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Beginners Bass Rod Basics

By Russ Bassdozer

Are you looking for a new rod? Do you have some basic questions about rods? I occasionally get asked for my opinions about rods by anglers who are shopping for a new rod. These are often only very general questions, so you can really only expect very general responses from me here in this article!

Should I get baitcasting or spinning? First and foremost, there is an obvious decision to go either with spinning or baitcasting for the new rod. Here are just some assorted tips and suggestions in no particular order. Perhaps one of these random pointers will help you make a good rod choice because it matches with something you are looking for in a new rod right now:

  • Many smallmouth anglers go to spinning rather than baitcasting. Why? Smallies have smaller bodies, smaller mouths and smaller lures are often used which require lighter lines. Further, smallies do not get deep into wood or weed cover - especially if largemouths occupy it. In the absence of largemouths, smallies may very well occupy such places...those are the place where you desire to use baitcasting's advantages (heavier lines, more power) - in bad cover. But typically, smallies are in more open, light cover where spinning is fine.
  • Baitcasting rods are often presumed for largemouth. Many casual anglers presume they need baitcasting gear since that is what they see tournament pros using on TV and in magazines.
  • Spinning works great with topwater floating worms, soft plastic stickbaits, finesse fishing with lightly-weighted tubebaits, etc.
  • I also like spinning for lightweight vertical tactics such as Western doodling, shaking, splitshotting and dropshotting deep fish. The way you can hold the spinning rod just feels like an advantage to me here!
  • Crankbaits, spinnerbaits? You can truly go either way because you are not necessarily fishing such lures deep in the heart of heavy cover all of the time. You are often casting long distances. Getting the spinnerbait or crankbait down to the bottom, bumping into unforeseen cover along the way - but essentially drawing active fish short distances out of sparsely scattered cover to come to your crankbait or spinnerbait. In the situation just described, either spinning or baitcasting is equally fine.
  • Anything in heavy cover? For example, a heavy jig 'n pig or stout Texas rigged worm? Baitcasting is often better. Baitcasting will allow you to take solid authority over big bass in the extreme conditions found in heavy cover. The simple reason is that you can really put pressure on the fish and winch the fish in with baitcasting. There are several leverage and torque disadvantages with spinning rods - even the way you hold them - that makes spinning awkward for winching big bass out of heavy cover. Therefore, most people will use baitcasting in heavy cover.

Once the baitcasting versus spinning decision has been made either way, then many new rod shoppers next ask for suggestions as to the correct rod length.

Seven foot. Personally, I like to use 7' rods for largemouth and smallmouth fishing whenever possible. Why? It let's me keep all my rods (spinning & baitcasting) the same overall length. By keeping the lengths equal, to learn the logistics of casting, setting the hook and fighting fish on one of them is to learn the "length" logistics of them all (understanding that the rod handles will be longer/shorter).

Six and a half. Understand, however, that most manufacturers offer more choices of 6'6" models than seven footers. If I was impressed by the qualities of a particular 6'6" rod, I would not hesitate to buy it if there was no preferable seven foot alternative! 

Longer rods. I can't possibly think of a situation where I would prefer a rod longer than seven feet. In some heavy flipping to tight cover, there are a number of good rods on the market measuring 7'6" and even 8 foot. I have used a number of these rods, and I cannot recall ever having any advantage over a seven foot rod. Of course, if I was on the rocky riprap banks of a dam tailrace wanting to reach surface-busting stripers in mid-current, I would probably have some lengthy surf casting stuff with me...but that's beyond the "casting distance" of this simple rod selection article!

Shorter rods may possibly be better in extremely tight cover where the extra length of a seven foot rod becomes a handicap when there's just not enough room between the boat and the cover to get a good rod swing on the cast or hookset. Perhaps skipping baits far back under docks is the only place I can really see that a shorter rod MAY be an advantage to some anglers, but I find I can usually skip fine with a seven foot rod.

Light action rods. In situations containing small lures, small bass, small streams, canals and farm ponds, I downsize both spinning and baitcasting rods to six foot to handle string strengths of 6 to 8 lb. test on spinning or 10 lb. test on baitcasting. The seven foot fulcrum starts feeling too long to me - the tender rod tip on a light action rod is too collapsible to get a good hook set at the seven foot length.

Finessing the depths. Please note that there are specialized deep water finesse fishing tactics that also use tiny lures on 6-8 lb. test. Western tactics called doodling, shaking, splitshotting, and dropshotting fish off bottom or suspended in mid-water. For these tactics, I always use a seven foot rod. Although light lines are used here, in what is often a vertical application over deep water, the seven foot fulcrum gives you a clear advantage for loading the tip (simply by reeling in line until feeling light pressure). Once the tip is nicely loaded, you set the hook (by simply continuing to reel plus a long sweeping rod set). Can't do that nearly as well with a shorter rod!

Rod ratings. About manufacturers' rod ratings...I am reluctant to make any suggestions to you about that. Why? First, I don't think any two manufacturers have cross-compatible rating systems. That is, give the same rod to several manufacturers, and you will probably end up with several different ratings. Oh, the tip action is easily definable (medium, fast, extra fast, etc.), but I never could figure out how they came up with the recommended line strengths, lure weights or "power" ratings. Often the lure weights and line strengths that I use with a rod are different than the manufacturer's my opinion of a rod's "power" often differs from that of the manufacturer as well! Not a whole lot - but enough to make a difference!

Hope this helps you pick a winner of a rod!

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