Choosing a Fishing Rod
If you visit a tackle shop, you’ll find a jungle of rods sticking up over the counter. They will vary from short, supple rods to exceedingly long, heavy rods. You’ll find rods where the guides (the rings which follow down the rod and “guide” the line) are present for the entire length of the rod, and others where the guides are bigger and closer to the handle. Selecting the rod which is right for you can be a daunting challenge.
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- Fibreglass or Graphite?
- How are fishing rods made?
- Rod Taper
- Rod Sensitivity
- Rod Length
- The most basic fishing rod – A Simple Pole
- What Rods Cost
- Spin-Casting Rods
- Spin-Casting Rod Quality
- The Reel Seat on a Spin-Casting Rod
- Guides on a Spin-Casting Rod
- Spinning Rods
- Spinning Rod Quality
- The Reel Seat on a Spinning Rod
- Guides on a Spinning Rod
- Bait-Casting Rods
- Bait-Casting Rod Quality
- The Bait-Casting Rod Reel Seat
- Guides on a Bait-Casting Rod
- Fly Rods
- Fly Rod Quality
- The Reel Seat on a Fly Rod
- Guides on a Fly Rod
Fibreglass or Graphite?
The majority of modern rods are made from fibreglass, graphite, or a combination of the two. Whilst both have been used by anglers for many years, fibreglass rods have been around for longer. Fibreglass and graphite rods are both good options, but they also possess slightly different properties which make them different and lend themselves for different types of fishing. Graphite rods are generally more expensive than fibreglass rods of the same quality, but an excellent fibreglass rod will cost much more than a cheap graphite rod.
How are fishing rods made?
Fishing rods are produced through a process which involves wrapping a very thin sheet of graphite/fibreglass fibres around a tapered dowel. These fibres extend for the length of the rod and the sheet is then held together by glue. A number of layers of these fibre sheets are required to make the complete rod. Once enough have been wrapped around, a coating is applied to give the rod a smooth texture. The dowel is then removed, hollowing out the rod in the process, the remaining product is known as a rod blank.
As you would expect, the stiffer the fibres the stiffer the rod and including more fibres will result in a strong, but heavy rod. Compared to fibreglass, graphite is generally stiffer and lighter so it makes a stiff, light rod but it is also more brittle than a fibreglass rod. Higher-quality rods are crafted from a very stiff, thin wall of fibres, this means that they’re light and sensitive, but are also brittle and prone to breaking. When picking a rod you often need to compromise on these various characteristics.
Once the rod blank has been made, guides are placed onto it and wrapped with thread. The thread is then covered using an epoxy which acts to hold it in place and protect it. The location and type of guides on a rod is important, the guides must line up with each other in order for line to flow through them freely. They must also be large enough for the line to move through them without difficulty whilst also being strong enough to endure the abrasion caused by the moving line.
A handle, which incorporates the reel seat, is then positioned on the rod. On casting and spin-casting rods, the handles are either straight or pistol grip, whilst on spinning rods the handles are straight. The way in which the reel attaches to the rod differs, but it needs to be strong and sturdy enough so that the reel won’t move around, the reel seat must also line up with the base guide.
Due to the way rods are manufactured, a sudden blow or rap to them can result in a hidden fracture which will cause them to fail later. This is commonly an issue when boat fishing as it is easy to hit the side of the boat with the rod when casting out. Merely dropping the rod can also damage it so it is best to avoid hitting it against anything.
Rod stiffness or action is dictated by the type and amount of fibre used. There are rods which are very stiff and there are rods which are very flexible for their entire length, but every single one of them needs to have a tip which is more flexible than the end which holds the reel. This is known as taper. A fast-taper rod is a rod which is stiff near the tip, a medium-taper rod bends around halfway down and a slow-taper rod will bend for pretty much its entire length. Each one has particular uses and is more suited for certain kinds of fishing.
