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.
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.
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
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.
. 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.