Selecting tackle

A basic fishing outfit has four components: a pole (or rod/reel), line, a terminal rig (hooks, sinkers, floats) and some type of bait—live or artificial. Various combinations of these components can be used to catch most species. The trick, however, comes in selecting the right combination for the type and size fish you’re targeting, with the fishing method and bait you plan to use. A good way to think about your tackle is as a set of “fishing tools.” Various tackle items have specific purposes. You wouldn’t choose a hammer to saw a board in two, and you shouldn’t select a heavy bass outfit to go after bluegill. Instead, you must learn to match the right “fishing tool” to the “job” you wish to do. Anglers who do this will be much more effective than others who pick the wrong “tools.”

The Pole or Rod

A beginner should start with one multi-purpose fishing rod/reel combo that can be used for several situations. As you get more involved in fishing, you’ll probably want more specialized tackle. But when you’re getting started, your first outfit should be simple and inexpensive, yet versatile enough to catch many different species of fish.

Differences Between Poles and Rods

Mechanically, a fishing pole or rod is a lever that serves as an extension of the angler’s arm. With either, you get more length and leverage for presenting a bait, setting a hook and battling and landing a fish. Poles are longer than rods. Poles aren’t meant for casting, however, the line is instead fixed to the end of the pole and the bait is presented by swinging the line. Rods, on the other hand, are shorter than poles, and are fitted with a reel to hold the line. How you fish determines whether you need a pole or a rod. If you’re going after bluegill close to the bank, a pole may be best. But if you’re trying for bass away from shore, or if you’re fishing in deep water for walleye, you need a rod and reel to get extra casting distance or depth. Rods/reels are far more versatile than poles because of their reach. They can be used in many more fishing situations. Also, rods may substitute for poles in some close-in fishing situations.


Poles come in three main materials: natural cane, fiberglass and graphite. They are sold in various lengths, typically from 8 feet to 16 feet or longer! Some poles are stiff and strong (heavy action) for catfish and other large fish. Other poles are limber (light action) for catching small panfish. Cane poles are the simplest and least expensive. However, fiberglass and graphite poles are more durable and sensitive to delicate bites, and they offer more features. Many of these poles are collapsible and easy to transport. Some poles come with a line holder, which allows an angler to change the length of line he’s using. One type line holder is a simple reel that mounts on the pole’s butt. Another type is a metal bracket around which excess line is wrapped. Poles with line holders usually have guides, or the line is run through a hollow pole and out a hole in the tip. In either case, the reel or line holder on a pole is meant simply for adjusting line length, not casting.


Buying a rod is more complicated than buying a pole, since there are many more factors to consider. Rods come in different designs (casting, spining), materials, lengths, actions and handle and guide components. They are sold in a broad range of prices, from inexpensive to very expensive. All these variables can be confusing. However, there is one simple way to avoid making a bad decision: seek the advice of an experienced angler. This may be the salesman in an outdoor store or tackle department. Tell him what type of fishing you want to do – species, methods, locations and he should be able to outfit you.

Rod Features

Following are brief looks at the different features of fishing rods. Having a basic understanding will help you select a rod that best suits your needs.

   Rod type—Rods are designed to match different types of reels. There are four basic types of reels: baitcasting, spinning, spin-cast and fly. Casting rods are designed for use with bait-casting or spin-cast reels. Spinning rods are used with spinning reels, and fly-rods are designed for use with fly-reels. Each type rod has its special uses and advantages/ disadvantages.

Left to right: Pistol-grip casting rod, standard-grip casting rod, and fly rod.

  Length—Most fishing rods measure 5-7 feet long, though highly specialized rods may be shorter or longer. Long rods offer more leverage. They can generally cast farther, but they are harder to cast accurately. Short rods offer less leverage and casting distance, but they are more accurate for dose-in casting. Best overall rod lengths for general fishing purposes are 5V2-61/2 feet.

