Fisherman are collectors. They collect lures, tackle
boxes, and a lot of rods. Anyone who has spend a number of years
fishing will have a stash of rods somewhere out of the way that
are still good but now retired to use by future grandchildren.
Still we want more. Nothing seems to make a fisherman's heart go
pitter-patter like a new rod. Yet for all of our collection, it
seems like we never have the rod we need when we want it. Part of
the trick is to know what rod we want! With an ever expanding
list of choices, even experienced fishermen have trouble sorting
through all of the options to find the right rod for a specific
occasion. And for the guy who is just starting to expand his
collection, the question of which rod should he buy next is akin
to asking what is the meaning of life. It can be answered, but
never to everyone's satisfaction.
Before we get too far with this, I have to make my standard
disclaimer. Rods are one more thing everyone has an opinion on,
and these opinions are mostly mine. Where I differ from the crowd
will be noted, but you have to realize these suggestions and
observations are for my style of fishing in the types of lakes I
fish. Take the suggestions with a grain of salt and apply your
own common sense when it comes to your situation. After all, you
have to fish with your rods, because I'll be fishing with mine.
There are a number of things that describe a rod and it's
performance. But you can boil down a rods performance to the
three jobs a rod has to do. First, the rod controls the casting
and presentation of the lure. Your actions are transmitted to the
bait through the line and rod. Obviously, a 7' rod will make a
lure behave much different than a 5' rod with the same motion.
Second, you have to feel the bite and set the hook. Some baits,
for instance crank baits, almost set themselves with aggressive
fish. Other baits, like a jig or plastic worm, require you to
make a distinct effort to set the hook and you may or may not
even feel the bite. Third, you have to land the fish once you
have him on. A rod used in open water with a bunch of small
treble hooks has a different job than pulling a fish out of
extremely heavy cover when flipping a jig.
Given the jobs a rod has to do, what are the trade offs.
Length is certainly one. A long rod gives you leverage to throw a
bait a long ways, takes up line and sets the hook well, and gives
you lots of leverage to play the fish once he's on. A shorter rod
gives you accuracy when making the cast. An overlooked property
of a short rod is it's easier to fish for a longer period. That
same leverage that lets you set the hook makes working a big lure
a strain on your arms and shoulders over the course of a day.
Another trade off is stiffness, or "backbone" of a rod.
A stiff rod lets you set the hook hard and pull a fish out of
heavy cover. Too stiff of rod may tear the hooks out of the
fish's mouth and makes casting lighter lures difficult at best.
Then you get into "action." This is different than
stiffness since the action describes where a rod bends rather
than how much force it takes to bend it. A "fast"
action has a flexible tip compared to the rest of the rod which
is useful for both casting and presentation. The trouble with
fast action tips is difficulty in getting a good hook set or
keeping a fish out of cover. A "slow" action bends
close to the middle or in some cases even the lower portion of
the rod. A slow action needs a more sweeping type cast and
generally is more difficult to set the hook. The advantage of
slow action rods is they tend to play the fish very well in open
water. With the runs, jumps, and swirls of a bass during a fight,
the slow action rod will give more line while keeping constant
tension on the fish. This has been especially true when fishing
treble hook lures and has proven to dramatically increase the
Maybe the most important thing in looking for a rod is
balance. A rod is a simple lever and the closer you get to a
neutral fulcrum the better feeling and working the rod will be.
This means you must know what reel and preferably lure you're
going to use with the rod. Most retailers will be glad to let you
mount your reel and lure on the prospective rod and give it a try
before you buy. I like to test for balance by finger with reel
and lure attached. For spinning rods, I hold the mount arm
between my middle and ring finger, so I like the balance point to
be very close to where my pointing finger is during a cast. For a
bait caster, I'm much more interested in the retrieve position,
so I like the rod to balance somewhere near my middle finger with
I palm the reel. I have to admit that even my best rods and reels
aren't perfectly balanced, but they are very close and it pays
off big time over the course of a tournament day. I just can't
bring myself to add rear weight to a rod for the sake of moving
the balance point 1/4".
There are other properties that set one rod apart from
another. Perhaps the most expensive is weight. A light weight rod
is easier to use for longer periods and is more sensitive for
feeling both bites and bottom. The rush to lighter rods is what
has brought us from steel, through fiberglass, boron, and now
graphite rods. These new materials weigh only a fraction of what
30 year old rods weighed, but come with a hefty price tag if you
still demand full performance. A new problem has also arisen with
the new materials being brittle. Your grandfather's rod would
bend if you put too much pressure on it. They were almost
impossible to break. The new rods, on the other hand, have been
known to simply shatter if too much pressure is applied. With the
demand for fast tips, breaking off tips has become almost normal
for some rods. Again, you can get a fast tip rod that won't break
and is extremely light, if you're in the right tax bracket. You
have to realize all of these things are relative. Even the worse
of the modern rods is much better than the rods of 10 or 15 years
ago. And rods that are now considered so-so where the top of line
just 5 years ago. So when we're talking light, we're talking the
difference between feathers and soap bubbles, not bowling balls.
