Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 12, 2013

MATT WILLIAMS: Balancing act

Some tips for choosing rods, reels and fishing lines

Matt Williams
The Athens Review

Athens — Bass fishing isn't rocket science, but judging from the wide range of specialty gear out there today the guys who play the game are considerably more meticulous about their equipment than they were, say, 20 years ago.

While glowing examples of the specialty train can be seen in everything from fish hooks to shallow anchors, it is especially evident when you crack open a rod locker on the typical bass rig.

I know guys keep 10-12 rod/reel combos at arm's reach at all times, each of them rigged to perform a specialized technique or throw a specific bait.

Whether you are ripping lipless crankbaits over mainlake grassbeds,  pitchin' or flippin in heavy cover, or running a deep-diving crankbait on river ledges, there is a rod, reel and line combo suited especially for it.

Here are some good guidelines to follow when piecing together a technique specific arsenal of rod/reel/line combos. Read closely, because in some instances you may be able to get away with using the same set-up for multiple fishin' tactics:

Flippin’ or Pitchin’

These are power fishing techniques that usually involve dropping a weedless lure into tight places around dense cover such as willow bushes, matted vegetation, stumps or buck brush. Baits are typically presented vertically around targets no farther than 10-12 feet from the boat.

• Rod: A double-handle rod with a heavy action is the heavy favorite. The heavy action provides the backbone necessary for horsing fish out of thick cover quickly, while the double handle allows for increased leverage and control.

• Length: That depends a lot on who tall you are. Choose a rod that it is too long and it will impede your accuracy and be cumbersome handle.

I'm 5 feet, 11 inches tall. My personal preference for flipping is a 7 1/2 footer, but anglers who are significantly taller could handle a rod as long as 8 feet. I like a slightly shorter rod, say 6 feet, 10 inches to 7 feet for pitching, mainly because it is easier to handle and promotes better accuracy.

• Reel: The reel for performing either tactic should have a relatively fast gear ratio, say   6.4:1 or higher. The faster gear ratio allows you to gather line and make a solid hookset quickly after a bite is detected.

• Line: Line should be stout enough to withstand the shock of a violent hookset on a stiff rod at relatively close range. Many anglers prefer braided super lines with a rating of at least 65-pound test. You can get away with 25-30 pound test fluorocarbon and monofilament in certain situations.

Crankbaits and more

• Billed Plugs: Billed plugs come in assorted sizes and three diving classifications: deep divers, medium divers and shallow divers. The deeper a bait dives, the more pull or drag it creates as it comes through the water.

• Rod: For deep divers, it is hard to beat a medium-action rod about 7 1/2 feet long. The medium action is flexible enough that it will absorb the hard pull of a deep diver, while the extra length will enable you to launch long casts and crank for longer periods with minimal fatigue.

Medium and shallow divers produce significantly less drag than deep divers, so you can get away with a little shorter rod. I like a 6 to 6 1/2 foot medium action for these baits, the shorter one being the best choice for making accurate casts with square bills around stumps, docks, scattered grass and other targets in skinny water.

I'll use these same rods in combination with a high speed reel for throwing topwaters jerkbaits.

• Lipless Plugs: Lipless plugs like the Rat-L-Trap call for an entirely different set-up, mainly they because don't produce much drag as they slice the water.

• Rod: It is hard to go wrong with a 7 foot medium/heavy action, especially when launching long casts around submerged grass during late winter and early spring. Most strikes come as the bait clips the moss and tears free.

The medium-heavy action is stiff enough snatch the bait out grass before it loads or buries up, but not so heavy that it will rip the trebles out of the bass' mouth when it eats the lure. This rod also can be used for throwing most spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits, Texas rigs and soft jerkbaits like the Senko.  

• Reels: Reels with a low gear ratio like a 5.3:1 are ideal for hard-pulling billed plugs. The lower the gear ratio, the less effort it takes to turn the handle when retrieving the lure. A faster gear ratio of 6.4:1 or higher is usually preferred in combination with lipless cranks, mainly because these baits create very little resistance and may require a fast retrieve to draw reaction strikes around grass.

• Line: Line type and size depends entirely on the situation. I know some Lake Falcon regulars who throw deep cranks in combination with braided line, mainly because the odds of tangling with big bass near heavy cover are so good.

Fluorocarbon lines in the 8-16 pound range are ideal for crankbaits, but you might want to step up to 20-pound test for spinnerbaits, Chatterbaits and Texas rigs, depending on the available cover and the caliber of the lake.

Fluorocarbon is a bad choice for topwaters because it sinks and restricts the action of the bait. The floating properties of monofilament make it the best line choice for surface plugs.

Frogs

Buzz frogs and hollow body frogs can be fished in open water, but they shine the brightest around thick slop like lily pads, grass mats and bushes because of their weedless nature.

• Rod: The ideal frog rod is 7 to 7 1/2-feet long with lots of backbone for making solid hooksets and wrestling bass out of heavy cover. It will have a medium tip action for launching long casts without giving up significant power.

• Reel: A reel with a high speed gear ratio of at least 6.4:1 works nicely for getting a buzz frog up and running quickly. Plus, its fast line recovery comes it handy when taking up slack line on the delayed hook set required with both styles of baits.

• Line: There is no substitute for braided line when fishing frogs around heavy cover. Braid has no stretch, which lends itself to solid hook set on long casts. It is also super strong and tends to "cut" through vegetation much better than fluorocarbon and monofilament lines.

Casting Jigs and Carolina Rigs

Stroking a football jig and dragging a Carolina rig are main lake tactics, usually performed in association with some sort of underwater structure such as road beds, points, humps and ridges.

• Rod: A 7 foot, medium/heavy action is a good choice for covering both avenues. The rod has sufficient back bone for dealing with big fish. Plus, it is long enough to make lengthy casts and help you recover line quickly for fast hook sets.

• Reel: A high gear ratio (6.4:1 or better) works nicely in combination with the 7-foot  stick, because it makes fast work of gathering line ahead of the hook set.

• Line: You can get by with monofilament, but fluorocarbon in the 16-20 pound test range is probably the better choice because of its low stretch, high sensitivity properties. When fishing a Carolina rig, be sure the leader line is slightly lighter than the main line. This will reduce the chances of losing the whole rig in the event the hook fouls on a snag.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwilliams@netdot.com.