So a few months back I wrote an article about matching up your rods, reels and line to keep your fishing and techniques more balanced. I hope a few of you took away some good points from the article; I know as I was writing it, it kept me thinking about ways I could fine-tune my approaches even further. And as another tournament season has come and gone, I spent the entire season learning new things and refining how I did things. Today’s article is going to talk about tackling you bass fishing equipment.
Speaking specifically of rods, reels, and line, I’ll re-emphasize that the two most important things to keep in mind are balance, and comfort. Brand loyalty plays a big part in selections for some anglers, while price and bang-for-your buck play a bigger part for others. I have my confidence in Abu Garcia Veritas Rods, Abu Garcia Reels (Revo-S and Revo Winch), and Spiderwire Line (please note: I am not sponsored by either). I’ve found these brands to be dependable, quality products that don’t break the bank and perform when I need them to perform. Regardless of what you choose to fish with, make sure it’s something that works for you. What sense does it make to buy the latest combo advertised at Bass Pro Shops on sale for $99.99, then find you either don’t like it, it’s not comfortable to use, or it won’t stand up to the use and abuse that you put it through? Chances are you’re going to go out and spend two-to-three times that on a different set-up, and in the end, you’ve wasted a hundred bucks and weeks to months of frustration and aggravation.
You’ll recall that I listed my twelve combos that I’d come to depend on. Well, through the experience of fishing another season of tournaments, and realizing what I did (and more importantly, didn’t) use, I’ve refined that even further and narrowed things down to eight combos that I rely on. Why am I telling you this?
Take a look at what you have for equipment. If you keep notes throughout the year, take a look at those, too. It’s good to have back-ups for your rigs, but do you really need six spinnerbait rods, “just in case”? Don’t worry, for a time, I thought I did too. But the great thing I’ve found out is that my eight combos serve as a great foundation. For instance, I have a combo I use for jigs and soft plastics. Actually, I have two of this same combo, so I can rig them with different baits, or if needed, two of the same bait in case I break off, or need to re-tie, but also need to get my line back in the water quickly. The point is, through trial-and-error and experience I’ve been able to narrow down what I really need to have, versus what I thought I needed to have.
Before I dive in to what combos I narrowed down to over the last year, I’ll give you a little background on the qualities of rods, reels, and line that I looked for, and what experience taught me works:
For lures with treble hooks, ( i.e. crankbaits, jerkbaits and some topwaters) you want a rod with a moderate action and tip, so the rod is more flexible and will load up without ripping the hooks away from the fish. For single or dual hook lures, (i.e. jigs, soft plastics, spinnerbaits, or frogs) you want a rod with a medium-heavy to heavy action and a fast tip, so the rod has a good backbone and flexible tip. This is important for really driving home a good hook set, as well as wrestling fish away from heavy cover. For finesse techniques, where a spinning rod is employed, a medium action rod with a fast tip is typically best. You still get a decent amount of backbone, but there is a little more flex to it, as well as a softer, flexible tip. With smaller tackle, lighter line and smaller hooks, you want a rod that has the strength to fight a fish, but not so much backbone that you’re breaking lines or tearing hooks free from the fish.
I’ll start with spinning reels – most have a gear ratio somewhere around 4.9:1 – 5.3:1. What’s important is to make sure the reel has a decent spool, deeper is better than longer. I think the most important feature of a spinning reel is a strong, smooth drag. Drag is everything, especially if you’re fishing with lines as light as 8lb. or even 6lb. For baitcasters, the debate about features could go on, and on, and on… There are so many braking systems, drags, gear ratios, switches, and other things that can make your head spin. Here’s how I break it down – I want a good, simple braking system, something I can adjust without a Ph D. A good drag is a must, and most reels all have decent drags. Good spool capacity, especially for crankbaits, where you really want to fill that spool with line to maximize your casting distance. And gear ratios – I use two; I use a 5.2:1 ratio for crankbait and jerkbait fishing. They allow a slower retrieve when needed, and the lower ratio has a lot of power to help offset the torque of a big-billed bait diving down to 15-plus feet. I use a 6.4:1 ratio for everything else, including lipless and squarebill crankbaits. To be honest, I’ve used 7.3:1 ratios for stuff like frogging, spinnerbaits, pitching, etc. but found through experience that I didn’t notice much, if any, difference in the way I fished. If I want to speed the bait up, or pick up line in a hurry, I just reel a little faster.
There are three major types of lines that I’m sure we’re all familiar with – monofilament, fluorocarbon, and braid. I use all three, and I’ll tell you why. Monofilament is a line we all grew up with. It’s a good line; It’s tough, strong, and inexpensive. It has a fair amount of stretch, and it floats.
