Fishing Rod Basics

This is some basic fishing tackle information I’ve gathered along the way in amassing my collection of rods & reels which some are my first go-to choices while some I admit are compulsive buys. Nevertheless these pointers are good reference for the first-timers as well as those, like me, going for the next buy.

Information applies to recreational fishing using a rod & spinning reel excluding fly fishing & big game which are in another league of their own. And yes…I apologize only spinning reel …as I’m a die-hard spinner 🙂

I emphasize all information shared in this blog is just my personal opinion & experience which some may beg to differ 🙂 If you have any thoughts or questions please leave them at the end of this post.

As there is much info to be shared, it’s intentionally presented in point form, as much as possible, for easy reading instead of in paragraph form. Starting with the rod…which you can buy off the shelf or customized by a rod builder.

Material

Want to start with general information on rod materials before moving on to the more important properties. In the old days, rods are made from bamboo & fiberglass like the classic Abu 281/282 spinning rods. Over the decades, rod designs have evolved to using graphite composites aka graphite fiber or carbon fiber. Different brands call or market them differently but basically they are a combination of 2 or more materials eg. fiberglass, graphite & other proprietary materials which only the blank manufacturers will know.

Base carbon fiber are made from thin filaments of carbon bound together with a plastic polymer resin under heat & pressure to form a strong & light composite material.

Fiberglass – slower action, durable & affordable but less sensitive & heavier compared to graphite. You can still find this in shops when anglers need a rugged low cost option especially for young beginners.

Graphite composite – faster action, sensitive & light but fragile & more expensive. Most rack rods & blanks in the market now are made of this modern material for a wider range of application from luring, jigging to popping.

Hint: Don’t worry about the material when choosing a rod as the brand itself has chosen it for you…which is mostly graphite composite nowadays. You wouldn’t find the same rod offered in fiberglass & graphite composite.

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Length

In my opinion, this is one of the most important characteristics beside PE/LB rating & Action.

loaded rod with a good bend
Loaded rod with a good bend
  • If there are 2 rods of about the same rating with its length being the only difference, go for the longer one provided
    • It’s a brand you’re confident of
    • The price meets your budget
    • You do not have problem transporting a longer rod in your car & your rod tube
  • It will be easier to load a longer rod providing a consistent tight line & pressure to the fish thus cutting down your chances of losing it. I cannot over emphasize the importance of maintaining a taut line throughout a fight as many good fishes are lost due to line slack even only temporarily. With a taut line, sharp hook points will stay embedded even if the fish tries to shake it off. This is critical especially if you’re fishing with barbless hooks.
  • Imagine fighting a fish with a good length rod loaded with a good bend compared to fighting the same fish with a much shorter stiffer rod with minimum bend (which will feel like fighting with a stick!). If this is happening to you most of the time, then you may want to consider increasing the rod length (may reduce its rating) to give it a good bend. In other words, the shorter stiffer rod is an overkill for majority of the fish you’re targeting…either lower to lighter tackle or look for bigger targets. You will enjoy the fight better with a good bent providing a direct solid feel to the fish & improve your chances of landing it.
  • Note as the length of a rod blank increases, its rating (whether PE or LB) will decrease UNLESS the manufacturer increases the diameter of its butt. This mean you can still find a longer blank with the same rating but its butt diameter will be bigger…so slightly heavier. For example, 2 blanks from the same source:
  • Length 6ft 6in, rating 10-17lb, action-fast, 1 pc, butt dia 0.54in
  • Length 7ft 0in, rating 10-17lb, action-fast, 1 pc, butt dia 0.59in

Hint: With most brands for off the rack rod, you will usually see only 1 length offered for that particular PE/LB rating for a specific popping or jigging application eg. I have a Ripple Fisher Ultimo 711 UG711ML PE6 GT popping rod with lure weight 130gm at 7ft 11in. You wouldn’t see another Ultimo 711 at 8ft 3in…so will make selection on length easier.

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PE/LB Rating

Range of line rating in PE or LB, monofilament or braided, which is suitable to be used on a particular rod.

Follow to this advice given by the manufacturer…IF you do not want to break your line or worst case your rod. Going slightly below the minimum or higher than maximum is fine.

Eg. for a rod rated 10-17lb:

  • If a 6lb test is used, then likely your line will break first if the pull from the fish exceed 6lb before you can properly load your rod. I’m referring to the force exerted by the fish in pulling your line against the drag set in your reel. This is not the weight of the fish as some fish though small in size can give you some decent runs eg. the mighty bonefish. In other words, you need a line strong enough to load your rod sufficiently…not necessarily fully.
  • If a 30lb test is used, similarly if you encounter a big fish strong enough to pull just below that limit, then your rod will be fully loaded without yet breaking the line. In such case, there is a high risk your rod may break as it’s not designed to handle such load & especially if you’re pumping the big fish incorrectly.

Hint: Choose your rod according to the range of PE/LB line rating you’re using for a particular fish species/size…in order to load your rod sufficiently giving it a good bend on the fish without breaking the line or the rod.