From left to right: a fast-taper rod, a medium-taper rod and a slow-taper rod.
When fishing soft bait such as lugworms and ragworms, a slow-taper rod is preferred, this is because casting with a slow-taper rod is a smooth action, meaning that the bait is less likely to tear or be thrown off the hook. In addition, when using live bait it is easier to hook the fish with a slow-taper rod.
A fast-taper rod is preferred when bass fishing as they are good for setting the hook in hard, or if you are attempting to hook a hard-mouthed saltwater fish. It will also not bend as much when fighting a fish, though this means that you will need to use a heavier line.
Slow-taper rods are also preferred when ultralight fishing because they bend more and don’t put as much stress on the line. However it is much more difficult to get a good hook set with them. A medium rod tries to take the best of both worlds.
Sensitivity refers to the ability of a rod to transmit the vibrations from the hook to your hands. This is vital as it is one of the main ways that you can identify what’s happening at the end of your line. Fast-action rods with stiff fibres generally have more sensitivity than slow-taper rods. If you imagined you were holding a branch, it would be easier to feel someone tapping the end of a straight, strong branch, compared to a bent, thinner branch. Graphite fibres are stiffer than fibreglass fibres; therefore if you’re looking for the best sensitivity, a fast-taper graphite rod is the way to go.
Question – Can I tell much by flexing the rod in the store?
Not really. If you want to find out if a rod is for you, the best idea is to take it fishing or a least try casting it outside the store (not inside!). Always try to put a reel, line and practice plug on the rod and giving it a try before you buy it.
Rod length is very important as it essentially determines how much leverage you have against any fish that you hook, short rods have less leverage and long rods have more leverage. Short rods are generally defined as being less than 7 feet in length, these rods are easier to transport and are better when fishing in confined areas as they are less likely to hit things when you’re casting. Long rods are generally defined as being more than 7 feet in length and are preferred if you’re wanting to throw bait a long way, they are also better at setting the hook and fighting strong fish. Short ultralight rods are typically made with a slower taper, whilst longer, heavier rods have a faster taper. Rods with specific purposes such as surf rods and flipping sticks are longer and have other qualities which suit their function.
You want to choose a rod that is a suitable length to use where you want to fish. You don’t want a seven-foot plus rod if you are going to take it to a river bank and cast where there are many overhanging trees. You would want a rod of that length for fishing heavy rigs in deep offshore waters.
The majority of rods are one or two piece rods, but some which are designed to be handy when traveling can be broken down into numerous short lengths. As a general rule, only buy a one-piece rod if you are able to transport it with ease. One-piece rods are more sensitive and easier to assemble. If you opt for a rod with two pieces (or more), ensure that the ferrules (fittings) where the different parts join together are tight and keep them coated with wax so that they separate without too much force.
Whilst some rods have ferrules which are made from metal, the majority are made from the same material as the blank. If you can, get a rod with ferrules which are made from the same material as the rod as this will provide a more consistent taper and prevent the ferrules from getting stuck together, unlike metal ones.
The most basic fishing rod – A Simple Pole
The pole is the humblest of fishing tools. It can be made from cane, fibreglass or graphite and comes in a wide variety of lengths and actions for many different types of fishing. A lot of modern fibreglass and graphite models can retract into themselves, allowing for easier transport and some cane poles can be broken down into two or more pieces which are then joined through ferrules.
Go for a pole which has the right action and length for your fishing. A very light pole is great for panfish (fish which is typically cooked whole) such as bream. If you want to catch bass or dogfish you’ll need a heavier pole and if you are fishing around saltwater piers with a pole you will need a pretty heavy one to deal with the strong fish found there.
You also want to pick a pole that is the correct length, too. A long pole will give you the capacity to place your bait further away, but it will also be heavier and harder to control. Select one that you can hold up for a reasonable length of time whilst waiting for a bite, if it is too long it will be too heavy and tire you out so you’ll stop using it.
