For years I have been building my own rods, and I like to think that I have perfected my design for trout, redfish, and bottom of the slot snook. The rod is 8-1/2 feet long, and features a 5-inch butt. The reason for the short butt is twofold — ease of casting, and it uses more of the rod in playing the fish. I have a hard time with light- to medium-action rods that have handles longer than 7 inches. Long handles catch in my shirtsleeves, and poke me in the ribs to the point of distraction. In a word, long-handled rods are unwieldy, whereas the short-handled rod is nimble. They are easier to cast with one hand or both, and they are less tiring to fish with. For the artificial bait angler who will cast and retrieve all day long this is a big deal.
Mike Stricland with a well earned redfish in hand.
These rods are generally softer than what you would fish with live bait under a float, or with big surface plugs. I do a lot of wade fishing and used to carry two identical 8-1/2-foot light action, soft rods rigged with different baits. Then one November while wading south of Apollo Beach I had a shot at a pair of keeper-sized cobia. I cast a jerkbait at them, wondering whether or not I could avoid getting spooled if I hooked up. On the fourth cast one of the fish hit the lure, but after a 30-yard run the hook pulled, so it remains to be seen whether I could have subdued the 20-pound fish on the light rod. The other problem was the rod tip wasn’t stiff enough to drive the hook home in the cobia’s hard mouth. That got me thinking that it would be nice to have a back up rod with a stiffer tip for bigger fish such as cobia, trophy snook, bull reds, outsized jack crevalles, and even small tarpon.
Stiffer Rod Now In Arsenal
Per chance such a rod fell into my hands when somebody left one in my bait shop to be repaired and never picked it up. It was an 8-1/2-foot steelhead rod rated for 12- to 20-pound-test, but it had a 20-inch handle, which I absolutely hated. I finally took the rod home and one day on a whim I took a hacksaw to the handle, and shortened the butt cork to 7 inches. This did nothing to upset the balance of the rod, which is easily controlled through matching it with the right sized reel.
Capt. Fred puts the rod to a fish while wading.
The stiffer rod is for bigger, meaner fish. I have it rigged with 30-pound microfilament, which is more trouble than mono. For one thing, braided line is a lot harder to cut. Clippers and pliers do not cut it very well, however a cheap pair of kindergarten style scissors will. It’s also a pain to tie and it knots up on its own regularly if you cast and retrieve a lot. But the advantages can outweigh the difficulties in certain situations. It resists abrasion much better than mono, it has practically zero stretch, and it transmits feel to the rod handle exceptionally well. When a fish taps a hard lure on superbraid, you know it right away. Great strength for fine diameter makes this line the choice for outsized fish. This line lasts a long time — in fact I never wear it out, rather I keeping losing it gradually to wind knots.
Ed Childers uses his wading belt like an extra pair of hands.
Now when I am wading the flats, I have a choice of two rods that better cover the spectrum of species. If I see a school of big jacks, a cobia, a tarpon, or a big snook I have a rod at hand that will do the job. One rod will not do it all, but with the stiff 8-foot rod and the limber 8-1/2-footer they are covered pretty well.
The other advantage of the shorter, stiffer rod is that it will cast 3/4-ounce surface plugs and 1/2-ounce jigs better than my longer, slow action rods.
To carry more than one rod when wading you need a belt with a rod holder. My belt has three, one of which can be used for rigging, or when handling fish. It’s made of closed cell foam encased in neoprene, and besides carrying an extra rod it offers some back support. It also came with a fish stringer and a pair of forceps for hook removal.
Captain Fred Everson has been a licensed fishing guide on Tampa Bay in Florida for 13 years. He has also written three books, and is a 20-year active member of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. You can visit his website for more information at http://tampabayfishingguide.com/