Tag Archives: fishing

The Real Deal on Rods and Reels

Though rods and reels are not necessary for successful fishing, they make the likelihood of success much greater.


Fishing rods vary as much as anglers who use them, but can be broken into two basic groups: spinning rods and conventional rods.  As the names imply, it corresponds to the type of reel used on the rod.

  • Spinning rods, or spinner rods, normally have fewer guides or eyes (the loops on the rod) which have larger diameter to the reel seat, descending in size as they progress towards the tip. Frequently, they also have longer handles below the rod seat.


  • Conventional (bait caster) rods generally have more eyes or guides that are roughly the same size for most of the length of the rod. Generally, they have shorter handles below the rod seat.


While you can get away with using a conventional reel on a spinning rod, you cannot get away with using a spinning reel on a conventional rod.

Characteristics of Rods

Rods are normally categorized by: weight of rod, length of rod, type of reel used on the rod, the action of the tip of the rod, materials used to make the rod and whether it is designed for fresh or salt water.  (this is not as key with rods as it is with reels. )

Weight of rod: there are ultralight, light, medium, heavy, and offshore.

Length of the rod: can be anywhere from 3 ft to 18 ft.

Materials: bamboo, cane, fiberglass, graphite and some space age polymers.  Graphite, fiberglass or a combination of the two are my preferred materials.

 Action on the tip of the rod: ultra fast to slow, and every variant in between.  Each manufacturer of rods seems to have a different system.   The rod action refers to how much of the rod bends when force is applied to the tip.  The slower the action the further the rod bends. The type of fishing, bait and/or rigs, and personal preference determine which action you should use.  I personally lean towards medium to medium fast actions, except in surf fishing.

Slow action, note how much of the rod is bent.
Slow action, note how much of the rod is bent.
Fast action: very little of the rod bends
Fast action: very little of the rod bends

There are a multitude of companies that make fishing rods with a wide price range.  Two brands of rods I use most are St. Croix and Tica.  This does not mean these are the only two brands I own, as I own many brands.

If I could only have one rod, it would be an 8.5 ft conventional  rod, medium weight with a medium fast tip.  The reasons being it is long enough to cast respectable distance in the surf but short enough to still be used from a canoe.

You can find fishing rods from $20 to close to $1,000.  It is in my opinion that you should buy the best you can afford; however, if you need to cut costs, I would save money and purchase a less expensive rod and invest that surplus into buying a higher quality reel.   It is possible to purchase a good, solid rod that with care, will give you many years of service for under a hundred dollars.  Generally, I look for rods at the $100 mark, unless it is a custom made rod.


The two most commonly used types of fishing reels are the spinner and the conventional (bait caster).  Both have advantages and disadvantages.  I use a combination of the two of them. The use of one over the other is more dependent on the species of fish I’m targeting than anything else.

Fresh or salt water

Both types of reels come in both salt water and fresh water versions, which is more critical when fishing salt or brackish, a salty water that is not as high in salinity as the ocean.  My general rule of thumb is that if there are no lily pads or frogs, it’s brackish water, because neither can live in even slightly salty water. The biggest difference between salt and fresh water reels is the materials used to manufacture them.  Salt water reels are made of corrosive resistant materials that will stand up to more abuse.


Spinning reels are deemed right handed or left handed depending on what hand you hold the rod with.  Right handed means you hold with the right hand and crank with the left.  Left handed is the opposite.

Conventional reels are right or left handed based on the hand you’re reeling in with.  When using a conventional, I favor left handed so that my hand actions are the same with both reels.


Spinning Reels

Old Faithful Diawa spinning reel
Old Faithful Diawa spinning reel

Advantages: easy to learn, most people can cast accurately, birds’ nests (tangled line) are almost unheard of unless using braided line, a faster retrieve is possible, certain fishing techniques can only be done with spinning reels

Disadvantages:  more moving parts, more likely to break, doesn’t hold as much line as a comparable size conventional, faster retrieve means cannot apply as much force, so it’s harder to overpower the fish. When casting, heavy weight with a lengthy rod, like in surf fishing, you can’t load the rod to get the distance you need out of the cast.

Variations in spinning reels

Anti-reverse levers

Some reels have them and some don’t.  They enable you to turn the reel backwards to let line out.   On reels that don’t have this lever, normally you can’t take the anti-reverse off.  I personally don’t own any reels without anti-reverse levers.

