In the northern Midwest region, late winter ushers in two things with absolute certainty. Anxiety over when the ice will go out and a plethora of fishing or boating expos. This is usually the first time many of us get to see and handle the new tackle available for the upcoming fishing season. It’s also a great time to purchase new tackle, like rods and reels. Just about every manufacturer of rods and reels will be represented at the shows and eager to answer any of your questions. It is also the time to look for great prices on top-of-the-line rods and reels.
For the angler who is only going to fish once or twice a season, buying a new rod and reel can be pretty easy. Most of the major brands of rod and reel manufacturers (Okuma, Quantum, Shimano) offer pre-packed rod and reel combinations. And just about any of those combos with a price point between $30.00 and $60.00 will work just fine for them. But for the angler who looks at fishing somewhere between a leisurely hobby and an untreatable obsession, hopefully the rest of this article will give you some ideas to think about when purchasing a new rod or reel. And possibly save you some money.
The first step is to decide the chicken or egg controversy, which comes first? Do you buy a reel and match it to a rod or do you buy the rod first and match it to the reel? I like to buy the reel first and then match it to a rod. Here’s my thinking behind this. Each person has a different size hand; fishing reels are not standardized in size, weight or ergonomics. Fishing rod handles are more standardized in the reel-seat/butt section of a rod, as major rod builders will purchase the reel-seats from some of the same companies, like Fuji. And a butt section is built around a reel-seat. So I purchase the item with the most variables first, the reel and then find a rod to fit it to.
Tip number one: The quality and placement of the bearings in a reel are more important than the number of bearings. Don’t get caught-up in the bearing wars.
Some things to consider when purchasing a new bait casting reel.
• If you palm your reels, does it fit comfortably in your hand?
• If you fish with fingers in front of your reel to feel the line, can you retrieve without the line guide carrier or carrier screw pinching your fingers?
• Is the braking system easy to access and change?
• Can you adjust the drag easily, even when fighting a fish?
• Is the handle big enough and are the handle paddles comfortable?
Things to consider with a spinning reel purchase.
• When mounted on a rod, is there enough room so your knuckles don’t get hit when retrieving line?
• If you’re going to use it for slip-bobber fishing is there enough room between the bail-catch (roller bearing area) for a slip-bobber knot to pass through?
• Is the anti-reverse easy to get at, even when fighting a fish?
• Does it have a good drag system? Front drag reels usually have larger drag washers than rear drag reels.
Tip number two: Save some money on rods. Any sight-orientated presentation, like bobber fishing doesn’t require a super sensitive rod blank. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on a slip-bobber rod. One of the best slip-bobber rods I’ve ever owned was a 7-foot, off-brand rod with a parabolic action. It gave me years of service and only cost me 39-bucks.
Let’s move on to picking a rod. First make sure the rod you’re looking at complements the reel you’ve already purchased. Make sure the rod’s reel-seat will accept the reel and tighten down correctly. Then spend a couple of minutes with the reel attached to the rod making some fake casts and retrieves. I know, people will think you’re nuts, but you will find out right at the store or show, if this combination of rod and reel feels good or if it has pinch points. Pinch points are places where either the rod or reel feel uncomfortable on your hand or fingers. Also check to see if the butt section of the rod, behind the reel seat is too short or too long for you. You want a butt section to be long enough to afford leverage when fighting a fish, but not so long that it catches on your clothing when you cast.
There really is no industry standard when it comes to the power rating on rods (heavy, medium and etc.). Company A may make a 7-foot, medium-heavy, X-fast action casting rod, which is comparable to Company B’s 7-foot, heavy, fast action casting rod. I tend to pay more attention to the recommended line weights and lure weights listed on the rod. This will give you a better idea as to the power range of a rod.
Tip number three: Save some more money on rods by purchasing a rod that will work great for multiple presentations. As an example, I have a Okuma Serrano reel, spooled with 65-pound braid and mounted on a 7’2” extra-heavy C3 Carbon Cone Concept rod. When punching milfoil mats with a heavy jig/pig, this is my go-to rod. But in a matter of minutes I can tie on a frog and use it as a short presentation slop rod for frog fishing. Multi-purpose rods save you money and rod locker space.
Consider some of these points when purchasing a top-of-the-line rod.
• Is the warranty an over-the-counter exchange or do you have to ship the rod back to the manufacturer?
• Does it have a strong warranty? Some manufacturers have a lifetime warranty, but you have to send 75 or 100-bucks in with the rod to get a replacement.
• When you’re spending top dollar you should be getting exactly what you want, don’t settle for what’s on the rack at the time of purchase. If they don’t have the exact rod you want, order it, and wait if you have to.
• With the quality of today’s rod blanks, you don’t have to sacrifice durability to get sensitivity. You would cringe when you see the punishment some of my Okuma rods and reels take, but hold up to it year after year. So don’t settle.
Well, that pretty much covers it. As always, we hope to see you on the water.
By Wayne Ek
Wayne Ek is a retired fishing guide, tournament angler, writer and seminar speaker living in Alexandria, Minnesota.