Selecting a rod and reel

A casual stroll through the fishing section of a sporting goods store will reveal a mind-numbing selection of rods and reels, and the selection will be even greater if you visit a fishing supply specialty store. This overwhelming variety can be intimidating to the novice.

Remember, the variety on display is a reflection of the variety of fish available and the lures made to catch them. Research indicates that the average avid angler has seven rods already rigged and ready to fish on the deck of their boat at any given time; most have more stored in their boat or at their home. Rods and reels can be that specialized!

Experienced anglers often refer to rod and reel combinations as being “balanced.” This refers to the weight of the reel being matched to the weight of the rod so that it feels comfortable to use. Often novices purchase “combination packs” where the rod and reel is pre-packed and sold as a package. These will work fine.

In addition, recommend to participants that the rods and reels be matched to the fish they are after so that the proper presentation of lures or bait can be made.

Because panfish rarely reach more than two pounds, a general purpose, “light action” rod will work fine. The rod should be between six and seven feet long. The light action rod will need to be paired with a reel that is designed to handle four- to eight-pound test line. Rods are marked with the recommended range of line they are designed for, as well as the recommended weight of lure or bait fishing set-ups they are designed to cast. A heavier rated rod may not cast lighter lures or bait fishing set-ups well. In addition, heavier line may be detected by the fish and reduce your success rate.

We recommend that novice anglers use either spinning rods and reels, or spin-casting rods and reels.  Spinning reels are also called “open-face” reels, because you can see the line as it is being reeled in. They work well, and generally are easier to cast lighter weight lures or bait fishing set-ups. However, line tangles can occur if the line is not put on correctly or the reel is overfilled with line.  A slightly under-filled spool is better than one that is overfilled.

Spin-casting reels are also called “closed-face” or “push-button” reels. They are very easy to use and generally do not have as many issues with line tangles. However, those same issues can develop if the line is incorrectly put on, or the spool is over filled. 

Spinning reels are reeled with the reel suspended below the rod, while spin-casting reels are reeled with the reel positioned on top of the rod. Most reels can be adjusted so they can be reeled with either the right or left hand.

New line comes with an instructional packet that explains how to put the line on correctly. Most spools of new line will fill the reel more than once, so keep this information for later reference. The line on the reel should be replaced every year or so. Avid anglers often replace the line one or more times during the season to help make sure “the big-one” does not get away.

Once the line is on the reel, and the reel is on the rod, you can “string” the rod by passing the line through the loops, or “guides” (sometimes called “eyes”) on the rod. Some rods have a very small wire “hook keeper” loop within an inch or so of the handle. Line should not be passed through this loop. Doubling the line for a short distance and passing the doubled portion of the line through the guides will prevent the line from falling back through all of the guides if you drop the line before you completely string the rod.

Most modern fishing reels need little maintenance to keep them in good working order. If you purchase a new reel, it will come with an educational insert that describes its maintenance needs. Keep it as a reference.

Each reel should be wiped off after each fishing session and occasionally, gently rinsed off with warm, fresh water under a shower or with a hose. No soap is needed. A little reel oil in key places should be applied after each time the reel is rinsed off.

The “eyes” on the fishing rod should also be periodically examined and occasionally rinsed off to clean off small bits of dirt or aquatic weeds.

Fishing line also requires some maintenance. Generally, it is a good idea to periodically clip off the last two or three feet of line and re-tie your hook or lure. This is especially true is you have foul-hooked your line on underwater rocks or logs, of accidently cast into a tree.  This part of your line is subjected to a lot of stress and abuse and occasionally gets nicked, which will severely weaken the line.

Poorly maintained line is the biggest reason that “the big one got away!”

Hooks and weights should be occasionally sorted out to save time while actually fishing. Hooks should be dried in the sun before putting them away. Rusted hooks should be discarded.

Other types of rods and reels

For novices, we recommend that either spinning or spin-casting rods and reels be used because they are easy to learn to use and will easily cast light-weight lures or bait fishing rigs. However, other types of rods and reels exist and some may be suitable for catching panfish.

The simplest type of fishing equipment is a long stick and a length of fishing line. Historically, the “stick” was made from bamboo or river cane and is often called a "cane pole." A length of line was attached to the tip, a hook, worm and bobber were added, and the outfit was complete. Currently, these set-ups are often used in introductory fishing programs.

Modern versions of cane poles, using long (up to 14 feet) graphite poles and very short lines, are used as part of sophisticated fishing techniques designed to catch panfish. These rigs are particularly effective for crappie, especially when they are spawning in thick brush.  The long pole is used to carefully insert a lure or live minnow into the brush where it is “dapped” into the water. Only a foot or so of line is used with this technique. In addition, multiple, long graphite poles are also used with precisely set lengths of line to slowly move along using a trolling motor to catch crappie when they scattered after they spawn (called “spider rigging” because so many poles are used).   

Another way to catch panfish is to use a fly rod and a small floating spider-like fly, “popper,” or a slowly sinking aquatic insect. Using a fly rod is a fun and very effective way to catch spawning sunfish.

Bait-casting rods and reels can be used, but are not recommended for panfishing. This equipment is more suited to cast heavier baits and lures, and are difficult for novice anglers to master. 

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