There are a few things I consider musts with a bass rod. Other
than a flipping stick, I've never seen a multi-piece rod that I
liked. The ferrel in the middle of a two piece rod just kills the
action and is the perfect place to break a rod. Ceramic guides
are another given since without good guides I don't even stop to
look. I prefer cork handles, but some like the feel of rubber or
nylon handles. One feature I always look for is a spot under the
reel seat where the blank is exposed, although I don't suppose it
is a must. This is a pain for rod builders but by exposing the
blank your finger now rests on the thing directly transmitting
the bite. Speaking of reel seats, I prefer low profile seats on
bait casters so I can palm the reel easily, again not a must but
One other thing to keep in mind before selecting a rod is your
line. The recommendations I'll make assume monofilament line, and
the stretch that line inherently has. If you're a braided line
fan, as I am, then you will likely want to drop down 1 action for
the one you'd want for monofilament, especially in the heavier
action rods. Since the line has no stretch, you'll have to rely
on a slower action in the rod to keep constant tension on the
fish. You'll find it a difficult job to land a fish on braided
line with a heavy action rod. And with all the trouble I have to
go through to get the bite, I need all the help I can get.
This is where I always get in trouble, but is also one the
most asked questions about rods. What are good brand names. I'm
going to rate THEIR BEST RODS in 4 categories, Top of the Line,
Excellent, Very Good, and Good. If it's not on here, you'll have
to take your chances. It may be an excellent rod that I forgot,
or it may be only so-so. Keep in mind ALL of these rods I'd
recommend in some circumstances to buy. There are no bad rods on
For Top of the Line, I believe there is only one name, Loomis.
Gary Loomis simply makes what I consider the finest rods in the
world at any price. They have 4 lines now, the GL2, GL3, IMX, and
GLX. I'm primarily talking IMX and GLX here. These rods are
extremely light weight, unbelievably sensitive, have tremendous
backbone for a given action, hold up under daily abuse, cast like
a dream, and will land the biggest fish in the lake. The company
stands behind all of it's products and their upper lines are
consistently 3 - 5 years ahead of anyone else. They take the
science of composite materials seriously and understand their
trade well. They also cost from 2 to 10 times as much as similar
rods from other manufacturers. Plan on dropping from $200 to $350
for a bass rod.
For Excellent rods, the Allstar TX40, St. Croix, Browning,
along with the Loomis GL2 and GL3 lines. Here you're still
looking at $100 - $150 per rod. All are light weight with good
strength and great action. You would be hard pressed to find rods
with better reputations than on this list. I have to admit I have
not personally used the St. Croix rods, but several people who's
opinion I respect say they deserve the rating. You're getting
wonderful sensitivity with these rods and the power to land a BIG
fish after casting for hours. A cut above the rest.
Very Good rods have to start with the Falcon that almost made
it to the Excellent rating. These are brutes of a rod with
reasonable weight and a spiral graphite wrap giving them
unmatched backbone. I love the combination of backbone with a
fast tip and the Falcon design delivers in spades. Other very
good rods are Shimano, Diawa, Fenwick, and Quantum. All are mass
produced rods with all of the good characteristics you look for
in a premium rod. They all offer good rods for the money.
Good rods have to start with the Bass Pro Shop house brands.
These rods are made by a variety of manufacturers, many by
Quantum for them. They offer wonderful value for the money. Other
good rods that deserve a place in your rod locker are Berkley,
Cabella's house brands, Lews, and Garcia.
Not all the rods are the same from a manufacturer. You must
carefully select a rod based on your needs and your opinion. Just
because a Shimano top is line is rated slightly higher than a
Berkley, the mid-class rod from Berkley might be much better than
a similar Shimano. Realize all of these ratings are simply
opinions and take them for what they are worth.
You wouldn't be happy throwing tube baits with a flipping
stick. Nor would you like setting the hook on a Texas rigged worm
with a long slender rod used from crank baits. All rods have an
application they are best at, and some can serve several
functions. But as fishermen, we don't pick up a rod then look for
a bait to tie on, it's the other way around! You know what bait
you'd like to throw, but may be unsure of which rod will do the
best job. As your rod collection grows, most serious fishermen
end up with a wide variety of rods on the deck, each one matched
to the bait with which it works the best. So, try to summarize
the baits, then look at which rod brings the most to the party.
