Picking out the perfect all–around rod

May 16, 2014

Last week I revealed one of the outdoor industry’s most closely guarded secrets — it’s possible to be what Isaac Walton called a “compleat angler” while owning only one reel.

I then discussed why a good quality mid-sized spinning reel — preferably with a spare spool — would be the most practical choice for the one-reel angler. This week we’ll select a rod to mate with that reel.

Rods intended for use with fly, bait-casting and spinning reels are not interchangeable. The most obvious difference between a spinning rod and all other rods is the line guide closest to the handle will be significantly larger than the other line guides, which will taper toward the rod tip. This arrangement reduces the amount of friction when the line is spinning off the reel’s stationary spool during a cast.

A spinning rod’s shaft continues through the length of a straight handle. The blank is covered with cork or some synthetic material to increase its diameter both for strength and for angler comfort. The reel seat is located within a few inches of the upper end of the handle that, in most cases, extends about a foot behind the reel seat.

A spinning rod’s handle is an important component, so its design should be an important consideration.

The handle should extend far enough in front of the reel to allow the angler a comfortable full-handed grip. There are several situations in which being able to place the entire rod hand ahead of the reel is advantageous, not the least of which is when the angler actually hooks a fish as big as the fish he claims he hooks when he’s fishing by himself.

Having a handle that extends far enough behind the reel seat to allow the angler to press it against his stomach when fighting a big fish is also a big help. A long handle also allows for two-handed casting when being able to make an extra long cast is either necessary or just plain fun.

Spinning rods come in a wide variety of lengths, but the one-rod angler should narrow his or her search to rods between 6 and 7 feet long. A host of specialized rods can be found within that spa, but so are all of the do-it-all models.

Rods are categorized by “power,” a term that rates how much force it takes to flex the rod’s midsection. An individual rod’s rating — ultra light through heavy — will be printed on its shaft just in front of the handle. Although there doesn’t seem to be a specific definition for any given power rating, a one-rod angler is virtually always best served by a rod with medium power.

Rods are also categorized by “action,” a term that describes the reaction of the rod’s tip section. Almost all general purpose rods have fast-action tips, which is just fine.

Most modern spinning rods are made either from fiberglass or graphite. Whether the angler is trying to detect a light bite or has just stepped on it, fiberglass rods are less sensitive than graphite rods. Choosing one material over the other is primarily a matter of how the individual rod appeals to the angler who’ll be using it.

Speaking of feel, the best way to wind up with a rod-and-reel combo you’re completely satisfied with is to select the reel first and insist that the salesclerk allow you to mount it on a few rods you’re pretty sure you might like. But if you insist on taking advantage of the price breaks often found on the Internet, take heart. Since general purpose rods are, by definition, middle-of-the-road compromises, most of them are going to satisfy the needs and wants of the casual angler.

There’s one other way to go. I declined to do anything more than mention a couple of brand names when I was discussing reels, but I’m willing to dive into the deep end of the pool regarding what I think is the best choice for a one-rod angler. Shakespeare’s Ugly Stick and Ugly Stick Lite rods are made from a blend of fiberglass and graphite that brings out the best in both materials. These rods are not only amazingly sensitive, but they’re also virtually unbreakable. Treat one with even a modicum of care, and your grandchildren will be using it. That’s delivering a lot of bang for about 40 bucks.

Whether you opt for a 6-foot or a 6 1/2-foot model is purely up to you, but I do recommend choosing a two-piece rod. Today’s two-piece rods are the real-world equal of one-piece rods, and being able to break the rod down for travel or storage will come in handy.

Welcome to fishing. Good luck.