Every month, I get emails from people who are having a tough time picking out the right rod for the style of fishing they are doing. Folks often struggle with not only which brand to go with, but also the more detailed stuff like actions, lengths, line weights, power, etc.
The good news is rods come with most of the information you need to make an informed decision — printed right on the blank (usually just above the fore grip). The bad news is it may look like it’s in code at first. And even if you understand the code, what do all these facts and figures mean?
Well, let’s see if we can’t get you started on the path of understanding here!
Okay, so let’s start with the model number on the blank. This part can be actually very helpful — or meaningless, depending on the brand. Some manufactures simply have a model number assigned to a rod that doesn’t mean much to the consumer. Others make their model numbers like a quick cheat sheet that can tell you a lot about the rod.
For example, I’m looking at the above rod — a Douglas Outdoors LRS S785F. In this case, the LRS is the series the rod belongs to. The “S”denotes that it is a spinning rod (C would be for “casting”). The “785” part is the real meat here.
Breaking it down, the “78″ portion of the model number tells me the rod is 7’8″ in length and the “5” means that it has 5-power (more on that later).
Had there been a “2” on the end of that, it would denote that the rod is a 2-piece model.
Finally the “F” tells that the rod has a Fast action, which I’ll also get to in a bit.
So, that’s actually pretty handy and not all that complicated, right? It’s a great system when the models are coded that way, but like I said, not everybody does it. That’s okay though! There’s typically more info on the blank to help ya out.
Just about all companies put some version of this info on their rods. Back to the Douglas Outdoors rod I mentioned above, 7’8″/10-20 LB./ 1/4- 1/1/4oz is also included on the label after the model number.
Okay, so now lets break all that down into more digestible chunks!
The length of your rod has both to do with personal preference (i.e. what’s comfortable to you) and also technique. Some methods like bobber fishing for steelhead require long rods so you can more easily mend loose line off the water. While others dictate the use of shorter sticks — say, casting soft plastics for bass around docks for example.
Typically described in terms such as “Ultra-Light, Light, Medium, Medium Heavy, Heavy and Extra-Heavy,” or numbers like “1-6 Power,” the power of a rod lets you know how much lifting ability or “backbone” it has. In other words, how stiff it is under resistance.
In the real world, this means if you hook a heavy fish on an Ultra-Light or Light rod, you will have trouble turning it or, from a boat, find it tough to lift it up off the bottom. Another way to think about it is, if you were trying to lift a cinder block up off the ground with a rod, you’d have a much better shot at doing it with an Extra Heavy rod than a Light one.
Obviously, in situations that call for delicate presentations and light line, you’d be way better off with a rod with a lighter power rating.
Generally measured from Slow to Extra Fast, a rod’s action tells you how much the rod will bend when you put pressure on the tip.
A Slow rod will feature a parabolic bend in which the blank bends fairly evenly through much of its length, from the tip down to the handle. A Moderate or Medium action rod bends in the upper half and then Fast and Extra Fast rods will bend primarily in the upper third and then, “shut off” in the bottom section.
Because Slow rods (often called noodle rods) have a lot of bend to them, they are most often used when light line is necessary due to their shock-absorbing properties. But you compromise “feel,” hook setting ability and casting distance with them.
Medium to Medium Fast rods are great for casting distance and have relatively good sensitivity and hook setting properties. They are also great choices when using lures like salmon or steelhead plugs so the hooks don’t get ripped out when a fish strikes. Fast and Extra Fast rods are the way to go when you need to bury big hooks into tough mouths or yank heavy fish out of thick cover.
This tells you what lines the rod was designed for and its important to try to stay within that range — at least with monofilament. For example, let’s say you are using a Heavy Power rod rated for 20- to 40-pound line and you are using 12-pound test. When you hook a fish, you are likely to break it off on the hookset or during the fight because the rod is geared up for much heavier line and doesn’t have much “give” to it.
Conversely, if you hook a fish or get a snag with an Ultra Light stick that you have rigged with 20-pound test and put some pressure on it, the rod may blow up before the line breaks.
You get into casting issues too if you don’t follow the line ratings on the rod. You’ll have a miserable time trying to cast a heavy lure with thick line on a Light Rod and it’s next to impossible to cast light lures with light line on a Heavy action rod.
This tells you how much weight a rod can cast. Like line rating, you’ll want to stick as close to these parameters as you can.
Right when you are about to bring your arm forward to make a cast, the rod will bend and store energy. This is called “loading up.” When you let go at the top of your stroke, the rod will straighten out, releasing that energy — and thats where your distance comes from.
Use more weight than the rod is rated for and it won’t release that energy in an efficient way, resulting in shorter and much less accurate casts. If you try throwing a lure lighter than the rod is designed for, it won’t bend much — thus making it unable to store up the energy needed to make long casts.
Hopefully this helps clarify some of the questions about rod selection you may have. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible because fishing is supposed to be fun.
I know I’d rather engage my brain on something much more important like deciding which color steelhead jig I’m going to use instead of decoding rod details!