Baitcasting Rod Buyer's Guide

In an age of specialty rods and reels, it’s important to pick the right type with the characteristics that match the intended technique.

Two basic types of rods dominate fishing - baitcasting and spinning. The selection of either is driven by the choice of reel, and that is driven by specific techniques as well as targeted species. The species of fish that you are going to target will have a major impact on the selection process. For larger species, many anglers prefer the baitcasting option.

Baitcasting rods are designed with the reel seated on the top, above a trigger grip that improves an angler's ability to maintain control during casting as well as fighting a fish. This feature is particularly effective when hands are wet or slippery from handling fish.

Line guides
The line guides on a baitcasting rod are aligned in a slightly descending size from butt to tip, on the top of the rod blank. The diameter of line guides for this type of rod is not as large as those used on spinning rods, because the line pays out more evenly. Generally, the number of guides is based on the length and flexibility of the rod blank, with more guides being used on rods that flex more dramatically.

The insert of line guides is made of various materials such as plastic, metal and ceramics, which vary in their hardness as well as cost. Plastic anchors the lower end of the quality scale, ceramic guides are top quality, but many anglers will argue that RECOIL® nickel-titanium guides cap off the pinnacle. Since the quality of a rod's guides affects both casting distance as well as being a critical part of any battle, choose a rod with quality guides. When fishing the new braided or super lines, ceramic guides are the best choice, since they are most resistant to wear. In addition to the material of the inner surface that touches the line, improvements to the metals that support the eyelet have also been dramatic.

RECOIL® guides are made from a special nickel-titanium alloy with unique physical properties that does not require plating, cannot corrode in any environment, and returns or "RECOILs" to its original shape after repeated deformations. This special metal is not used just on the frame, but the entire guide is made of nickel titanium and it's just as durable as ceramics with a lot more advantages. A significant advantage over guides with ceramic inserts would be increased sensitivity because there isn't any material to deaden vibrations. Without direct contact between you and the fish, even the slightest tick is transmitted directly up through the rod to hands that are waiting for the hookset.

Fuji's® Concept guide is also an excellent choice. Its Alconite ring material produces a thinner, lighter weight guide that improves the smoothness of line travel during casting and retrieving.

A rod's action describes the way a rod will perform when both casting and reeling in a fish, and is categorized in general terms such as fast, moderate or medium and slow. A fast-action rod bends mostly in the top 1/3 of the rod's length. Moderate- or medium-action rods bend further down the rod's length; typically through its midsection. A slow-action rod bends throughout the entire length of the rod, down to the handle. A rod's action also relates to the size and weight of lures that are being fished. With smaller lures, a medium action will be more effective in achieving maximum casting distance, since the more limber rod will have a greater flex and develop more kinetic energy.

Fast-action rods provide a quick hookset for techniques such as jigging. A moderate action works well for casting middleweight crankbaits and slow-action rods work well for long gentle casts when fishing live bait. Naturally, there a many more applications and techniques that each of these actions would be suitable for, but a critical issue is always going to be personal preference.

Power is relative to the fight and rods are generally classed into Ultra-Light, Light, Medium-Heavy and Heavy, with smaller fish calling for the lesser power of an Ultra-Light or Light, and larger fish falling to the stiffer end of the spectrum, Medium-Heavy or Heavy.

Blank materials
The majority of quality rods today are made of graphite, fiberglass or a combination of these two materials. Historically, graphite was on the fragile side, bruising easily; however, the process of refinement that graphite has enjoyed in the past 10 years is pretty impressive. Graphite is the ultimate for flexibility and fighting power, as well as the most sensitivity for feeling delicate nibbles and subtle takes.

In essence, graphite used in rod construction is simply a carbon fiber that is engineered to have structural properties ideal for flexing and resistance to pressure when flexed. Both the quality of the bonding agent and the amount of graphite used in the blend has a bearing on the finished product. The system of rating graphite's tensile strength is calculated by measuring how much it is elongated when a few million pounds of pressure per square inch are applied. Graphite with a higher modulus rating indicates that it will not elongate or stretch as much. Elongation, or elasticity allows a rod to bend and spring back.

Graphite's modulus of elasticity, or resistance to bending, is indicated in terms such as 24 million modulus, 35 million modulus and so on. The higher the number, the stronger the rod will be for its weight, but this increased strength also allows manufacturers to make rods with a smaller diameter that weighs less. IM6 rods have a modulus rating of 40 million. Graphite rods range from 33- to 64-million modulus, while fiberglass rods have a modulus of six to 13 million. The higher the modulus, the greater the tendency toward brittleness, and many rods incorporate a number of modulus to offset this characteristic.

Fiberglass rods are more durable but less sensitive, and usually heavier than a graphite blank of the same diameter, length and action. However, fiberglass rods do have their place. Boat rods used for large fish and heavier applications that do not require casting or sensitivity are ideal for this more durable material. Fiberglass is also an ideal option for a youngster just learning to use a baitcaster.

Composites of these two materials produce rods that are lightweight, powerful and sensitive, but not as much as a pure blend of either material alone.

I've discussed the various elements that make up a rod, but what makes the difference between a rod that sells for $30 and one that goes for $300? It is possible to find rods with the same graphite composition selling for drastically different prices. The quality of the resin, cork and reel seat used is a critical issue when it comes to price as well as performance, so don't hang your hat on modulus alone.

The design and materials in the handle and grip of a rod can determine the level of comfort you enjoy at the end of a long day of fishing. A pistol grip is the shortest type of grip and is usually contoured to fit the shape of the angler's hand. Materials can be either composites or cork mounted on a metal frame with a trigger to improve control. For two-handed casting and more leverage in a fight, the extended length of the rear grip is an advantage.

Cork and EVA foam are the two most common materials used for the handle, and the highest quality cork is imported from Portugal. EVA foam is more resistant to stains, changes in temperature and the most durable material over time.

Reel seat
If you've had the misfortune of owning a rod with a reel seat that seemed to work loose just at the most inopportune times, you know how important it is to have a quality seat. After all, this is the place where the reel is attached to the rod, and the stress of a fight applies a lot of torque to this component. A good reel seat should accept all of the major brands of reels and fit snugly when tightened.

Reel seats with a portion of the blank exposed are the latest innovation in rods. By placing a finger on this exposed blank you'll be able to detect even the most delicate bite.

Someone once said that familiarity breeds contempt, and I'm thinking they must have been fishing with a poor quality rod at the moment this inspiration was realized. On the other hand, when you're using a rod that's well balanced, expertly designed and finely crafted, familiarity can only bring contentment.