Saltwater fishing spans a vast array of conditions and game fish. Here's some help in looking for the characteristics of the best rod for your style of fishing.
Carol Marsh, the author's wife, caught this speckled trout with a Shakespeare rod. The cork handle and light weight of this rod are matched to smaller inshore species, such as trout. Photo by Mike Marsh.
While it takes a lot of gear to catch fish from salt water, there is nothing more important to success than the selection of the right rod for the job at hand. During battles with heavyweight big-game fish, I've seen rods broken in two, roller guides that stopped rolling, flimsy guides that have folded over or shattered and reels jerked completely free of broken reel seats. I've seen gimbles and grips come unglued during a battle and tip tops fall off during a cast.
All of these disasters have essentially the same results -- a disappointed angler and a fish that swims away free after many dollars and much time have been spent in the attempt to catch it. In most cases, the angler was using a rod that was under-matched to the size of the fish, a rod that had not been properly cared for, or a rod that was undersized for the terminal tackle that was being used. Pulling a heavy planer or deep-diving lure on a lightweight spinning rod instead of a heavy-duty trolling rod is inviting rod failure, as is any other misguided attempt at adapting a finely crafted tool to perform a job it was not meant to do in the first place.
The great thing about saltwater fishing rods is that they are relatively inexpensive for what they are expected to accomplish. Any high-quality saltwater fishing rod will last a lifetime with a bare minimum of care. The simple act of gently washing a rod with fresh water after each trip is usually enough to keep any rod from one of the top tackle manufacturers working for years. Storing them in rod holders, rod tubes or cabin racks where they don't get knocked around by choppy seas or stepped on by crewmen with poor sea legs are the only other things necessary to give any high-quality saltwater rod great longevity.
So what makes saltwater fishing rods so durable? How does an angler go about selecting a new rod that is the right one for his type of fishing?
Durability in a saltwater rod stems from having the ability to flex along its length and remain flexed under enormous pressure repeatedly without cracking or breaking. It also means corrosion resistance for all metal surfaces exposed to salt and the ability of all polymer and composite surfaces to withstand degradation by sunlight and chemicals, such as boat fuel, solvents or lubricants.
Selecting a rod size and style depends upon the type of fish an angler wants to catch and just as much upon the method he will use to catch the fish. A lightweight spinning rod, if pressed into duty for pulling planers or speed lures, will pop its line guides or break at a flex point quickly. Conversely, using a big-game boat rod to cast a spoon to a school of small surface-feeding fish will not only prove to be very ineffective, it also takes the fight out of any fish that is hooked.
Let's take a look at Shakespeare's new for 2006 Powerod Bigwater rods and Powerod Boat rods. The Bigwater Rods have reinforced tubular fiberglass blanks and stainless steel, double-bridged guides with aluminum oxide inserts. The reel seats are graphite and the hoods are cushioned stainless steel. The grips are EVA cushioned foam and have rubber butt caps.
Powerod Boat Rods have additional features, including heavy-duty, chrome-plated, stainless-steel, double-bridge guides on the casting models and blanks that extend through the handles for extra strength. Select models also have graphite gimbles with removable rubber butt caps. When fighting big-game fish like tuna or marlin, a rod with a gimble is a necessity. The grooves in the gimble hold the rod securely against a horizontal pin in a fight belt or chair rod holder. But when fighting smaller fish, a gimble cover helps prevent bruises where the rod butt may dig into the angler's thigh.
Powerod styles include medium, medium-heavy, spinning and downrigger patterns. Boat and trolling rods run from 6.5 to 8.5 feet in length and spinning rods from 6.5 to 14 feet in length.
The rod blanks are made of fiberglass, a durable material that is not as sensitive as many of the graphite composites used in freshwater rods. Fiberglass rods typically have more flex than graphite rods, with greater durability for standing up to the brutish abuse of saltwater game fish. Aluminum oxide guide inserts are sturdy as well as abrasion- and corrosion-resistant and the double-bridge wrappings prevent them from folding or snapping under pressure. Most freshwater rods have thinner guides that give them more sensitivity and less weight for catching smaller fish in a relatively non-corrosive environment. They're specialized for a specific job, but many are not very corrosion resistant and none are built as beefy as the guides used on saltwater rods.
