As you flip through a catalog or scroll down website pages filled with seemingly endless numbers of fishing rods, you’re certain to encounter terms such as medium, extra-fast; light, moderate; medium-heavy, fast. But if you’re unsure of what they all mean, it’s just about impossible to select a stick that will do exactly what you want it to.
Fortunately, deciphering the specifications printed on the rod blank is simple.
A rod’s power refers to the amount of pressure required to flex, or bend, the blank, and is typically described by the terms, ultra-light, light, medium, medium-heavy and heavy. As you’d expect, ultra-light rods are least powerful; heavy rods live at the opposite end of the scale.
For practical purposes, you can relate “power” to the weight of the lure and the line you’ll use, and to the size of the fish you intend to target. A medium-heavy power rod, for example, might be rated for lures from ½ to 1½ ounces and line from 8- to 14-pound test, while a light power rod might call for 1/32- to 1/8-ounce lures and 4- to 8-pound line.
Your goal is to match the rod to your fishing. Power ratings of ultra-light and light match well with panfish and stream trout, in general. Medium and medium-heavy sticks cover a wide range. Weekend anglers might target bass, walleyes, catfish or another “medium-size” gamefish with rods in this category. Heavy power rods are typically aimed at fish or situations that require larger lures and stronger line—trophy-class bass, big catfish or ‘gator pike, for instance.
To add yet another pickle to the barrel, power also relates to where and how you intend to fish. Say you’re probing a flat with sparse weeds and stumps, or maybe a point or hump that doesn’t have a lot of thick cover. You’re casting a ¾-ounce spinnerbait and expect the bass to run from 3 to 7 pounds. A medium or medium-heavy rod with 12- to 14-pound line might be just right.
Now move to a matted weedbed or thick brush. You’ll want a heavy stick here; not because the jig you’re pitching is heavier or you think the bass are any bigger, but because you’ll want to jump to, say, 25-pound line to battle fish in the harsh environment along the bottom.
A rod’s action, sometimes called “speed” refers to where along the blank it bends under load, and how quickly it returns to the original position when it’s released from the load. Action is defined by the terms extra-fast, fast, moderate and slow.
An extra-fast rod bends near the rodtip, while a fast rod bends farther down, roughly 25 percent of the length down from the tip. A moderate rod bends to the middle of the blank, and a slow rod will bend all the way to the butt section of the blank.
Each has advantages and drawbacks. Extra-fast and fast rods are more sensitive, meaning they will transmit subtle bites better than slower rods. Thus, their best for single-hook presentations, such as jigs, jig worms and rigged plastics that require a quick and solid hookset to drive the point home.
They also provide more control at longer distances. You’ll be able to steer a fighting fish away from a trouble spot out away from the boat much easier with a faster rod. On the flip-side, a fast rod is less forgiving when the battle gets boatside. It won’t cushion a sudden surge as well when a big fish shies from the net, so you have to ensure the drag is set correctly and that it operates smoothly, without hesitation.
Conversely, moderate- and slow-action rods are perfect for multi-hook presentations. A fish that hits a crankbait pretty much hooks itself, so you don’t usually need such a deliberate hookset. Additionally, treble hooks, which are typically smaller, with less gap, than single hooks tear free from a fish’s mouth more easily. But the forgiving flex of a slower rod cushions the fight all the way to boatside.
Here, the trade-off is that you can’t control the fish as well from a distance. If there’s a laydown, tangled brush or a mat of weeds anywhere nearby, you better be trying to steer the fish clear before it even makes up its mind to head in that direction.
Now that you know what’s what, you can shop with confidence. And I’d suggest starting your search at the North American Fisherman store. Right now you can get a $10 discount on any order of $50 or more.
Bonus Video: World’s Most Powerful Fishing Rod