Selecting the Proper Fishing Rod

By Dan Grulke


There are more tackle companies than ever before, and quite a few charge top dollar for their gear. So when someone says, “Buy the best you can afford,” how do you avoid making an expensive mistake? Do you ask the salesperson making $9.80 an hour at your local big box store? Maybe you cruise the aisles of Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops after the expert clerk gives you some recommendations; or you talk to your buddy who has been fishing for years; or better yet, you contact your fishing guide. Even from any of these sources, you might be getting biased or incomplete information. I have been building custom fishing rods for 10 years and a Life Outdoors Unlimited fishing guide for 6 years. Based on that experience, I would like offer some guidelines to help you get the rod you want without making an expensive mistake.


As a fishing guide and custom rod builder, I get to handle many different rods and blanks (the “naked” rod without guides, reel seat, or handle) from many different companies. As a result, I get firsthand knowledge on how a rod's ratings for lure weight, line size, power, or action match up from one manufacturer to another. The answer is they often don’t, so we need to define each of those terms and how they apply to fishing techniques.


Rod “actions” range from extra-fast, fast, moderate, or slow. One way to determine this is to place the rod tip on carpet or other soft surface. Hold the rod at the reel seat and apply about 3 to 5 pounds of pressure to the rod tip. Where the rod begins to flex determines what its action is. If it first starts to bend in the upper quarter of the rod, it is extra-fast; if in the top one-third, it's fast action; if it around halfway, it's moderate; and if it bends in the butt section, it's slow action.


Now, what does the action tell us about a rod? Certain baits and techniques work better with specific actions. For instance, when working crankbaits, many anglers prefer a moderate action rod so that when a fish takes the lure, the hooks do not tear out. Many anglers prefer a fast-action rod for jerkbaits to impart maximum movement to the lure. For tubes and surface twitch baits, most anglers, and definitely myself, prefer an extra-fast action a good, solid hook set.


When it comes to ratings for power, line, and lure weights, we really enter confusing territory. These ratings tend to be quite subjective, and there are no consistent standards from one manufacturer to another. In spite of that, here are a few general guidelines. Use medium power for smaller baits (1/8 to 1/4 ounce) and finesse fishing; use medium-heavy for 3/16- to 3/4-ounce lures, such as spinnerbaits, topwaters, jerkbaits, and light pitching; and use heavy power for flipping and large baits (3/4- to 1-ounce or more) in heavy cover. Generally, the midpoint of the lure range listed on the rod will be the sweet spot at which that rod casts the best.


The length of the rod is basically personal preference, but there are advantages and disadvantages to long and short rods. Shorter rods are lighter, but they generally don’t cast as far or handle as wide of a range of lure weights as a longer rod. Longer rods are heavier and sometimes unwieldy. For certain techniques, such as skipping docks you may want a 6-foot rod but for flipping or cranking, you probably want a rod 7 to 7 1/2 feet long.


While rods are constructed from materials such as fiberglass, blends, and even some exotic fibers, we will focus solely on graphite as it is the most popular and versatile material today. Many companies use different grades of graphite for different rods. For instance, St. Croix uses SCII, SCIII, SCIV, and SCV for their grades of graphite. Generally, the higher the grade, the lighter and more sensitive the rod will be. However, the flipside is that the higher the grade, the more brittle or delicate the rod. However, this is very general and many other factors will affect a rod's performance too.


Finally, we come to price, and how much to spend on a fishing rod is largely a personal decision. I buy the best rods I can afford because I fish for part of my living, and I fish often. However, when I buy for my son who is five, I buy the cheapest and most durable. .For my clients, I buy the most durable and lightest rod suitable for the specific technique we are using so that they are comfortable and don’t get fatigued from fishing all day.


Fortunately, many rod manufacturers make a selecting a rod easier. By far, my personal favorite and first choice in rods is St. Croix because of their exceptional customer service, high-quality products, and overall value. They also offer many different grades of rods at very reasonable prices. For instance, in their SCIV series (tournament series), St. Croix offers rods built specifically for almost every technique a bass fisherman would encounter, such as drop-shotting, skipping docks, flipping, and more.


If you have further questions about this article or selecting a rod for a specific fishing situation, please contact me. Life Outdoors Unlimited Guide Dan Grulke can be reached at musky13@yahoo.com or via phone numbers listed under the "Meet Our Guides" section of the LOU Website.