“What’s the best freshwater fishing rod and reel combo?” It’s a question I’m asked quite often, and my answer is, “It depends.”
I know any fish can be caught on any rod and reel, and years ago when I had just two or three combos, I believed that. As I developed a love for bass fishing and bass tournaments, I was influenced by Bassmaster magazine’s reports of the new techniques and technology that continue to be used by those men and women who travel all over the country, bass fishing for a living.
I didn’t start fishing with a depth finder, trolling motor or bass boat, and as for rods and reels, I thought I had everything I needed in my six-foot boron spinning rods and Cardinal 4 reels. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s and got into the bassing game that I got my first baitcasting reel. Now I have 28 rod and reel combinations. So yes, I believe that successful fishing — which includes more enjoyment and a greater chance of not just catching, but landing a fish — requires “fish-specific” tackle.
Today’s fishing rods and reels are state-of-the-art equipment, designed and built of the very best materials. Let’s take a look at some of these “fish-specific” combos and for what and where they should be used.
GRAPHITE RODS BEST
I have two glass rods in my fishing arsenal, but I haven’t used either of them since I bought my first graphite. Available in IM6, IM7 and IM8 graphite construction, each offers a different degree of sensitivity and strength, and all are very light, compared to the old glass rods. Serious all-day anglers know several hundred casts can easily be made in a day on the water, and rod weight can make a difference in arm/shoulder pain felt by the end of the day. A casting tip I learned from watching pro tournaments on TV is to learn to cast underhanded. It requires less arm movement and therefore less strain on your arm.
The rod handle is also important because it’s in the hand all of the time. Make sure it fits your hand, and I recommend the cork handle with a reel seat that fastens the reel to the rod right against the extended graphite blank in the handle. This will allow feeling the slightest bait/lure pickup and preparing (pointing the rod tip down and taking up any line slack) sooner than waiting for that pull. It can make a very big difference.
Rod guides are also important. One of the most popular types has ceramic inserts which help protect the line, but I found the REC recoil guides which I have on my Maestro Rapsody Rod collection have solved my bent/broken guide problem. They can actually be bent and will pop back into shape.
And lastly, rod action — how much the rod bends when casting or pressured by a fish when hooked and retrieved — is very important. My answer to this is not very scientific because I don’t use any wimpy rods. In fact, I’m not even a fan of medium-action rods. I know lighter rods are more sporting when fighting fish, but as a past bass tournament angler, I can’t change my “play with the fish in the boat attitude.” With that said, the minimum action rod for me is medium-heavy. I’ll elaborate more on action, length and spinning vs. baitcasting rods as it relates to specific fishing conditions later in this series.
CHOOSING A REEL
Spinning or casting? This is also a difficult question to answer and really depends upon how serious the angler is about fishing. The majority of today’s anglers use spinning rods, but those of us who spend a lot of time on the water and are influenced by the cast-for-cash anglers have converted, at least partially, to baitcasters. In my current collection of 28 combos, only three are spinning outfits.
Today, there are many brands from which to choose, and my only recommendation is for the more than just occasional anglers, buy the good stuff. Spinning reels will usually work with 14-pound-test or lighter line and are definitely much easier to handle and will cast farther than baitcasters.
Baitcasting reels can handle heavier lines, both monofilament and braided, and are more of a workhorse. Most fishermen shy away from them because it takes more practice to learn how to use one without backlashing. But today’s baitcasters have mastered that problem by adding magnetic braking systems that are better than the old centrifugal force and “thumbing” system required to end the cast without a line blow up of nasty tangles. With these magnets, you can adjust to the weight of the lure and eliminate most backlashing.
Gear ratio, which is the number of revolutions the spool makes with each complete turn of the reel handle, is also important. In most fishing situations, gaining line in a hurry can make the difference between a fish in the boat or a story of the one that got away. This is especially true if that four-pound smallmouth or 10-pound pike is headed straight at you. For spinning reels, the gear ratio should be no less than 5.1:1, for baitcasters, I prefer 6.3:1, which is what I have on my BPS Tournament Pro. This reel takes up 28 inches of line for every full turn I make on the reel handle.
The last important reel feature is ball bearings. The more, the smoother the reel will operate.
Next week in Part 2, I’ll explain how to match the rod, reel and line to the type of fishing — crankbaits, flipping, pitching, drop-shoting and top water.