What I ‘personally’ look for in a bass lure rod…
Before you read on, please, please note the ‘personal’ in the heading… Fishing rods, like a golf putter, a snooker cue and, I suspect, a tennis racquet are all extremely personal items – clearly what suits one person may feel completely alien to another. In essence, this is a very subjective subject as it were, but as it is the time of year when some of you may be ‘eyeing up’ a new rod I thought I would place my thoughts into a blog post that may assist you…
I do apologise in advance for going all technical within sections of this post – which is part of the reason why I have highlighted, in bold, the more pertinent and applicable points. Moreover, these assertions serve to consolidate and form an overall summary of ‘what’ I like to use and the reasons ‘why’ in the course of my own fishing adventures.
One rod man
As a full-time, professional guide, I am very fortunate to be in a position where I can ‘borrow’ one of my clients’ rods for a play during, or indeed, after most guided sessions. This means that over the past 3 years, I have used the shortest, longest, flimsiest, cheapest, nastiest and probably least suitable set-ups out there, all the way through the spectrum to the most expensive, most exclusive and seemingly the ‘best’ lure rods money can buy… It is therefore, these experiences that have shaped my perspective of what makes the ideal rod for me – my paragon if you like!
Almost 2 years ago now, I wrote a short piece for the Lure Fishing For Bass website titled ‘Finding That All-Rounder’ in which I described what I considered to be the constituents of (you guessed it) an all-round bass lure rod. Now, this is something that is extremely important, again, to me personally, as I am a confirmed ‘one rod only’ angler who doesn’t subscribe to owning different lure rods (in terms of rating and length) to ‘suit’ different venues (light estuary work, rough seas and rocks or clean open beaches for example) or weather conditions, or indeed, different lures types and/or weights.
Traipsing along the shoreline or clambering over rocks with two (or more) rods might not bother some anglers, but to me it appears to remove a crucial (and pleasurable) element to what bass lure fishing is all about – the ability to cast and move, and above all, the capacity to head out fishing at a moments notice with a rod, reel and a bag of lures slung over your shoulder when you think the conditions are just right
Put simply, I think there are lure rods currently available that can accomplish everything you will ever need in one bundle, and that, essentially, is what I am always on the lookout for… This isn’t because I am tight and don’t want to spend lots of money, but because I really believe that you need to know precisely what one rod can do for you in order to fully appreciate it’s virtues – you could save yourself a fortune too! I must add by the way, that I do ‘get’ why some anglers enjoy purchasing and want to utilise numerous rods and reels for their own fishing and enjoyment, as this in itself is a separate and exciting facet to what is a wonderful branch of our sport.
Below are the fundamental attributes that I personally look for in my search for the ‘complete’ bass lure rod:
- Rod Weight
- Rod Balance
- Casting Weight Range
- Rod Length
Does 30-50g here or there really make a difference to a rod’s overall weight? Well, as you’ll read under the next heading in particular, a lot depends on where that weight is distributed along the overall blank and butt section. However, when you consider that the rods I have used extensively for my own fishing in the past 4 years happen to weigh between 120-125g, if I were to use something weighing 30g more than this it would immediately feel heavier, and therefore, more cumbersome.
Would I eventually get used to using something heavier? I don’t know is the honest answer… Based on what I like, what I believe enhances my overall enjoyment (and, as you’ll read, how I like to fish) in addition to, arguably, my catch rate, I very much doubt it. For me, anything that feels immediately ‘heavy’ I interpret as possibly robust in regards to casting capability and strength, however it is lightness and finesse, alongside these attributes that I possess, rather than just raw, out-and-out power – something that, disappointingly, a high percentage of the modern lure rods I am picking up seem to err towards…
This might come as a surprise, but the overall balance of a lure rod (firstly without and then with a reel attached) is actually more important to me than how much it weighs… Although this might seem somewhat contradictory, what it comes down to (for me remember!) is whether the rod’s tip feels heavy or feather-light – as if it was hardly there!
As a quick aside, basically by balancing the rod on your middle finger, the further up the blank towards the tip you need to place your finger, the more tip heavy it is (this balance point is often where a ringed ridge is present on the rod when the reel isn’t attached). When my reel is attached however, I want the rod to balance as close to where the blank meets the top rod grip as possible – more on that later!
I, like many anglers tend to retrieve nearly all lure types (we’ll get round to actually working the lures, again, later) with the rod tip up – which means that even if a rod, overall, is feather-light but that tip section wants to continually dip then, it can, even after a short period of time become fatiguing on the arm, shoulder and wrist – especially if I am required to impart any action on the lure, which in the most part, I am.
Furthermore, although a great deal of my personal fishing is completed at sea level (beaches for example), even if I am fishing from rocks and/or in rougher sea conditions, and therefore, stood higher up, I do still retrieve a lure, at least for part of the retrieve, with the rod up, before lowering it as the lure gets closer to me – halfway in would be an average I’d say if I’m stood on rocks.
