You fishing with the right stick? If not, you’re going to catch fewer fish and you’ll probably have to work harder and longer for the ones you do catch. Sounds kinda strange because a rod is a rod, right? Well, not so fast…
Fishing rods are manufactured from many materials from good ol’ fiberglass to space age stuff like Nano-Titanium and they come in a dizzying array of lengths, weights and actions. There are rods for any type of fishing you can think of, but you have to be a bit of a code-breaker to figure out which one is best suited for your style.
When you go to a tackle shop, take a look at the label on a spinning or casting rod (fly rods are another subject we’ll cover some other time), and it will give you all the rod’s specs. Normally, you’ll see a model number, line rating, lure rating and length. Some labels also include the rod’s action, which is another handy tidbit to have at your disposal when making decision on which one to buy.
The model number generally won’t yield a lot of useful information to you, so move onto the other numbers. The line rating tells you what pound test the rod was designed to be used with. Say you’re looking for a rod to use when you toss spoons for trout at the local lake. The rod you picked up off the display rack is rated for 12- to 20-pound test, but you use nothing heavier than 4-pound line. Right away, you can tell that this rod is too heavy. You could get away with using 4-pound on it, but it’s very likely the rod will be too stiff and won’t give enough when you have a fish on – and the result will be many break-offs.
You also notice that it’s rated for lures that weigh ½ to 1 3/4 ounces, but you rarely throw any weights heavier than a quarter ounce. With this imbalance in weight, the rod won’t “load” properly when you cast, resulting in greatly reduced distance. Try to find a stick that better matches the line and lure weights you plan to use. Something like a rod rated for 2- to 6-pound line and 1/16 to 3/8 ounces of lead is a much better choice in this case.
Rod length is a bit more subject to personal preference, but in general, a longer rod is going to give you better casting performance and, if you pick the right action, it will also help to protect your light leaders when a fish runs. As a basic rule, go longer when you need to make long casts from shore and, if you fish out of a boat and casting a long distance is not necessary, you can go shorter.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a rod’s makeup you should consider is its “action.” This is a term that has long confused anglers but it really isn’t so difficult when you learn the basics. Most companies rate their rods as fast action, moderate-fast, moderate and slow. These terms relate to a rod’s stiffness and bending properties. For example, a fast action rod is mainly stiff – it’s lower two-thirds are stout and then the tip section has more bend to it.
On the other end of the spectrum is slow action. This means a rod will bend throughout it’s length. Soft rods are great for a wide array of applications – I like them for pulling plugs for steelhead or casting crankbaits to bass because you need a bendable rod that won’t stifle the lure’s action. When fishing this way, you also need to let the fish really chew on the plug before you set the hook, so a soft rod allows them to pull down on the tip without feeling much resistence. Soft rods also lend themselves nicely to downrigger fishing. Because this type of stick is so flexible, you don’t have the “punch” that a slightly stiffer rod would have when it comes to casting distance, so they’re not great when a long toss is necessary.
A moderate-action rod has enough sensitivity in the tip to cushion your light leaders and allow the fish to mouth the bait without feeling anything unnatural, while also having a stiff enough lower end that will result in better casts and more hook-setting power.
Keep in mind that there are many rods on the market designed for very specific applications, so you should be able to find one for whatever you’re doing. Given all the different types of fish and fishing there are out there, however, it’s impossible to find one rod that does everything. I guess that’s why I own about 300 of the suckers! Hopefully, now you’ll be better able to pick the right rod.