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Fishing Rod Buying Basics

Knowing a Few Facts can Help you Find the Right Fishing Rod

By

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) depicted in a natural setting following a fishing lure
John Kuczala / Stone / Getty Images
Many people looking to buy a fishing rod simply show up at the local big box store and pull the first rod that catches their eye off the rack. Others search the Internet for reviews on popular upscale brands. Still others ask a friend, or in my case, write to me asking which rod to buy. Here are some basic rod facts that you need to know before you head out or go online to purchase one.

What Kind of Fishing are you Planning?

  • Inshore Fishing

    Inshore fishing means relatively shallow water and relatively small fish – under 20 pounds for the most part. So, you need a rod that can handle a good size fish, but not one that weighs so much you can’t even fish with it.
    • Casting – Casting rods are used with conventional reels and can be used with lures or bait for light bottom fishing. They also accommodate floats and are good for free-lining live bait.
    • Spinning – Spinning rods can usually do the same things that a casting rods does, they simply use a different reel – a spinning reel. Spinning equipment can cast a lighter lure and is not subject to the backlash problems that an inexperienced angler encounters with a casting reel. This is a good choice for a beginning angler.
    • Bottom Fishing – Either casting or spinning rods can be used for inshore bottom fishing. The water depth, current, and amount of weight required to get a bait to the bottom helps dictate which size rod to use.
    • Fly Fishing – If you are reading this and you are a beginning fisherman, fly fishing may be the last thing on your mind. But, inshore saltwater fly fishing is extremely popular. If you do plan a first time purchase of a saltwater fly outfit, go with a prepackaged complete outfit in a 6 to 8 weight range. This is a good midrange starting point – heavier weights are for larger fish (Tarpon, big stripers, etc.), lighter weights are usually found in freshwater applications.
  • Offshore Fishing

    • Trolling – The majority of trolling rods are built for conventional reels. While heavy spinning gear is sometimes used trolling for dolphin and king mackerel, conventional tackle is by far the most popular. These rods are usually labeled by line class. The IGFA 30, 50, and 80 class reels match up with the appropriate rod. These rods are usually an investment – they can cost that much. It is not unusual to pay over $1000 for a complete outfit. However, there are some good rods that can be combined with good reels that can come in under $200 for the package.
    • Bottom Fishing – These are the “meat” rods that many anglers have used to catch loads of fish. They are heavier and stiffer than a trolling rod, generally longer than a trolling rod, and are able to stand up to the abuses that a big fish can give them.
    • Fly Fishing – Fly rods that are used offshore are built for punishment. These are the heavier outfits that have large arbor reels (reels that hold lots of line) and come in weights from 9 to 12. These are very specialized rods for a very specialized type of fishing.
  • Surf Fishing

    Surf rods are another specialized category. They are made for both spinning and casting reels – the choice is more dependent on angler preference than anything else. These rods are from 9 to 12 or 14 feet in length. They are designed to allow for super long casts that can get a bait out beyond the breakers on the beach. The rod size is also determined by angler preference, and usually means longer, heavier rods when looking for bigger fish.
  • Pier Fishing

    Almost any inshore rod, including surf rods, can be and are used from piers. Once again, angler preference, casting distance, and fish size will dictate the rod type and size.

Rod Attributes

All rods have a set of attributes that separate them from each other. They may not be limited to this list, but these are the most important ones you need when choosing a rod.
  • Length
    • Longer rods usually – not always – mean longer casts.
    • Longer trolling rods will give to a fish when they strike, and are suited for lighter trolling line.
    • Shorter rods generally mean heavier line.
    • Long rods make lure casting easier.
    • Shorter rods are generally better for bottom fishing.
  • Guides
    • Ceramic guides are more expensive but allow smoother operation, less line fray, and longer casts.
    • Roller guides are used on heavy trolling and bottom fishing rigs.
    • Case hardened stainless steel guides are used for wire line applications.
    • Standard metal guides are least expensive and are suited for most bottom fishing applications.
  • Butt Length - The butt of the rod is the part between the reel and the back end of the rod. Casting rods will generally have shorter butts. Spinning rods will have slightly longer butts, and bottom fishing or trolling rods will have much longer butts. The length of the butt on a rod is dependent on how the anger plans to use the rod. Angler preference for comfort and ease of use is also in play here.
  • Action (Taper) - Taper is an attribute that most beginning anglers and many experienced anglers overlook. Taper relates to the amount of bend the rod imparts from the tip to the butt. It is measured from slow to extra-fast. In general, the slower the taper, the cheaper the rod blank.
    • Slow - A slow taper means the whole rod, from butt to tip will bend in an arc under pressure – sort of like a big bow. This makes casting a heavy bait difficult and setting a hook even more difficult.
    • Medium - Moving up the scale, a medium taper tends to have the butt section not bend as easily as the top portion of the rod. Most “store bought” rods will be a medium taper. It fits the majority of fishing situations.
    • Fast – A fast taper rod will bend mainly in the upper portion of the rod. It has a lot of strength (backbone) in the lower portion and is more flexible in the upper section of the rod blank.
    • Extra-Fast Taper This taper has the upper 12 to 18 inches of the rod bending with an extremely strong butt section. These rods are generally more expensive, and offer precise casting ability on light artificial lures. They have the flexible rod tip to work a small lure but still have the strength to horse a bigger fish if necessary.

Understanding the terminology and simple attributes of fishing rods can help you make a good choice when looking for a new rod.

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