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The Right Rod
By Paul Crawford

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.

Rod Properties

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 landing percentage.

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 very nice.

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.

Rod Brands

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 the list.

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 another day.

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 fish.

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 the basics.

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 water.

Paul Crawford

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