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May 15, 2009

Rod Action Matters

Fast or Slow? Taper determines rod performance

Casting and Fighting
Taper affects the way a rod loads and responds during the forward stroke of a cast. Gary Schaefer, products manager for G.Loomis (www.gloomis.com), recommends avoiding slow-taper rods in precision-casting situations. "Because these rods load slowly and deeper into the blank, they throw the lure over a wider, not-so-well-defined target range. Results are disastrous if a misguided cast means spooked fish," he says.

When lobbing less predictable mortar rounds won't do, choose a fast rod to fire lures with a sniper's aim. "Fast-action rods load quickly so you can shorten the swing for more control, enabling you to deliver very accurate casts," Schaefer says.

Fast-taper rods do not represent the best choice in every situation, however. "An extra-fast rod is not the answer for most guys who have to cast surface irons or similar compact, heavy jigs. A rod that's too stiff recoils so quickly after casting that line management becomes an issue because of the major change in spool speed," Poe says.

After the cast, the right rod becomes a fine-tuned fish-fighting tool. Less overall flex gives fast-taper rods "backbone" to lift more line with each upward stroke. "Use an extra-fast rod when you must move fish away from structure now!" Poe says. Schaefer adds that fast actions lock up quicker to provide "more rod" for better hook-sets when targeting hard-mouthed species or using heavy line and large hooks.

Conversely, Poe points out that slower rods add a little extra comfort and forgiveness when fighting fish with delicate mouths like seatrout and salmon. Slow actions also serve when targeting large fish on light line. "A long, slow-taper rod    protects the line," Schaefer says. "The    rod loads slowly, flexing to dampen and absorb the fish's abrupt movements."

Actions and Applications
Poe and Schaefer offer the following advice concerning which rod tapers perform best in various scenarios.

Inshore live-baiting
Poe: Medium-fast allows fish to eat the bait - unless you're fishing heavy structure and need a fast taper to move fish quickly after the hookup.

Schaefer: A medium or medium-fast action protects delicate baits and won't throw them off the hook during the cast. Also, the rod won't be so stiff that a fish feels resistance and spits the hook when taking the bait.

Inshore subsurface lures
Poe: Fast action is perfect for twitchbaits that require an underwater walk-the-dog retrieve. Since crankbaits and minnow plugs swim more quickly, you need enough give in the rod for a fish to get the lure in its mouth and get hooked. Faster rods can cause short strikes and lost fish, so use a medium-fast taper for swimming plugs.

Schaefer: With jerkbaits, use a medium-fast or fast rod for accurate casts and better response when working the lure. You don't need to wait on the strike (like you do with crankbaits), so a fast rod's quicker hook-set is desired.

Inshore topwater lures
Poe: Fast action performs best because you don't want the rod to bend too much when working the lure. Topwater technique calls for moving the lure then throwing slack at it, and a fast rod picks up slack quickly.

Schaefer: A fast rod loads and recovers quickly to fire topwaters exactly where you want them, and when a fish hits, you can set the hook firmly at any distance.

Offshore metal jigs
Poe: Use a medium-action rod to help avoid backlashes when casting surface iron as well as for working Butterfly jigs. A fast rod rebounds too quickly, which creates slack and a poorly swimming jig.

Schaefer: I've jigged for Alaskan salmon in depths ranging from 75 to 200 feet, using moderate and fast-action rods. A moderate action moves the jig less briskly so it looks like a dying bait, while a fast-action rod imparts a quicker, more erratic escape motion to draw strikes. I believe a medium-action rod results in more bites but fewer hookups - and it takes much more effort to work the lure. A faster rod lets me jig with shorter strokes, and the hook-set response is quicker. Both tapers work; it depends on your fishing style.

Offshore bottomfishing
Poe: Fast to extra-fast tapers work best to move fish away from wrecks and reefs before they bury you.

Schaefer: Use a fast action that locks up quickly so you don't have to swing  the rod very far to move fish away from structure.

No Great Shakes
Poe discourages anglers from testing a rod's action by pressing the tip against the ceiling or floor. "Place the tip against a firm object and gently push until the rod bends. Tackle-store owners will not be happy to see you spearing the wall with a $200 fishing rod, so I stress 'gently' and recommend pushing against a buddy's hand," he says. "Just a couple of pounds of pressure should be enough to reveal a rod's action."

Schaefer says it's impossible to judge taper by simply shaking a rod. "We design rods to perform optimally when loaded with line and a bait or lure. When shaken without a load, rods feel too stiff. If an empty rod feels good when you shake it in a store, it will feel too light when you get home and put a lure on it," he says.

Looking for the best all-around rod action to use in all types of fishing? Give up the search because no such beast exists! Invest in a selection of rods, each tapered for peak performance in a particular situation.