Monofilament is good to use for topwaters, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits for these reasons. It’s forgiving and keeps your hooking ratio high. It’s the least sensitive of the three, but with these techniques, sensitivity isn’t a deal-breaker. Fluorocarbon is abrasion-resistant, has very low stretch, sinks, and is nearly invisible under water (the line has the same refractive qualities as water). Crankbaits and jerkbaits benefit from fluorocarbon as the line helps them get down deeper, stay down, and transmit up through the rod what the bottom feels like. Jigs, soft plastics, and finesse techniques demand fluorocarbon, due to the lack of stretch, invisibility and incredible sensitivity. Braid comes in to play for three of my techniques. Braid is thin, has no stretch, is extremely sensitive, cuts through weeds like a razor, and without any added weight, will float. I throw braid on my frog rod because it will help keep the lineup, and I’m usually throwing a frog in pretty heavy cover. I now use braid when I’m pitching as I’ve come to learn that a thin line that cuts through cover gets your bait down to the fish. When you’re pitching, the fish is reacting to the bait falling by them, so the visibility of the line isn’t as important. And I also have braid as the main line for Carolina rigging (I still use a fluorocarbon leader). It’s super sensitive, so I can tell when I’m out of the muck and on a shell bed or rocks, and with a lot of line out, the lack of stretch helps in good hook sets.
I was amazed when I brought up the subject of knots after a tournament. You wouldn’t believe the answers I got. The Palomar was a popular answer, but then from there I almost had to break out a notebook! Trilene, clinch, double-clinch, improved clinch, uni knot, Shakespeare knot, fisherman’s knot, and the list just grew and grew. I’ve tried tying almost all of them, and I’ve even gotten pretty good at a few. I was looking for a knot that was strong, easy to tie, and would work well with the three lines I use; I found it – the Uni Knot. It’s a strong knot (retaining something like 95% of the line strength) and ties very quickly and neatly. It works with mono, fluorocarbon and braid (with braid, I usually put a small dab of superglue on the knot for added security). Let’s put it this way – knock on wood, I haven’t had a knot slip and fail yet. And remember, save your chompers – use clippers or small scissors to trim the tag end after you tie a knot.
OK, like I said earlier, I really learned a lot over this season, paid attention to what I was doing, and narrowed things down to eight combos. I use some of the combos for multiple techniques, and depending on what lake or conditions I’m fishing, I may change up or down the size of the line. I have multiples of the same setups for a few of them, but for the most part, I’m able to fish a tournament efficiently, and stay competitive doing what I need to do, with these eight combos:
Combo #1 7′ Medium Moderate 5.2:1 Reel 10lb. Fluorocarbon
I use this combo for small-to-medium crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits. I’m not worried about fishing in really heavy cover, so I can get away with lighter line, which also helps with the action of the lure. The slower reel ensures I fish the jerkbaits slowly, as designed. The 7′ rod allows me to make fairly long casts, yet still be accurate to targets when I need to. I’ll even throw blade baits like a Silver Buddy on this set-up.
Combo #2 7’6″ Medium-Heavy Moderate 5.2:1 Reel 12lb. Fluorocarbon
I use this combo for medium-to-large deeper crankbaits (deeper than 14′). The longer rod enables me to make longer casts, and the heavier rod action is a necessity with the bigger, deep-diving crankbaits.
Combo #3 7′ Medium Moderate 6.4:1 Reel 14lb. Fluorocarbon
I use this combo for lipless crankbaits and square-bill crankbaits. I’m usually fishing these lures around heavier cover, so the heavier line lets me do that without the fear of being underpowered. I also found that a medium-heavy rod was too heavy – I was ripping hooks away from the fish because of the added backbone. If I’m fishing topwaters with treble hooks, such as poppers or spooks, I’ll re-spool this combo with 14lb.-17lb. monofilament.
Combo #4 7′ Medium-Heavy Fast 6.4:1 Reel 14lb. Monofilament
I use this combo for spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Experiment with line size – you may find you need to go with heavier line depending on the cover you’re fishing in. The monofilament line absorbs the shock of the hook sets, while the rod gives you the backbone to wrestle a fish out of cover.
Combo #5 7′ Medium-Heavy Fast 6.4:1 Reel 14lb. Fluorocarbon
I use this combo for soft plastics, swim jigs and jigs up to 3/8 ounce. Experiment with line size; you may find you need heavier line depending on the cover you’re fishing in.
Combo #6 7’6″ Medium-Heavy Fast 6.4:1 Reel 50 Lb. Braid
I use this combo for pitching and Carolina rigs. I’m able to have a good weapon for close-quarters combat in heavy cover, and the longer rod allows me to launch the c-rigs long distances to cover more water.
Combo #7 7′ Medium-Heavy Fast 6.4:1 Reel 50lb. Braid
I use this combo for frogs and larger single hook topwaters. Experiment with line size based on the cover you’re fishing. The 7′ rod allows me to make a long cast, yet I can still be accurate for those precision presentations.
Combo #8 7′ Medium Fast Spinning Size 20 Reel 8lb. Fluorocarbon
I use this combo for drop-shotting, shakey-heads, and other finesse lures. The medium action rod allows me to give subtle action to the lure, while allowing the rod to absorb the shock of the hook set and fight. I found that a medium-heavy rod had just too much backbone for these techniques.
Jason A. Bean