The Benefits of Wading Belts In the Surf

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The Benefits of Wading Belts In the Surf

Z-Belt Gen 2Designed by Luke Znosko to alleviate the back pain from carrying a packed-to-the-gills plug bag over his shoulder, he combined the featu

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surf belt
Z-Belt Gen 2
Designed by Luke Znosko to alleviate the back pain from carrying a packed-to-the-gills plug bag over his shoulder, he combined the features of a surfcasting belt made of nylon webbing with a neoprene weightlifting belt to create a surf belt that provides lumbar support for long outings in the surf. A roller locking buckle secures it, while two separate webbing belts take on tools and plug bag, allowing them to be slid into position. Integrated grommets provide lanyard attachment points.

For a surfcaster, the wading belt goes from accessory to essential. In waders, a belt creates a seal around an angler’s midsection that slows down water intrusion if he takes a misstep into deep water. This gives a fisherman who’s been knocked down by a wave or swept off a sandbar extra time to recover before an uncomfortable situation becomes life-threatening.

In addition to the safety component, a wading belt also provides a convenient way to keep tools close at hand in the surf. Kitted-out surfcasters make the most of the limited real estate they have between the plug bag and belt so they don’t have to leave any important gear back in the truck.

Van Staal Stainless Pliers
Stainless Pliers
For surf fishing, anglers need pliers that can survive long nights marinating in salt water, like the ones made by Van Staal. Available in 6- or 7-inch titanium, each pair is lightweight and extremely strong, with spring-loaded ergonomic handles, line cutter with replaceable tungsten cutters, and anvils.

The last pair of waders you bought probably came with a belt. It was likely one of those stretchy elastic ones that’s fine for fly fishing in the Catskills but downright useless in the surf. Not only are these belts less effective at preventing water from filling your waders, they lack the sturdiness needed to transport several pounds of gear without sagging or flipping.

Two-inch nylon webbing is the standard material for surf belts. It’s durable, rigid, and doesn’t absorb water. Most surf-fishing-specific accessories are made with loops to accommodate 2-inch belts, so fishermen can mix and match accessories and belts from a variety of manufacturers—and since “tactical” surfcasting belts are so unique to our area, most of those manufacturers are right here in the Northeast.

Such belts are available with a number of different fasteners. My first proper surf belt had a large plastic clip, which fastened securely, but needed adjustment when I switched between waders and wetsuit because of the increased bulk of the thick neoprene over the breathable wader material. Adjusting the belt between trips was a minor inconvenience, but it also left room for error that would create an imperfect seal when clipping on a belt that was just a bit too loose. An advantage of the plastic buckle is that it is nearly impossible to accidentally open. For added security, some high-end belt manufacturers even use plastic clips that have multiple release points.

Many serious surfcasters use a belt with a large metal dive clip. This allows the belt to be tightened to the perfect level without any adjustments, meaning an angler doesn’t have to lengthen or shorten the belt depending on how many layers are under the waders—or in my case, how much weight I’ve put on in the offseason. These belts can still open accidentally, but are backed up with Velcro to prevent them from tumbling into the surf.

Another option is the roller locking buckle on the Z-Belt. This operates under the same principle as a D-ring football belt, but is more secure and, is backed up with Velcro. It’s less bulky than the dive belt buckle and less likely to open accidentally.

Eastaboga Tackle Boga Grip
Lip Gripper
The best lip-grippers for surfcasting have an easy locking mechanism that can be operated with one hand to securely grab the lower jaw of a fish. Some, like the Eastaboga Tackle Boga Grip, feature an integrated scale, though since fishermen have put a greater emphasis on releasing striped bass in good condition, many anglers no longer weigh fish they intend to release.

A well-equipped surf belt usually includes a fish gripper—either the plastic type or a metal scale/lip-gripper. These keep hands clear of hooks and teeth when landing and releasing unruly stripers or blues.

Turtle Cove Tackle Boga Carrier
Turtle Cove Tackle Boga Carrier
Donna Lucano, president of Turtle Cove Tackle, came up with this design after growing tired of having her Boga Grip 130 swing into her legs. The “prototype” was made from a broken sand spike and duct tape, but Donna’s background making thermoplastic products for the fire/police market helped her create a heavy-duty holster molded from “Kydex.” It has a wide belt loop that can accommodate a thick 2-inch surf belt, fits all Boga Grip models, and comes with a 34-inch lanyard.
While the Boga Carrier is the flagship of Turtle Cove Tackle’s product line, they also offer a heavy-duty plier sheath (also with included lanyard) and jig-strip carrier, all of which can be found at dealers from New Jersey to Massachusetts, including Grumpy’s Tackle, Whitewater Outfitters, Fisherman’s World, and Saltwater Edge.

Most surfcasters don’t leave home without a pair of robust, stainless pliers on their belts. Some fishermen buy an upgraded sheath that holds the pliers securely, won’t degrade, and fits the 2-inch webbing on a surf belt.

AquaSkinz Plier Holster
Plier Sheath
While many pliers come with sheaths, most are clip-on styles that can be easily knocked off a belt. An after-market plier sheath, like the AquaSkinz Plier Holster, is designed for surfcasting, meaning it is more durable and fits better on a surf belt.

An essential tool that too many surfcasters do leave home without is a dive knife. While it probably won’t come into play on every trip, or even every season, having it can get you out of a sticky situation, such as getting tangled in discarded braided line or rope. A knife is also handy for bleeding fish destined for the dinner table or cutting bait. Look for a knife with a locking sheath that loops securely onto the surf belt.

DiveDPR 304 stainless coated dive knife
Dive Knife
A stainless knife with a locking sheath, like the DiveDPR 304 stainless coated dive knife, is an essential safety tool for surfcasting.

Belt attachments like D-rings and carabiners serve a number of functions, such as lanyard attachment points, holders for fish-grippers, and even a hands-free rod holder.

As kayak fishermen say, “If you love it, leash it,” and the same is true in the surf. To avoid losing an expensive set of pliers into a tumbling surf, attach it to the belt with a lanyard. Make sure the lanyard is long enough to allow full use of the tool.

Transporting the Plug Bag

Many surf fishermen also use their belt to transport their plug bags. I’ve always carried my bag over my shoulder using the strap that came with it. According to a poll of On The Water’s Instagram followers, I’m part of a narrow majority who wear the plug bag that way (58% shoulder strap vs 42% belt).

When I thought about why I’ve always carried the plug bag over my shoulder, I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I tried to think of the advantages, and the best one was being able to take off the bag and place it on land behind me while fishing. While I don’t do this on open beaches or in boulder fields, I regularly remove it on jetties or at the Cape Cod Canal because I can leave it high and dry without worrying that it will be claimed by a rising tide or rogue wave—and carrying a bag full of 4- and 5-ounce jigs makes my shoulder ache just thinking about it.

Carrying a bag over the shoulder seems to have more disadvantages than advantages, one that the belt-carrying crowd are quick to point out. For instance, the uneven distribution of weight taxes the back after a few hours in the surf. A plug bag hanging off a shoulder strap swings freely, both during the cast and when bending over to land a fish, while a belt-mounted bag holds steady. The after-cast, plug-bag readjustment has become so ingrained in my fishing program that even when I’m not wearing a plug bag, I’ve caught myself reaching to readjust it after a cast lands. Lastly, the strap is a potential point of failure. While it is usually made from the same, or nearly the same, webbing material as a surf belt, the clips, which are most often plastic and metal, are the weak points. I’ve had multiple clips fail in the middle of a night of fishing, forcing me to add my bag to my belt—where it probably should have been in the first place.

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