Practical tackle


It is almost impossible to discuss rods for lure fishing without mentioning the reels to go with them, and vice versa - the two quite simply have to go together. Likewise, one should really talk about rod/reel outfits in relation to the types of lures they will be used with, which is what I will do later when I come to the actual business of fishing. In this chapter I intend to take an in depth look at the pros and cons of various styles of rod and reel, and the features needed in them. If I seem to go into a lot of detail in this chapter it is because I believe that the tackle you use for lure fishing really does have a marked effect on the success you will have with your lures. Using the wrong type of outfit for a particular lure type can result in the lure failing to work correctly, or at least not to its optimum fish catching potential. Too light an outfit will often result in a failure to hook most of the pike that take your lures. Matching rods and reels to lures is crucial. In other words - balanced tackle. But by balanced tackle, I don't mean rods that physically balance at the point where they are held when fishing. To aim for this is to get things completely out of perspective. This would only improve your fishing by reducing fatigue if you were to hold the rod horizontally all the time you are fishing. As I will explain later, while this may be fine for trotting a stick-float, it is not the optimum position for lure fishing. Balanced tackle is important in all forms of angling, but nowhere is it more important than when you are casting and retrieving all day long. When lure fishing the rod, no matter what type of outfit is in use, should be less held than hung from your fingers. As a result the strain on your arm is minimal.

In the past pike anglers, even keen lure men, had just one rod for lure fishing. Often this was a ten foot carp rod that "did the job". This is slowly changing, and today's keen lure angler will have at least two outfits, and quite possibly four, to cope with various lures, methods and waters. Of course compromises can be made, within certain parameters, but there is no substitute for the right gear do the job properly.

The fixed-spool reel reigns supreme in U.K. pike fishing, and rightly so for most methods, but for many lure fishing applications its value is limited. Let's look at its particular strengths. For a start, fixed-spool reels are easy to cast with, requiring little practice, manual dexterity or mechanical adjustment for fool-proof casting. This makes them ideal for anglers starting lure fishing as time spent removing tangles will be almost nil. Because there is no worry of over-runs a wide range of weights can be cast on fixed-spool outfits, and the balancing of lure weight to rod action is therefore less critical than when using a multiplier reel. The same applies if you are casting into a strong, or gusty, wind when multipliers will cause problems, even for the most carefully adjusted multiplier and the most educated of thumbs. For fishing very light, or unaerodynamic lures the fixed-spool is the best choice. For all its strong points, the fixed-spool reel is not without its weaknesses. For a start, lines over .35mm diameter will cause a dramatic loss of distance on most models. Switching to a larger reel will alleviate the problem, but is likely to unbalance the outfit and feel rather awkward to use. Bigger reels have larger (longer) more unwieldy handles.

These days the choice of fixed-spool reel is very large indeed, and because of the way manufacturers operate, rapidly changing. So, rather than recommend particular models I will now outline the features to look for when choosing fixed-spool reels. Whether you play fish by backwinding, or off the clutch, there is a lot to be said for front drag reels. The slipping clutches on these reels are almost always far more sensitive and smooth than on rear drag equivalents, which is great if you do use the clutch. If you don't, then these drags can be screwed down really solid! Best of all the front drag design is more compact and lighter, which makes for a rod/reel combo that is more pleasant to fish with.

Spool design plays a big part in casting, and today's reels mostly have well designed long, tapering spools that line simply drips off on the cast. Some also feature special line lay systems that prevent overlapping coils bedding in and hampering ensuing casts. Even in the lower price brackets these features can now be found in most manufacturers catalogues.
Size of reel, or perhaps more correctly size of spool, is the critical factor when choosing any reel as this determines the strength of line that you will be able to use. Line capacities quoted in catalogues and handbooks are not much of a guide. Far better to use the diameter of the spool as an indication of the line range a reel will cope with. For lines of 10-12lb (0.30-0.325mm diam.) a spool diameter of 2in. will work well. Heavier lines of 12-15lb (0.325-0.35mm diam.) are better used on spools with a diameter of at least 2¼in. If you need to use lines of over 18lb test regularly then you shouldn't really be using a fixed-spool reel.

A large torpedo grip on the handle is always worthwhile on any fixed-spool pike reel, particularly if you backwind, and one for lure fishing is no exception. There is nothing worse than a pike taking off at speed, ripping a tiny finger grip out of your hand, causing the reel to spin wildly out of control and throwing loops of line around the bale arm. Again this sensible feature is to be found on most reels these days.

Depending on how much you are prepared to pay there are other features that are worth considering if you use this type of reel frequently. Bale arm rollers are now a standard feature, but there is a trend towards large rollers, and rollers running on ball races. Both these innovations do actually make retrieving much smoother and reduce line wear. Ball races cost money, and while cheapish reels with no ball bearings will feel smooth enough when brand new, they will wear more quickly. If possible, choose reels that have at least three ball races. Two will be on the handle spindle that turns the main gear. If you examine the bush that replaces one of these races on a cheaper reel after a season's use, you will find obvious signs of wear. This causes play in the handle and upsets the smooth running of the reel. To my mind ball races are worth the extra expense, and probably save money in the long run, as the reel will last that much longer. Some of the top reels around at the moment feature seven or eight ball races. It can be quite a problem working out where they all go. Without doubt they feel very smooth indeed. It is up to you to decide if they are worth the several hundred pounds that they cost!!