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Action (or speed)

rod action
Rod action

Refers to the amount of bend in the rod when under load which is gauged by the distance of the bend from tip to a certain point on the blank.

Extra-fast

  • Bend: in upper quarter 1/4 from tip (stiffest of all)
  • Pro: very sensitive to bite, great hook set with minimum effort & accurate casting
  • Con: short casting distance, harder to maintain pressure on fish ie. higher chance of throwing hooks, less able to absorb shock from bite or sudden run of big fish ie. higher risk of line breakage
  • Use: for smaller fish like perch, bluegill, baitfish, etc

Fast

  • Bend: in upper third 1/3
  • Pro: sensitive to bite, good hook set, accurate casting, medium to long distance, good for beginner & most species, maintains good pressure on fish, forgiving to shock, overall good fish fighting & control capabilities
  • Con: cannot think of any
  • Use: for luring, jigging, light to medium popping…general purpose rod

Moderate

  • Bend: in upper half 1/2
  • Pro: long cast distance, maintains very good pressure on fish minimizing escapes, more forgiving to shock
  • Con: not as sensitive to bite, need more effort to set hook
  • Use: for medium to heavy popping, surf fishing, etc

Slow

  • Bend: parabolic bend over rod length
  • Pro: maintains very good pressure on fish, very forgiving to shock
  • Con: not sensitive, has minimum hook setting power
  • Use: mainly for fly fishing & sometimes surf fishing

Hint: Just like length, you’ll likely not find a off the rack rod model in 2 different action offered by the same brand which makes selection straight forward depending on the types of fishing you’re targeting.

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Lure Weight

Refers to lure weight (in oz or gm) suitable to be cast by the rod you’ve chosen which you need to follow.

lure weight
Lure weight
  • If lure is too light, it cannot be cast far as the lure weight is not heavy enough to load the rod for a good distance cast
  • If lure is too heavy, before casting it’s already loading the rod to a point where the remaining load in the rod cannot throw out the lure to a good distance.

Hint : Follow the recommended lure weight range to maximize your casting distance.

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Drag

rod max drag
Rod max drag
  • Some rods have this additional info (in kg) stated on their labels especially the Japanese popping & jigging rods. Though not all are referring to it, I believe that is the max force a bent loaded rod at approx 45 deg is designed to handle.
  • Force can be a push or pull but drag in our case is a pull away from the rod (or from the reel for reel drag). Force is officially measured in Newton (N) in metric which is calculated as Mass (kg) x Acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s2). A simpler way of defining force is kgf which for eg 30kgf is the force exerted by an object of 30kg mass on the floor. Thus I presume the rod & reel manufacturer are simplying it further for the consumers by just indicating it as in mass (ie. in kg) on their products.
  • Take note not to exceed drag value of your rod when setting drag of your reel (which will be covered in more details in another post).
  • For eg. my GT popping rod Temple Reef Ronin 83-8 RON-PO158, lure 180g, line PE6-8, max drag 11kg is used with Sunline Monster Battle PE8 ( Amazon / eBay ) braided line with 45kg max drag. In my case, Temple Reef is recommending a factor of 4 when setting drag ie. take 45kg divided by 4 & you’ll get 11.25kg which is close to the max drag of this rod.
  • Some anglers take a factor of 3 but Temple Reef is recommending factor 4 for their Ronin without breaking it. Thus during my drag setting for Ronin, I would never go above 11kg drag; but of course going below 11kg is fine. Like for my small Asian build & physique at my age, I can comfortably take about 7kg drag with my Saltiga 5500H measured using a weighing scale with line thru rings on a loaded rod held at about 45 deg…& this is already locked drag on my reel…so I cannot imagine how tight I have to go on my drag to achieve 11kg (which is not needed in my application & will likely be pulled overboard by a monster fish).

Hint: Never exceed max drag value during drag setting if it’s provided for your rod. If it’s not provided, use a factor of 4 on max drag of the braided line (heaviest class you can use for that rod) you’re using to derive your rod max drag.

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Pieces

Rod can come in 1, 2 or more pieces as designed by the manufacturers.

  • Single or 1-pc rod is by far in design stronger than the rest since there isn’t a joint which is seen as a potential weak link in the blank. This is most preferred provided you can transport it conveniently in your car or rod tube.
  • 2-pc rod is the most commonly available in the market where the joint can be in the mid section or lower down near the butt. This makes it easier to transport longer rods eg. popping rod which can be 8ft or more in length.
  • 3 or more pc rod is made primarily for the traveller for convenience in transportation. It’s also the weakest in design compared to the above 2 models due to more weak links along the blank. Moreover it takes more effort to align all the rings together before or during fishing. Try to avoid this design unless absolutely necessary.

Hint: Always consider the form of transportation & carrier you can have fishing locally or oversea when choosing the no of pcs in a rod.

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Power (or rod weight)

Refers to the amount of force needed to bend the rod; closely related to the range of lure weights & line classes the rod is designed to handle.

Power rating: Ultra Light, Light, Medium Light, Medium, Medium Heavy, Heavy

Hint: As long as you choose your rod meeting to the line rating & lure weight, you don’t have to worry about its power…which is proportional to these 2 properties.

