In the first of a series of articles written for newcomers to the sport Planet Sea Fishing explains the basics of the fishing rod.
The rod performs several functions for the angler firstly it provides a lever action to lift the terminal tackle and fish during the retrieve. Secondly the rod acts as a shock absorber which in conjunction with the reel drag helps iron out the bumps and thumps of a fighting fish. The final task of a rod is to assist in casting the angler’s bait or lures away from the shore or boat to the areas where the fish are feeding.
There is no such thing as an all round fishing rod and there are many variations in rod design each created to cover a particular task. A rod aimed at casting a light fly on a fly line would not be able to cope with launching a 5oz lead and bait out 100m from the shore. Some rods are capable of doubling up in tasks; for instance a light beach casting rod may be pressed into occasional service when spinning or float fishing but generally a rod should be selected for each specific task. Manufacturers spend many hours ensuring that the rods they produce are suitable for the advertised task.
Sea angling rods are generally produced in two sections for ease of transport. These may be two equal sections in the case of spinning and light shore rods or have a longer tip section with a shorter butt like most beachcasters. Travel rods for fishing abroad may be constructed from four or more jointed sections and telescopic rods with the sections housed within the butt section are also available.
Today, most rod blanks are manufactured from a mixture of carbon fibre and an epoxy resin although some blanks have glass fibre added to the mix. The glass fibre has a better impact resistance than the carbon fibre which is used to add stiffness to the blank.
The carbon fibre used in most blanks is in the form of unidirectional threads although woven carbon fabric is often added. The raw carbon fibre is a floss-like material vulnerable to abrasion and damage and it is only when resin is added that the composite material becomes suitable for rod building. A number of rod manufacturers now build their blanks from carbon which has been impregnated with the resin. Carbon fibre is known in some areas of the world as graphite but it is the same material and not the well known lubricant.
Carbon fibre is available in various grades with differing modulus and strength. The higher the modulus the stiffer a rod blank will be whereas a blank with a high strength will bend further without breaking. Blank manufacturers will normally use a mid-range grade of carbon fibre to get the best of both worlds.
After the rod has been designed on paper or computer a pattern is made and carbon fibre / or carbon-glass mix is cut to shape. The fibre sheet (impregnated with the resin) is rolled round a prepared mandrel or tapered rod which has been designed to suit a particular rod type. The shape of the pattern will, to a great extent, determine the action of the rod. After rolling a heat shrinkable tape is applied before the blank is cured using heat and pressure. This part of the process may take several hours. When cured the mandrel is removed pneumatically and the blank is then ready for the final polishing if it is to be painted or left with the tape marks in its natural form.
The advent of modern carbon fibre has meant that fishing rods have become stronger and lighter than the days of glass fibre only.
Several rods are now available in shops that are constructed from solid carbon fibre.
The action of a rod will vary from tip action (fast action) to through action (slow action) depending upon the layup of the carbon fibre. In a rod with a tip action, as its name suggests, the lower section of the rod tends to be fairly stiff whereas the through action rod bends throughout it length. Rods for distance casting tend to have fast actions and the through action rods are generally more forgiving when fighting fish.
The butt section of the shore rod is generally an extension produced using the same materials as in the tip section. Additional carbon fibre is normally added to stiffen the butt to assist with casting in the case of beach casting rods. These butt sections may be fitted with grips and a fixed reel seat but it is more common for this rod part to be covered with shrink tube and coasters used to clamp the reel to the rod. This allows the angler to vary the height of the reel fitting and even allows the reel to be positioned down at the bottom of the butt where some anglers prefer it to be sited when distance casting. In this case a reducer section is sometimes added below the reel after casting for a more comfortable retrieve. Some beach casting rods are still available which use an alloy material for the butt section but this has mostly fallen out of favour given the corrosive effects of saltwater.
In the case of boat rods the butt section is manufactured from hollow glass or carbon and fitted with a butt cap and man-made (synthetic) grips. The fore grip is normally manufactured from a soft neoprene rubber which is warm to hold and non-slip. The neoprene material may also be used to form a hand grip on the lower part of the handle although this is sometimes left as the tubing covered by shrink wrap. The butt section needs to be stiff enough to cope with the pressures involved in fighting and landing fish which may way in excess of 50kg.
The butt section also houses the fixed screw reel seat which holds the reel on the rod.
Big game rods are fitted with solid alloy butts some of which feature a curve designed to allow the rod to be fitted in the gimbal on a fighting chair.
The term ferrule is a throw-back to the days when any jointed rod was assembled using a male and female metal ferrule. It is now more commonly known as the rod joint but is still the part of the rod where any two sections are joined together. This may be down at the butt section in the case of boat rod or beach casting rods or at the mid-section in the case of spinning rods with two equal sections. Although equal length two piece boat rods are available most are produced with a short butt section and long tip which are joined at the reel seat using a hollow female threaded fitting on the butt and a male section on the tip with a threaded nut to secure the joint. Most fittings of this type are now produced from carbon fibre but some metal fittings are still in use.