  Action—Action refers to a rod’s stiffness and how this stiffness is built into the design of the rod. A rod’s action has a direct effect on the size of bait a rod can cast effectively and the size fish it can handle. Standard rod actions are: ultralight, light, medium-light, medium, medium-heavy and heavy. Ultralight rods are very limber. They are best for casting little baits (for example, t/32-oz.) for smaller fish. Heavy-action rods are extremely stiff and powerful. They are best for casting heavy baits (V2- I ounce-plus) and catching such fish as trophy bass, stripers and big catfish. The stiffer the rod the more difficult it is to cast light, small baits. On the other hand, the lighter a rod’s action, the less well-suited it is for casting heavy baits. It is crucial to match rod action, line size and bait size.

  Mid-weight rods—Light, medium-light and medium are the most versatile and usually the best choice for beginning fishermen. With a 6-foot medium-light rod, you can land everything from bass and catfish to walleye, white bass, crappie, pike and other species. You need a heavy-action rod only when going after muskies, trophy pike, stripers or the biggest bass in the thickest cover.

  One-piece/Multi-piece—Most rods are constructed in one long piece. However, others are made in two or more pieces that can be joined. One-piece rods are stronger and more sensitive, though multi-piece rods provide adequate strength and sensitivity for most situations. The main advantage of a multi-piece rod is convenience in storing and carrying.

  Materials—Most modern fishing rods are made from fiberglass, graphite or a combination of these two materials. Fiberglass rods are flexible yet durable. Their drawback is that fiberglass rods weigh more. Also, fiberglass rods are less sensitive to light bites than graphite rods. Conversely, graphite rods are lighter and more sensitive. Their drawbacks are higher cost and brittleness.

Handles—Rod handles come in a range of designs and materials. Some anglers like straight handles; others prefer a pistol-grip. Many rods have long handles that facilitate two-hand casting and extra support when fighting a big fish. Materials vary from cork to plastic or foam.

Casting, Spinning or Fly Tackle

  When shopping for a new outfit, should you choose casting, spinning or fly tackle? Again, this choice depends on how you plan to fish and the type and size fish you will target.

  Let’s start with casting tackle. Casting rods match up with baitcasting and spin-cast reels. Baitcasting reels, also called open face and revolving spool reels, mount on top of the rod in front of the handle. When bait is cast out, its weight pulls line off the reel’s exposed spool. Thumb pressure on the spool is used to slow the bait and stop the cast at the desired distance.

  Spin-cast reels, also called push-button reels, have a spool that is enclosed inside a hood covering the front of the reel. Line plays out through a small hole in front of the hood. To make a cast, an angler pushes and holds the thumb button down, makes a back-cast, then releases the button during the forward cast. With the button released, the line plays out smoothly. The user then pushes the thumb button again to stop the cast.

  Casting rods and these two reel types are normally stronger than spinning reels, and they are used with heavier line and baits for bigger fish. Baitcasting outfits are the most accurate type of casting tackle.

  Spinning reels hang under the rod on a straight handle. These reels have an exposed spool and a revolving bail that spins around as the handle is turned, thereby wrapping line around the spool. For casting, the angler catches and holds the line on his forefinger, the bail is tripped out of the way, and the line is released during the forward portion of the cast. The line coils off the spool with almost no resistance. This allows anglers to use spinning tadde to cast very small baits or lures. Spinning tadde is routinely used by anglers who go after smaller panfish.

  Fly-rods/reels are the epitome of specialty fishing. Fly-fishing tackle is used to cast small dry flies, artificial nymphs, streamers (wet flies), popping bugs and other baits that imitate insects, small larvae, etc. These flies and bugs weigh next to nothing, so it’s impossible to cast them with casting or spinning tackle. In fact, in fly-casting, the angler uses the weight of the line (rather than the lure) to achieve casting distance. He false casts while letting out more line through the rod’s guides. When he has enough line out to reach his target, he completes his cast by driving forward with the rod and allowing the line to settle on the water. The fly or bug just happens to be tagging along on the end of the line on a dear, thin tippet. Fly-fishing will frequently take fish when casting and spinning techniques are doomed to failure. This is because fly-fishing allows anglers to match the hatch when fish are feeding on tiny insects and larvae.

