Rods are the most expensive component of fishing tackle and are therefore the most scrutinized purchases we make. Selecting a good rod can be a bewildering experience for someone who wants the most for their money. We ask questions like "What makes this rod so expensive?" and "Is this $300 rod really twice as good as this $150 rod?" With the unbelievable array of good rods available to serious anglers today it's easy to find a great rod that is perfect for what you want to do with it. However, at the same time, you could end up with something that might not be right and you'd be spending some good money for something that you won't use. I believe the most expensive rod you own is the one you never use. Even if it was cheap it was a waste of your money if it stays at home leaning in a corner. Conversely, you may have a rod that cost a lot of money but if you use it every time you go fishing and you love it then it was money well spent.
A good rod may not instantly make you a better angler but a poor rod will be a limiting factor for any angler. Your rod is a tool, and a good craftsman will always do better work with a good tool. A good rod will allow you to feel much more of what's going on with your lure. For instance, you'll be able to tell if you're dragging your jig through mud, sand, rock, sticks, etc., and more importantly, when you get bit, which can often be hard to detect.
When you're shopping for rods, certain terms will be used to describe the materials used in building the rod and how it flexes. Different people use some of these terms in different ways, but we will try to define a few of them for our purposes in this article.
This describes how much of the rod deflects (bends) when you put pressure on the tip. A fast action rod will bend in only the top third or less of the blank, a medium or moderate action will bend in the top half or so and a slow action will bend starting in the lower third of the rod. Sometimes slow action rods are termed 'parabolic', meaning the bend of the rod is similar throughout the length. This description is subject to the type of rod you may be talking about at the time; a fast action fly rod or steelhead rod will bend much lower and more easily than a fast action bass rod or offshore rod.
Most bass rod actions are fast to very fast because this action generally provides better sensitivity and faster power for hooksetting. By faster power we mean the rod 'shuts off' faster, or the bend ends higher on the blank, which means you don't have to move the rod as far on the hookset to get into the stiffer part of the blank. Fast action rods are great for most applications where a short to long casting distance is involved and single hooks are the rule, such as worm and jig fishing.
Medium and medium-fast rods will usually provide a little more casting distance and still provide adequate hooksetting power. These actions are often used for applications that involve treble hooks, such as crankbaits and topwater lures or other reaction baits such as spinnerbaits. The 'bite' of a treble hook is not as deep as a big single worm hook and it is easier to tear the hook out of a strong fish, plus the slower action will not pull the lure out of the fish's mouth before it fully engulfs it. The type of lure you use will usually determine the action of the rod you should use.
This describes the strength of the rod or it's lifting power. When someone says this rod has a lot of backbone, they mean it has a lot of power. Power ratings are usually describes as heavy, medium heavy, medium, etc. Power is closely related to the line strength; heavier power rods will handle heavy line weights and lighter powers will be good for light lines. It is fairly important to keep your line test within the limits printed on the rod since a heavy power rod will snap light lines too easily and heavy lines can snap a light rod. Power ratings vary by the type of rod described; a heavy bass rod and a heavy offshore rod will definitely not feel the same. One might be rated for 25lb line and the other for 80lb line.
The type of water you're fishing will help determine the power of the rod you should select. Thick, heavy cover will require a strong rod to get the fish out before it can tie you up. Clear, open water will often require thin, hard to see lines in order to get bit, meaning you will need a lighter power rod.
Most of the guides you will find on bass rods today feature a metal frame and a ceramic ring that the line glides on. This ring can vary greatly in price, and one single guide on a spinning rod can cost in excess of $30 or as little as a couple of bucks. Silicon carbide, or SiC, is usually considered the best material today. It offers a super smooth surface for less friction on the line during the cast and the retrieve. Less friction means longer casts and less heat, and heat kills when it comes to fishing lines.
Alconite is another smooth material that is much less expensive than SiC. Hardloy, Hialoy, and aluminum oxide are other ceramic materials that are quite serviceable and are found on most rods on the market today. They are very inexpensive. Some of the newest guides feature Titanium wire. These guides will spring back into place even if they are bent flat. Standard stainless steel guides break instead of bending, necessitating expensive and annoying repairs. Some proprietary guides use a ring of stainless steel instead of ceramic. These rings are not nearly as smooth as the ceramic inserts but are very lightweight, reducing the overall weight of the rod.
A rod with more guides on it will generally cast better and cost more than the same rod with fewer guides. With more guides the rod will bend more consistently throughout its length, allowing it to utilize all the power for longer casts and fighting fish. The Fuji Concept Guide System is the best example of this development on rods today.
The reel seat holds the reel on the rod. There isn't much variation in reel seats. Most anglers prefer graphite seats with a cutout that allows you to feel the blank. The cheapest rods will use reel seats that don't have a plastic cushion inside the metal hoods that the feet of the reel fit into. These seats will often rust and stain your reel. They can bind up, too, making it difficult to remove your reel. Cheap rods, particularly those made offshore, will have cardboard spacers between the reel seat and the rod blank that will dampen vibration and can tear easily, especially when it gets wet, allowing the seat and the reel to rotate on the rod; not a good thing!