Selecting rod and reel a critical part of success: Here’s how


For the record my buddy Jim Berl bought a signature series rod and reel packages. Designed by bass pro Johnny Morris the package price gave him the best value at his price point. Jim with a nice Siltcoos Lake largemouth that he caught on a popper.

I was in a local big box sporting goods retailer earlier this spring. I met a friend to help him select a couple of bass fishing rods and matching reels. When I caught up to him, he was standing in front of several rows of bass rods looking a little overwhelmed by the selection. It’s more overwhelming when you start to consider rod length, action, line and weight class. Then there is price, from entry level or low priced, to “pro quality” with substantially higher price tags. So what to buy?

For my buddy we started to narrow it down by where he plans to fish. Which for the most part are the dune lakes near Florence, the Umpqua River around Elkton and possibly a couple of the reservoirs in the valley. Lakes that through most of the fishing season, have plenty of visibility and moderate water temperatures in the 60-70 degree range. The lakes around Florence are also fairly shallow, averaging about fifteen feet of depth. Summing up those general conditions suggests that through most of the season smaller baits and lures are going to be more effective. I suggested that he first look at a 6’ 6” medium weight, medium/fast action spinning rod for 8- to 16-pound line. This is a real versatile rod for large or smallmouth bass; great for fishing “soft plastics,” spinner baits and shallow diving plugs. My buddy also bought a 6’ 9” bait casting rod, medium/heavy weight, medium/fast action for 10- to 20-pound line. Which is ideal for fishing large spinner baits, big deep diving crank baits and “power fishing” big jigs with “trailers” or soft plastics in “heavy cover”.  

Most people buy in the middle, it’s where manufacturers offer the largest number of rods and reels. In the mid-price range you can expect a well-made product with good quality line guides (compatible with modern braided lines), quality reel seats, good fit & finishes, etc.

About reels: in a day fishing you could cast hundreds of times. On a two or three- day fishing trip maybe thousands and the last thing you want is a malfunctioning reel. I can fish with a broken rod tip (and have) but a broken reel is terminal. Day-in and day-out you really want a reel that can stand up to the rigors and one that performs flawlessly when the big one finally strikes. So for what it’s worth, I have several $250 reels on $100 rods…. It speaks to my priorities.

Spinning reels are manufactured in sizes 10X to 90X or some other increment of tens like 100, 200, etc. Modern reels also have the amount of line it holds, printed on the spool. The most versatile is the size #40 and a little lighter in weight and line capacity the size #30. both in a 5 to 1 retrieve ratio. (5:1 the line spool turns five times every time the handle makes one revolution). 

Bait casting reels or “level winds” aren’t sized the same as spinning reels but are classed by gear ratio. Without going too deep in the weeds on ratios, 7:1 reels pretty much dominate the recreational bass fishing sport. I look for a level wind that fits comfortably in my hand while attached to a reel seat. It is less fatiguing and I want to be able to easily “thumb the spool”, which is a measure of control you just don’t have with a spinning rod. There is a learning curve, modern bait casting reels have three adjustment options to prevent the dreaded “backlash” and learning to set the “magnetic drag” correctly takes a little practice and some patience.

The last word on bass fishing rods and reels, “do your home work.” Bass fishing is not as popular as it is in other parts of our country. So there is very limited expertise and very few outlets for some of the best tackle made at the lowest prices and I often look for resources on the internet. 

It’s a nuance but bass anglers refer to everything they toss at a bass as a ”bait.” Bass baits all fall into several categories; “Crank baits” are hard plastic plugs that dive when retrieved, made to be fished in contact with the bottom or other structure and are also called “deflection baits.” “Soft plastics,” are often scented with fish attractant, molded to look like salamanders, crawdads or worms and feel somewhat life like. “Carolina or Texas rigging,” you fish a soft plastic along the bottom, alone on an “offset worm hook.” Sizes 1/0, 2/0 and 3/0 hooks will cover everything locally. “Top water baits”, include hard plastic poppers, plastic frogs, mouse baits. … or essentially anything that darts, pops or hops along the surface. “Spinner baits,” are a bass lure that looks like an open safety pin with overhead spinning blades. A “contact bait” their up turned hook is made to climb over underwater structures without snagging. Finally, “swim baits,” are made to cast and retrieve which imparts a swimming action. Some swim baits are hard plastic and have attached hooks. Others are made from the same soft plastics that worms and other soft baits are made from but the swimming action separates them and they are made to be casted and retrieve much like a spinner. The only aisle in the local bass pro shop with more selections than the rod aisle is the one with bass baits. There were thousands to choose from but I’ll tell you that only a small fraction of what is actually out there for sale is locally available.

Those of you that regularly read my column know I’m a fan of braided lines. Most of my bass reels are loaded with 40-pound braid. For soft plastics or jigs I add 20-40 feet of 10-14lb. fluorocarbon line. If I’m fishing top water popper, I’ll switch that out to a monofilament leader of the same length and weight. For crank baits, a full fluorocarbon line is the way to go. The non buoyant line allows a plug to dive to its maximum depth. Too heavy a line will suppress the plug’s action, I find that 12-pound line is plenty strong and gets me the action I want from a crank bait. 

That really just glosses over the subject of recreational bass angling. I tried to use the language and terms most common to the sport. An internet search will reward you with a greater discussion of bass fishing. I hope I have piqued your interest.

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