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Connecting with striped bass on the beach means covering water, sometimes walking over miles of sand in the process. To be prepared for those days, I built myself the ultimate multi-purpose surf rod. This nine-foot stick can throw outsized swimming plugs, bucktails, and everything in between so I can change techniques without swapping rods. Plus, it’s constructed with components that can withstand the punishment of the intertidal zone for decades to come.  

I built my first rod about 20 years ago—a spinning rod with enough backbone to handle a full-size striper, but with a handle small enough to fit my young cousin’s pre-teen hands. Since then, I’ve assembled countless rods for everything including fly, surf, inshore, and freshwater applications. I still buy off the rack rods, but rod building has become a hobby for me. It allows me to craft the perfect rod for any situation. If you happen to prowl the surf in pursuit of striped bass or bluefish, I think the following rod is just about the best you can get for a wide variety of conditions.

Getting Started

You probably won’t save an appreciable amount of money building your own fishing rod—you may even end up spending more because you’ll inevitably upgrade components. But in the end, you’ll have a rod set up exactly the way you want. To get started building your own rods, you’ll need some specialized equipment. This needn’t be fancy; I built my first rod on a homemade wrapping jig that I threw together using common board in about 20 minutes. Now you can purchase entry-level starter kits that are much more user-friendly from suppliers such as Mud Hole Custom Tackle, complete with just about everything you need for about $150. Grab a basic wrapping jig, a rod dryer, watch a few videos, and you can put together your very own rod. 

Home-Made Surf Rod Materials

How to Select a Blank for A Home-Built Fishing Rod

Selecting a blank is the most important part of the rod building process, as no other element affects how the finished rod will perform more. Length and action are probably the most important factors in choosing a blank, along with lure weight and line rating. Another important concern is the material—graphite tends to offer the fastest actions and quickest recovery times, while fiberglass offers a slower, uniform bend that absorbs shock and protects lines. Graphite/fiberglass composites offer some compromise on the two, with the action determined by the ratio of the materials. 

Fishing rod blank.
The most important part of a fishing rod is the blank. Joseph Albanese

Because I wanted this rod to serve as an all purpose surf and jetty stick for the Striper Coast, I looked for a versatile blank that could handle a wide variety of lures. I decided on an ODM Rods NEX1 blank, rated for ½ to 3 ½ ounces. The moderate action of the nine-footer is just right for the bucktails, darters, pencils, swimmers, and tins I throw when the wind is howling, and the parabolic bend soaks up powerful runs from big fish without imparting too much shock on your leader. The blank is pretty lightweight—but not at the expense of durability—with layered graphite that won’t easily shatter.

Find the Right Guides For Your Surf Rod

There are an increasing number of different kinds of guides on the market. Some are built to minimize weight, others are developed to maximize a specific fishing technique, and some are just built tough. Fuji’s new titanium TORZITE guides were engineered to stand up to the worst you can throw at them and keep fishing. The titanium frames keep weight down, but they are extremely strong thanks to the slight bend that Fuji incorporates into them—think of U-channel or I-beams used as girders. 

Fishing rod guides on a table.
Fuji’s latest guides are strong and light. Joseph Albanese

The rings themselves are made from TORZITE, the first material created specifically for rod guides. The new material is tailor-made for the most abrasive braids. They’re  slicker, smoother, and tougher than the previous gold standard silicon carbide rings, which are also known as SiC. Despite the added strength, TORZITE guides weigh about 30 percent less than SiC. The guides I choose use Fuji’s KR Concept, otherwise known as “rapid choke” geometry to provide a smooth, fast transition from the spinning reel down to the running guides. This helps line flow freely off the reel for maximum casting distance.

How to Find the Best Handle Material for a Custom Surf Rod

There are many different handle materials you can use. Cork tape is the most traditional on a surf stick, but more modern offerings such as Winn Grips, that made their way over to fishing rods from tennis rackets and golf clubs, are displacing them. Heat shrink tubing with a variety of textures are becoming more prevalent, for ease of use and durability. But I’ve found carbon fiber grips to be particularly well-suited to a rod that’s going to live its life in the surf zone. They have a unique semi-smooth finish that manages to provide plenty of purchase even when wet. 

carbon fiber fishing rod components
Carbon fiber works well as a grip material on salt-water rods. Joseph Albanese

Building a rod with a carbon fiber handle used to involve forming it yourself; laying up a carbon tube over an arbor you shaped to your liking and coating it with resin. Now you can get pre-impregnated carbon grips built over open-cell foam cores that can be easily shaped to fit a rod blank. Mud Hole Custom Tackle makes such grips, but they are currently designed for freshwater rods. To get it to fit the larger diameter surf blank, the carbon fiber requires a little massaging with a rotary tool. To protect the blank and complete the handle on my surf rod, I applied some black rubberized surf grip tape above and below the reel seat. I used a shorter section as a foregrip, and covered the butt almost to the end, finishing it off with another carbon grip and an EVA cap.

Select a Thread to Finish Building Your Home-Made Surf Rod

Custom wraps add a touch of class to any build, but weaving decorative patterns requires some extra work. To give my rod a little personality without ornate windings, I used Mud Hole Custom Tackle’s Pro Wrap Fusion Variegated Thread. The dying process gives the thread a unique look when wrapped, with alternating color bands. After all the wraps were completed, I gave the rod four coats of epoxy to prevent damage and add durability.

wrapping threads on a fishing rod.
Mud Hole offers wraps that can be used to create an attractive pattern. Joseph Albanese

The Verdict

After finishing the rod, I found it to be one of the lightest, most responsive surf rods I’ve ever had the privilege of using. The blank is even sensitive enough to pick up bites from finicky summer flounder, but has the backbone to end fights with big stripers quickly. I haven’t taken anything over 30 pounds on it yet, but I’m confident the rod can turn a heavyweight out of a jetty groin and quickly get it to the beach. The rod has paired well with one of Tsunami’s SaltX reels, offering good balance. So far, the sealed reel has withstood all of the dunkings it has endured without a hiccup. The lightweight nature of the rod and reel combo means I can toss plugs all night and not be worn out when the sun rises.