May 31, 2022
By Dr. Jason Halfen
Every long cast, authoritative hookset, sporty battle and thrashing fish in the net results from balance—not the kind of equilibrium we seek between mind and body or work and home, but rather a well-balanced tackle system, consisting of rod, reel, line and lure.
Most anglers recognize that bluegill rods shouldn’t be used when chasing muskies, and that finesse tubes don’t perform to our expectations when presented on long, stiff rods and level-wind reels.
While poorly balanced tackle can make for a frustrating and expensive experience, a tackle system that is well-balanced will enhance everything that happens on the water involving a cast, a fight and a fish.
Assembling a balanced system of rod, reel, line and lure requires that you address two fundamental questions: what species of fish do you plan to pursue, and what type of lure do you plan to present.
The answers to these questions will dictate the power and action ratings of your rod, the weight and capacity of your reel, the composition and pound-test ratings of your line and leader, and the weight and style of your lure.
Let’s begin our discussion by considering rod power and action. These ratings reflect rod characteristics that are derived from their design and engineering. They are often used interchangeably—and incorrectly.
Simply stated, a rod’s power is an indication of the force or weight required to flex the blank, while a rod’s action describes the specific area along the blank’s length where that flex will occur. Rod power ratings begin at ultra-light and proceed through extra-heavy (or higher), with an ultra-light rod flexing with much less applied force than does a light, medium, heavy or extra-heavy rod. Rod shoppers will often see this force translated into a range of lure weights that perform well with a particular rod power.
As an example, my all-time favorite panfish rod, a St. Croix Legend Elite Panfish, has a light power rating. The lure weight for this rod is 1/16 to 3/16 ounce, which is absolutely perfect for my all-time favorite panfish presentation: a 1/16-ounce VMC Mooneye jig dressed with a 2-inch minnow-profile soft plastic.
Manufacturers present these weights on the rod blank because casting lures within this range will cause the blank to flex just the right amount during the cast, propelling the lure farther and allowing you to cover more water. If I were to cast a 1-ounce jig with my light panfish rod, the jig would certainly fly through the air, but the rod would flex far more than its design and engineering would tolerate. The blank would oscillate in an ineffective and destructive manner, possibly causing it to fail in the most extreme cases.
That same Legend Elite Panfish rod has an extra-fast action, which means that the blank is designed with a flex point that is very close to the tip. Rod action imparts visual sensitivity; a delicate bluegill nibble will cause that extra-fast tip to twitch far more than the tip on a moderate- or slow-action rod would. In addition, rod action describes the amount of “backbone” in the blank for driving the hook into bony mouths.
An extra-fast or fast rod will flex close to the tip, with the rest of the blank’s length being stiffer and much less flexible. These rod actions excel with jigging presentations for panfish and walleyes, as well as with traditional soft-plastic presentations such as Texas rigging or Ned rigging for bass. Select a slower rod action, something in the moderate-fast or moderate range, when throwing crankbaits for bass or walleyes.
A rod must be balanced with a reel of appropriate weight, and the reel must have sufficient line capacity for the task at hand. A reel that is too heavy or too light for a particular rod will not only feel awkward in the hand, but also impact the casting, retrieving and hooksetting motions that we perform while on the water.
As a general rule of thumb for spinning tackle, select a 1000-series reel for panfish applications, a 2500-series reel for most walleye and bass presentations, and a slightly larger reel—perhaps one in the 4000 series—for larger, powerful fish like pike, catfish and sturgeon.
For fans of baitcasting tackle, a 150-series casting reel, like the Shimano Curado MGL 150, is an excellent all-around choice when paired with a medium-power casting rod for presenting jerkbaits, Texas rigs and Carolina rigs. A much lighter Curado BFS is a specialty reel for presenting Ned rigs on casting tackle, and it pairs well with a medium-light casting rod.
As the series of a reel increases, the reel will become larger and heavier, and it will have greater line capacity on the spool. Even a once-in-a-lifetime crappie is not likely to pull all of the line off a 1000-series reel, while a powerful flathead catfish or white sturgeon could easily rip half a spool of line from a 4000-series reel during a run in heavy current.
The amount of line you load onto your reel will also be impacted by the line’s composition. Braided line has a smaller diameter than fluorocarbon or monofilament at each pound-test rating, so spooling up with 8-pound-test braid will always place more line onto your spool than would 8-pound-test mono. With very limited exceptions, every reel in my arsenal is loaded with braided line and finished with a fluorocarbon leader.
The final variable in our tackle balance equation is the lure. If you’ve done a good job of assembling a well-balanced system of rod, reel and line, don’t ruin all of that work by casting and presenting a lure that falls outside of your combo’s specifications.
For example, bass anglers who love to throw spinnerbaits may find themselves needing two (or more) spinnerbait-specific rigs: one that is designed to slow-roll a heavy, 1-ounce spinnerbait in deep water, and another to churn the surface with a lighter 3/8-ounce offering.
Likewise, if I’m pitching soft plastics on 3/16-ounce jigs on the Mississippi River for trophy pre-spawn walleyes, I’ll rely on a rod with medium-light power and extra-fast action to handle that specific task. However, if I’m pulling heavy Dubuque rigs upstream in strong autumn current, I’ll reach for a medium or medium-heavy rod with fast action as I tie up for the day.
In pursuit of balance, one size most certainly does not fit all. Well-balanced tackle systems will help you fish more effectively, leading to more success and enjoyment on every trip. Take time to find balance, and you will be rewarded.