shop Amazon for a Shimano Baitrunner reel and Trevala rod
Best spinning rod and reel for surf fishing
Once again, the Penn combos are tough to beat. When I go surf fishing, I like to take a two-pronged approach and use my standard 7 foot inshore rod for casting lures and lighter baits and then a conventional 10 foot to 12 foot rod for soaking a chunk of cut bait on the bottom for larger fish.
Shop Amazon for Penn surf fishing rod and reel combos
Best saltwater baitcasting rod and reels
Baitcasting tackle does certainly has a place in saltwater fishing. This tackle is excellent for casting plugs and heavy baits and lures. It can also be used for bottom fishing and light trolling.A 7′ to 7 1/2′ medium heavy baitcasting rod with a matching reel spooled up with 20 lb braided line is an excellent all round outfit that is excellent for inshore saltwater fishing. The best outfit is a Shimano Calcutta reel on a Teramar rod. This is a high quality, though pricey, rod and reel.
Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Calcutta reels and Teramar rods
For anglers not wanting to invest that much, which is perfectly understandable, both Kastking and Lew’s offer quality baitcasting rod and reel combinations at a very affordable price.
Best conventional rods and reels for saltwater fishing
Conventional reels look similar to baitcasting reels. However, the main difference is that conventional reels are rarely used for casting. Anglers use them for trolling and bottom fishing. A 7 ½’ medium weight conventional outfit spooled up with 40 lb braided line is a very versatile outfit that can be used in a variety of fishing situations. Penn offers a variety of durable and affordable rod and reel combinations.
Shop Amazon for Penn conventional rod and reel combinations
Lines and leaders for saltwater fishing
Anglers must obviously put some type of fishing line onto the reel. The two types of lines used most often in saltwater fishing are braided line and monofilament line. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Monofilament line is less expensive and knots are easier to tie. However it will stretch and twist. Braided line is much more expensive, but will last longer, has no stretch, and will rarely twist.
I use Suffix line for all of my saltwater fishing. When fishing open water inshore areas, I mostly use monofilament as it is easier for clients to manage the slack. Also, the stretch in monofilament can actually be a benefit when fishing with live bait. When fishing for snook and striped bass near cover, I definitely prefer the Suffix Performance Braid.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Anglers fishing offshore face the same question; which line to use. While it cost more to load the reels up with braided line, it is the best choice for most offshore fishing applications. Braided line works best for bottom fishing as it has no stretch and is very sensitive. It works well when trolling due to the thin diameter.
Shop Amazon for Suffix monofilament and braided line
Leaders of some sort are used in almost every saltwater fishing application. I rarely use wire leader in Florida, as the water is clear and strikes will be reduced, even when fishing for toothy fish such as mackerel and bluefish. In most cases, a 24 inch piece of 30 pound to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader works fine. I will bump it up as needed.
Hooks, sinkers, and swivels will also be saltwater fishing tackle box requirements. There are too many styles of fishing books to try and cover, it will just get confusing. I use three types of hooks; live bait hooks, long shank hooks, and circle hooks. While many anglers have gone exclusively to circle hooks, and I do use them, I still use the standard short shank live bait hook for some of my inshore saltwater fishing. Long shank hooks reduce cutoffs when fishing for mackerel and bluefish. #1/0 is a good all-around size and is what I use the majority of time.
Sinkers come in several varieties as well. Egg sinkers are the most commonly used to sinker in saltwater fishing. The line runs through a hole in the center of the sinker followed by a swivel. This allows fish to pick up the bait and move off without feeling the weight. Bank sinkers are sometimes used by anglers drifting in boats as they tend to hang up a little less. Anglers surf fishing use. Mid sinkers as they hold the bottom well.
Read my detailed article on bottom fishing
Swivels are used quite a bit and saltwater fishing. They help reduce line twist and give anglers a connection point for lines and leaders. For inshore saltwater fishing, #10 is a good size. Anglers can go up in size when fishing for larger species or when fishing offshore. I only use black swivels as silver swivels can actually draw strikes from mackerel and other species that will cut the leader off.
Saltwater fishing tackle, lures
I use artificial lures are a lot on both my personal fishing trips and my saltwater fishing charters. Anglers are often surprised to learn that there are quite a few days when artificial lures will out fish live or cut bait. The reasons for this are that lures will cover a lot more water as well as triggering strikes from fish that may not be actively feeding. As with rods and reels, anglers have a lot of choices. I will break these down and simplify lure selection.
