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Volume XVII, Issue 8 - February 19 - February 25, 2009
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How to Buy a Fishing Rod

Four guidelines to making a good match

Back in the day, when it came time to get yourself a new fishing rod, it was a simple affair. You went to the local sports store, eyeballed the lithe, fiberglass treasures available and picked one of the desired length.

That was always six to seven feet for a spinning rod, about the same for a casting rod, between nine and 12 feet for a surf rod and seven to nine for a fly pole.

Next you gave it a wiggle. If it performed the way you liked, you then tested the flex by grabbing the upper part of the rod and giving it a good bend. That was to see if it would hold up to the fish you intended to subdue. If it wiggled and flexed properly, you bought it. If not, you continued on down the line until one performed as you wanted.

Today it’s not so easy. First off, your selections are not limited to the 30 or so models available in yesteryear. If you visit a big box sport store today, the selections available are more like 100 times 30; even the smaller stores stock at least a 100 or so.

The Four Guidelines

1. Wiggling the stick is still part of the sacred ritual, but flexing the rod by grabbing the tip and putting a good bend in it is most definitely out. Since graphite has largely replaced fiberglass, bending the rod into a U shape is not a good idea.

Graphite is stiffer and more brittle than fiberglass; if a graphite rod is bent past 90 degrees, it will experience what is technically referred to as catastrophic tube failure. In the lingo of the olden days, that’s a busted pole. Otherwise, graphite is a superb material for fishing rods, producing superior sensitivity (you can feel the bite much better), significantly improved casting distances and much, much lighter tackle.

2. The next consideration with a modern rod is discerning the information contained on the shaft just in front of the fore grip. There is generally printed the length of the rod, the power rating, the rod action and the recommended range of line test and lure weights.

The power rating is usually described as heavy, medium-heavy, medium, light or ultra-light. These are subjective terms referring to the relative lifting power or backbone of the rod. If a rod is described as having heavy power, it would be a good choice for big fish and big lures, while ultra-light a good choice for small fish and tiny lures.

3. Then comes the rod action description, usually moderate, fast and extra-fast. These terms define how the rod flexes as it comes under stress. A moderate-action rod will flex about two-thirds of its length during a cast. A fast-action rod will flex in the upper third, and an extra-fast-action rod, only in the upper quarter.

The faster the action, the faster and farther a lure can be thrown, but the more effort it takes. The rod’s action also comes into play during a lure’s retrieve. A moderate-action rod is more appropriate for swimming and diving lures where the softer flex won’t impede the action of the lure.

Faster action rods are more appropriate for jigging and handling lures that require angler manipulation, faster retrieves — or get in situations where significant stress will frequently be placed on the rod.

4. The line-test and lure-weight ranges are the last information on the rod blank. These suggest what is optimal for that particular rod. Upper limits can be pushed, but exceeding the lower limits will usually give bad results.

Using 10-pound test on a rod rated for 15- to 25-pound line could result in frequent break-offs because the rod just does not have the flex to protect the lighter line. Conversely, using 50-pound braid on that rod will not hinder performance as long as you remember that you cannot exert the full stress that 50-pound test line can withstand.

When you’re in the market, look for rods that appear to match your desires in terms of thickness and length. Read the data inscribed on the rod blank to be sure the one in hand is designed to do what you want it to.

Then pick up the rod and give it a wiggle. If it doesn’t pass the wiggle test (and each person’s wiggle criteria is unique, private and final), move on down the line until you find one that does feel right. After all, fishing is an art.

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.