The black lever on the bottom is an example of a anti-reverse lever
The black lever on the bottom is an example of a anti-reverse lever


.  Drag is how much force has to be applied to the line to pull line off the reel.  On a top drag- the drag controls are on top of the reel, while on a bottom drag, it’s on the bottom.  A third option is a double drag system normally referred to as a bait-runner, where you have a “fighting drag” and a “bait running drag.”  Generally, the fighting drag is on the top and the bait running is on the bottom, controlled by a lever.  The bait running drag is a lighter drag so that a fish can take hold of the bait and not feel resistance or only minimal resistance, commonly used with live lining bait which uses whole live bait.  This is done because frequently fish will grab prey and move with the prey in its mouth.  While they are swimming, they were proceed to swallow the entire bait, making a hook-up more likely. If a fish feels resistance when it grabs a whole bait, it will let go.

Top drag
Top drag


Baitrunner lever drag
Baitrunner lever drag
Baitrunner reel
Baitrunner reel


Which end up?

Spinning reels are versatile, in that you can change the location of the handle, switching it from a right handed to a left handed reel.  If you are holding a spinning rod in your normal fishing stance and the rod is not between you and the reel, you are holding the rod wrong.  All reels on the retrieve turn counter-clockwise.  If you are not turning the reel clockwise, you are holding the rod incorrectly.

Proper holding of a rod and reel
Proper holding of a rod and spinning reel



Conventional Reel

conventional reel
conventional reel

Advantages: carry more line that a spinning reel of comparable size, less moving parts, the cranking power transfer is greater, fully load a rod when casting a heavy weight to get distance required for long distance casting, certain techniques can only be done with conventional reels.

Disadvantages:  takes longer to learn how to use them effectively, hard to learn how to cast accurately with them, birds’ nests are common while you’re learning how to use them

A catastrophic bird's nest. I lost a four ounce sinker and a blue fish rig. To add insult to injury, I jammed my thumb because when the bird's nest happened, the line snapped.
A catastrophic bird’s nest. I lost a four ounce sinker and a blue fish rig. To add insult to injury, I jammed my thumb because when the bird’s nest happened, the line snapped.


Lever drags are almost always on very large, off shore conventional reels, where you press a lever forward to increase your drag.  I only own one conventional with a lever drag, and I use it exclusively for shark fishing, a Penn Squaw l 60LDLH.  The lever drag is also the free spool lever.  The way the lever drag works is that you press the lever forward to increase drag on the reel.  The big drawback with this system is that every time you cast or drop overboard, you have to reset your drag

Lever drag is the lever between the handle and the case of the reel.
Lever drag is the lever between the handle and the case of the reel.


Star drag is normally a wheel that looks like a star behind the crank handle that is turned to adjust the drag.

I prefer reels whose drag systems make a significant amount of noise.  This can make a world of difference when a fish strikes and you are not looking at the rod.

Star drag is the piece that resembles a star in between the handle and the case.
Star drag is the piece that resembles a star in between the handle and the case.

Spool Engagement Systems

Button systems require, obviously, pressing a button to shift the reel into free spool, meaning the spool spins freely.  With most button systems, you crank the handle to take the reel out of free spool.

Button for engaging free spool
Button for engaging free spool

Lever systems have a lever that you move to engage the free spool.  For the majority of lever systems, you have to put the lever back to the original position to take it out of free spool.  There are some reels that cranking the handle will take the reel out of free spool.  I prefer that system over the others.

Lever for engaging free spool
Lever for engaging free spool


Spool Tension controls

 Single side spool tension is normally a knob on the opposite side of the reel that is adjusted to determine the rate at which the spool spins in free spool.

Dual side spool tension is a knob on each side of the wheel to adjust the tension.  This system requires more fine tuning, because it must be balanced to keep the spool centered in the reel.  Because of this fine tuning, you can greatly reduce your likelihood of bird’s nests while casting.


Spool Tension knob
Spool Tension knob
Spool Tension adjustment on opposite side of the reel.
Spool Tension adjustment on opposite side of the reel.

Level Wind

A level wind is a device that rides on a worm screw, some conventional rods have them and some don’t.  As you retrieve, the level wind distributes the line evenly on the spool.  Without the level line, you have to do this manually or birds’ nests are guaranteed.  The disadvantage to level lines is some reels the level line slows the rate at which the line can leave the spool in a cast, limiting the casting distance.  This is why I favor Abu Garcias in the surf, any time I’m going to be casting for distance.

Level wind
Level wind


A clicker is a button on a conventional rod which makes noise when the spool moves.  Normally, this is used when night fishing and live lining bait, so that you can hear when a fish picks up the bait. Frequently, while night fishing with conventional reels, I will put the clicker on and put the reel in free spool and let the rod sit in a rod holder until I hear a fish hit.  The clicker also behaves much like a bait running drag on a nonadjustable spinning reel.



