Competitive bass fishing continues to change the looks and feel of the modern bass rod. Missing a single bite often spells the difference between winning and not, which these fierce competitors liken to losing.
To improve performance, they seek greater sensitivity in their rods. In recent years, the trend also has been for longer rods that deliver greater casting distance and better leverage on hook-sets. And to last through grueling days and weeks of fishing, lightweight models are at a premium.
Pros keep coming up with new techniques, prompting rod manufacturers to increase their offerings of specialty rods. This move toward specialization has, in some cases, reduced the availability of multipurpose rods, which many noncompetitive and less avid anglers prefer.
"Our rods have been based on technology," says Bruce Holt of G. Loomis. "We made regular graphite and IM6, which we converted to GL3 as better materials became available, then later to IMX and GLX. We divided rod offerings into categories based upon general usage. All those rods were rated moderate-fast to fast and they were user friendly — light and easy to cast with accuracy.
"As we began to refine our lines, we divided them into categories of use. Anglers expected more precise actions so we began to design rod series' around various techniques." G Loomis' GLX Jig & Worm rod series is an example of the company's philosophy of designing rod actions for specific applications.
"Our BCR853 GLX is a 7-foot 1-inch worm rod rated for 12- to 16-pound line," he says. "Do people go lighter or heavier? Yes, but this rod is designated for that tight range because of its design. It works best with line of that strength and size. If you want a heavier jig rod, use our 854 or 855 models. They're stronger, stiffer, and made for jig fishing."
Other companies also have been specializing as well. Quantum introduced 3 casting rods in their new Tour KVD series: a 6½-footer for spinnerbaits and topwater frogs; 6-foot 10-inch model for surface baits and medium-size spinnerbaits; a 7-foot 2-inch one for magnum spinnerbaits, as well as pitching and flipping in moderate cover. California swimbait expert Matt Newman jumped into the rod business late last year with iRods, which include the Bub Tosh Punching Rod, Gabe Bolivar Reaction Rod, Fred Roumbanis Magic Stick, and more.
In the new Skeet Reese Signature Series Micro Honeycomb rods, Wright & McGill has a 7-foot finesse worm-fluke model, 7-foot 2-inch football jig-big worm version, and a 71„2-footer for heavy cover. St. Croix added a 7-foot 2-inch crankbait rod in its Legend Xtreme Series, while Damiki has finished a new swimbait rod as well as cranking rods designed by FLW 2010 Angler of the Year Brian Thrift.
Trey Kistler of Kistler Custom Fishing Rods noted his company is taking a different approach to meeting anglers' demands for specialty rods by phasing out technique specific rods and offering custom rod designs instead. Their online Kistler Custom Shop allows anglers to compose a Z-Bone rod, selecting rod type, power and action, length, guide choice, and other components. Kistler's rod builders then get to work on it.
New materials, including graphites and composites, and the resins that bind them, have enabled reductions in weight, as well as increases in sensitivity. At the 2010 ICAST Show, G. Loomis won the 2010 Best of Show for Freshwater Rod award with its NRX series. A combination of high density-graphite and Nano Silica resin makes these rods 20 percent lighter and as much as 25 percent stronger than GLX versions, according to Holt.
Wright & McGill teamed with Bassmaster 2009 Classic champ Skeet Reese to develop the Tessera graphite and Tri-Gressive fiberglass lines of rods, using blanks constructed with a new process and a new blend of materials resulting in a blank that's thinner, but also stronger and more durable than conventional ones. Blanks used in the new Micro Honeycomb Series of Reese's signature rods are even lighter. "It is a super lightweight modulus blank that they have figured out how to strengthen," Reese notes.
St. Croix strengthened its Legend Extreme rods by using a new resin, 3M Matrix. "This resin infiltrates graphite fibers like no other," says Dan Johnson of St. Croix. The company also relies on two new processes to improve strength and durability in its high-end series of rods (Legend Xtreme, Legend Tournament, and Legend Elite). "An Integrated Poly Curve (IPC) is built into the blank's mandrel to give it a pure slope," he adds. "In other words, there's no stair-step to the design of the mandrel, which enables us to build a rod with a more consistent wall thickness from butt to tip." The second process — Advanced Reinforced Technology (ART) — uses a carbon fiber material that runs perpendicular to the linear fibers of the blank. This process allows St. Croix to use lighter, higher strain material to manufacture a durable, yet light rod.
