Choosing The Right Rod & Reel

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Picking out the right fishing gear will help you land more fish

Walk into any outdoor sporting goods store and you’re sure to find multiple aisles of fishing rods. The price of these rods will vary from $15 for a rod/reel combo to hundreds of dollars for a single rod and can leave an angler scratching his or her head. With hundreds, maybe even thousands, of rods and reels to choose from, how do you know you’re getting the right rod and reel combination for the fish you’re targeting?

Choosing a rod and reel combination is one of the most important decisions an angler will make before heading out for a day of fishing. Believe it or not, your fishing rod and the mechanics of the reel are an extension of your body and selecting the right combination could mean the difference between landing fish and losing fish.



Action is a term used to describe how much of the rod deflects or bends when you put pressure on the tip. Fast-action rods will bend in the top third (the skinniest portion of the rod.) The top third of the rod is what I like to call soft and bends with very little pressure, which will help indicate the subtlest of bites. Fast-action rods are ideal for jigging or finesse fishing subtle biting fish like walleye, perch, medium to small trout or any fish species that’s in negative feeding pattern. The slightest bite is felt and often seen at the tip of the rod.

Fast-action rods are best matched with a spinning reel. Spinning reels mount on the underside of the rod, which allows 100 per cent of the angler’s hand to be in contact with the rod and that helps for detecting more strikes. Spinning reels are also very user friendly and, for the most part, tangle free. Spinning reels are the most commonly used reels throughout the western provinces, but they’re not all created equal.

One of the most important features in any reel is the drag system. Old-school thinking was the more ball bearings in the reel determines the quality or smoothness of the reel’s drag system. However, modern advancements have all but eliminated that theory. Some of today’s higher-end reels have only eight to 12 ball bearings, but they are larger bearings and made out of higher quality anti-rust stainless-steel. When you’re fighting a fish and you’re using a lower-end reel, as the fish fights and pulls away it creates a severe jerking action in the reel, which transfers into and through the rod. Each time there’s an unsmooth jerking action from your reel it creates slack line and gives the fighting fish a chance to spit the hook. Higher-end reels have larger, quality ball bearings, which gives the reel more bearing-to-reel contact and smoothes out the pull of the fish, eliminating the jerking action. Manufacturers have changed their thinking and moved away from quantity and focused on quality in their reels’ bearing systems.

Your drag should be set so the fish has to exert its energy under the pressure of the drag, but not so tight that line won’t pull from the spool. Before I ever make a cast, the drag is the first thing I check. Grab the free line about four feet from the tip of the rod and give it a steady pull. If you’re using eight to 12-pound fishing line, it should take about four pounds of pressure before you start to pull drag. If you’re using heavier line you can increase the amount of pressure it takes to pull drag. However, setting it too tight may cause your line to break under the pressure of the fish.

Medium and medium-fast-action rods will provide an angler with more casting distance and still provide adequate hook-setting ability. These action rods are great rods for jigging for larger species of fish like pike, lake trout and even walleye. Medium and medium-fast rods are my go-to rods when I’m fishing deep water (30 feet or deeper,) trolling or casting crankbaits and topwater lures. They’re sensitive enough to detect light bites, but have a little more backbone to set the hook in deep water or if a fish takes my bait on a long cast.

Medium-fast rods are great rods for shoreline anglers that have to make long casts out to the fish. If I’m trolling with a medium or medium-fast-action rod, I like to match it with a larger spinning reel with a good drag system and spooled with 12-pound test. Many anglers like to troll with a baitcasting reel spooled with heavier line and they’re just as effective, however, I find the spinning reel is more comfortable to hold while trolling for long periods of time, but this is a personal preference. The importance of the drag system really comes into play when a large fish takes your lure and tries to run with it while the boat is still moving. The drag system will go to work instantly and you will appreciate the quality in the drag system.

Heavy and medium-heavy-action rods are ideal rods when you’re targeting large predator fish like big deep water lake trout, pike, musky or catfish. When I’m trolling for larger fish, I prefer to use baitcaster reels. Baitcaster reels are designed to hold more and larger diametre line and I spool them with 20-pound test. However, heavy and medium-heavy freshwater fishing rods were primarily designed for casting. In the western provinces, a medium-heavy rod combined with a baitcaster reel is ideal for casting into weed beds and other cover for large pike. But they have one downfall, which is usually the fault of the angler: the bird’s nest. A bird’s nest most commonly occurs when an angler casts too hard and the reel continues to roll out line after the lure hits the water. The line tangles and piles up, creating a bird’s nest within the reel. Learning how to set the casting weights within the reel and simple thumb placement on the reel as the lure hits the water will help prevent this problem. But nothing beats practise. Spending some time practicing with a baitcaster before you go fishing will save a lot of cursing and lost fishing time when you’re on the water. Once you master it, you will have accurate, one-handed casting ability all day.



Fishing rods come in a variety of lengths, from four feet to 14 feet and even longer, but don’t let this trip you up. Throughout the western provinces and the fish species within our water bodies, a six-foot or six-and-half-foot rod will catch and handle anything within our waters. However, I like a longer rod, like a seven-foot, medium-light-action for trolling. They give me that little extra cushion when a fish takes my bait. A five-and-a-half to six-foot rod gives me an instant hook set when jigging, especially vertical jigging, but a six-and-a-half-foot rod is a great all-around rod.

Before you make your next rod and reel purchase, put some thought into the mechanics of the combination and pay close attention to the reel’s drag system – it’s sure to help you land more fish.



Understanding Reel Ratios

The gear ratio of a reel is measured by how many times the spool turns for each single revolution of the handle. For instance, if a reel has a gear ratio of 6.4:1, every time you turn the handle one revolution, the spool inside turns exactly 6.4 times. As a result, a reel with a gear ratio of 5.1:1 is going to be a much slower reel than one with a 7.1:1 gear ratio. The spool of a 5.1:1 reel will spin 5.1 times with each revolution of the handle, while the 7.1:1 spool will turn 7.1 times with every one revolution of the handle.

A slow reel like a 5.1:1 will help an angler get his or her crankbaits to the maximum depth.

Medium-speed reels like a 6.4:1 are your workhorse reels and are the most versatile, as you can manipulate most baits much easier with a 6.4:1 by varying the speed you retrieve the bait.

High-speed reels like a 7.1:1 are best suited for jigging and retrieving heavy baits like spoons through weeds or overtop of weed beds, especially if you want the heavy lure moving as soon as it hits the water after you cast it.

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