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Hot Rods
by Fred Wall

Reprinted at Bassdozer with permission of Honey Hole Magazine, Inc.

There are four factors in choosing a rod that should enter into your decision. Sensitivity, "fish-ability," durability and cost.

How the rod feels or what you feel while using it has many variables. With the advent of new graphite fibers being used in today's rods there is no reason you shouldn't be able to feel the blade turn on your spinnerbait. You should even be able to feel every small rock on a gravel point when Carolina rigging or the softest tick when a fish takes in your 1/8-ounce Texas-rigged worm.

When you consider the technology here's why. There are three things that make up the construction of a rod. The first is the blank.

This is the foundation of the rod. It is what gives you the power needed for a solid hook set and the action necessary to cast light baits. In my comparison I was shocked to learn that only two of the five manufacturers I spoke with use blanks made in the US. I was also intrigued to learn that while most design a single taper running from the tip to butt of their blanks, Enders, a manufacturer based in Arizona incorporates a compound taper system. As explained, a series of varying tapers which makes it possible to fine tune both the power or backbone and the action, or flex, of the rod. They feel this significantly enhances the rods overall performance.

The three materials that are joined to form the matrix of the blank are graphite, scrim and resin.

Graphite of course is the one that gets the press. It's one rating that most anglers are familiar with is modulus. In layman's terms modulus means resistance to flex. The higher the modulus of the graphite, the stiffer the blank. This allows powerful and extremely sensitive blanks to be engineered while reducing the amount of material. Less material means less weight and less mass for the vibrations that are being generated out in the lake to travel through, thus increasing the rod's sensitivity. Unfortunately, there are possible drawbacks. Meaning, it may not be quite as forgiving when you abuse it by throwing it into your rod locker or whacking it alongside your boat.

The main purpose of scrim is to provide a mat to hold the lineal graphite fibers together. Most often it is either fiberglass or graphite. While graphite may have minimal effect on weight reduction, fiberglass scrim is generally used and considered to be the better of the two.

To my understanding, it is within the resins that the real technological advances are taking place today. More so than the graphite or scrim materials, the new resins are leading the way in making it possible to build lighter and more durable rods. This is the one area where I got the distinct impression no one wanted to let the others know what they are doing.

St Croix has developed a new high modulus, high strain graphite they call SC. Their new SC material works to overcome the brittleness factor intrusive to most high modulus graphite. They have also developed a new tooling system that allows the first blank-building method to create tapers in the blank that are continuous curve from the tip to the butt of the rod. This new blank system is available in their Legend Elite series only, and though quite expensive it is plain that St Croix is truly making rod technology rocket science.

The next determining factor should be the handle and the reel seat. Through-the-handle construction is a must. Rods in the 70's and 80's had a pre-formed plastic or phinolic fiber rod seat and either cork or neoprene cushion glued on it then the blank was glued in the end. The new technology says that just won't work.

Of the five rods tested all had through-the-handle construction. This seems to be standard in all high performance rods.

The real seat is another important factor. Most rods incorporate graphite or plastic reel seats that serve the general purpose of keeping the reel firmly attached to the rod. The exception being the Enders rod, which uses a costly resin-impregnated walnut reel seat with exposure.

The third component of rod construction you should inspect is the guides. These serve to spread out the stress applied to the blank while you fight a fish, as well as provide the least amount of friction possible to the line when you cast. There are a few different companies manufacturing eyes and on the shelf they all look alike and do their job. They all consist of a metal ring and inside the metal ring is placed a ceramic insert. These ceramics are all about equal except the new rod being introduced by All Star. These have a new titanium frame with a titanium coated zirconium ring. This technology is new to the industry and besides titanium being lighter, the new ceramic ring should create less drag on the line as well as be more resistant to the braided line wear patterns. The difference in eyes is how well the ceramic stays in the metal ring. With the widespread use of tubular rod racks in boats, or the fact that we all carry too many rods and in pulling one out of a wad of seven or eight, these eyes take a lot of abuse. Clicking together or hitting the edge of the tube when you put your rod away does damage them. We've all had to deal with a tube of super glue to put a ceramic ring back, but all eyes are not created equal.