An alternative fitting used on some lighter boat rods consists of a hollow, female joint on the butt section and a tight, push fit, male joint section on the rod tip. This joint, like all glass or glass or carbon to carbon joints, relies on friction to hold the two sections together.
Most shore, spinning, float and fly rods are jointed using a male spigot which is secured inside the hollow rod section with resin. This is tapered to fit tightly inside the other rod section which is normally over whipped for strength. It is usual for the male spigot to be fixed into the rod section nearest the butt but rods are available where the male and female joint sections are reversed.
On shore rods the reel is generally formed using adjustable clamps or coasters. These are basically hose or Jubilee clamps with large handles to assist tightening the reel in place. The coasters are mainly constructed from stainless metal but plastic versions are available. In an emergency cable ties can be used for a quick, simple reel fitting. A specially designed rod clamp called the Talon is now being marketed; this is designed as an adjustable, fast fitting rod clamp for beach casting rods.
The boat angler will find the rods fitted with a threaded reel seat or winch fitting. Constructed of carbon fibre or metal this threaded fitting provides a secure location for holding the reel in place. The reel foot fits under the hoods on the seat and the threaded nut is used to tighten the fitting onto to reel. The winch fitting must be strong enough to hold the reel firmly in place, as even light fishing can strain the fitting. On heavy rods a double locking nut is used as a standard feature in good design. A number of boat reels are supplied with rod clamps which can be used to add extra security when fitting the reel.
Adjustable versions of the threaded reel seat are now available for the shore angler which the seat being clamped in the chosen location on the rod using a version of the coaster.
Rod rings, also known as rod eyes or guides support the reel line as it travels along the length of the rod and are manufactured from corrosion resistant alloys, titanium or stainless steel. The rings are secured to the rod blank using a strong whipping thread that is finished with an epoxy sealer. Bridge rings may have two feet or a single foot so fixing to the blank and there is a vast array of differing designs and price brackets now available.
The most common ring used is the bridge ring and this is usually fitted with a liner constructed of aluminium oxide, silicon carbide or similar material. The quality of the liners used in rod rings today means that the vast majority can be safely used with mono or braid lines without fear of grooving through wear.
Roller rings reduce friction on the line and are designed for use on the boat when fishing with wire line or with heavier braided lines when big game fishing.
The tip ring is the final guide at the top of the rod and consists of a ring with a tube which is matched to the diameter of the rod tip and the ring is secured in place using hot melt glue. This facilitates easy replacement of a damaged tip eye. Tip rings designed for heavier rods usually have two supporting legs.
Because a multiplier reel is fished with the reel on top of the rod the line needs to be supported along the length of the blank and therefore more rod rings must be used than on a rod for fixed spool use where the line is suspended below the rod. The spacing of the rings is also more critical but on both cases there are normally more rings towards the tip where the rod is most flexible. The rings on a fixed spool rod tend to have a larger diameter although new ring design such as the Fuji Low Rider guides have reduced the need for outsized rings nearest to the reel.
Rods are available on the market without guides, for instance the Daiwa Interline, where the line is carried down the centre of the rod blank through a specially treated inner surface.
This is measured from the butt cap to the tip ring. In the past boat rods averaged from 1.5 - 1.8 metres (5 - 6 feet) but this has changed recently as tackle becomes generally lighter and the average length is now 2.1 - 2.4 metres (7 - 8 feet). Specialist boat rods are now being used, particularly in competition situations, with lengths of up to 5m. When uptide fishing a 2.4 - 3.1 metre rod is used to allow the angler to cast the terminal tackle away from the side of the boat.
While rods used for boat fishing have become longer the method of fishing known as ‘Stand-Up’ fishing for big game requires rods with a maximum length of 1.8 metres to allow better leverage with large fish.
The shore anglers tend to use longer rods to allow better casting and beachcasters will normally be around 3.3 - 3.9 metres (11¬13 feet) in length. Longer “Continental” style rods are now becoming the norm on clean beaches, used mainly with a fixed spool reel. The shore angler may also use a bass rod which is basically a light beach caster with a length of 3.1 to 3.3 metres.
With lure fishing becoming popular the boat and shore angler will find as use for a spinning rod with a length of 2.4 - 3.1 metres.
The rods should be regularly washed down in warm, soapy, fresh water to remove all traces of salt that will eventually lead to corrosion of the guides. The rings should be carefully checked for wear and rust as the slightest bit of damage to these could me a broken line. Fish scales should be removed from the rod and the whippings checked for damage. If the reel seat is metal then it should be lightly oiled and the same applies for roller rings if fitted.
A large plastic tube is a convenient method for storage and transportation of the rods. This care of the equipment is necessary to ensure the rod has a long and trouble free life.