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Handle (Foregrip/Rear or Butt grip)

Cork

  • Pro: beautiful classic look, lighter, sensitive
  • Con: inherent cracks & crevices (which can be covered with sealant or wax), not as long lasting, gets dirty easier, more expensive
  • Use: where feel & sensitive are important eg. light finesse fishing, soft bait, fly etc. Comes in different types eg. AAAA grade, burl or burnt cork

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EVA foam

EVA foam
EVA foam
  • Pro: durable-can take more abuse, easier to keep clean (especially with organic baits), less expensive
  • Con: heavier, less sensitive
  • Use: mostly in saltwater application, where rod has to be in rod holder, when organic baits are used often

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Carbontex sleeve/grip (new material from North Fork Composites)

NFC Carbontex sleeves
NFC Carbontex sleeves
  • Pro: light, strong, sensitive, will not absorb water, UV stable
  • Con: have not tried this new material yet
  • Use: all forms of fishing

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Reel Seat

Fuji reel seat
Fuji reel seat

Dominated by few big brands – Fuji, CRB, Aftco (for stand-up, boat or big game outfit), etc

Hint: Go with these established brands…you’ll be good! Anyway reel seat is chosen for you in rack rods unless you are customizing your own rod

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Guide

SiC ring with titanium & stainless steel frame
SiC ring with titanium (left) & stainless steel frame

Besides serving the basic function of directing your line to your target, light quality guides can also affect your sensitivity to the fish & casting distance (due to lesser friction). Other factors will be the quantity & position of guides on the blank.

  • Stainless steel – low cost, durable but lose out to new materials in terms of friction & heat
  • Fuji Alconite (Aluminium Oxide) ring ( eBay )- smooth, light, durable & lower in cost
  • Fuji SiC (Silicon Carbide) ring ( eBay ) – friction & heat are at minimum increasing cast distance, higher in cost but one of the best materials for guides in modern fishing

Some brands came out with guide in titanium frame instead of the common stainless steel frame. These claimed to be super light but I’m wondering if most of us can really feel the weight difference when fishing.

Hint: Go for guides with SiC ring if they are within your budget…they are worth the $. As for the frame, either titanium or stainless steel is fine…personally I don’t feel the difference.

Case Study: Take extreme care with the ceramic ring within the guide which are very hard but equally brittle. I learned the hard way in cracking the ring without knowing it by reeling in the swivel (attached to end of line) fast thru the guides at the end of each fishing session. The metallic swivel hit the tip ring at high speed thus cracking it. My subsequent trips were then met with many braided line breakages cut by cracks in the ring. It stopped only when I realized & had the tip changed.

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Backbone

This is one important aspect one must know when choosing a rack rod. Similar to human, our backbone or spine arches when bending down forward. A rod has a backbone too due to its design & the orientation of different layers of material during the manufacturing process. This is the rotational position where it should bend at to absorb the load when fighting a fish without twisting. As such, guides should be positioned below & along the backbone in a spinning rod with the backbone facing upwards.

If guides are not positioned correctly relative to the backbone, the rod may twist under load from the pulling fish making it more difficult to reel in your catch. This phenomenon is less obvious in a spinning outfit compared to a conventional one where guides are mounted above the backbone. Following is one common method of finding backbone of a rack rod.

  • Hold rod tip with your left hand with the end butt cap resting on the floor to your right.
  • Using your thumb & forefinger of your right hand, pick up rod slowly at about 1/3 length from the tip (assuming fast action) until end butt cap is lifted from the floor slightly.
  • Roll rod back & forth between your thumb & forefinger. You will find a rotational position where the rod will always kick back to regardless of where you roll your rod to…this is the backbone.

Hint: Always ensure you pick a spinning rack rod with the guides correctly mounted below along the backbone.

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A Rod for each Type of Fishing

If you’re a beginner buying your 1st rod, then I would recommend a 6-7ft fast action 10-17lb or PE1-2 general purpose rod for most forms of fishing. As you move up the ranks & have the required budget to expand your arsenal, go for rod dedicated for the specific type of fishing you’re going for…starting with rack rods & then upgrading to customized rods as you progress.

One for each type of fishing:

  • Luring
  • Aji
  • Jigging vertical
  • Jigging slow
  • Popping

Case Study: During a hot bite in one of my boat trips, I quickly grabbed the nearest rod which happened to be a short 5ft 6in PE1-3 vertical jigging rod to throw out a jerkbait. Twice I got engaged with a fish & twice I lost them one after another. I was bewildered…but luckily managed to figure out in time to change to my proper 6ft 6in 10-17lb luring rod & caught several good fish…with the same jerkbait.

The short jigging rod I grabbed in haste is not designed for jerkbait luring at a distance away; it’s meant for vertical jigging below a boat. Moreover its length is too short to maintain constant pressure on the fish at a horizontal distance away.

This case study highlighted the importance of having the right type of rod for each form of fishing.

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All the best,
Lawrence
gtfrenzy.com

PS: Please leave a comment if any information in this site is inaccurate or incorrect…I’m learning too 🙂

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