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How to Pick Out a Rod and Reel

Gary Heffley,

By Gary Heffley
Picking out the perfect rod and reel can seem very complicated. Even discussing this may will seem complicated but it really isn't that difficult. By working with a knowledgeable sales associate at most any tackle, outdoor or sporting goods store you should be able to find the right outfit or combination in just moments. The key is being able to answer a few elimination questions and then the selection and choices will be easy.

If you are buying just one of the two -- a rod or a reel, and know what the other component is and some of its uses, or specifications, especially what type of reel it is, that will go a long way. If it is a spinning reel or rod as opposed to a casting or fly-fishing setup, the elimination process has begun.

Let’s concentrate on both as these same questions will fit for buying one or the other.

The first two questions should be:

What type of fish are you fishing for?

What type of reel/rod do you want?

If the answer to the first question is bass and trout, as is most common in this area, and the second is spinning, you have eliminated over half of the selection in a department. In fact the associate will direct you probably to a medium-action-rated 6’6” or 7’ spinning rod with a balanced spinning reel capable of using 6 to 12 pound test. Brand preference and price point are the only determining factors left.

Okay that was easy.

If the answer is bass fishing with a casting outfit, making a buying decision is best determined by the technique preferred by the angler. Most bass rods are now designed with specific applications in mind. A swim bait rod is designed for throwing large swimbaits whereas a worm or jig rod is best for anglers who use worms and jigs. However, if the angler fishes year round for bass in the North State some of the very popular rods with micro guides may not be the best option. While such rods are attractive and innovative they will freeze up during the cold winter and early spring mornings, which makes using them nearly impossible.

Again not so hard, right!

But let’s say someone is looking for a salmon rod. The first questions to be answered are: Ocean or river? Boat or shore? Any river in particular? When fishing from the shore off the Sacramento River’s gravel bar, for instance, a rod must be designed to handle two plus ounces of weight. Such a rod will differ greatly from one designed for boat fishing the Trinity/Klamath Rivers where the weight concerns are not as great. Rods fished from a boat tend to be shorter and stouter where those fished from the shore tend to be longer enabling a longer cast or drift. The same applies for steelhead rods or fly rods and reels. The target species and water fished will direct the associate to appropriate recommendations.

The same processes of elimination and questions, sometimes even more questions, should be taken for any specific rod and reel when selecting species-specific tackle. Don’t go to an artillery duel with a BB gun; go with gear matched for the challenge.

I also mentioned a balanced rod and reel earlier. That can be very important for the angler’s comfort and outfit performance while fishing. For spinning outfits the test is to put the reel on the rod and extend your index finger as a fulcrum just in front of the reel. If the rod and reel remain balanced there is a good match. If not, the reel or rod will force the butt or tip over and another selection should be made. Unbalanced outfits make for a very long day on the water.

Fly rods are designed to use certain weight lines and the reels are built to accommodate specific line weights. Getting a balanced fly outfit is as easy as a 5 wt. rod with a 5 wt. reel with 5 wt. line for example.

Since I work at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding, I invite everyone to come down to the store where we can match you up with a quality balanced rod and reel set up. The fishing department also features a full line of tackle, lures, tackle boxes, fly fishing gear, crabbing gear and marine goods. The hunting, camping, gift bar, clothing and footwear departments are also waiting to help solve any of your outdoor shopping needs. While there, please look me up and say hello!

[Editor's Note: Please share with our readers what you know that will enhance the experience of fishing in Northern California or Southern Oregon. What have you learned? Your expertise, no matter where you fish (fresh or saltwater) or what species you target, could be invaluable to other anglers. What not to do is just as important as what to do. Please send your strategies, ideas, tips, techniques and personal experiences to Please include your name and hometown.]

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