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How To Choose A New Fishing Rod

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On: Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 3:45PM | By: Lee Clymer

Ahhh.I love the smell of fiberglass in the morning…well actually any time of day. It smells like adrenalin. There are few things I like more than walking into a tackle store and just playing with the new rods. It is amazing how far rods have come over the years. Today even the bamboo rods have considerable technical aspects about them.

A rod is a personal item. It is something that has a specific feel to it, almost as intimate as your car is to you, if you’re an avid fisherman. You learn that feel just as you do your car in the aspect of its performance. You know the pressure it takes to set the hook, how strong it is, and how it will stand up to its assigned task.

Sure you can walk in and pick something from the rack because you like the color and the logos, and because it also says it’s for surf fishing, ocean fishing, etc., but that seldom becomes a personal item. It’s just a tool like anything in your garage. Choosing a rod that fits you and the task becomes a joy and something that takes on an intimacy not unlike a marriage. I’ve know people who have rods dating back two, three, or more marriages, and probably got them out of the divorce settlement by giving up the house or a sports car.

If you take your fishing seriously, however, you’re going to want to buy something that’s special to you and will last. You’ll want something balanced and durable. To get balance you’ll want to match the reel, and that has to be something special to you, and the rod.

Before we get into the specifics, let’s define some terms:

  1. Inshore Fishing – Yep. It’s just what it sounds like. What it means to choosing your rod is that most of your fish are going to be smaller. Twenty pounds or less. The rod must be strong but not so strong it’s heavy and unmanageable.
  2. Offshore Fishing – We’re obviously talking about the big ones, even when it comes to bottom fishing. Jewfish can go up to two hundred pounds. Choose the rod to target the fish. The rod will probably be shorter and thicker, like Rosie O’Donnell but with more sensitivity.
  3. Casting Rods – My favorite! They will have a nice conventional reel on them and smaller guides. The line comes off straight free without banging the guides so you can cast further. They have some limitations with light baits though.
  4. Spinning Rods – There are a lot of neophytes who love spinning rods and use them universally simply because they don’t have the backlash a casting rod can have. You can use a spinning reel on a cast rod, but I personally don’t like it. It has been done before, and with certain people done well. A spinning rod has larger guides though and allows for the line to come off without the unwinding motion slowing the line down. I really do prefer them for surf fishing and piers.
  5. Bottom Fishing – This has nothing to do with staring at an aerobics class or bicycle riding on a crowded beach. It does however have everything to do with scaly creatures that love hiding on the bottom, darting out, and slurping up a meal. Bottom fishing rods will vary upon conditions, such as depth (deep water needs larger spools on the reel), current (strong currents require the ability for the rod to comfortably handle large sinkers, etc.), and the type of fish (self-explanatory).
  6. Fly Fishing – To be covered another day. Fly fishing is popular now and growing in popularity, but it gets into a considerable amount of technique and requirements. If you’re thinking about fly fishing find a store that specializes in fly rods and milk them for all they know. Fly fishing is very rewarding and a great pastime, but it would take a whole article on its own to cover.
  7. Rod Attributes – Although this sounds pretty straight forward it covers a lot of ground. Included are length, thickness, guide size, butt length, balance, taper, tip flexibility, and butt covers, just to name a few. All of these items fit into the type of fishing and your personal taste.
  8. Length – Simply stated size matters and is proportional to the type of fishing you plan on doing. Large fish require large rods. Longer casts require longer rods. Heavy rods allow for heavy line. I can’t make any simpler.
  9. Guide Size – This is where finesse comes into picking your rod. I love the almost silky feel of ceramic guides and good line. They are better on the line, far more durable, and make you look like a casting genius because you can cast further, and after learning the difference you can get pretty good at nailing a location. Roller guides are found on any good heavy trolling rods since casting is typically not a real issue, but reeling in the beast with considerable pressure on the line is of more concern. Hardened steel guides should be used with all wire applications, and standard guides are…well…standard.
  10. Thickness – See 7 – A.