Fenwick's blanks are wrapped with a non-woven multidirectional fiberglass that creates a shield around the graphite blank. Fenwick product manager Mitch Dreisbach says this impact-resistant shield results in a more durable, longer lasting rod.
Fans of Lew's Speed Sticks will be pleased that new ownership has introduced four new series of bass rods. They feature Advanced Performance Blank Technology that melds layers of graphite and carbon fibers with high-grade resins to produce lighter, stronger rods equipped with Fuji K-Series Concept guides.
The demand for lighter, more sensitive rods has led more companies to use micro guides. "We plan to put micro guides on all our rods, that's how confident we are that anglers will appreciate them," says Kistler. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Boyd Duckett believes his proprietary micro guides, used in Duckett Fishing Rods, yield a lighter rod with better balance, sensitivity, and improved casting distance.
"The line goes through micro guides so smoothly without line slap," Duckett says. "With standard guides, line moves back and forth during a cast, slapping the guides. Micro guides, in contrast, pull it down to a straight line while keeping it off of the rod blank. Sensitivity increases since there are more points of contact between line and guide."
Duckett believes his Micro Magic concept doubles the sensitivity since these rods have 7 guides in the lower 14 inches of the rod, whereas other rods have only 3 in that section. Other companies that offer micro-guide rods include Cabela's, Castaway, LaserLure, Quantum, and Wright & McGill.
The new Smoke PT rod series from Quantum has 10 aluminum oxide micro guides plus the tip. "A full set of micro guides are 85 percent lighter than a traditional set," notes Quantum's Chris Strickland. Smoke rods range from 3 to 4.2 ounces. "Reduced weight was a driving factor in switching to micro guides," he says.
Cork handles have long been the industry standard for premium rods, but companies are switching to other materials to boost sensitivity. A wooden foregrip is a trademark of Denali Rods. In addition to its cosmetic appeal, the hardwood foregrip is denser than cork or EVA foam so it detects vibration better, according to Denali President Scott Estes.
Kistler Rods designed the Smart Grip, an EVA foam hood that slips over the reel seat mechanism to give anglers a more comfortable foregrip. "Anglers have complained about their fingers being rubbed raw since the trend to forgoing the foregrip came about," Kistler says. "Since the Smart Grip is soft, you can rest your finger on the blank and it won't rub on the sharp parts of the handle."
The Lure of Length
Western anglers like Gary Dobyns and Mike Long are known for using long rods and this trend seems to be moving eastward. The majority of Dobyns' rods range from 61„2 to 71„2 feet, but he offers models up to 8 feet for swimbaits and an 8-foot flipping-punching rod.
"A rod that's a couple of inches longer than a standard length gives anglers an advantage when picking up line on hook-sets," Dobyns says. "It helps the angler who's caught out of position by a sudden bite. When he swings, he picks up so much more line and may stick the fish anyway."
A variety of rod lengths, not merely 6-inch increments, gives serious anglers more tools to fish effectively, according to Duckett. That's why he offers models ranging from 6 foot 1 inch to 7 foot 11 inches.
"If you play golf, there are a lot of pitching wedges available. For a weekend duffer, one wedge is plenty, but check a guy who's playing competitively and you probably find four wedges in his bag," he says. "He buys products that allow him to score better. Fishing is similar."
For years, a 71„2-foot flipping stick was standard for close-range powerfishing, but manufacturers now provide more options. And inches can makes a difference when worm or jig fishing as well. G Loomis offers two lengths in its worm and jig series — a 6-foot 8-inch rod for flipping in tight quarters with heavy cover and a 7-foot 1-inch version for long-range pitching or making long casts in open water.
Whether you cast for cash or fish for fun, rod design innovations make it easier to duplicate the varied techniques that are winning today's tournaments. Moreover, these lighter and more sensitive rods amp up the fun factor in fishing, with both ease of performance and fish catches.
John Neporadny Jr., Lake Ozark, Missouri, is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to In-Fisherman and Bass Guide.