Saltwater fishing jigs
Jigs are fantastic saltwater fishing lures! These are the lures that I use the most by far when I am saltwater fishing. Jigs are versatile, effective, and cost-effective. They also have a single hook, which makes handling and releasing fish both easier and safer. Jigs can be bounced along the bottom, worked on the surface, or anywhere in the water column.
The jig and grub combination has become the most popular jig used by anglers saltwater fishing. It consists of a jig head which is weighted and has the hook all in one unit. The weight it had also gives the lure its action. Anglers choose the jig head size and weight based on fishing conditions. Some type of soft plastic body is then threaded on to the jig.
Read my article on saltwater fishing with jigs
In Florida where I fish, ¼ ounce jigs are the most often used. Anglers fishing in deeper water and with heavier currents will obviously need to go up and wait. A selection of jig heads from 1/8 ounce to 2 ounces will cover most fishing situations.
There are many, many choices when it comes to soft plastic fishing baits. The two that I use the most are the 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad and 3” Gulp Shrimp. These baits are available in a wide variety of colors and the size matches the forage in the waters that I fish. Anglers fishing in areas with larger bait can obviously step it up a notch or two as needed. Gulp baits have the added advantage of having built-in scent, which can really make a difference on a tough day when the fish are less active.
The other type of jig that should be in everyone saltwater fishing tackle box is some type of hair jig. These were the first types of jigs used by saltwater anglers and they remain effective to this day. They use a similar type jig head, however the dressing is tied on to the hook and remains permanent. It cannot be changed. Bucktail is a popular ineffective while some anglers consider the newer synthetic dressings to be more durable.
I personally prefer bucktail jigs over synthetic, I believe they have more action. My favorite bait is the Spro buck tail jig. It is manufactured from quality components and has excellent action in the water. They are available in many different weights, with baits from 1/2 ounce to 2 ounces being the most effective. White is by far the most popular and productive color.
Plugs are very effective saltwater fishing lures. These are hard bodied lures, mostly made from plastic, though a few are made from wood. Most are designed to imitate a wounded bait fish. Most saltwater anglers, myself included, prefer the long slender plugs known as jerk baits. They have a very erratic action and the water, whether cast or trolled.
There are quite a few companies that offer quality saltwater fishing plugs. The bait that I use almost exclusively is the Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait. It comes and saltwater versions with stronger hooks and hardware. These lures are available in several sizes and many different color patterns. I use the 08 and 10 sizes as it matches the forage here in Florida. White and green are my favorite colors. Anglers can go up a couple sizes as needed. Also, the plug is avilable in both shallow diving and deep diving models.
Shop Amazon for Rapala X-raps
Top water plugs certainly have a place in most anglers saltwater fishing tackle box as well. There are times when fish will be encountered feeding on the surface. Casting a top water plug into the melee is great fun! The two saltwater top water plugs that I like are the Heddon Saltwater Spook and Cordell Pencil Popper. The Pencil popper is a staple among anglers in the northeast fishing for striped bass and bluefish.
Shop Amazon for Saltwater Spook and Pencil Popper plugs
The final family of artificial lures that are popular among saltwater anglers are spoons. A spoon is basically a curved piece of metal with a hook in it. Most imitate wounded bait fish as they put out a lot a flash and vibration in the water. Spoons are effective when both cast and trolled.
Anglers have many choices when it comes to casting spoons. The two that I use and have confidence in are the Johnson Sprite spoon and in the Acme Kastmaster spoon. The Sprite in the 1/2 ounce size and gold color is an excellent lure for most inshore species. The Kastmaster spoon is long and slender and is a better choice for anglers surf fishing as well as fishing for larger species in the nearshore and offshore waters.
Read more about trolling with spoons and planers
Spoons are extremely effective when trolled as well. The only trolling spoon that I use is the Clark trolling spoon. It is long and slender which allows anglers to troll it quite quickly, at speeds of up to seven or 8 knots. Silver is by far the top finish and anglers should match the size of the spoon to the forage that the fish are feeding on. These spoons are light and anglers must use either weights or planers in order to get them down in the water column.
Shop Amazon for Johnson Sprite, Acme Kastmaster and Clark spoons
Other saltwater fishing tackle
There are a few other pieces of equipment that anglers will need when going saltwater fishing. A good pair of pliers is a must to facilitate tackle changes and remove hooks. Landing nets and gaffs are also mandatory to keep fish from escaping at the boat. Polarized sunglasses are crucial to help spot fish in the water as well as protect the eyes of the angler.
In conclusion, my article on saltwater fishing tackle will hopefully simplify the process of acquiring the gear that anglers will need in order to enjoy the sport!