If you know anyone who is a regular angler one thing you may have asked is “Do you really need that many rods and reels?”. I can guarantee their spouse has asked the same question. The answer is for the angler is always a resounding “YES!”. Explaining why we require so many takes time, so the answer is usually left at this. But I swear to you that there are solid and legitimate reasons for having a number of rods and reels!
In my last article we discussed some basics to get started. If you’re just getting started in fishing you want to start simple. Decide on a species you want to fish and the style of fishing you will be doing. This will make it easier to get the gear you need without having to work a second, or even third, job. Because of all the specifics, this article is pretty long. If you really want to understand how to choose the best gear, read it all. If you’re the TLDR; type, check out the summary.
Considerations for Selecting a Rod and Reel
The basics for selecting a rod and reel depend on these factors:
- The species of fishing you’re after
- The style of fishing you will be doing (jigging, plunking, trolling, lure fishing, etc.)
- The type of water you will be fishing
- The type of lure or bait you’ll be using
What all this boils down to is that for specific species of fish you will be fishing certain types or water using specific baits or lures and a specific technique. Selecting the right rod and reel is relatively easy if you know a few specifics about each and what they mean. Bear in mind that the biggest reason aside from these specifics is personal preference. Be sure that you check out reviews and other angler’s opinions as well as putting hands on the rod and reel before buying.
The Reel Deal
Your fishing reel is a critical piece of your gear, obviously. It’s an important factor in your casting distance and determines how well you’ll be able to handle the fish and land it. Ordinarily, you’ll be buying a reel to match your rod, in terms of line size and weight capacity. First, decide if you want to use a spinning reel or a baitcaster. Spinning reels are much easier to use. Baitcasters need more skill, but offer much more control and make it easier to work larger fish. If you are patient enough to learn, a baitcaster will be a more flexible choice for most types of fishing.
There are a couple of important features on reels that you’ll want to pay attention to.
Simply put, drag is the brakes on a reel. It determines how much tension is required on the line before the reel will allow line to be pulled from the spool. The goal of drag is to allow you to reel the fish in, but when the fish fights back and starts to run it will give up line to prevent the line from breaking. The drag system contains two plates, which come into contact with each other. The force of the contact between the two plates determines how much line pressure is necessary before the friction between the two plates is overcome, pulling line from the spool.
Normally you’ll want the drag limit set at about 25% of your line’s breaking strength. If you’re using 20lb test line you will want to set your drag at 5lbs.
For most fishermen, setting the drag properly comes with experience, but you can get a head start by using a spring scale or digital scale to measure the proper weight:
- Make sure you assemble your rod and reel and the reel is spooled with line.
- Tie your line to the hook on the scale.
- Set the rod at a 45° angle (a rod holder with a clamp works well for this)
- Pull down on the scale slowly, watching the weight on the scale.
- When the drag starts to slip, record the scale weight.
- Adjust the drag up or down until you reach 25% of the line breaking weight.
- Mark this on your reel using a permanent marker (just a dot will do)
- Repeat this for the 50% mark, using a marker of a different color.
The 50% mark you are adding is simply if you need extra drag when fighting a fish. If you mark it now you won’t need to guess if you need that extra oomph!
Gear ratio determines how fast you can reel in the line. 6:1 gear ratio means that for every one rotation of the handle the spool will make six complete rotations. It’s also helpful to know how many inches of line are reeled per turn of the handle, since this really determines how fast the reel will retrieve the line. Lower ratio reels also provide more torque, which is important for fighting big fish.
- Lower gear ratios, like 5:1, are better for slower presentations like deep water crankbaits. These will keep your lure in the strike zone longer.
- Medium gear ratios, like 6:1, are more versatile as you can easily modify how fast you reel to speed up or slow down the retrieve.
- High gear ratios are excellent when you need to work lures quickly, like top water baits.
Most baitcasting reels used for bait fishing are usually geared in the lower range, from 4:1-:6.3:1. For cut bait and live bait fishing, these ratios are a matter of preference. If you will be bait fishing, choose the reel that is most comfortable to you and meets your needs for drag, budget and dependability.
The more bearings in the reel, the smoother the reel will be. As a rule of thumb, a five to six bearing reel is a good place start and usually are not very expensive. Chances are you’re not going to notice much between a 5 bearing and 8 bearing reel anyway!
Fishing Rods: Getting Technical
There are three main factors in the design of a fishing rod that impact its use. The correct combination allows you to cast accurately, work your baits properly, detect strikes more easily and give you a better hook set. Power, action and length are the three main factors, and I will go into some detail on each.
