In determining a fishing rod and reel one must consider the species you are fishing for along with the type of lure or live bait to be used. For instance your rod and reel set-up should match the fishing presentation. If you’re pursuing pan fish like perch using light lures or small minnows your outfit should be lightweight for casting and detecting bites, not a heavy bait caster for pike or bass.
There are five main basic categories of fishing rod and reel combinations, and within each there are multiple sub-categories of specialty types of outfits used for specific fishing applications, for example Walleye fisherman use rod and reel set-ups for slip bobber, slip sinker, jigging and trolling Pike anglers have buck tails, jerk baits and top water outfits. In short, fishing rods and reels have come a long way over time, with new space age materials having been developed for rod construction making them longer and much lighter as well as reels with multiple ball bearings and one piece alloy and graphite frames.
Fishing Rod & Reel Combinations:
This is the preferred set-up for the inexperienced angler. Spin casting outfits are excellent in teaching the beginning angler and children the mechanics of casting. The spin cast reel is mounted above the rod with the reel spool enclosed with a nose cone cover, this prevents line snarling and backlash’s that are associated with bait casting reels. Casting is a simple task, the angler presses and holds down a button on the rear of the reel, this disengages the line pick-up pin, upon the forward cast the line comes off the spool. Once the crank handle is turned the pick-up pin is engaged retrieving the line on the spool.
Spin cast reels have low gear ratios as a result of the size of the spool, which makes it difficult to fish lures that require a fast retrieve such as: inline spinners, spinner baits and buzz baits. When purchasing a spin cast reel consider selecting models with anti-reverse and smooth drag system versus the inexpensive all plastic models with sticky drags that result in broken line. For rods buy fiberglass their durable will hold up from abuse.
Spinning reels where commercially introduced in 1948. The design was of a fixed spool reel mounted below the fishing rod with a mechanical pick-up (wire bail) used to retrieve the fishing line. The anti-reverse feature prevents the crank handle from rotating while fighting a fish allowing the angler to use the drag. In casting a spinning reel the angler opens the bail, grasping the line with the forefinger, then using a backward snap of the rod followed by a forward cast, the line is drawn off the fixed non rotating spool and not against a rotating spool such as a bait casting reel. Because of this lighter lures can be used where the weight of the lure does not have to pull against a rotating spool. Spinning rods have large fishing line guides to minimize line friction upon casting. Spinning outfits operate best using fairly light weight limp flexible monofilament fishing lines and are used for bluegills, crappies, perch and walleyes.
Bait casting outfits are excellent for many kinds of fishing, and come in a wide variety of options and types: Round and Low Profile, High and Low Retrieve Speed along with anti-reverse handles and line drags designed to slow runs by large and powerful game fish. Bait casting outfits are considered the standard when using heavier lures fishing walleye and pike. All bait casting reels are mounted above the rod, when casting the angler moves the rod backward then snapping it forward, the line is pulled off the reel by the weight of the lure. In the early years of bait casting reels the angler used their thumb to control the amount of line travel as well as to prevent the spool overrun or backlash. Today all quality bait casting reels have a spool tension feature for adjusting the centrifugal brake, and or a magnetic ‘cast control’ to reduce spool overrun during a cast and resultant line snare called a birds nest.
For successful casting the most important setting is the casting brake. (The casting brake is the small knob located in the center under the reel handle side) To set the cast control, tie on your lure and reel it to the tip of your rod. Tighten the knob until it feels snug. Push the casting release button. Your lure should not move. Hold the rod at the 2 o’clock position and slowly turn the knob counter clockwise until the lure starts to fall. Let the lure hit the ground and watch the spool. The spool should not spin more than one revolution after the lure hit’s the ground. If it spins more than one revolution, tighten the cast control knob and repeat the procedure. If the spool does not spin after the lure hit’s the ground, the cast control is set too tight. Loosen the knob and repeat the procedure.
Bait casting reels offer the angler a wide variety of fishing line options ranging from the new super lines (Braided Low Stretch) to copolymer “Fluorocarbon” and nylon monofilament. Bait casting rods have also evolved from the older 5-6 foot pool cue rods to 7-9 foot lengths used today allowing increased casting distance and accuracy. Overall bait casting outfits are best suited for the experienced angler, they can be intimidating but you can learn with a little time and effort. In learning the casting technique we recommend practicing on land with a plastic casting plug.