Poles aren’t as popular as they once were, but on their day they can be an outstanding choice for catching a lot of fish. They’re also ideal for beginners and kids as they act as a great introduction to fishing.
What Rods Cost
A fishing rod can set you back a few pounds or many hundreds of pounds. If you spend some time looking and researching the various rods available, it isn’t too difficult to buy one which will work well for what you and not break the bank. A simple rod costing less than £50 is appropriate for many different types of fishing and will serve you well. If you decide that you want to step up your fishing, or go for a specialised rod then you may need to spend more.
Compare the cost of rods, prices can differ by surprisingly high amounts for the same rod. Check online, in catalogues and in store before you purchase as high-quality rod as you could save money by taking a little bit of time out to ensure you are getting the best deal.
If you’ve decided that you want to take your fishing to the next level, a custom-made rod can do this for you. A good rod maker will find out exactly what you are looking for and will suit your needs, thereby making the perfect rod just for you. As you can imagine, this kind of quality is not cheap and you can expect to pay several hundred pounds for a basic custom rod, whilst specialised rods will set you back even more. Custom-made rods should only really be considered once you’ve reached the peak of your fishing and want to take a step even further.
Below is help and advice relevant for the various different types of rod that are available. Select the rod type that you are interested in to learn more
Spin-casting rods have small guides and are generally rather light; this is because spin-cast reels work best with lighter line. They are usually shorter than the average rod and the handle and guides line up and are positioned to be held with the reel and guides on top of the rod.
A spin-casting rod with a pistol grip
Spin-Casting Rod Quality
Most anglers consider spin-casting rods to be one of the lowest quality rod types available, they are generally marketed at beginners and many of them are more like toys for children. They can be made from one piece of fibreglass and the vast majority lack the long fibres which provide stiffness and strength. It is advised that you stay away from these shoddy rods as they won’t do the job when you are fishing, and due to the low quality they won’t survive to see many trips.
Many spin-casting rods are marketed at children, with pictures of cartoon characters on the rod or the packaging. These rods are suitable for children under five years of age and may foster and interest in fishing, but they are not serious fishing outfits and should be considered to be toys.
If you are considering a spin-casting rod which is of high quality, ask yourself the following. Is the finish smooth and free from discolouration or marks? Has a clear coat been applied or is it simply uncoated fibreglass? Does it have a ferrule? If so, is it tight but simple to disconnect? If you hold the rod up and look down it from the side opposite the line guides, is the rod straight? If you answered any of these questions as no, put it down and look at a different rod.
The Reel Seat on a Spin-Casting Rod
The flat metal/plastic part on the reel which attaches to the rod is known as the reel foot or reel seat. On spinning rods it is maintained by a small stem but is fastened to the side of bait-casting and casting reels. The section of the guide which joins to the reel is known as the guide foot. Double-footed guides include a foot on both sides of the guide whilst single-footed guides only have one.
The majority of spin-casting rods use a simple screw and foot to fix the reel in place. You simply slide one side of the reel foot into a slot and then put the other side under a foot. A screw which passes through the rod handle strengthens the foot on the reel seat to keep it in position. Use wax or grease on this screw to make it easy to remove the reel, should you need to.
Handles on spin-casting rods are either pistol grip or straight. The main benefit of the pistol grip is that it allows you to hold the rod better on the cast, but it is also shorter than the straight grip, meaning you don’t have the extra leverage when fighting a big fish. Handles can be made from plastic, cork, or other materials. The best handles are textured to increase grip, but smooth enough so that it is comfortable to hold.
Guides on a Spin-Casting Rod
When you look down the rod through the guides, they should all become aligned. A general rule is that the more guides a rod has the better and they should also be evenly spaced. Most rods have metal guides with no added insert in the eye and two feet, one on either side of the guide. A top tip is to run a cotton swab or piece of cloth through the guide to ensure it is nice and smooth. Any rough areas will fray your line.