Fishing Line

  Fishing line is the actual link between angler and fish. Anglers must choose the right line for their particular tackle and method, and they must know how to care for their line so it will last longer.

  There are two basic types of line available: monofilament and superlines. Monofilament, an extruded nylon line, is a good choice for many fishing situations. It comes in a wide range of break strengths, called pound test. (A 6-pound test line will break when put under 6 pounds of pressure.) Monofilament lines have some stretch, are abrasion resistant and very sensitive in terms of feel. They come in a variety of colors and a good rule is to match line and water color.

  Superlines are a braid of thin, gel-spun polyethylene fibers. Some superlines are fused (the braided fibers are welded together). Other superlines are non-fused, but they all have similar qualities. Superlines are much stronger than monofilament. They have almost no stretch and are limp and extremely sensitive in feel:their smaller diameter allows for longer casts and they run diving baits deeper.

  Which size line is best? Several factors go into this answer. First, taclde must be balanced. Use light line with light tackle and heavier line with heavy tackle. As a general rule, 4-8 lb. test line is best for panfish like bluegill, crappie and walleye. For average-size bass, catfish, pike and similar-sized species, use 8-12 lb. test. For the biggest of these species, or when fishing in heavy weeds or snags, 15-25 lb. test line might be appropriate.

The Concept of Balanced Tackle

One of the most important things to remember in buying tackle is to balance the components of your outfit. Balanced tackle casts and retrieves lures/baits better and plays fish better than unbalanced tackle. Large sturdy reels are a good match for a heavy-action rods. Other small, light reels should be mated with light action rods. This is true with baitcasting, spin-cast and spinning tackle.

The same concept applies to line. Heavy-action outfits work best with 15 lb. test or heavier line. Medium-action tackle matches well with line in the 10-15 lb. test range. Light-action tackle should be spooled with 4-8 lb. test line. Ultra-light tackle works best with 2-6 lb. test line. (These line weights pertain to monofilament. If a superline is preferred, select one with a diameter that corresponds to the appropriate pound test size. 30 lb. test superline may have the same diameter as 12 lb. test monofilament.)

The final component in balancing tackle is the lure. It’s very practical to cast a I/16-oz. lure on an ultra-light outfit spooled with 41b. test line. Conversely, it’s impossible to cast a 1/16-oz. lure on heavy-action tackle. Use light-action tackle for light lures (up to 1/8 oz.), and heavy-action tackle to cast heavy lures (1/2 oz. or heavier).

Adding Line Onto a Reel

Spooling line onto a reel must be done correctly. Improper spooling can lead to backlashes, loss of casting distance, line twist and other nuisances. To spool line onto a baitcasting reel, run the line through the tip guide, then through all rod guides to the reel. Run the line through the reel’s level wind (the guide that feeds line on/off the reel). Loop the line around the reel spool and tie it on with a line end knot. Snug the line tightly to the spool, and clip the tag end. Have a friend hold the line in front of the rod tip, and run a pencil through the spool so it will turn freely and crank line onto the reel. Hold the rod tip up and keep slight pressure on the line so it goes on the reel spool uniformly, within a quarter inch of the top of the spool. With a spin-cast reel, run the line through the rod guides. Unscrew the reel hood, poke the line through the hole in the center, tie it around the reel spool with a line end knot and replace the hood. Reel on line until it is an 1/8-inch from the outside edge of the spool.

With a spinning reel, run the line through the rod guides. Open the bail (flip it down), tie the line on with a line end knot and dose the bail. Lay the filler spool on the floor so line will coil off in the same direction the reel spool turns. With a right-hand reel, the spool will turn clockwise, so lay the filler spool on the side that allows line to come off clockwise. This prevents line twist. Add line to within a quarter-inch of the edge of the reel spool.

Tying Line Onto a Pole

Tie the line onto the pole 18 inches down from the tip. Then wrap line around the pole candy-cane style to the tip, and tie it again. Adjust the line to whatever length line is desired, and clip it off. The line should be approximately the same length as the pole, or slightly shorter.

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