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Choosing a Rod

 

 

 



Selecting the Right Rod

We're all familiar with the adage, 'you get what you pay for', but we also know there are products out there that are overpriced for what you're actually getting. Fishing tackle is like any other commodity, there are 'bargains' that aren't even worth the time it takes to carry them out to your car, and there are products that cost so much they should make the fish jump into your boat. Rods and reels are two of the most expensive components of fishing tackle and are therefore the most scrutinized purchases we make. Selecting a good rod can be a bewildering experience for someone who wants the most for their money. We ask questions like "What makes this rod so expensive?" and "Is this $300 rod really twice as good as this $150 rod?" With the unbelievable array of good rods available to serious anglers today it's easy to find a great rod that is perfect for what you want to do with it. However, at the same time, you could end up with something that might not be right and you'd be spending some good money for something that you won't use. I believe the most expensive rod you own is the one you never use. Even if it was cheap it was a waste of your money if it stays at home leaning in a corner. Conversely, you may have a rod that cost a lot of money but if you use it every time you go fishing and you love it then it was money well spent.

The return you get for the money you spend on your rods will vary with how often you fish, how serious you are, if you fish tournaments, and other factors. In general, the more your rod costs the more sensitive it will be, the more responsive it will be, and the more accuracy you will be able to achieve. A quote from Gary Loomis, the developer of arguably the best rods being built today, puts some light on the subject, "I can build a rod you can't break, but you wouldn't want to fish with it". There are rods out there that claim they won't break but you won't see any of them on the decks of serious bass anglers or in the hands of any tour pros because they demand rods that are light, sensitive, and powerful. Sure those rods cost more, but for those they're worth every penny.

A good rod may not instantly make you a better angler but a poor rod will be a limiting factor for any angler. Your rod is a tool, and a good craftsman will always do better work with a good tool. A good rod will allow you to feel much more of what's going on with your lure. For instance, you'll be able to tell if you're dragging your jig through mud, sand, rock, sticks, etc., and more importantly, when you get bit, which can often be hard to detect.

Part of being a good angler is the ability to place your lure exactly where you want it, often as quietly as possible, and a good rod will definitely help your casting ability with more responsive graphite and perfectly engineered actions. The ability to create actions for specific techniques only comes with rod building expertise and the ability to use the best materials, which adds considerably to the expense. As a general rule then, a good rod will help and a poor rod will hurt your fishing ability.

When you're shopping for rods, certain terms will be used to describe the materials used in building the rod and how it flexes. Different people use some of these terms in different ways, but we will try to define a few of them for our purposes in this article.


Rod Materials
Fiberglass: Fiberglass rods have been popular since the 1950’s taking over the era of steel rods, in terms of performance and features fiberglass does lack the sensitivity of the newer rods today made from graphite and weighs more, but is noted for it’s toughness and soft/moderate action. Some anglers use fiberglass when fishing crank baits for the slow action and muskie anglers use fiberglass in cold weather for quick strike rig sucker fishing where the rod sensitivity is not required but the toughness (setting the hook especially in very cold weather and not breaking the rod) is needed. Fiberglass is also a very good choice for children starting out in fishing where durability is an issue.

Graphite rod building started in the 1970’s and has continued to this day. Most all quality rods today are built using graphite and have become the preferred choice for rod blank builders. The benefits of graphite rods are many, they're extremely light, sensitive and flexible, which is vital for light biting fish, along with being strong and powerful to handle larger game fish.

In marketing graphite rods a few common terms have been developed to associate the quality of the rod. The first is "modulus graphite rating", graphite comes in what looks like sheets of cloth, the cloth is measured to determine the amount and stiffness to weight of modulus fibers. If your shopping for a new rod don’t base your decision solely on the modulus rating, the higher the rating the better the rod. For high performance rods the combination of fiber strength, resin toughness with the amount of fiber, resin and cross-scrim construction (overlapping layers to achieve exceptional strength and action) are more important than the modulus count or rating. Rods with high graphite modulus ratings tend to be brittle and need to have a secondary chemical added on the blank to increase the strain/strength rate. This is called a composite blank. The other term that rod companies use to identify a blank style is IM with a following number such as IM6 or 7 and currently up to 10. The IM rated rods are not regulated by industry standards or an indication of quality but rather a trade name for particular graphite produced by the Hexcel Corporation. Since some rod companies use the IM designation ratings to refer to their rod blanks that are not supplied by Hexcel, at least you can compare the rods built by the same manufacturer, being assured that the higher the IM ranking the higher the graphite quality of the rod.

