Finding the Right Fishing Rod By Jason Brooks

Finding the Right Fishing Rod By Jason Brooks

Almost three decades ago, I learned the importance of using the correct fishing rod, and how important the rod is as a tool to catch more fish. It was a bright July day, and we were fishing the Cowlitz River for summer steelhead. I was with two friends, both of whom were well seasoned steelhead anglers, but I was not. Having grown up in North Central Washington, steelhead were but an anomaly back in the 80’s and 90’s. Instead, we trolled for trout and chased summer chinook by casting spoons and pulling plugs, but we never really had to “feel the bite” like you do for summer steelhead. 

Throughout the day, my two friends kept hooking fish while I did not get a single bite, or at least I did not think I did. After breaking off the leader while in a good run, one of my friends told me to grab his spare rod, already rigged up and ready to go with bait. I put down my rod and grabbed his, cast it out, and within seconds had a bite and set the hook. Once that fish was landed, I mentioned how quickly I felt the fish bite and that it was my first bite of the day. Both friends politely informed me that I had been getting bites all day, but I just did not know it, calling my fishing rod a “broomstick”. I was using a cheap rod, one that fit my budget at the time, but also cost me fish as it was not sensitive enough for me to notice the bite. The rod my friend handed me was a Lamiglas Certified Pro, a “mid-priced” rod for that brand, but known to be extremely sensitive and a good value compared to the higher end models. 



Price is probably the most noticeable point when it comes to a fishing rod. Those that do not fish, and even a few that do, often ask why quality fishing rods cost so much. Yes, there are exceptionally good rods on the market that do not cost what some of the “top of the line” models do, but they are usually made in foreign countries where quality control might not be as tight as some American made rods. There is a saying, “buy cheap, buy twice” which means those that try to look for a bargain often end up buying the more expensive rod after they have a few days like the one I had on the Cowlitz all those years ago. The high price of a rod is mostly due to a few variables, the first being quality control with quality materials. The next cost factor is that you are not just paying for the rod, but also for research and development that went into designing, testing, and building of the rod. A company cannot improve their products without testing and developing them first. They have paid employees that do this, such as engineers to design, make, and maintain the machines that manufacture the rods, and then of course the engineers whose knowledge goes into rod design. Everyone needs a paycheck and when you buy that rod you are becoming part of the process, one that will also help improve the next model or design of rod. Warranties also cost and some high-end rods are factoring in the warranty for when anglers do break a rod and get a “free” replacement. That replacement cannot really be free but instead is added into the overall costs. Then there is shipping the rods to stores, advertising, and of course the store’s overhead, which all must be added to the costs of each rod. 

So now that you know why some rods cost so much, then ask how some rods can be reasonable in price and still have most of the same attributes of a high-end rod. This is mostly because those rods are a few years behind in technology, and either patents run out so they can be copied, or consumer demand is finally high enough that a large company can outsource the building of the rods to foreign labor, making the building part of the rod less expensive, and mass produce the rod. Profit margins can be smaller, and this means a less expensive rod for the angler, but think about quality control and rod materials. Of course, these rods can and do catch fish, so should you feel guilty for buying a rod made in some foreign country? That is up to you, but it is understandable why one would buy such a rod, with some American made rods costing two and even three times as much as the others. 

When it comes time to pick out the rod you plan to buy, you need to understand how the rod is designed or what its purpose is for. The first two factors that must be taken into consideration when purchasing the correct rod are what type of fish you are planning on catching, and what technique you are going to use to catch them. Take for example the twitching rod, often used to catch coho, but also good for chinook, chums, and even the occasional winter steelhead. Since it is mostly used for coho, the rod needs enough power to haul in a 12 to 18-pound fish, pulling it out of a log jam, and to the net. It also needs a soft tip, or fast action, to give that jig the right action as it falls, and so you can feel the slightest resistance when the fish grabs the jig, often done on the drop. Again, that power needs to be strong enough to set the hook quickly. And then there is the length of the rod- most twitching rods are 7’6” to 7’9” as this is the right balance for twitching without causing wrist fatigue. Years ago, just as twitching rods were coming onto the market, I was still using a medium action 8’6” drift fishing rod and did well until my wrist hurt so bad that I had to stop fishing for the day. Yes, some rods are “multi-purpose”, but if you plan to use a specific technique you will always do better with the right tool for the job, or the rod designed for that type of fishing.

Float fishing is popular amongst salmon and steelhead anglers, and since the technique is pretty much the same if you are floating cured roe or a jig, you can use the same rod. The idea of float fishing is to cast out a line with a sliding float and a weight to get the bait or lure down to the depth of the fish, and then let it naturally drift downstream. To do this you need to be able to mend the line, which is to pick the line up off the water and pull or flip it upstream, allowing some slack above the float. If the line gets pulled downstream in the current, it often speeds up the float and bait or lure and it is not a natural presentation. To mend the line, you need an exceptionally long rod so you can lift the line up off the water. Most float rods are 10 ½ to 12 feet long, with a medium heavy to heavy action or “power” as you do not need to feel the bite, but you need to set the hook hard. 

Spoon and spinner fishing is much like drift fishing as far as casting out a lure, letting it drift along and catch in the current as it swings across the river. One main difference is that most bites on the spoon or spinner are violent grabs by the fish and you can feel them easily. There are a few times that the bite is more of a pause but then again you can feel that with a quality graphite or glass rod. However, the drift angler needs to be able to tell the difference between a bite and the weight bouncing off a rock. This is where my broomstick failed me all those years ago. If there is one technique where the rod is the most valuable tool to catch fish, it is in drift fishing. This style of fishing is also one of the most common and one of the ways most salmon and steelhead anglers learn to fish. It can be very frustrating to go out fishing and not get a bite, or worse, get a bite and not know it. Do not skimp on the drift fishing rod. An extremely sensitive, moderate to fast action rod in 8 ½ to 9 ½ feet is necessity. Again, the river you plan on fishing will determine the specifics of the rod. 


Years ago, when the Frazier River in British Columbia still had a return on sockeye in the tens-of-millions (yes, millions) I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder in the glacial waters with zero visibility, drift fishing “wool” as they call it in B.C. It was the basic drift fishing of a piece of yarn, sometimes with a Lil Corky, but mostly just a piece of yarn and an awfully long leader. Lining sockeye, like they do in Alaska, was the way to catch them in the murky water, but this river is huge and about 200 yards wide, moving so fast that we were casting 2-ounce cannonball weights and bouncing them along as if they were a 2-inch piece of pencil lead. For this trip I was using a 12-foot extra heavy spinning rod. It would cast 100 yards easily and handle the swift currents as well as the occasional chinook, pulling it in while never needing to yell, “fish on, coming down” like most anglers do on any given pink salmon river in the Pacific Northwest. It was the right tool for the job, and one I bought specifically for this trip. It cost a few hundred dollars and that is expensive for a rod that will be scarcely used. It has found a new fishery now that the Frazier is pretty much closed to sockeye fishing, and that is along the ocean beaches as a surf perch rod. Again, ask yourself what type of fish you are planning on catching, and what technique you will be using. Surf perch does not require a heavy action rod, but casting the heavy weights out past the rolling waves does. Be sure to pick the right rod you plan to use and buy the best quality one you can afford, otherwise you will likely be buying twice. 

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