The last thing we want to talk about in selection of a rod before we get to the cost is which length, power and action do you need to do the job you are buying the rod for. It stands to reason a longer rod is going to give longer cast and quicker hook sets, just as a shorter rod may be easier to handle when working top water plugs, or short casting under brush. However, because of our individual physical characteristics and varying levels of expertise, this is where personal preference comes into play. I have not yet found one rod that is perfect for everyone, nor a need that can not be filled. The thing to do is, take your time, and while looking within the power and action best suited for the rod you need. Look at the options, and then make your decision.

Ultra-light means just that, it is designed for light line and small baits no more then 6- to 8-pound line and 1/32- to 1/8-ounce lures. This rod is designed to hold eight pounds of stress and no more. A light rod is designed for use with 8- to 10-pound line and lures from 1/16- to 5/1 6-ounce. Medium rods are used with 4- to 12-pound line and lures from 1/8- to 3/8-ounce. Medium-Heavy rods work best with 8- to 14-pound test line and lures from 3/16- to 1/2-ounce in weight. Heavy rods are designed to be just a bit softer than a pool cue. Heavy rods can handle 15- to 25-pound test line and bulkier lures up to 1-1/2 oz. Extra-Heavy rods are pool cues with eyes. Designed to bring big fish out of heavy cover or grass.

The tip or action is of the rod is also important. Most rods are available in extra fast, fast, moderate and slow. This addresses where the rod flexes. Fast action will have the most flex in the top 30%. Moderate action will flex in the top half of the rod, and slow action will flex from the handle or the first eye up. Those signify the backbone of the tip.

If you want to drive the hook through a 10-inch worm and penetrate more than skin, you don't need a rod with a weak tip. On the other hand, if you don't want to pull the hook out of a crankbait fish when it jumps you need a rod that will give when the fish jumps or shakes its head. So pick the tip action for the job you want the rod to do.

The last consideration is cost. In my opinion, if you are serious about your sport and are investing hard-earned money into entry fees, you can not afford to purchase rods that are anything but the best. After all, when you are on the water, doing all possible to fill the live well, you have got to take advantage of everything that comes your way. Especially if that does something as great as increasing your main tool, the sense of feel.

When it comes to enhancing this sense, the only two things that have any effect on it is the line you're using and the rod you are holding. So, when it comes to cost, I do not see how anyone can afford to fish with anything but the best rods available.

I would also like to share my thoughts concerning individual responsibility pertaining to warranties.

While rod failure does happen as a result of material failure or inferior workmanship, the vast majority is a result of poor technique, otherwise known as dumb things fishermen do. For instance habits such as high-sticking (grabbing the blank above the grip), over-stressing (spooling up with heavier line than the rod is rated for), and over flexing the tip (dead-lifting fish into the boat while the rod is straight up and down) can damage rods. There's external compression (being crushed by rod locker lids, trunk and doors, or being stepped on) that can also do damage to rods. These are things the manufacturers are not only well aware of, but able to accurately diagnose a majority of the time. So when it comes to warranties, do not assume that the manufacturers are stupid. Be honest and accept responsibility when needed. If we do, I believe the manufacturer will be more than fair and do their best to keep us, the customer, happy.

After total consideration of all five rods it is not possible to choose a clear-cut winner. Every Hot Rod manufactured for fishermen today has advantages in certain situations. My two overall picks would have to be the Browning and the Enders. I have fond memories of my old Browning boron rod with the Lew's speed spool on it. Browning boron rods lead the way into the super sensitive rod blanks. Their newest line of rods have many advantages over their competition. Browning rods are now part of the Quantum family. I also like the rods made by Enders. There is really something to this wooden reel seat business. You have to fish one of these rods to understand.

Ultimately rod choice is a personal decision, but knowing how to make selections can save you money even if you spend more on a rod than you originally planned. This is simply because if you don't get what will do the job right or don't get a quality product, you'll just have to make another purchase a lot sooner.

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