Often, the wrapping on spin-casting rods is a plastic tape or a sort of heat-shrink sleeve which holds it tight. Higher quality rods use guides which are wrapped with thread and then coated with epoxy. The coating used on the guide feet must be smooth with no lumps or marks.
Spinning rods are available in a huge range of lengths, tapers and prices, and are suitable for various different types of fishing. The average spinning rod is six to seven feet in length, although ultralight models are much shorter and it is not uncommon for those intended for surf-fishing to extend well over twelve feet in length.
A spinning rod
Spinning Rod Quality
There is a huge range in the quality of spinning rods on the market, from rods which would best be described as cheap toys, to rods which are very expensive, top of the range tournament tools. Spinning rods can be made using simple solid fibreglass or the finest forms of graphite. The guides range from mere metal rings to elegant ceramic guides that ensure no damage to the line. You can find spinning rods with a smooth, shiny finish that will endure for years and ones which are simply uncoated fibreglass.
Try and find a rod that is straight when you hold it horizontal to the floor, with no bends, scratches or other faults. It needs to be light enough so you can hold it comfortably and balanced so that the tip is marginally heavier in order to counterbalance the weight of the reel. The surface needs to be smooth and free from marks or discolourations, and there certainly shouldn’t be any rough areas where the guides are attached.
The Reel Seat on a Spinning Rod
One of the most important aspects of a spinning rod is the reel seat, this is where you hold the rod and your fingers will wrap around it. It is not uncommon for reel seats on spinning rods to have a cushion attached to make it more comfortable to hold for long periods of time. Regardless of if it has a cushion or not, the reel seat needs to be smooth, with no edges or projections that could hurt your hand after holding it for long periods.
Spinning reels typically have one of the following kinds of reel seats:
- Clamp and foot: A lever is present, when lifted up it releases a foot which holds the reel seat, when clamped down it holds it in place.
- Screw and foot: The reel seat is held in place by a screw which goes through the rod handle and tightens a foot on the opposite side.
- Sliding sleeve: A sleeve fits around the rod and slips down to lock the reel seat in place.
- Slip ring: A sliding ring is positioned over both ends of the reel seat and fixes it in place.
- Tennessee handle: Just use tape to fix the reel to the rod handle, no seat is used.
Any of these reel seats are suitable; however the ones which have a sleeve covering the reel foot will be far nicer to hold for long periods. The basic seats are less likely to malfunction, but can be rather heavy. When picking one, all you need is something that moves freely and keeps the reel secured in a straight line with the guides.
Guides on a Spinning Rod
The guides on a spinning rod must be evenly spaced, with the one closest to the handle being larger than the rest. As the guides reach the tip, they should become increasingly smaller and should ideally be made from a strong metal such as titanium or have a ceramic insert inside them to strengthen them.
The reason for the increasingly smaller guides is due to the fact that line comes off spinning reels in large loops, the big guide close to the handle helps to control the loop and feed it gently through the other guides. By the time the line reaches the tip, it has been tamed to the point that it flows nice and smoothly.
The wrapping on spinning rod guides is tight and smooth. The threads are wrapped so incredibly tightly together that to see the individual wraps you need a magnifying glass. The guides can also have one foot, or two feet on each side. Regardless of if it is single-footed or double-footed, there should be no space between the guide foot and the rod.
Rods designed to be used with bait-casting reels are typically heavier, longer, and stronger. Casting reels are able to withstand the heaviest line and therefore the rods made for them vary from rather light to tremendously strong and tough. In addition, bait-casting rods are available in any length and taper and so can be used for a wide variety of fishing types.
A bait-casting rod
Bait-Casting Rod Quality
Look for a rod with a finish which is smooth and free from any blemishes, as this is a sign of a good bait-casting rod. The highest quality rods have a deep glow to them due to the finish used on the rod blank. Try to find a rod that is perfectly straight with plenty of guides and make sure it is not tip heavy. Rods that are tip heavy will exhaust your hand, a good bait-casting rod will balance right at the reel seat.
