SELECTING A BAITCASTING ROD
Part II: Going shopping
Selecting the rod that will give you the best results for your personal use seems pretty simple and most people pay little attention to it. They’ll often concentrate on the reel and if it’s offered as a combo, will take just about any rod that comes with it. This is a big mistake, as an unsuited rod will really mess up the combination, whatever the qualities of the reel itself.
So, what’s the “best” rod? What are its power and action characteristics? What length? The answer is… it depends! Whenever I see people asking this question, I cringe a little; it’s very much like asking what the “best” tool is! Has anybody ever thought of walking into a hardware store and asking a salesperson for the best tool? You know you’d be getting a puzzled look (at least) and facing a long list of questions starting with “What to you want to do with it?” The best circular saw on the market would be quite useless for driving nails, wouldn’t it?
Consider what rods would be appropriate for ice fishing, casting for large muskies, going after river smallies in a kayak and trolling for lake trout… They would have very little in common, would they? And any of them would be a horrible choice for anything but its intended use. Now let’s get a little more specific and say you want a rod to cast for bass. What size bass are you targeting? What’s the largest you’re likely to run into? Are you fishing from shore or from a boat? Do you expect to fish in heavy cover or in an environment that’s free of obstructions? Are you fishing a small stream with trees on each side or from the middle of a reservoir? You can easily see that even here, the choice would vary greatly and the wrong selection could be a big handicap. Of course, you could get an “average” rod, but it would be a compromise since there is no such thing as an “average” situation. It would be like a woman going to a hairdresser and asking for an “average” color for her hair! So… even if you only fish for pleasure, a pleasant outing may well require three or four different outfits unless you’re always going after the same kind of fish in the same environment. You’ll notice I didn’t say the same place, since weeds grow and die, water levels change and current flow varies, fish adjust their position in the water column according to weather and temperatures, etc. and the “place” changes, even if the location stays the same. Throw in the type, size and action of the lures you’ll be using and you’ll see the point in having more than one “average” rod. The proper equipment will not only increase your chances of catching fish, it will also have a large impact in the amount of pleasure you have even when you’re getting skunked! No fun casting light lures on a musky rod all day or keep losing fish to weeds, branches and obstructions, is it? So before you go out and buy yourself that birthday present, think carefully about what your situation is, clarify your criteria and how important each is for you, and only then start shopping.
In this line of thought, asking for somebody’s favorite rod is generally not a good idea: even if that person’s circumstances were identical to yours (like going after the same fish in the same places at the same times as you do – fat chance of that being the case!), that person is different than you, and this may also make a huge difference! Hardly anybody would think of a woman and a man using the same equipment even if they’ll be fishing together. This is not just your standard sexist stuff, but actually a reflexion of the typical difference in strength between the sexes (not getting into the debate as to who’s the stronger sex here!). This also applies between persons generally as relates to arm strength, hand-eye coordination and skill level, for example. Also part of the equation is a person’s preferences as to fishing style: even though some people will try to make the point about a given style being more effective in a specific situation (now THAT’s one huge can of worms!), some people just prefer finesse fishing, others just love fishing top water lures, while other enjoy the generally slower pace of fishing plastics. This is perfectly legitimate since the main goal is enjoying oneself, at least in my book – otherwise, you might as well go back to work!
As you can see, quite a lot of factors (and I could go even further in this direction if my goal was to bore you to death) are involved in selecting a rod that’s “best” for YOU and your circumstances. So unless your fishing’s just an excuse for going out to enjoy nature, doing some family bonding or turning you favorite pet loose for some real exercise, I just can’t see a person getting the most out of it with just one rod. In my mind, this is true whether you really want to catch fish or just out to have good time fishing. Now I’m not saying you should have dozens of combos for every conceivable situation or that you become a gear junkie (although that can be fun in a way), just don’t fall for the RODOMANIA that would seem to be the “in” thing to do if you watch those TV fishing shows! I’m only suggesting that you give some serious though to what you’ll be using your rod(s) for, before you scoop up that fine-looking rod that happens to be on sale at a great price. Just keep in mind that’s somebody else’s AWESOME rod may very well be your AWFUL rod!
And with what I said before about various rod ratings not being very reliable, how can you actually get the rod you need? Obviously, being able to use a rod and going fishing with it would be ideal, especially if you can compare it with others. In this respect, some of the larger mail-order companies that give you a no-questions-asked return option are a great thing; but doing this with a half-dozen rods may not be a very attractive proposition because of the hassle and shipping costs involved. On the other hand, trying to get your local dealer to lend you a few rods for the weekend would require a very special kind of relationship with him! The best you could hope for is probably letting you go out in the parking lot and make a few casts; if you can do this, make sure you bring the reel you intend to use with the rod, a range of different lure weights (or better yet, some practice plugs) and some old rubber boots, tires and a Christmas tree (!). The last items are meant to give you some kind of reference as to the ability of the rod to handle large fish – just don’t quote me on this!
Now if you really don’t mind making a fool of yourself, here are a few things you can do to help you in your selection: DO bring an assortment of lure weights and the reel you intend to use and install them on the rods you ‘re looking at – line and all. Then make some real casting motions with the combo, and see how the rod loads and feels with different weights. Don’t try casting for real unless you’re very good at it, as customers tend to take a dim view of getting hit behind the head with a 1/2oz. casting plug. Also try attaching the end of your line to some handy object and pull against it (baby carriages and young kids are great for this – just make sure your drag is properly set!) to get some idea of the fish fighting ability of the rod.
If you’re not quite a nut case (or if you just want to weed out some rods before you get into the real testing mentioned above), there are still a few worthwhile options available to you. Simply putting a rod’s tip on the floor at a 45° angle and exerting pressure on it will give you a fair estimate of both its power (how much it bends for a given amount of force) and its action (what the bending curve looks like). This is best done with two rods at a time, making sure you switch hands, as very few people can accurately exert the same amount of pressure with both hands. I’m sure the usual flicking of the rod in the air is pretty useless for these purposes, unless you want to use your rod as a fly swatter. Another handy way to guesstimate a rod’s sensitivity is to barely hold the rod’s handle with your fingertips and slowly drag the tip on the floor, using the 45° angle again. I suggest you close your eyes as it helps to concentrate on what you FEEL (and give the inevitable spectators a chance to show their true “feelings” about your antics undetected). Just make sure you drag all the rod tips in the same spot for reliable results! You’ll be surprised at the differences you can detect.
Just don’t bring your wife along, as any bitching will be forever be banned on your part when she tries on two dozen pair of shoes before making up her mind.
If you think this is an awful lot of work to put into your rod selection, go right ahead and skip most or even all of this; it’s your dime. On the other hand, I’ll guarantee you’ll be happier with your rod choice if you take the time to consider your needs carefully and make sure your match your rod characteristics to those needs. You may even find this exercise a lot of fun while you wait for the fishing season to come around again in your area. It’s also a great antidote for a bad case of cabin fever if you’re not lucky enough to live in Texas or other points South!
Ye Olde Fishingelbow