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Hot Rods & Lemons

By Jon Rasmussen - March 1, 2002
Stay Out of the Pits...

You may as well admit it; we know you've done it too. Just as we are beginning to head into the new fishing season you decide that you're missing something in the boat. A new rod would fill out that emptiness perfectly.

"Another new rod?!" she says, looking at all the spare rods, each an early retiree for its own reasons, standing in the corner of the garage. However, this one is going to be different from the others. This is going to be your new hot rod, the rod that will dramatically improve your fishing success.

You walked into your favorite sporting goods store knowing exactly what you want and got it. Well, maybe you looked around a bit. Maybe even scanned the aisles for a good deal, and to get a first-hand look, up-close look at some of the new products that you've seen in the magazines over winter, just to stay one step ahead of the next guy. You probably picked up a couple of baits to replace the ones you lost on that little rock pile last week, the one that only you and your buddy know about.

Then you moved down to the rod aisle. By instinct you pulled a rod off the shelf, sighted down the blank, gave it a shake to check the action and flexed the tip in your hand to get a feel for the power. If you weren't such a serious, hard-core fisherman you might have allowed a narrow grin to flash across your face. Calling it good you walked up to the checkout and laid your hard earned money on the counter. Another day, another fishing chore done.

We've all done this at least once, unless that certain someone in charge of buying your ties also buys all your rods for

"A good rod should have about as many guides as it is feet long. Round up on the length for the odd length rods."
you. The problem with this run-and-gun approach to the purchase of a new fishing rod lies in the fact that sometimes you get a lemon. This is usually the rod that snaps on the second fish, or maybe the hundredth, but it snaps nonetheless, leaving you holding two pieces of a one-piece rod.

Maybe one of the guides cracks or chips causing your line to fray and snap, under the strain of a big fish. It could also be something else along those lines. It might have been a trophy that caused the damage, makes a good story, but on the other hand, who wants to brag about the perch that snapped their new walleye rod? NOBODY? Didn't think so, that's why we're going to explain what to look for when you pick your new dream rod off the rack.

First, pick out a rod that might do the job for you. Look at the brand name. The larger companies like G. Loomis, St. Croix, Fenwick, Berkley and others have their reputations at stake. They make it a point to keep defective equipment from leaving the factory. Too often companies selling equipment designed for the low budget angler cannot individually inspect every rod that comes off the line. At best they may only give the rods a cursory glance as they pass down the assembly line. This is especially true of some very low priced rods. Larger, long established companies are also usually quite eager to repair or replace any defective merchandise. They scrupulously guard their reputations and will almost always go the extra mile to see that you are satisfied. This is not to say that you have to necessarily buy a high-priced, big-name rod to get a good one, you just have to be more careful in its selection.

When you find a model that might do the trick, count the guides. A good rod should have about as many guides as it is feet long. Round up on the length for the odd length rods. For instance both a seven-foot rod and one six and a half feet long should have no less than seven guides. A similar length, lower quality rod might only have five guides. Regardless, any length rod, even the shortest ultralight should have at least five guides. This is the minimum number of guides that will distribute the stress of a fighting fish along the entire length of the rod. When stress is distributed evenly, the chance of a rod breaking anywhere along its length is greatly decreased.

Next, inspect the guides themselves; the hard ring of material should be mounted directly into the metal frame. Cheaper guides that have a plastic "shock ring" generally don't last as long. The biggest problem with the lower quality guides is that the hard ring comes out of the shock ring leaving the line to fray on the metal guide frame. These guides are also more prone to chipping and grooving. This is due to the very reason the shock ring is used in the first place; the material used is weaker and more brittle than other guides. The shock ring also adds unnecessary weight to the rod too, which decreases the sensitivity and overall performance of the rod.

Finally, after you find a model that appears built well and with quality components look at the reel seat. Other than flex, this is the only real moving part on the rod and is therefore prone to its own share of problems. Look at the hoods, the pieces that slide over the reel feet to hold the reel in place. Unless the reel seat is the sliding ring type found on many ultralights they should be made of metal not plastic. They need to be able to withstand a large amount of force from the tightening process. Be sure they are made of some form of high strength composite or have a protective coating.

This will help avoid scratching or damaging the reel feet and help to it conform to the reel feet. This will not only increase its strength but also help to make a better connection from the rod to the reel, again improving sensitivity. Rods with screw-down foregrips are mostly free of problems because the hoods of the reel seat are molded in as part of the construction and because they aren't made of metal, you don't have to worry about the hoods being lined with a layer of cushioning plastic. The only real checks for screw-down foregrips is to make sure they turn smoothly and won't slip threads when tightened.

Once you've found the model with the quality features and in your target price range, go through and check other rods of that model looking for: loose guides or tip-tops, misaligned guides, guides bent or twisted into alignment, chipped or cracked guide rings, gaps between handle components, or nicks in the rod blank itself. Tighten the reel seat down all the way and make sure the ferule on a two-piece rod is fitted snugly and shake the rod vigorously, You shouldn't hear anything but the swoosh of air. Once you find a rod free of flaws, you'll have an instrument that will prove reliable through the years until it too is finally relinquished to the corner of the garage.

Defects are usually few and far between, but with the money we invest into our equipment we need to make sure we get what we pay for. As a favor to other fishermen, if you do find a rod with a defect, bring it to the attention of the salesclerk. This will assure that no other fishermen will get stuck with the headache you just avoided; after all nobody wants to end up with a lemon when they go out to buy a new hot rod.

Author Jon Rasmussen
Jon Rasmussen
Jon Rasmussen is a native of Menasha, Wisconsin but his job as a U.S. Navy journalist has taken him all over the country. His work has appeared in Midwest Outdoors, North American Fisherman and Badger Sportsman. Jon is also a Wisconsin editor for Midwest Outdoors and member of the U.S. Match Fishing Team, participating in national and international events.
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