Not all rods are rated alike. To have any meaningful
discussion, we have to base our comparisons on some agreed to
scale. Since it's the simplest, I'll use the rating system used
by Loomis. The action of their rods are rated 1 - 5, with a 1 tip
being only slightly stiffer than monofilament line and 5
resembling a pool cue. Loomis makes their rod codes simple, the
first two number are the rod's length in inches and the last
number is the rod's action. Therefore a Loomis 784 is a 6 1/2'
rod with a medium heavy rating.
1) Crank Baits, Hard Jerk Baits: These baits have
treble hooks which work well in snagging a fish, just not too
well at hooking them good. The classic problem with treble hooks
is you can get the fish on only to pull out the hooks loosing the
fish during the fight. Particularly with the new razor sharp
replacement hooks, there is little need for a big hook set. And
since these are often open water lures, pin point casting
accuracy should not be an overriding property. The pros, led by
David Fritz, have now converted to very slow, limp, long rods. A
7' rod is normal with a 1 or 2 tip. I prefer a graphite rod for
the sensitivity in both working the bait and detecting the strike
when paused. Many of the pros are now going to fiberglass rods
which have even more give than a soft graphite and prevents them
from pulling the bait away from a wary fish. The long soft rods
let you play the fish with ease since the rod does most of the
work for you.
2) Soft Jerk Baits: Now you're into a single hook with
a light lure. A long rod is useful for casting the light bait
without a weight and most prefer a 6 1/2 - 7' rod. A medium 3 tip
will cast the lure well while still having the power for the hook
set. I always look for a very fast action on my soft jerk bait
rod since I'm also concerned about working the fish out from
around heavy cover, so plenty of backbone is a must.
3) Tube Jigs, 4" Worms with small weights: These
are my main tools for fishing overhanging trees and docks. I need
to skip the lure under the overhang and casting accuracy is a
must. Here a 5 1/2' spinning rod with a hard 2 tip or a light 3
tip works wonders. I look for a fairly fast action since bringing
a fish out from around a piling is important. But like the pros
say, first you have to get the bite.
4) Split Shot/Mojo Rigs, Darters and Grubs: I fish
these baits mostly in open water so long casts with good hook
sets is a priority. I still prefer a spinning rod but move up to
a medium 3 tip in a 6 1/2' rod. This lets me cast these
relatively light baits a long way and pick up a lot of slack line
in a hurry for a hook set. Although I prefer a bait caster for
the application, many folks also throw small soft jerk baits on
the same rod.
5) Texas Rigged Worms, Light Jigs: This is likely your
most used rod so if you only own one, this is the one to own. I
fish mostly open water and irregular edges so I like the distance
and leverage of a 6 1/2' rod in a stiff 3 tip or light 4 tip.
Fast action is the key since I want the casting accuracy and
distance but demand a ton of backbone for hook sets and bring a
fish out of heavy cover. For dedicated bank beaters in wood
filled lakes, several of the pros recommend a 6' rod for the
added casting accuracy.
6) Carolina Rigs: This is either a compromise or a true
specialty rod. Most pros use a 7' rod with a 5 tip. This is some
seriously heavy equipment. The length allows you to cast long
leaders in open water and set the hook even if the fish has your
7' leader off to one side. Since most pros also use at least a 1
oz weight, the 5 tip lets you move that large chunk of metal in a
hurry. You've got enough rod in your hand jerk a fish's head
clean off. Personally, I find the 7' length a bit much so I go to
a 6 1/2' rod with a 5 tip.
7) Heavy Jigs, Spoons, Large Tail Spinners: These
traditional lures share one thing is common, they are heavy. The
problem here is to overcome the weight of the lure both when
casting and when setting the hook. For open water a 6 1/2' rod
with a medium 4 tip works well. For working around cover, you
might want to drop down to a 6' rod for additional casting
accuracy. If your lures run closer to the 1/2 oz mark than the 1
oz variety, the same rod used for lighter jigs and worms will
probably do fine.
8) Spinner Baits: Fishing hitting a spinner bait
normally do so with all the subtlety of a run away truck. Since
these are also a fairly heavy bait, a rod with a lot of backbone
is needed. Pool cues can make good substitutes when fishing heavy
cover. For shoreline cover a short rod, about 5 1/2' with a 4 tip
works well. If you are one that likes to throw the 1/4 oz size
and consider 3/8 oz as big baits, then a 3 tip will be more to
your liking. For open water slow rolling, a 6' or 6 1/2' rod will
give you added distance and help set on monofilament line in deep
water. Although most pros say a 6 1/2' rod is better, I prefer
the 6' version. That may come from my preference for larger
spinner baits, (1/2 oz and better.) I actually get longer casts
with my 6' rod than from a similar 6 1/2' and am less tired at
the end of the day.
