Spring is just around the corner. Cardinals and robins are returning to backyard bird feeders, boats are being pulled out of storage, and across the country, anglers are scheming ways to roll their tax returns into new fishing-related purchases. We’re not talking about some new ChatterBaits or a couple of sacks of plastics; rather, plans are being set for capital investments: boats, electronics, reels, and of course, rods.
Choosing the right rod requires that you think carefully about factors well beyond the size of the fish you intend to chase, answering questions such as: how heavy is your line and lure; how far do you need to cast; how deep will the water be? Once you can answer questions like these, you can break out the checkbook and head to your favorite rod dealer. Unfortunately, rods don’t have labels that read, “perfect for largemouth bass on Texas-rigged worms in heavy cover.” Instead, rod characteristics are quoted according to length, power, and action. Understanding the meaning behind these properties, and their relationship to the way you intend to fish will help you to crack the code and choose the right fishing rod.
A wide range of factors come into play when selecting a rod’s length. For example, you must consider your intended cast length. Long rods in the 7’6” to 8’ range excel at bombing lures far away from the boat, which you might do if you’re fishing topwaters back in the slop or targeting subsurface structure in very clear water. These same rods not only support lengthy casts, but they also move a lot of line on the hookset, helping you to pin more fish that strike far away from the boat. On the other hand, near-boat presentations frequently call for shorter rods. Targeting fish directly beneath the boat with a vertical jigging presentation is often best accomplished with a relatively short rod, like one that is 6’ to 6’3” in length. If your fishing adventures take you in pursuit of trout in small streams that are lined with tall grasses and brush, a short rod will help you deliver pinpoint casts and keep your bait out of trouble.
Beyond these fishing considerations, it’s important to also think about how you will store and transport your rods. If your rods will spend lots of time in your boat’s rod locker, be certain that they will fit without risk of damage; my boat’s rod locker comfortably accommodates rods up to 7’6” in length. Likewise, if you’ll be loading your rods into and out of your vehicle as you go to and from the lake, shorter rods are less likely to get smashed by car doors than their longer counterparts. If you like the fishing benefits of a long rod, but need something shorter for travel or storage, then two-piece rods might be an option for you. However, you should also recognize than multi-piece rods won’t share the same sensitivity and fishing performance characteristics as their one-piece counterparts.
Rod power is defined as the weight that causes the rod to flex or bend. It can be useful to think about power as correlating with stiffness. For example, an ultra-light power rod, like you might select for panfish or stream trout, will flex quite readily. On the other hand, a heavy power rod – one that is more appropriate for fishing bass in thick cover or for targeting muskies – will be quite stiff, and only flex in response to considerable force or weight.
Your target species can guide your selection of a rod power. Smaller fish – crappies, perch, bluegills and the like – can be targeted effectively with ultra-light or light power rods. Step into the medium-sized class of fish – walleyes, moderate-sized bass, and smaller catfish – and you’ll want a rod with a power rating somewhere within the medium light-medium – medium-heavy spectrum. Chase the big boys, like photo-quality bass, or toothy predators like pike or muskies, and you’ll be choosing rods with heavy ratings.
The weight of your lure and line is another important consideration when choosing a rod power. In order for the rod to cast the lure effectively, the rod must flex on the backcast – but not too much – and then transfer that stored energy to the lure as you swing the rod forward, propelling the lure to its target. Most rod manufacturers print recommended lure and line weights on the rod blank to help you make an informed decision.
The action of a rod describes the position along the blank where the primary bend or flex will occur. Think about action in terms of the rod’s “backbone” – a fast action rod will have its primary flex point close to the tip, and as a result, possesses a long, stiff backbone for powerful hooksets. In contrast, a rod with moderate action will have its flex point farther down the blank, closer to the handle, where a less substantial backbone can act as an effective shock-absorber to deal with unpredictable surges from larger predators.
Rod action is frequently dictated by the materials used to manufacture the blank. High graphite content in the blank is typically associated with faster rod actions, while incorporation of fiberglass or other composites will slow the action of the rod, yielding rods described as moderate. Blending graphite fibers with glass when the blank is manufactured can allow for precise fine-tuning of rod action.
For presentations that require me to feel the sensation of the bite – transmitted from the lure, through the line, to the blank – I select rods with a high graphite content. As such, my rod collection is heavily weighted toward rods with fast or even extra-fast action. On the other hand, when bites are “no-doubters” and landing a fish requires that hooks stay pinned during extensive boat-side battles, I look for rods with moderate or moderate-fast action. Thus, when I’m deep-cranking bass in mid-summer, fiberglass rods are my weapons of choice.