The Bait-Casting Rod Reel Seat
The reel seat on a bait-casting rod needs be extremely strong when used for heavier duties. It can be any configuration, as long as it grips the reel foot and tightens down to hold it firmly in place. The majority use a screw and foot layout as these are generally the strongest. Ensure that there are no projections the reel seat as they could damage your hand whilst fishing.
In recent years the through-handle has emerged as a popular handle for bait-casting rods. Most handles simply attach to the end of the handle, however in a through-handle, the rod blank runs all the way through the handle, with some having cut-outs which reveal areas of the blank. The idea is that by essentially being a part of the rod, they increase the sensitivity of the rod. Through-handles are found on many different types of rods but are most popular on bait-casting rods.
You should never purchase a rod until you have put a reel on it and felt its balance and weight when equipped. Once the reel is on, hold the rod just like you would if you were fishing and make sure it’s comfortable and wouldn’t tire you out after long periods of time.
Guides on a Bait-Casting Rod
As with other types of rods, the guides on bait-casting rods must be straight and in line with each other. Because the line comes off bait-casting reels in a straight line, there is no need for humongous guides at the end close to the handle. However the first guide does need to be large enough to cope with the sideways movements which occur as the line comes off the spool.
The thread wrapping on bait-casting rods must be smooth and rigid. Any bumps or exposed tag ends of line indicate poor quality. Knots are not used to wrap a guide on bait-casting rods and therefore there should be no evidence of any. The transition between the rod surface and the wrap surface must be smooth and there should be no sharp edges.
Solid guides made from metal or those which utilise ceramic inserts are ideal for preventing damage to the line. If you are planning on using a braid or another coarse line, consult the rod documentation regarding information on the guides. Ensure the guides can endure these kinds of line.
Single-footed guides are common on bait-casting rods as they weigh less and work just as well as double-footed guides in most cases. They need to be firm and tough, without any movement. Also, they need to be aligned perfectly with the rod blank; this is worth checking, as single-footed guides are generally more difficult to line up when putting onto the blank.
The more guides present on a rod the better, however this is only true up to a point. High quality rods tend to have a guide every six to eight inches, as this holds the line away from the blank when wrestling with a strong fish. If a six-foot rod has less than six guides we advise that you find a different rod.
Fibreglass, graphite and bamboo fly rods are all readily available these days. Bamboo fly rods are generally very expensive and are only really used by the most discerning fisherman. Fly rods are also considerably longer than other kinds of rods and need to be more flexible as they are used to cast the line, not the lure as with most rods. Fly line is also particularly thick, as such the guides can be basic wire loops to save weight.
A fly rod
Fly Rod Quality
Fly rods range from cheap fiberglass rods marketed at beginners to split bamboo rods which are collector items. However they all need to have certain characteristics, a slick surface to prevent line from dragging across them is required and they also need to be light enough to use for long periods of time without exhausting you. Use of a fly rod involves continually waving it above your head, so weight and balance are key.
The Reel Seat on a Fly Rod
The reel seat on a fly rod fastens to the very end of the rod as this balances the weight of the rod. To cast, hold the rod in front of the reel seat and strip off line with your other hand. The reel seat is often a basic collar around the rod which screws down to push a ring tight around the seat. Very little pressure is exerted on the reel in most cases, however this is not true for saltwater fly rods and those used for catching large, hard-fighting fish.
Guides on a Fly Rod
For fly rods which are used to catch smaller fish, the guides are not that important as you use the rod to fight the fish and there is not much movement of line across the guides. Nevertheless, alignment must be straight and close enough together to prevent sharp angles out of the line when fighting a fish with a bent rod. Wrap needs to be snag free and the thread should be treated with an epoxy.