Buying Gear

If I have to choose between putting money into a rod and into a reel, I’m going to choose the reel, because while neither is necessary, a quality reel on a mediocre rod is far more effective than a mediocre reel on an excellent rod.  If quality reels are bought and taken care of, they can last longer than your lifetime.

For example, one of my Abu Garcia 10,000 reels I inherited from my grandfather and he used it extensively in surf fishing, making it well over thirty years old.  I have a GreenE 70 that was made in the early 70s.  Not to say that none have needed repairs, but all work done has been far less expensive than buying a new reel.  Many of my Penn 209, both left and right handed version, my father and I both used when I was a child and I got them when my father moved away from that type of fishing.  Some of those he had from before I was born in 1977.


 Preferred manufacturers for conventional reels:

Penn–  Some models I use are the Penn 209LH (left handed)and  Penn No. 9LH.

Abu Garcia- Some models I use are the Abus Garcia’s  10,000 Ambassador, Abu Garcia 7,001i, and the Abu Garcia 6600


Preferred manufacturers for spinning reels:

Shimano-Bait Runner reels

Penn-spinning reels of various sizes.


I am in the process of testing two Okuma bait runner reels.( I’ll let you know how they work out.)


Find a reel and rod you are comfortable with.  While we have included links to Amazon, of which we are affliliates, you will do yourself a great service by finding a local bait and tackle shop.   IF they sell basketballs and baseballs, that’s not a bait and tackle shop.  If they have more than three departments, it’s not a bait and tackle shop.  Purchase the best you can afford, and you’ll end up with a piece of equipment that can be handed down for generations of anglers to come.

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Philosophy of Fish

Me, waiting for Jaws.
Pondering the life of a fisherman.

It has been argued by some that fishing is detrimental to the environment and fishermen have no interest in conserving natural resources.  This view is uninformed, as the majority of the anglers I know are conservation minded if for no other reason than the licensing fees and regulatory expenses go to conservation efforts.  I’ve been fishing for my entire life and through that time have developed views and ideas about what anglers need to do in order to maintain fishing as a sustainable, renewable meat and recreation source.

The two biggest events that contributed to my views on fishing were the moratorium on rockfish (striped bass) when I was a youth and the disappearance of the weakfish (yellow fin trout).  Another contributing factor was the implementation of the slot limit on red drum.  During the moratorium, which means it was illegal to keep any of them, rockfish were rare, the only specimens caught tiny little “pebbles” as we jokingly refer to them.  The weakfish have yet to make a return to our waters.  The first place to start with conservation is to know your fishing regulations.


The first responsibility we have as anglers is to know the local laws and regulation on fishing and to adhere to them.  Each state has rules particular to that state.  And those rules may even vary within the state from tidal to non-tidal waters. For example, Maryland has a maximum number of rods you are permitted to use in non-tidal waters but no limit on the number of rods used in tidal water.  Two of the most common regulations on fish are size limit (length of fish) and creel limit.

  • Size limit is the measure of the length of the fish. Be sure to know which system of measurement your state uses. Whether it be total length, fork tail length or pinched tail length.  Different states use different measuring systems and some states even use different systems depending on the species of fish.  In addition there are also federal regulations on certain species of fish like sharks.
  • Creel limit is the number of a species of fish you may keep for a day. Some states do have a total creel limit of the number of fish you can keep of all species combined.  Secondly, understanding that any fish species in an exhaustible resource.  We as fisherman can and have destroyed fish species.  I will not get into the argument of recreational vs. commercial fishing.  We are all responsible.
A rockfish that was released. It was perfectly legal fish to keep, but it was during the spring spawning season.
A rockfish that was released. It was perfectly legal fish to keep, but it was during the spring spawning season.

My Personal Code on Fishing

In addition to the legal regulations, I have thought long and hard about my own effects on fish species.  I have developed my own code by which I fish, stricter than the actual regulations in order to help contribute to the sustainability of fishing.

