Freshwater Fishing Rods

By Lee McClellan

Before deciding which rod is best, anglers should know the power and action of a rod. These two components often get intertwined and confused, even by experienced anglers.

Photo of outdoor writer and avid fisherman Lee McClellan

You have a friend who caught his first largemouth bass last month He hasn't quit talking about it since — and he's bugged you to death until you agreed to take him fishing. Although you offer to let him borrow one of your good bass sticks, he insists on bringing his own rod and reel.

He shows up with a cheap discount store combo. It has a tiny, plastic ultra-light reel mounted on a rod that resembles a willow switch with guides on it. The rod and reel would struggle to land the minnows you planned to use for bait. His fishing experience would have been much better had he known what to look for in a rod and reel before buying an outfit.

Beginning (and sometimes experienced) anglers often don't know how to select a rod appropriate for the type of fishing they plan to do. A rod designed for panfish won't work for hauling in big bass.

Before deciding which rod is best, anglers should know the power and action of a rod. These two components often get intertwined and confused, even by experienced anglers.

Rod Action

The action refers to how much a rod bends when you're casting or have a fish at the end of the line. An extra fast action rod bends just at the tip. A fast action bends in the last quarter of the rod. A moderate-fast action rod bends over the last third. A moderate action rod bends over the last half. A slow action rod bends all the way into the handle. Fast action rods put more force into your throw and give you longer casts. Softer action rods are more forgiving and have less tendency to throw live bait from your hook.

Rod Power

The lure weights and line sizes that a rod can handle determine its power. Ultra-light rods are designed for 2-6 pound line and lures weighing from 1/32-ounce to 1/4-ounce. Rods can handle progressively heavier lures and line as their power increases from light to heavy.

All Around Rod Choice

A great choice for all-around fishing in Kentucky is a medium-light power, fast action rod for use with a spinning reel. These reels have an open spool in the front and mount on the bottom of the rod. They are the best choice for fishing situations where the line being used is 10 pounds or less in strength.

This kind of rod is supple enough to enjoy catching small farm pond bass and panfish, while beefy enough to land a large channel catfish or a four-pound bass. Spinning gear is easy to use and allows you to cast light lures a long way. Spinning rods help protect light lines, allowing beginners to make mistakes while landing a decent sized fish without breaking off.

The fast action gives the rod enough heft to set the hook when fishing a plastic worm or jig for bass, or setting the hook on a catfish.

Light Power, Fast Action

For bluegill, crappie and small trout, a light power, fast action spinning rod is a good choice. A quality ultra-light rod also works for these fish, but many ultra-lights are too short and too wimpy. A 4-1/2 foot ultra-light rod with the backbone of a boiled noodle isn't worth the packaging it came in for any species.

Medium Power, Medium Action

For larger black bass, walleye and channel catfish, a medium power, moderate fast or fast action baitcasting rod works well. Baitcasting reels have an enclosed spool and mount on top of the rod. They are the best choice for lines of 10 pound test or higher. They require much greater practice than spinning gear to use effectively.

Moderate Fast Action

Choose the moderate fast action if you plan to fish leeches or minnows for walleye, or chicken livers for channel cats. The slightly softer action usually helps prevent you from throwing off the bait while casting. If you plan to jig and worm fish for largemouth bass and occasionally fish for the other species, choose a fast action, medium power rod.

Heavy Action

Get a medium heavy or heavy power baitcasting rod with a fast action for striped bass, muskellunge, flathead catfish and blue catfish. This set-up is also good for flipping or pitching jigs for largemouth bass. Choose a moderate or slow action rod with a medium-heavy or heavy power rating if you plan to use live bait. Again, the softer action protects against throwing the bait off the hook on the cast. These rods possess enough strength to land these fish, but they can also handle the heavy lures and strong line needed.

Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.