  11. Butt Length – This does fall under use since butt length varies depending on the reel type and whether you’re bait casting or trolling, but to me it’s also a matter of comfort. The butt is to the rod as a stock is to a rifle. Everything behind the reel is generally accepted as the butt. Casting rods have short butts and allow for control both for distance and direction. The length of the butt is much like the rest of the build of a rod in that it is proportional in many ways to the size and weight of the fish. Also the longer the butt is inversely proportional to control during casting while proportional to leverage for reeling.
  12. Action – Don’t you just love that word? It means so much on so many levels. When you’re talking about rod build though, it is another of the finesse choices. It is personal, and it’s a matter of what you love to do, and what you plan on doing with the rod. I remember fishing for trout with an ultralight in Georgia. The action was so sensitive I could sense when a trout was smelling the bait, and feel that exhilarating flutter as the trout flipped its small tail to swim away. Action, also known as taper, is referred to by speed. Action…speed…seems right, huh? Keep that in mind.
  13. Slow – A slow taper means basically a slow dwindling but equal lessening dimension across the whole length of the rod. What it gives you is an equal bowing of the entire rod from butt to tip. These are the weight lifters of the rod world. Brute force is their primary attribute. They don’t cast well, and they don’t set the hook well, but they seldom break either.
  14. Medium – This means the butt end is stronger with less flexibility, and the tip is starting to have a little sensitivity. Most production rods are made like this. There is strength with some feel. They tend to be good all-around fishing rods. A lot of people who carry rods with them for that sudden fishing urge will carry these because they work for almost anything.
  15. Fast – As you start to learn the temperament of rods, I think you’ll start to move up to something in a fast taper. These really allow you to feel what’s going on with the bait, but until you learn that feel it can make you a bit jumpy. Suddenly a leaf floating in the water bumps your bait and you want to set the hook. Well, it’s not that bad, but you get my drift. They seem to me to be exponentially more sensitive than a medium taper, but that’s me. The bottom of the rod is stiff and the tip is very flexible because of the sudden taper on the last roughly one third of the rod. Beware! These tips break if caught in a power car window. Don’t ask how I know.
  16. Extra Fast – Twelve to eighteen inches from the end this rod dwindles like desert moisture in July. You want sensitivity? This is the right place. If you need accuracy with a small lure, this is what you need. The down side is their precision comes with a price tag. The cool thing is they can still bring in a nice fish and the play time is so much fun.
  17. Balance – This is a pretty simple thing to figure out, but an important thing to accomplish. Place the rod on your finger in the middle of the area where you put your hand, with the reel in place, and it should balance there. If it doesn’t, find another rod. This procedure with save you stamina points and sore muscles from a long day of fishing, not t mention the control issues.
  18. Weight – This is a matter of materials. The lighter the better is always the case until you start to impede strength. Composites are the way to go if you can afford it. I would say it’s so important you should save those nickels and dimes and buy the best you can possibly afford. That is not to say expensive is always better. There are some really good rods out there for great prices. Just be sure it fits what you want to do and it fits you, and, most of all, makes you happy.

So now that you’re all caught up on terminology, you probably have already figured out most of how to buy a rod. If you’re really serious about picking just the right rod you have several options. The first thing I would do is go with a guide and tell him what you’re trying to accomplish. Have him or her bring several tapers for you to try. Use them all under different circumstances and use them all under all circumstances. This is the perfect way to figure out what you want and get some boat time in under a good guide.

Next try to pry you’re buddy’s hands off his favorite rod (they may require bonding, licensing, and a deposit), and discuss with them the things he likes about it. Of course the idea is to get the feel for as many tapers as you can find and use. This is important especially if you plan to have a custom rod made. You need to be able to clearly describe the features you want. Get as many opinions from people you respect as possible.

Lastly, just talk to people who like the same type of fishing you do, and a couple of talkative rod builders. They will always love to talk, especially if they think they may get some business from it. When all else fails, go to the pro!


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