  • Self-Imposed Size Limits- For, species that have a minimum size limit, I normally impose on myself a larger minimum size limit. In addition, I also normally impose a maximum size limit, as in the largest that I’ll keep.   For example, in my home state, there is an 8 inch minimum size limit on perch.  I won’t keep perch shorter than ten inches.   The largest white perch I ever caught was 16 inches.  I won’t keep anything over 14 inches.
  • Self-imposed creel limits. If a fish has no creel limit where I’m fishing, I normally impose one.  This number highly depends on the species, time of year, and location of fishing.  In addition, if I’m fishing rigs that have the potential of catching more than one fish at a time, when more than one fish is caught, I only keep the smaller one if within the size limit I’ve set.  If two different species are caught, I’ll keep the more common of the two, if of legal size limit.
  • Sex descriminiation-Another thing I do is if the sexes of any species is distinguishable from each other, as in sharks and rays, I will only keep the males of the species. The females are better left to lay eggs for the perpetuation of the species.
  • Self-Imposed Moratorium- . If a species has a daily creel limit of two or less, I also will not keep any. It is a clear sign that a species is headed into trouble, and I do not need to contribute to its demise. There are other more plentiful fish to fill the cooler.
  • Varying location– I also try to fish different locations and different bodies of water for non-migratory species such as catfish and white perch.  I don’t want to have too much of an impact on any one particular area.
  • Spawning Season Moratorium- I try not to target species of fish during its spawning season, when they are laying eggs. Even though some of the best fishing for some species is during their spawning season, If I’m going to fish for a species during spawning, it’s strictly catch and release.
  • Identifying issues- If I can’t identify a species I have caught, I release it.


A Note About Bycatch and Trash Fish

Some less scrupulous fishermen are not careful about their handling of bycatch and “trashfish.” Bycatch is anything that is living and caught that is not the targeted species.  This can include other species of fish, the various varieties of crustaceans, seagulls, muskrats, Eastern hellbenders (if you don’t know what one is, do yourself a favor and look it up.) Trash fish are normally the species of fish that are not targeted by anglers, considered to be unfit for consumption , hence the name “trash fish.” All of these creatures should be released with as little damage to them as possible.  Even though some of these species might not be very appealing to look at, they all have a role to play in the ecosystem.

Invasive Species

Invasive species are species that have been introduced to an area and are usually detrimental to local species.  Some examples in my area are the northern snakehead and flathead catfish.  Frequently, states require the killing of these invasive species when caught.  There are legal ramifications for releasing invasive species.  Be aware of what, if any, invasive species are in your area and be able to identify them.  It seems that most of the invasive species are confined to the realms of fresh water.

See something, say something

I don’t necessarily mean it in a Big Brother kind of way.  However, it is up to us as anglers to say something when we see something that isn’t right.  We have to police ourselves, if we want there to be fish for future generations.

In Conclusion

Know your regulations, taking the time to identify species correctly, and figure out a personal fishing code for yourself.    Fishing can be sustainable source of recreation and food if we all do our part.


We want to make sure we can take kids fishing for generations to come.
We want to make sure we can take kids fishing for generations to come.

Fishing: A self-sufficiency pastime

freezer fish pin

When they go fishing, it is not really fish they are after. It is a philosophic meditation.

­-E.T. Brown, from Not Without Prejudice: Essays on Assorted Subjects.


While I agree with this quote to an extent, I don’t believe it’s entirely true.  Fishing is an affordable and effective way of gathering food.  It’s also sustainable if done correctly.  Fishing is truly just a form of hunting, just  with specialized equipment.

Having fished all my life, there are certain tricks, techniques and approaches I have learned to become a more successful fisherman.  That being said, the most important thing I’ve learned fishing is that there are no absolutes.  However, over the course of this blog, I will share with you what I know.  Take what you can use and keep experimenting for yourself.

My fishing falls into two types: trophy and freezer fishing. Though these two styles vary in their approach, they are not exclusive to each other.  I frequently do both on the same fishing trip.

Trophy Fishing

For me, being on the salt water, this means targeting larger and higher on the food chain species such as black drum, rock fish, big catfish, toothed sharks and larger bluefish.

Though all of these species can be kept and consumed when guidelines are followed, the frequency at which they are caught would not fill a freezer very quickly.

Because it’s fun and challenging, it’s a big payoff when you do catch something.  There’s something exciting to about watching the line diminish and hearing the reel scream.

Freezer Fishing:

For freezer fishing, I target smaller and lower on the food chain fish.  For our area, this means white perch, Atlantic croaker (“hard head”), smaller catfish, king fish and spot.  These types of fish mostly travel in schools.  Once located, they are easier to catch than the solitary predator fish.   They frequently have less regulations on size and the number of fish allowed to be kept, called a kreel limit.  For instance, the size limit on perch and Atlantic croaker is 8” with no kreel limit while black drum is limited to larger than 18” and a kreel limit of 3.

On a decent day of fishing, 60-80 fish is not out of the realm of possibility by any means.  I have brought home upwards of 100 on especially productive days.  Our family eats four fish per meal when we have baked fish, less if we’re using the meat in another dish.  That means one day’s fishing can offer 15 to 20 meals for our family.

Matt surf fishing

If you want to start providing more of your family’s meat, fishing is a great way to start.  It requires less training and equipment than hunting does. Additionally, you can include the entire family, so it provides family entertainment as well.  The whole family can participate in gathering fresh fish, making it a worthy pursuit.

— Matt

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