Selecting a rod is all about picking the right tool for the job. And just between you and me, it can be a little overwhelming. What makes one rods better suited for a style of fishing over another? Rod companies use all kinds of terminology to describe their rods…there’s light, medium light, medium, medium heavy and on and on. Then there’s the lure weight and the line weight. It’s enough to make you want to go back to the good old cane pole.
Well, let me try to break all this down into a few simple concepts and explain the nomenclature that’s shown on the side of the rod blank. Your first task is to decide the fish you’ll be targeting and the line class you intend to use while fishing. Now you can narrow down your search on the rod aisle. When you’re looking at rods, beyond the line class rating, you’ll usually see three descriptors on the side of the blank…Rod Power, Lure Weight and Flex.
Rod Power: This is a rating that refers to the ‘power’ of the rod and its ability function properly with a given line class. And this is usually noted just above the grip, as Light, Medium, Heavy, etc. What it boils down to is how much ‘beef’ the rod has…how much pressure you can put on the fish in combination with the line class the rod is rated for. If you’re fishing in heavy cover, and need to get the fish away from the grass or rocks quickly, then you need a rod with a lot of power, or backbone. On the other hand, too much power combined with light line will either snap the line, or pull the hook from the fish. A word of caution though…with the popularity of braided lines, there is a tendency to ‘over-line’ the rod by using line classes that are way over the limit of the rod. I’ve heard tales of using 60 pound braid with rods rated for 12 pound line. And the angler wonders why his rod broke when he had the drag cranked down with a big fish. Using heavier braid is OK on light rods, but be sure to set your reel drag to match the specs of the rod.
Lure Weight: This refers to the lure weight the rod is designed to cast most efficiently. Most of the time, this is rated in ounces. A light spinning rod for bream or mountain trout could be rated at one-eighth to one-quarter ounce lures. While a surf casting rod might be rated for three-quarter to two ounce lures. And a bottom fishing rod for grouper could be rated at 4 ounces to 10 ounces. Again, you want to try to match the rod to the size and weight of the lures you’ll be using.
Rod Action: Some manufacturers will use Light, Medium and Heavy to describe Rod Action, as well as Rod Power. That’s kind of confusing. Action typically refers to where the rod flex is located…in the top 1/3 of the blank (Fast)…in the middle of the blank (Medium – and the most common)…and Slow which means the rod flexes throughout the entire blank from tip to grip.
The Fast action rods typically have the greatest flex at the upper portion of the blank, and are pretty stiff throughout the rest of the rod. Fast action rods are great for pitching heavy lures, top water plugs, and where you need lots of backbone to help set a hook in a tarpon’s hard mouth, for instance.
Medium action rods are what you’ll find as the predominant big box store rod. They’re good all-around rods, and you can cast plugs, work crank baits, troll and even fish live baits with them. Their flex starts at the tip, and stops about half-way down the blank.
Slow action rods have a nice parabolic bend throughout the blank…almost all the way to the grip. They are usually all fiberglass construction, and they are great live bait rods. Slow action rods are more forgiving on the hook-set too. Their flexibility helps prevent pulling the hook in tender-mouthed fish like crappie and speckled trout. For fishing with live baits, the flex in the rod lets your bait fish move around with less effort and the game fish can take the bait without ‘feeling’ the rod. If you’ve ever thrown your minnow or shrimp off the hook on a cast, it’s possible the action is too fast.
In your quest for the perfect rod, there are a lot of variables that come into play, including personal preference. There are myriad other factors that go into how a rod is made and how it fishes. Things like…the construction materials, number of guides and guide placement, length and so on. But that’s fodder for another article. For now, these basics of rod label lingo will hopefully get you started down the right path to finding the rod that’s perfect for you.
Tight lines and calm seas,
Capt. Cefus McRae & Buck, The Wonder Dog