Choosing the right rod

The proper rod for fighting big fish like tarpon, cobia and bull redfish is one that will allow the fisherman to get control of the fish and get it to the boat quickly.

A saltwater angler’s biggest decision

Most anglers agree that one of the most-important things to fishing success, after locating the fish, is how the bait or lure is presented. Experienced inshore guides and successful tournament fishermen are consistently spot-on with their presentations, which can mean the difference between a good day of fishing and a great one. A key factor to proper presentation is a rod that balances out with what is being offered and can accurately deliver it. Bass fishermen have known this for years and will often have several technique specific rods on hand when fishing in freshwater lakes and rivers; many saltwater anglers are now doing the same.

Choosing a rod for specific inshore fishing situation can seem like a daunting task because of all of the options available. Numerous combinations of length and action are possible, and prices range from less than 50 to several hundred dollars. Spending more money does not necessarily equate   a better rod. “There are a ton of good rods made today,” said Collins Illich of Temple Fork Outfitters. “There are some great 50-dollar rods and some terrible 300-dollar ones.”

According to Illich, the difference is in quality control. “Rods require consistency in their manufacturing process,” he said.

Hands-on and on-line researching can narrow down the choices to a few brands in an appropriate price range; after that the choice comes down to what job the rod will need to do. Capt. Steve Roll of Seas So Shallow guide service in Ladys Island uses two types of rods for most inshore situations. “When fishing for reds under a rattle cork like the Cajun Thunder, I prefer a medium to medium-light rod in the 7-foot range because I want a soft tip,” he said. “If fishing a Carolina rig on the bottom, I am going to go with a 7-foot medium-heavy to heavy rod depending on the size of the weight I am using.”

Illich agrees. “As a rule, for live bait under a popping cork, I fish a medium or medium-light rod with a very soft tip, and when Carolina-rigging, I use the heaviest and stiffest rod I can use that still allows me to have a good feel for my weight. A lighter weight, call it a quarter-ounce, I may use a 7-foot-6 medium action rod. If I am fishing a ¾-ounce weight, I would probably go to a 7-foot-6 extra-heavy action.”

Throwing hard baits, soft plastics and even hardy live baits like mud minnows aggressively is seldom an issue because they are going to stay on the hook, and a medium-heavy to heavy rod will work with those baits, but an aggressive cast with a heavy rod and live shrimp results in a shrimp launched in one direction and a bare hook landing in another. A rod with a soft tip can greatly absorb the shock of a hard cast and keep a live shrimp on the hook where it will do the most good. A live shrimp is also the favorite food of a spotted sea trout, which has a soft mouth that can tear easily.

“Anytime I am fishing for trout, I’m going to go with the lightest rod I can get away with,” Roll said. “A trout mouth is soft ,and a stiff rod can tear the hook out, but a medium-light to light-action rod will flex when a trout runs hard and keep him from becoming unbuttoned.”

Not all inshore species are redfish and trout, even though they get the most attention. Hard-fighting, big fish like cobia and tarpon are also available during different times of the year, and they require a more substantial rod. Using heavy lures and rigs up to several ounces in weight with big baits like eels or live mullet, anglers hook up with the biggest fish that visit the inshore waters of South Carolina. That requires not only a rod that is capable of handling the weight of the rig but also an extremely hard-fighting fish.

Roll’s rod of choice is a 7-foot medium-action blue-water rod like the Shimano Tallus. “For big fish, I want a rod with plenty of backbone that will really bring the fight to the fish and get him under control quickly. Also, I want a rear grip that is long enough that using my fighting belt is comfortable,” he said.

Different rods will shine in different situations, but by putting a little thought into rod choice, anglers can get the most out of their time on the water and greatly increase their catching success.

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