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How To Choose a Fishing Rod
Learning how to choose a fishing rod of good quality along with the proper reel is at the foundation for having success and fun when you go saltwater fishing. Like most things in life, you typically get what you pay for, however like most things in life, there are overpriced products and then there are really cheap “deals” that are actually not deals. One of the things to consider is that if you are like most anglers, you only have a certain number of days out of the year that you can go fishing. You want to make sure that your gear is not going to break down on you and leave you stranded, especially if you have just spent a bunch of money to get to your destination.
The two main components for fishing are the rod and the reel. While a good reel like a Penn Battle II or a Shimano Stradic FK is very important, it is really the rod that allows you to get your lure or bait to your target. So if you are asking yourself what should I expect to spend on a good rod, the answer can range anywhere between $39.99 for something like an Ugly Stik GX2 up to several hundred dollars. In most cases, I do not think that it is worth spending more than $200-$300 for a really good rod unless you fish on a very regular basis (3+ times a month) or you simply suffer from having an abundance of cash laying around. If you are the type of person that takes very good care of your things then consider spending a bit more as a rod that is well cared for should last you 20+ years or more.
Parts of the Fishing Rod
The rod blank is the main component of the rod that everything else is attached to, so it is the foundation of your rod. Rod blanks can be made from a variety of materials today, the most common are fiberglass and graphite or a combination of the two. Fiberglass has been used to produce rods since the early 1950’s and it is still used to build some great rods today. Most fiberglass rods will have a medium to slow action.
The first graphite rod was introduced to the market by Fenwick in 1974. Graphite is a very common material today and it comes in different modules which refer to the stiffness of the graphite. The higher the modules the stiffer the rod is going to be by weight, meaning that you can use less material to achieve the stiffness and thus produce a lighter weight rod. When you are looking at graphite rods, you will most likely see identifiers such as IM6, IM7 and IM8 which are the trade numbers used by the Hexcel Corp. to identify their fibers which have a name of their own, Hercules.
The butt of the rod is the bottom component and serves several purposes depending on the type of rod. The primary purpose is to protect and finish the end of the rod blank. On some rods you will have a larger butt that is sometimes referred to as a fighting butt. The larger fighting butt can be placed against your belly when fighting a larger fish to give you more leverage.
The handle can be made of a variety of materials. The less expensive rods will typically have a handle made of a synthetic material like EVA. Personally, I prefer a cork handle as it is lightweight and provides a good grip even when it is wet. Cork also has the capability to transmit the feel of a fish striking better than the synthetics. Cork like anything else has different grades and you will typically find a high quality cork grip on a higher end rod, cheap cork does have a tendency to chip out.
The reel seat holds the reel to the rod. A good quality reel seat is going to be cut out so that the reel is actually touching the rod blank, this allows for better transmission of the feel of the fish striking.
Most guides that you find today are made of some sort of metal with a ceramic insert, the most common are Hardloy, Hialoy and Aluminum Oxide. The better quality rods use stainless steel such as on the Ugly Stik GX2 the guide is a single piece that appears to be more durable. The very high end guides are made of a titanium wire which has the ability to spring back much like some of the modern eyeglasses. Guides are very important as a high quality guide that is made of Silicon Carbide or SiC, offers a smooth surface with very little friction allowing for a longer cast. Another material you will find is called Alconite, which is a high quality alternative to SiC and is much cheaper.
Note: Never place your hook onto a guide as it will mar it and can then lead to your line being weakened.
The hook keeper is just as the name states, the place for your hook when you leave a lure or bait hook attached to the rod.
The rod tip is at the top of the rod blank which is the narrowest part of the rod and the most susceptible to being broken or damaged especially if it is graphite. The tip has two dimensions to it, the tube size and the ring size. The tube size is the inside of the tube where the top of the rod blank is inserted. The ring size refers to the size of the ring (guide) where the fishing line passes through. It is common for larger rods to have a larger ring size.
The next thing you have to consider when selecting a rod is what is the species of fish you will be targeting. The size and species of fish is going to play into the length, power/weight, action and material that the rod is made of.
There are several things that you need to consider when you think about rod length. The first is where are you going to be fishing and for what type of fish. If you are going after medium sized inshore fish in the 1-25 lbs range then you are going to want something in a single piece in the 6′-7.5′ range. I prefer the single piece rods as they are more durable and a 7′ rod still fits in most vehicles without a problem. If you are going to be traveling to your destination by plane then you are going to have to go with a two piece.
If you will be boat fishing for larger species such as Grouper, then you will need a shorter and stronger rod that can handle several hundred pounds like this big fellow.
When surf casting, you will need to be looking at an even longer rod, typically in the 11-13 foot range and in the moderate to heavy action that has the leverage to launch the larger baits you will be using. Just because a surf rod is longer does not necessarily mean that it will be better. A quality rod in the 11-13′ range will out perform a cheap longer rod every time.
The power of the rod is in reference to how much pressure it takes to bend the rod. The heavier the rod the more pressure or weight it takes to bend it. Depending on the manufacture you will have different ratings or categories of power.
The typical categories are:
Another way that some manufacturers rate the rods is with a number system, typically 1-5 where the 1 is a light and the 5 is a heavy.
The rod action is defined by how easily and how far from the tip the rod will bend or flex when you have a fish on the line. The action of a rod tends to be pretty close across most rod manufacturers, however the terms that they use to describe the action vary.
Some manufactures use:
- heavy similar
While others will use the terms:
- extra fast
So what does all of this mean to you? The action is a rating and it describes the bend in the rod under constant pressure. The faster the action the quicker the rod stops bending and transfers the power to the blank (main part) of the rod. A very fast or heavy rod will only bend the first 3-4 inches of the tip while a slow or light rod will bend nearly a third of the way down the rod blank.
Slow action rods bend almost all of the way down, and have become much less popular in today’s fishing applications due to many technology advances in rod design.
Slow action rods are generally better for jerk baits and crank baits which are lighter and easier to cast. The slow action is also better at keeping the fish hooked as it is more flexible.
The medium action rod provides you with a bit more casting capability in exchange for a bit less sensitivity.
A medium action rod is geared towards applications such as crank baits as the lighter action on the hook set helps to keep the hook in the fishes mouth.
Heavy or Fast Action rods are a great choice when you need an all around rod that will cover most fishing applications.
The balance of the rods flexibility and sensitivity makes for a rod that will allow you to cast most lures and baits with a good degree of accuracy.
If you are going to be casting heavier lures or bait, then this is the action for you.
What is important to consider is your budget, how long and how often you expect to fish and for what size fish. For most anglers wanting an all-around rod, I would personally recommend a single piece 7′ rod in a medium power and a medium/heavy action.
If you have the opportunity to try several rods from friends before you purchase your own, then that is what I would recommend to do. This way you can experience for yourself how the rod feels in your hands and what it feels like when you have a fish on the line. If you like the fight, then I would recommend going with slightly lighter gear in maybe a medium power with a medium action.
Remember that an expensive rod is not necessarily going to make you a better fisherman, however it is a tool and most craftsmen will perform at a higher level with a better tool. A cheap rod and reel will limit your ability to feel the bite and to fight the fish. If you think that you are going to spend a fair amount of time fishing and you take care of things that you buy, I would seriously consider allocating between $150 and $200 for a quality rod and reel.