This ‘butt heavy/light tip combination in a lure rod is very, very important to me, and if you’re new to this style of fishing I would definitely encourage you to seek out a rod that balances in this manner. Once again, I can, totally and utterly appreciate that the angler who regularly fishes high above the sea level for safety reasons (I’m thinking North Cornwall, West Wales, Chesil Beach and the swell associated to these locations as examples) would be more inclined to utilise the rod (and a longer one at that) held down most of the time – something that mitigates or nullifies my essential criteria of a beautifully balanced rod to a certain extent!
Something that I must mention is that I get asked a lot whether a heavier reel can ‘make’ a rod feel more balanced… My honest opinion is that a weight (such as a £1 coin at 9g or a £2 coin at 12g as basic examples) taped to the very end of the butt of the rod (especially when it weighs around 125g and the reel below 200g) actually makes more of a difference (for the better if a rod is tip heavy) than attaching a reel that is 50g or even 100g heavier for that matter – although the position of the reel seat can alter this equation to a certain extent depending on how close it is to the end (butt) of the rod.
Casting Weight Range
The rods I’ve used over the past 18 months have stated a specific casting weight range (6-32g on my 8′ 6″ Shimano Dialuna and 10-30g in relation to the variety of Major Craft rods that I love, encompassing the 8′ 6″ Skyroad, N-One and X-Ride respectively) or a maximum rating of 35g in the case of the Tailwalk EGinn 8′ 8″ and a secret 8′ 8″ rod I currently have the pleasure of testing…
Essentially, what it comes down to is: what is the weight of the individual lures that I routinely carry in conjunction with the capability to compress the rod enough in the case of the lighter lures to actually propel them seaward, and/or, can I comfortably (without placing too much stress on the blank) launch large lures upwards of 30g into a stiff breeze if I need to all without compromising the overall ‘feel’ of the whole outfit once I commence retrieving the things…
A few interesting attributes that mark a true all-rounder in my book is the ability to ‘make’ the rod feel different by virtue of shortening or lengthening the drop in readiness to, and to actually cast, in addition to the actual style of the cast itself. Four examples would be:
- Lengthening the drop to say (6-7ft) and slowing the cast down a touch when I am casting a soft plastic weighing 8-15g so that the rod’s ability to compress is accentuated – this serves to make the rod feel softer and results in a higher trajectory to the cast.
- Shortening the drop to 3-4ft and administering a slighter quicker, snappier and therefore whippier cast (in order to make the rod recover quickly) if I am casting a hard diving minnow (with a weight transfer system incorporated perhaps) – serving to make the rod feel steelier. This often results in a lower trajectory to the cast, which is useful on a windy day.
- When using a lighter lure (a 10g soft plastic, a small surface lure or diminutive hard minnow for instance) if I concentrate on only utilising the final (top section) 12-18″ of the blank to essentially ‘flick’ the lure, I find that I tend to gain a little more distance and accuracy.
- Conversely, by attempting to concentrate (by adjusting my cast accordingly) on using the backbone of the rod (by making it bend around the mid-section) it can provide additional power and distance when banging out those big, heavy surface lures or metals – although timing is key here so I also slow things down a touch!
For me, a rod’s action (the point at which it flexes) is more relevant than the power it possesses. You could almost say that the action relates to the casting prowess and the power relates to how it reacts when something is pulling back! I’m actually going to quote, directly, a passage straight out of my self-published book The Lure of The Bass (currently out of stock until I commission another print run) that describes the action and the power of a lure rod so that, hopefully, you can understand what I am getting at here!
“Bass lure rods will have a series of numbers written on the blank representing its overall length (for example 862 equates to 8’ 6”). Immediately following this, there are likely to be the letters ‘L (Light), ‘ML’ (Medium/Light), ‘M’ (Medium) or ‘MH’ (Medium/Heavy) which corresponds to the amount of power it has. Something that probably won’t be stamped on the rod however is its action. This will either be Soft/Slow, Medium/Moderate, Fast or Very Fast and is determined by: the material it is made out of (graphite, carbon fibre), the thickness of the walls of the blank, where along the length of the blank it flexes (compresses) and how quickly the rod straightens again (recovers).
To keep things relatively simple, I’ve broken down a rod’s action into three categories:
- Soft/Slow – The rod will bend or flex further down the blank (the second half towards the reel). Advantages are that you’re less likely to tear the hooks from a fish’s mouth in those final moments, and the rod will compress easily – ideal for soft plastics and lighter lures. The main disadvantage is that lure vibration, bites and that all important ‘feel’ will be slightly lacking, and any movement created by the angler (twitches etc.) will take a split second longer to transmit through the rod, line and to the lure.
- Medium/Moderate – The rod will bend or flex in the top half towards the tip and be stiffer towards the butt or reel section. Positives are more power, casting accuracy and increased sensitivity with small, medium and relatively large (70-140mm) lures of light to moderate weights (10-25g). A negative would be the increased risk to tearing a hook hold.