9) Light Top Waters: Most pros will recommend the same
rod as used for crank baits, 7' with a 2 tip. But most pros also
work top waters faster than Joe WeekendAngler. Most of the
non-pro fishermen I know like to work minnow baits and other
small top waters very slowly around heavy cover. For greater
control in tight places, dropping down to a 6 1/2' rod with the
same 2 tip will make the day more enjoyable.
10) Spooks and Heavy Top Waters: Walking the Dog with a
Spook is a skill most anglers, both pro and amateur, practice
often. This is done with the rod tip down and lots of wrist
action. The majority opinion for the best rod for this
application is a 5 1/2' with a 3 tip. Your talking 1/0 or 2/0
hooks here, so setting on a fish is not a given, and fish that
hit these big top waters are likely to be big enough to handle
the job, so backbone is also required. This is also one of the
last hold outs for the pistol grip handle. A trigger handle can
get in the way when twitching the bait all day so most people are
willing a fight the fish with their arms rather than put up with
a handle in their stomach all day. Pay particular attention to
balancing this rod even at the cost of extra weight. A top heavy
rod can actually cause physical damage to your wrists over the
course of a day if you're not careful.
11) Buzz Baits and Rats: Heavy Cover fishing always
calls for a heavy rod, and extra leverage for working a fish out
from mats or around pads always helps. Here a 7' rod with a 4 tip
can really increase the number of fish that make it to the boat.
The long rod lets you throw back in those places the boat just
doesn't want to go. Some people even like 5 tips and 7 1/2'
flipping sticks since a 3 lb bass may come with 25 lbs of milfoil
attached. Use as big and heavy a rod as you can stand. Another
good use for these rods is pitching Rattle Traps over hydrilla
fields. The big heavy rod makes pulling the Trap off the hydrilla
easy and most bites come just as the hooks let go from the cover.
12) Flipping and Pitching: Purist will have a separate
rod for each application here. For flipping, there is no real
cast to worry about and extremely heavy cover and heavy fish is
normal. A 7 1/2' rod is standard gear with a 5 tip. For pitching,
a lighter tip with a faster action makes lure presentation
easier. You will still want the 7 1/2' length, but may want to
drop down to a fast action 4 tip for getting jigs 20+ feet away
from the boat. For Flipping a much slower action will let you man
handle a fish under a 3' thick mat and the hook up percentage
will certainly rise. It's a trade off you'll have to make
depending on the cover you normally work.
So there's the Dirty Dozen! You don't need all of the
rods to go fishing, contrary to what the rod builders will tell
you. But at least you now know a bit more about why a particular
rod is preferred for a given application. If you look at the idea
of carrying a spare for an important lure presentation, you can
see that a pro may not be too far out of line when he carries 20
rods to a tournament. If you're new to this type of game, also
remember that come tournament day the pros select the 4 or 5 rods
they are planning to use and leave the rest in the truck for
Building your Collection
Very few fishermen own every rod we've listed. A question I
get often from people just starting out is, "Is it better to
buy 1 good rod or several mediocre rods." The answer, as
always, depends on what you're trying to do and how you prefer to
If you're just getting started in bass fishing, then get 1
good rod for 1 good bait and learn it well. For southern lakes
filled with heavy cover, that could be a flipping stick. For
general reservoir use, a good worm rod is an excellent choice.
Once you've mastered a particular lure or technique, move on to
the next one with the correct equipment. A spinner bait is an
excellent all round lure that works in most cover and depths.
Leave the specialty rods and baits for later and concentrate on
If you're starting tournament fishing for the first time, then
it might be time to buy 2 good rods of different types rather
than one excellent one. You've probably learned most of the lures
by now and have a few good rods to start with. Owning an
excellent worm rod won't do you much good if the fish are hitting
Rattle Traps come tournament day. And in a tournament, every bite
counts so if there is an equipment advantage to be had, use it.
It could be the difference between cashing a check or not.
If you're an experienced tournament angler looking to expand
his arsenal, then the answer is self evident. You'll need a rod
to match the bait. Cashing a check or not in a big tournament can
pay for all of your rods in one sweep, so you don't dare not
having the best equipment you can afford. You probably already
have $20,000 to $40,000 tied up in your boat, tow vehicle,
tackle, electronics and the rest of our tournament toys. I can
think of no valid reason to start skimping on having the right
rod. And next year's new trolling motor with and extra 5 lbs
thrust sure isn't it.
Well, that's about it. We certainly didn't cover everything
about rods or their use, but it's a pretty good start. Select the
rod for your situation and your preference for fishing. There are
a lot of rods on the rack, but they all have a particular roll to
play. Matching the rod to the bait and conditions is just one
more step in becoming the best angler you can be. See you on the