Rod power is the amount of pressure that must be applied to make the rod bend. Ultralight power rods require almost no pressure, where heavy power rods require a significant amount of pressure. Rod power varies between ultralight and extra heavy. Usually, to make the concept of rod power more understandable to folks, I explain that rod power is the stiffness of the rod tip.
Use ultralight power rods for catching really small fish, like crappie or baitfish. Often these are too short to be of use to most of us, so it’s likely you’ll want to stick with light power.
Light power rods are generally used for panfish and smaller trout. The are also used in spincasting setups for salmon and steelhead, but recommended for more experienced anglers.
Rods in the medium light range are often used for finesse presentations for bass and trout.
Medium power is very popular in many bass, walleye and catfishing fishing applications. It is also a very good choice for many types or salmon and steelhead fishing techniques when combined with the correct action.
Medium heavy rods are also used extensively in bass for skipping, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Many striped bass fisherman prefer this power. It is also common for musky, pike, flathead and blue catfish, salmon and steelhead.
Bait fishermen prefer heavy power rods for striped bass, large catfish, sturgeon and other larger fish. Again, this power is also used by some bass anglers for flipping/pitching and frog baits. They are also favorites for trolling salmon, steelhead and striper.
When you need some backbone, for those big monsters. Huge cats, tuna, sharks. If you’re deep-sea fishing you are most likely using extra heavy power!
The action on a rod determines how easily and far the tip will bend before transferring the load to the rod. Action also determines how the rod casts, how sensitive the tip is and how fast and hard you can set the hook.
Slow action is “whippy”. This is a good action for jerk baits, crankbaits and the like. With such a sensitive tip you’ll feel the bites better, but the hookset will be tougher. Slow action also allows the fish to be hooked deeper, since the rod tip will absorb some of the shock of the fish’s strike. Also, if you are casting lighter lures, the slow action gives you further casts. With slow action rods bend will start near the base of the rod.
Moderate action is very versatile and is used for a lot of presentations and can handle a wider array of line sizes. It’s excellent for bottom fishing, especially with treble hooks. It’s also the go to for a lot of striper, salmon and steelhead anglers. The bend starts at about 2/3 up the rod.
With a fast action rod, the bend starts about halfway up the rod. This is ideal for fishing heavy cover or using heavy lures. Fast action is also used for catching large fish or using fishing techniques where the strike is going to be fast and hard (such as topwater lures). Casting distance is reduced but your ability to hookset is greatly increased with fast action.
Extra fast action is not as popular as it once was. This is a very heavy action, and most heavy action rods these days replace the need for extra fast. However, there are some instances where extra fast is necessary, such as fishing for bluefin tuna, goliath grouper or other such monsters.
Rod length is really up to you. Longer rods offer more control and better hookset and are better at balancing the load of the fish on the line. I suggest starting with shorter rods until you are comfortable casting, setting hooks, and in general feel comfortable with your abilities. Move up in size as you gain more experience. My personal preference for many applications is 9′ although I do use shorter rods in many cases.
As you can see, there’s a number of things to consider when selecting your rod and reel. However, to make your choice a little easier, knowing that many of you will be fishing for food, use the following guidelines:
Panfish and Small Trout
For these fish I recommend a 6′-7′ light power, moderate action rod combined with a spinning reel with a 6:1 gear ratio. The Pfluger Trion combo is a great choice, with a seven bearing reel on a 6′ rod.
In bass fishing there are many techniques, but I definitely recommend a medium power moderate action to get you started. This can help you cover a lot of fishing styles and lures until you get comfortable enough to switch it up. 7’6″ is probably the max you want to go in length to start.
For a good starter setup, I recommend the Abu Garcia Silver Max if you prefer a baitcaster. For a good spinning setup, check out the Mitchell 300, which has 10 bearings!
Striped Bass, Steelhead, Salmon
For these fish you’ll want to go a bit longer, in the 8’6″-9′ range. Medium heavy or heavy power with fast action is the way to go. You sometimes need to manhandle these fish, and you also want solid hooksets. The Penn Pursuit II is an excellent entry-level setup for this and can also be used for surf fishing. If you prefer to use a baitcaster for live and cut bait, like me, try the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S combo. This has been my go to set-up for striper for years and have never failed me. Bear in mind that the Ambassadeur reels for left-handers end in 01.
Hopefully you can use this information to guide yourself to get an ideal rod and reel. I’m happy to answer any specific questions, so hit me up on my Facebook page!
In our next article we’ll discuss some basic tackle and setting up for live bait and cut bait fishing for trout, striped bass, and sturgeon.