Action 
rodsAction refers to the flex characteristics of a rod, in other words how much the rod bends when you put pressure on the tip and how far the rod flexes. Action ranges from extra fast where just the tip flexes to slow or softer where the majority of the rod flexes. Fast action rods are the best choice when the fishing technique requires the sensitivity of feeling light biting fish or when fishing for large game fish in heavy cover and weeds where the key is to setting the hook fast with just a snap of the wrist moving the fish’s head up and away. For instance, fast action light rods are used for jigs, soft plastic worms or twitching minnow/shad shaped crank baits for bass and walleye. Heavier fast action rods are used for Muskies & Pike in burning bucktails, walking top water lures or a cadence retrieve on gliders and jerkbaits. The moderate action rod is the most common choice due to the versatility of fishing applications, in casting a moderate action rod it will bend for about half of it’s length which will provide more casting distance and still have the capability for a adequate hookset. Ideal for slip bobbers/floats live bait for walleye fishing because the fish is less likely to feel resistance from the soft tip and drop the bait, along with reaction lures such as crank baits, spinner baits and spoons for bass and pike where the slower action will not pull the lure out of the fish’s mouth. Slow or Soft Action rods will bend starting in the lower third using nearly the entire rod providing the most flexibility. Because of this parabolic action the angler is using the rod as a shock absorber in fighting the fish, this allows the use of very light line. These rods are used for panfish especially for the paper thin mouths on crappies so the hook is not ripped clear on hooksets, and are also popular for drift fishing spawn sac’s on trout and salmon streams.

Power
A rod’s power describes how much a rod will flex under a load also referred as a rod’s "backbone". The thickness and type of rod material will determine this, power ratings are usually described as heavy, medium heavy, medium, light, etc… some rod companies use a numerical system 1-10 with 1=Ultra Light-10= Extra Heavy. The rod’s power rating is closely related to the suggested line strength. It is important to follow the line test guideline limits printed on the rod since a heavy power rod will snap light lines too easily and heavy lines can snap a light rod. Another factor to consider is the fishing presentation, muskie, pike, and bass in weeds and cover will require a strong power rod using heavier line, on open water where hard to see light line is used for walleyes and crappies use a lighter power rod. Quite often anglers get confused with rod power ratings and action. As a example the power rating is listed on the rod, the flex of the rod is considered the action.

Rod Line Guides
These are the circular loops affixed to the rod and run the length of the rod blank, The concept is simple, keeping the line from touching the rod, this offers a smooth surface for the line to pass over. The technology of rod guide designs has improved dramatically over the years from the old metal guides and the classic agate inserts of earlier rods. Most of the new guides today are made of two parts: a metal frame (stainless) attached to the rod blank and some form of a insert (inner ring) using Ceramic, Alconite, Silicon Carbide or Hardloy. Some rods use line guides made of all stainless steel wire instead of inserts, these guides are lighter reducing the overall rod weight, but they are not as smooth as rods using inserts. The newest line guide introduced is made from titanium wire, which will spring back even if they're bent flat unlike the stainless guide that will break. The overall purpose of the rod line guides manufactured today is to provide less friction along with reducing the line fray and wear in the guides during the cast. Less friction means longer casts and less heat, and heat definitely doesn’t help when it comes to fishing lines. The total amount of line guides on a rod are a important feature as well, the higher amount of guides the better, as they ensure distance on the cast, and when fighting a fish the energy/ stress on the rod is dispersed though out the entire rod blank. Depending of the rod power rating line guides are available in two different styles, single and double foot. Single foot guides adds less weight on the rod and help retain sensitivity, these are used for mainly ultra - light to medium power rods. The double foot line guides are used when sensitivity is not required but strength is as they are wrapped twice on the rod blank. These are found on heavy to extra heavy power rods used for larger game fish.

Handle / Reel Seats
The combination of a quality rod handle and reel seat are as important as the rod blank itself. The reel seat is where the reel is attached to the rod and constructed of graphite and aluminum or both. Graphite is lighter and more sensitive, while aluminum is stronger. Some reel seats offer a cutout that allows direct finger contact on the rod blank for greater sensitivity. The rod handle is also referred to as "grips" and are located below and above the reel seat. Cork is the preferred choice on rod handles as it is lightweight, durable, and transmits rod vibrations even when wet better than synthetic materials using EVA foam. There are varying grades of cork based on the rod’s cost, the higher the rod price the better quality of cork used. Another alternative is cork tape to achieve the look of cork. Composite cork is made by combining a mixture of cork particles and resin, this combination is more durable than using straight cork. 

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