Choose the Right Light-Tackle Rod

Know a little lingo and how a rod will be used before purchasing one.

 Yes, anglers can order Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman by Ronco — “As Seen on TV” — and certainly catch fish with it. In fact, I have. Fish have no idea what tackle an angler is using. But as people get better and desire greater accuracy and efficiency, they naturally upgrade their tackle, selecting more specialized gear. Want to skip a lure or bait under a dock or between pilings? Need a stick that will provide maximum casting distance rather than pinpoint accuracy? Whatever the parameter(s), someone has designed exactly the right rod. And while reels are important, they ultimately do little more than manage a pile of fishing line. The rod — its action, weight, length and grip — performs the most important functions.

I read an interesting analogy between baitcasting and spinning rods: Spinning rods are the automatic transmission of fi shing. Easy to handle but not as performance oriented. Baitcasters demand greater skill and knowledge but perform better.

FLIPPIN’ AND PITCHING ROD TRAITS
Beginners should look for rods in the 7-foot, 4-inch range with a good, long handle. That’s long enough for distance and short enough to be easily handled. As one improves, add an inch or three to that length. Rods with a flexible tip are preferred over stiff tips, because stiffness causes casts to turn into lobs and the baits to flip over. At the same time, the butt end needs to have some backbone so it can handle larger fish.

I would choose any handle material except cork, which tends to get slippery when wet. Fighting a trophy fish, it’s hard enough to handle the fish without working to hang on to a slippery rod.

For skipping live baits under docks, I like braided line in every setting except crystal clear water, because braided line has no stretch and is very abrasion resistant. In vodka-clear water, I like to use fluorocarbon line for the same reasons as braid.

If distance casting is your holy grail, add a longer, stronger rod to your arsenal. Demand a rod that loads up well, has a strong butt section and moderate tip flex.

Anglers don’t need to spend a fortune for top-quality gear. The main players all make excellent equipment, and the purchase decision rests on an individual’s personal comfort and need. Penn, Shimano, St. Croix, Loomis, Daiwa, Shakespeare, Seeker, Star, Fenwick, Abu Garcia and Quantum represent the major players, but hundreds more small, quality rod manufacturers are in the market.

What’s It Cost?
Graphite casting rods and Flippin’ sticks run between $25 and $500 for production models. Order a custom rod and it could be more. Fiberglass rods cost less, ranging from less than $20 to several hundred dollars, with the majority less than $100. Fenwick and Abu Garcia both offer fine, mid-level graphite rods at $69.99. Shimano’s midrange goes from $100 to $200, with lesser and greater quality product on both sides in the price range. Baitcasting reels cost approximately as much as the rod, though it might be wise to buy a rod/reel combo, so the manufacturer automatically matches the rod to the reel. Specialized children’s tackle (usually a push-button spincaster reel with a rod) with Spiderman or a Disney princess or Barbie on it (e.g., by Shakespeare) can be purchased at Walmart for less than $10. And before anyone sneers, I watched a 5-year-old girl catch a 20-pound red drum on one of those Barbie rods! The idea is to get them fishing with you, not to indulge in fishing snobbery.

Lesson in Lingo
Before someone can make an informed decision, he needs to know the lingo of fi shing rods. Here are the important terms.

Action.
Action dictates how much a rod bends and where. Rods with light action bend along the length of the rod. Heavier action focuses the bend closer to the tip while the butt end remains strong and stiff. Small fish on light tackle demand a more flexible action; big game need stiffness.

Spline.
Just as the human body bends forward better than to the side, so do fishing rods. Rods have a “spine,” meaning they bend perfectly in one direction. That bend must align with the guides. When checking a particular rod’s action, be sure to bend it as if fighting a fish. If the rod twists such that the guides don’t form a straight line along the spine, pass it up.

Length.
Casting farther requires a longer rod. Shorter rods excel at accuracy. Additionally, casting calls for light- to medium-weight rods. For trolling and bottom fishing, go heavier and shorter. Be sure to know if there’s a maximum length your boat will handle. Open-air storage spots — rocket launchers and rod holders — have no length limit. Secure storage belowdecks or in a fish box may.

Sensitivity.
Getting a lure or bait to a desired target represents half the challenge. Feeling the bottom and, most importantly, the strike is the other part of the equation. When testing a rod in the store, I try casting and retrieving to see if I can feel the different parts of the floor (e.g., carpet transitioning to wood). Better yet, before sinking a pile of money into a new rig, ask the store to let you try it out in the real world.

Material.
Fiberglass stands up to abuse best and costs the least. Today’s glass rods weigh less than their clunky ancestors too. Unfortunately, they still weigh more and are less sensitive than advanced materials such as graphite, carbon fiber, boron and so on.

Graphite represents the most expensive rod route and has proven lighter, stronger and more sensitive than other materials. One caveat: Any chip or ding in a graphite rod instantly becomes a weak point where that stick may well snap.

Line/Lure Weight.
Each rod is rated for a range of line and lure weights. The line weight should match the target fish’s size and the lure weight — pretty self-explanatory. The best performance on any given rod will be achieved by sticking within the manufacturer’s suggested boundaries.

Guides.
Stainless steel guides, most often with ceramic rings glued within, carry the fishing line from the reel to the tip. Sight down a rod to ensure the guides align perfectly. A seven-foot rod should include at least nine guides. More is better and quality is crucial. Fuji pretty much owns the quality guide market, so anglers can rest easy when a rod comes equipped with its products.

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