The term trolling not only reflects the type of equipment, but a commonly used method of fishing. Trolling is a form of angling where lines with hook-rigged lures are dragged behind a boat to entice fish to bite. Trolling outfits are very similar to bait casting set-ups, as the trolling reels are mounted above the rod. Trolling rods range from long and limber for downriggers and planer boards to stiff for large crank baits. The spool line capacity on trolling reels is greater than bait casting reels to accommodate heavier fishing line that is used for long line big water trolling.
All trolling reels have three basic features: star drag (Line Braking System) on the reel handle for fighting large game fish, an on/off line release lever and a line out alarm (Clicker) other options are a line counter allowing the angler to replicate the amount of line used on successful fish catching patterns. Trolling can be as simple as just letting line off the reel with an attached lure known as flat lining or using rigging systems such as a downriggers, planer/trolling boards and dipsey divers. ( See our trolling section for more rigging information).
Trolling reels are designed to offer the most versatility when it comes to fishing line options. Inland freshwater anglers use monofilament and lead core for walleye and pike anglers use low stretch braided super lines for trolling large plugs and spinners. Trolling is a productive fish catching technique by presenting multiple lures covering a lot of water.
Fishing Rods have evolved over the years, from the early days using natural materials with fixed fishing lines such as sticks, bamboo and cane poles to rods using steel or fiberglass to the rods of today using graphite or composites of graphite, fiberglass, boron and carbon. With this development of the rod materials came the specialty rods, rods designed for a fishing technique or lure such as jigging, jerk bait, worm, pitching, flipping, crank baits, trolling, top water etc… the specialty rods are a specific tool, used and developed by tournament and pro anglers, for the recreational angler the catch rate will not increase based on having a specialty rod or rods, but place a specialty rod in the hands of an experienced fisherman in presenting a certain bait or lure and with their knowledge of fishing it will give them the edge in catching more fish.
As the old cliché states: “You get what you pay for” For the recreational angler we recommend spending as much as your budget allows, the better the rod the more sensitive it will be, the more responsive it will be, you will be able to cast farther feel structure, rocks, weeds and the most important feel fish strikes. Part of being a better angler is the ability to place your lure/bait exactly where you want it, often as quietly as possible, and a good rod will definitely help you accomplish this. With the numerous rod selections available today here’s a few suggested basic rod buying tips that will cover multiple fishing presentations.
5‘-6″-6‘-0″ Spin cast Rod
Test Line Rating 4lb-8lb
Fishing: Perch and Walleye. Spooled with 6lb test. Good combo set-up for children and novice anglers for easy casting and bobber fishing.
7‘-0″ Spinning Rod
Lure Weight 1/32 – 1/8oz
Test line rating 4lb-6lb
Fishing: Perch and Walleye spooled with 4lb test monofilament for Float(Bobbers) with live-bait, small jigs and light lures 1/16-1/8oz.
7’-0″ Spinning Rod
Power: Medium Light-Medium
Lure Weight 1/8 – 3/8oz
Test Line rating 8lb-12lb
Fishing: Walleye spooled with 8lb test monofilament for live bait and soft plastic bottom rigs, jigs, tubes and mid weight lures 1/8-3/8oz.
6’-6″-7’-0″ Bait casting Rod
Power: Medium-Medium Heavy
Lure Weight 3/8 – 1 oz
Test line rating 10lb-17lb
Fishing: Northern Pike spooled with 12lb-15lb test monofilament with a leader primarily for heavier artificial lures 3/8-1oz (spoons, crank baits, inline spinners, spinner baits, top water)
Type: Bait casting Rod
Power: Extra Heavy
Lure Weight: 1-3oz
Test line rating: 25lb +
Fishing: Northern Pike spooled with 50lb-80lb braided line with a leader
for presenting heavy lures 1oz and up inline spinners, spinner baits, jerk baits, gliders, crank baits, top water)
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 its toughness and soft/moderate action. Some anglers use fiberglass when fishing crank baits for the slow action and pike 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.
Rod Ratings: Action / Power
Action 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 walleye. Heavier fast action rods are used for Pike in burning buck tails, walking top water lures or a cadence retrieve on gliders and jerk baits. 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 its length which will provide more casting distance and still have the capability for an adequate hook set. 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 perch especially for the paper thin mouths on fish so the hook is not ripped clear on hook sets.
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:
- medium heavy
- light, etc.
Some rod companies use a numerical system:
- 1-10 with 1=Ultralight-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 for pike 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 walleye use a lighter power rod. Quite often anglers get confused with rod power ratings and action. As an 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 an 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 an 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 guide’s 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.