How to Select Top Rod and Reel Combos
There’s a lot more to finding great fishing rods and reels than just going to the local Walmart and picking out and buying one.
Just go to any true fishing tackle shop or fishing tournament and ask someone. As rods go, there are several different styles. Some are for general fishing, like a 6-foot 2-piece rod. Some are made for specific types of fishing. The same situation goes for reels. There are several different kinds, all are made for specific purposes. Some are for general fishing. Some are meant for getting a bait back to the boat as fast as you can to cast again.
Here, I’ll break down the basics of rods and reels to give you a better understanding of each type and its purpose. Then, I’ll provide my list of five “must have” rod and reel combos to help you get the most out of your fishing. For this article, I’ll focus on rods and reels for freshwater fish. Fly rods and ice fishing are two totally different things.
Let’s start with rods. As rods go, there are two kinds: a one-piece rod or a two-2-piece rod. One packs up very small and telescopes out, but I’ve never found it to be too practical, and to me, it always seemed like a gimmick. Each rod has basic components (like the handle, reel seat, the rod itself, and the guides). But that is all they have in common.
There are several different kinds of handles, and these are all about personal preference. It’s the same situation with guides. I like Fuji guides because they seem to hold up the best. You can also get micro guides, which are very tiny. Those are mostly on specific rods and mainly for bass fishing.
Then, there are rods for the different styles of reels. The real seat holds the reel, and there are three kinds: Spin cast, open face, and bait cast. The rods are not interchangeable meaning you can’t use a baitcasting reel on an open-face rod.
Next, you need to consider the power of the rod. This is the rating for how much pressure the rod can withstand. I like to refer to it as the rod’s backbone, and there are several different kinds. The ones I like are ultra-light, medium, medium-heavy, and heavy. The bigger the rod, the larger baits and bigger fish can be caught.
Then you have the action or the tip of the rod.
These are categorized as light, medium, and fast. The action is the part of your rod that bends. The faster the action the faster it bends back. Rods are made of three different kinds of material: fiberglass, graphite, and composite. Fiberglas is probably the cheapest kind and it has been around the longest. I believe composite gives you the most versatility. As far as length goes, I have seen them anywhere in size from five to 14 feet. The longer the rod, the farther you can cast, but longer ones ecan also be harder to handle, so you need to find a happy medium.
Now for Reels
Let’s consider various reels. Spin cast is the kind we all learned on. It had a button on top and it didn’t have many options. I don’t really use spin-cast reels, but I will say that if you have kids, the Zebco 33 is the perfect setup to teach them how to cast. I had my daughter casting one from the front of my boat at age 5 with no problems.
The open face reel is the second easiest reel to learn. It’s pretty basic to cast and you won’t have many problems with them. You basically open the bail and hold the line with one hand. You release the line as you cast, then close the bail once you reach the water.
The bait cast is the hardest to learn. It may look simple, but there is a lot going on with this reel. There are usually multiple braking systems on them, along with your thumb. This is another one-handed casting reel. You open the bail and hold on to the line. You release the line as you cast.
As you learn to use one, you will also learn the term “crow’s nest.” This occurs when you don’t stop the line fast enough and you’re left with a giant mess on your reel. Don’t let this thought scare you; with some practice, these reels are versatile and easy to use.
While on the subject of reels, we also need touch on speeds. There are slow reels, such as 5.3.1,and fast reels, such as 7.1.1. This means that for every complete turn of the reel on a 5.3.1, the reel will turn 5.3 times.
Reel speed is important for different baits and presentations.
The first two combos are for mainly used for targeting bass. You can use these setups for other fish like pike or walleye, but you will have to change your line. The first one is a baitcasting combo. One of the best bait cast reels I have ever thrown is the Sixgill Hammar “S” reel. I have tried several, and this is the easiest one to throw. I have tried to get this reel to backlash and it is nearly impossible. It’s perfect for casting and pitching. The best gear speed for all- around use is a 6.5.1, in my opinion.
I like to pair this with a 7-foot 2 medium heavy rod with a fast action like the Sixgill Chopper rod. I use 12-pound fluorocarbon on this rod. This combo seems to allow me to fish several different baits. I use it for chatter baits, jigs, swimbaits, and spinnerbaits. It is an all-around good setup for casting several different bass baits.
The next setup I would say any angler should have is a good spinning combo. I like the Sixgill Myakka rod paired with a Sixgill Banshee 3000 series reel. It is a 6.7.1 gear ratio, and the rod is a 6.7.1 medium light with a fast action. I spool this up with 8-pound fluorocarbon. I have used this setup for drop-shotting, wacky rigging, and even throwing tubes. It is an all-around good combo that will allow you to throw almost any kind of soft plastic bait. I have also used this setup to throw my Mepps in- line spinners. With both combos, you may need to use heavier or lighter line, or even monofilament or braid, depending on what you are throwing.
The third and fourth setups would make good setups for panfish. I like to have a 5- foot 6-inch ultra-light rod with a 5.3.1 reel and an 8-foot or longer ultra-light rod with a 5.3.1 reel for catching panfish.
The 8-foot rod is perfect for jigging for crappie or bluegill. It is also a great rod to cast a mile. I like the smaller rod because it is easy to get into a lot of hard-to- reach spots. It is also perfect to throw in the car to always have one with me. As far as baits, I can throw almost any small bait on either of these and I can also tie on a bobber and worm or a jig with them. On a side note, I always have some sort of inline bucktail spinner tied onto one of these. That bait has caught more panfish for me than anything else.
One More ‘Must Have’ Combo
The last combo I would suggest everyone consider having is a 7-foot 5-inch or larger heavy rod with a 6.5.1 reel. This setup will cover a lot of other species and techniques that the others will not. It is a good setup for pike and walleye fishing. I have caught musky on this rig, but I would recommend more musky-specific equipment if that is your target fish. It is also a great setup for flipping in heavy cover for bass or for throwing a frog. I always have at least 65-poundbraid tied to this rod. It is the workhorse of the rods and is designed not to break. It can also lead to some of the best fish fights. Nothing beats wrestling a big Northern Pike on a cool fall morning.
These setups will cover everything from perch to pike. They are the five combos I always have in the boat. If you find a certain fishing technique you really enjoy, you can get specific equipment for that presentation. For instance, rods are made just for throwing a swimbait. These rods have been tested and found to be the perfect rod for that technique. The above combos are just general setups to cover as many baits as possible without having 20 different rods available. Hopefully, you can get as much enjoyment out of these as I have over the years.