- Fast – The rod will bend or flex in the final quarter towards the tip. This type of rod would be very sensitive and able to cast and work a varied range of lure types, sizes and weights (all good things). The ‘not so good’ is that sometimes a fast rod/blank can feel a little too poker-like. The major disadvantage is the increased probability of the hooks pulling from a fish’s mouth – and considering a decent sized bass can make powerful runs, often parallel to your stance means the probability of a lost fish (never good) is higher and very careful ‘playing’ of the fish will always be required.
In my opinion, the all-round bass lure rod will be of a ML (Medium/Light) power rating and possess a Moderate/Fast action – plus, when you pick up the rod and ‘waggle it’ for want of a better phrase, it will feel somewhat ‘steely’, ‘ precise’ and ‘crisp’ in the hand.”
For whatever reason, the better rods I’ve used (or just the ones I’ve preferred perhaps?) appear to achieve a very, very ‘consistent’ and ‘precise’ cast time and time again – putting a lure on a dustbin lid if you like, and at range too. I mention this because some rods are more forgiving than others, and even though I’d like to think that my casting ability is OK it is far from perfect. This is, therefore, an important aspect to finding the right rod and if you’re able to borrow someone else’s for a test, do so (not always easy I appreciate).
For all the ‘waggling’ in the world on your visit to the local Tackle Shop perhaps, it goes without saying that the way the rod feels when you are out fishing with it is, of course, the most important component of all. Without a doubt, the overall feel and sensation that you receive through the set up when you are not only retrieving, but crucially, actually working that lure is paramount – a sensation that, I find, is enhanced when a rod (with a reel attached) balances very close to the where the blank converges with the duplon/cork rod grip…
Ultimately, I want to know exactly what is going on at the business end (whilst visualising the lure’s action) as it flutters, drifts or swims in the current or backwash. But most important of all, when I flick my wrist, jerk the rod or turn the reel’s handle quicker, for example, I want what is attached to my lure clip to react instantaneously with my actions – this, to me, simply epitomises lure fishing.
Something that I’ve come to realise more and more in conjunction with the rods that I’ve used (and that also links in nicely with the action) is precisely ‘how’ a lure being retrieved or allowed to simply ‘do its thing’ translates through the blank… Many of the ‘faster’ models will only vibrate in that final quarter towards the tip, yet on others (the Shimano JDM lure rods spring to mind) you almost feel like the entire rod is working. For me though, this somewhat ‘trembling’ effect renders the rod ever-so-slightly ‘jelly-like’ and is, therefore, not really the precision tool that I want in my hand – again though, this could be exactly what many others will want.
Something that is noteworthy, is that the more lure fishing I complete in darkness (when I can rarely see the actual movement of the water unless there’s a bright Moon and I am therefore, relying totally on my senses), especially during periods when the sea and weather are exceedingly calm, a set-up that is very, very light (less than 300g for the rod and reel when you consider that my Shimano Vanquish C3000MHG only weighs 170g) yet still powerful and capable of casting lures upwards of 30g and bullying good-sized fish away from snags is my preferred choice every time.
The reason for this is not only because I want everything I do with my hands to be instantly transmitted to the lure, but crucially, because I can feel and then respond to very slight variations in the tide/current in these circumstances – occurrences that when I have reacted to them have regularly produced a bass. The way I look at it, a rod should almost be an extension to my arm, and only a piece of kit that is highly responsive can achieve this essential criteria.
Why have I left the rod length to the end of my list of criteria? Because it encompasses and summarises everything that I have discussed so far – particularly in regards to all of the sentences that I have highlighted in bold.
Via confirmation from various sources, I believe that a high percentage of the lure rods currently sold in the UK are in the 9′ – 9′ 6″ bracket. However, I am going to make a real case for a shorter model here, as for me, what was the generally accepted ‘ideal’ length of a bass lure rod 5-10 years ago (around 8′ 6″) remains extant in my book, and is still, without a doubt, the quintessential length of a pure, all out, all-round bass lure rod – a tool that you can hold and work an inclusive catalogue of lures (if required to do so) all day without it ever feeling unwieldy.
Maybe it’s my casting style, but really I don’t consider that a 9′ 6″ rod propels a lure significantly further than the equivalent 8′ 6″ model. And even if it does, I really don’t think the additional weight of that extra 1ft of carbon, not to mention the difference in the balance to the rod, in addition to the decreased levels of feel and overall preciseness warrants using something that might gain me an extra 5-10m on my cast, in conjunction with the lures I regularly utilise.
Finally, could I get used to using a 9’+ rod over the 8′ 6″ – 8′ 8″ I relish using over time? Possibly yes, but at this juncture I personally wouldn’t want to, and it will be very interesting in the coming seasons to see if we end up coming back full-circle to these shorter, lighter, more precise yet still very powerful weapons…
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