While lighter grip materials will work for a bass-fishing rod, they don't hold up well to saltwater use. Banging around in rod holders, scraping against fight belts and fight chairs, or bouncing off the gunwales as an angler leads a fish toward a gaff are hazards of saltwater fishing that quickly destroy flimsy rod grips. Once the grip is gone, the rod is useless. High-quality saltwater rods have grips that are resistant to abuse and degradation by sunlight.
Saltwater reel seats must also endure plenty of abuse. If a big fish hits and the drag setting is high, it can be a difficult feat just to work the rod free of a holder. That kind of pressure can snap a reel seat -- or the rod just above the reel seat -- which is the weakest point of a rod because it acts like a fulcrum. A rod is, after all, merely a lever. Having a rod blank that extends through the handle may seem insignificant, until you try fighting a fish with a broken rod. I've seen some big fish landed that way but it's tough to subdue a fish with half a fishing rod dangling from the line.
Shimano has redesigned its inshore saltwater Calcutta fishing rods for 2006. The rods have silicon carbide guides mated to special blanks with glass inner cores wrapped with special high-modulus graphite layers to combine sensitivity with durability in a lightweight rod. Some models have an exposed blank running through the reel seat for greater sensitivity when casting for inshore game fish, such as flounder and speckled trout, which have notoriously gentle strikes.
The Shimano Teramar inshore rod series is tailored to each of three regions, the Southeast, Southwest and West coasts. Special features include Fuji guides with new harder alloys, such as Hardloy and Alconite, which keep the rods light in weight to help prevent fatigue for anglers who spend all day casting in the backwaters. The Teramar series ro
ds also have lure keepers on the blanks above the rod handles. A secure place to hook a lure is always a welcome convenience that adds longevity to rod guides, which are where anglers are most likely to hook lures on rods without lure keepers. Lures jerking against rod guides during the race between fishing spots can take a toll on guide inserts.
At the opposite end of the Tramar inshore series in rod size are the Tallus IGFA rods in 50-, 80- and 130-pound classes. Super heavy-duty roller guides and Diamond Grip reinforcement wrap ahead of the grips on the rod ensure durability while fighting big-game fish. These rods are available in chair rod styles with bent butts or in straight butt styles.
Penn has a number of new saltwater rods, including the Penn Guide Kingfish Rods. The 7-foot conventional style trolling rods have the strong backbones combined with the fast, light tip tapers that are ideal for live-bait fishing for king mackerel and other medium-sized game fish. They are constructed with Fuji guides and reel seats and also have aluminum gimbles for added durability. King mackerel tournament pros were consulted during the design process for this new rod series, so it should be a real winner.
New Penn International Shallow Water Rods are built for fishing the backwaters. These lightweight rods have some of the characteristics of freshwater rods, with cork grips and IM7 graphite blanks that give them light weight. But the sturdiness of Fuji guides and other durable components adapt this lightweight rod to the rigors of saltwater fishing in bays, coastal rivers and sounds.
For 2006, Quantum offers a new Boca PT (Performance Tuned) series rod. The rod is made in both inshore and offshore models. The inshore models feature high-modulus graphite blanks, Fuji exposed blank type reel seats in casting models for extra sensitivity, Fuji Hardloy Concept guides, premium specie-grade cork handles and FlexCoat epoxy finishes for added protection to the rod surface.
Quantum Boca offshore models are built with heavy-duty graphite blanks, Fuji DPS reel seats, Fuji Hardloy guides and EVA foam grip handles.
It's a certainty as these and other materials and other innovations become available, saltwater rods will continue to become better tools for catching fish. That gives every angler what he needs -- an excuse to buy another fishing rod.
For more information, contact: Shakespeare, www.shakespeare-fishing.com, (800) 347-3759; Shimano, www.shimano.com, (877) 577-0699; Penn, www.pennreels.com, (215) 229-9415; Quantum, www.quantumfishing.com, (800) 588-9030.