Technical advances always start out as selling points on up-market models, eventually working down the price bands until they are universal throughout a manufacturer's range. Two such are the counter balanced rotor and handle which are said to eliminate the wobble you feel when winding a reel. Strangely, I seem to remember that Mitchell reels had weights in their spool rotors some thirty years ago or more, yet if you were to believe all you read this is an invention of the nineties. I cannot deny that these modern, balanced reels feel exceedingly smooth and vibration free when you handle them in the shop. However, I can't say that I have ever found rotor wobble to be a problem when I am out at the waterside. Super-smooth reels are here to stay, and I am happy to use them. The double handle concept is one I shall reserve judgement on for the time being, as even the shorter handles fitted to multipliers catch in clothing from time to time. So much so that I have fitted a single-gripped counterbalanced replacement to one of mine. It took a little getting used to, but I no longer wind my jumper round the reel when fishing! Not surprisingly, I remain uncertain about double handles where fixed-spools are concerned. Counterbalanced handles should be another matter entirely.

Another feature that many of the mid-price, and more expensive, reels have in common is a metal spool. If kept clean and well polished these help improve casting efficiency. However, if they get knocked a rough, or sharp, edge may form which could easily damage your line. Composite spools if damaged are less likely to cut or fray the line. Metal spools are heavier too. On the whole I prefer the smoothness of metal spools while admitting that there's not a lot in it in practical terms.

The Shimano Spheros 4000F, a fixed-spool reel with just about all the features you could want in a pike-spinning reel.

Gear ratios are an important factor when choosing a reel for any method of fishing, especially so for lure fishing where it can determine how quickly, or slowly, lures are worked. I remember reading an article in In-Fisherman called Lo-Contact Crankin'" which extolled the virtues of fast retrieve reels. The theory was that you could get the crankbait down quickly, and by turning the handle slower than would have been possible with a lower geared reel, maintain its depth - tripping bottom. There is another advantage in that high-speed gearing makes it easier to keep in touch with fast running fish if you backwind. You are, in fact, reverse reeling more slowly than with a low geared reel. I find that most people have an in-built rhythm that determines their natural rate of turning a reel handle, and that this is usually too fast for most lures. At the start of a day's fishing we all start out fresh and keyed up. Cranking a reel slowly is no problem, but as tiredness creeps up there is a tendency to gradually increase the retrieve speed, albeit unconsciously. Fast reels compound the problem. For this reason I suggest that quick retrieve reels are best left alone until you find a specific need for them. A gear ratio between 4:1 and 5:1 is a good all round choice. Slow gearing also enables you to put more pressure on a fish while backwinding, as there is less strain on the gearing and you have a more direct feel of what is going on.

It can't be denied that improvements in engineering and design are leading to an increase in popularity in the U.S. for fixed-spool reels. It has to be realised that this growth is mainly in the bass and walleye markets, smaller fish than our pike. For this reason most of the new generation of fixed-spools are a little on the small side for piking. However, one or two fixed-spools designed for saltwater use have appeared on the U.K. market, and the smaller of these are well worth investing in. Multi-national tackle firms have some bizarre policies, such as insisting that the U.K. branch lists a reel in its catalogue that the British management knows will never sell. If you come across one that takes your fancy, snap it up as it is unlikely to stay in the catalogue for long.

The Americans refer to fixed-spool reels as spinning reels, which makes sense as that is what they are best for. Fishing small lures like spinners, spinnerbaits and so forth with relatively light lines. To get the best out of a fixed-spool it must be correctly loaded with line. Not too full, or the line will spring off the spool and tangle at the slightest hint of slack, not under-filled or casting distance will be restricted. A couple or three millimetres from the lip is about right.

Casting with a fixed-spool reel is straightforward enough, but when using long bodied lures, especially light ones, there is a likelihood of them tumbling in flight and tangling with the trace. Learning to feather' the line with the index or middle finger of your rod hand as it comes off the spool will help minimise these occurrences. When using a multiplier this is less of a problem as the spinning spool has a braking effect on the lure and causes the line to act rather like a drogue, stabilising the lure as it flies through the air. Not every time, but more often than not.

Multipliers have other advantages too. For a start they will easily handle monofilament lines of up to thirty pounds test if you need them, without any great loss in casting distance. Indeed, anyone new to multipliers will find them less troublesome with thicker lines as the level on the spool falls much quicker during the cast, and therefore slows the spinning spool at the same time. Birds nests are far less common with heavier lines than fine ones. Both these factors mean that you can fish heavier than you would have to with a fixed-spool reel. Now, this may go against the grain for many anglers, but not for me. I always fish with the strongest gear I can get away with. There is no point in using light gear to give the fish a chance" or to make the contest more sporting" (whatever that means). Light tackle only makes a long job of getting pike under control, gives them more chance of finding snags or breaking the line and runs the risk of over tiring the fish. In warm weather, when most lure fishing takes place, this unduly stresses the pike and is indefensible in my view. On these grounds alone it is worth fishing as heavy as possible. Avoiding leaving tackle attached to pike should come above the fun to be had from fishing light. Strong lines also have the added benefit of standing up better to abrasion and casting stress, further reducing the chances of leaving lures in pike. They also get you more lures back that hang up in snags!

The ability to handle thick lines apart, what other features do multipliers offer the lure fishing pike angler? Well, they put you in more direct contact with your lures for one thing. This is because the line is not going through a right angle over the bale roller, but comes straight off the spool. There is also no chance of slack line fouling around the reel as you work your lures. This is unlikely to happen if you are simply cranking lures back. But, if twitching baits using a spinning reel, loops of line can get behind the spool as you take up the slack.

Perhaps more importantly multipliers make for a more comfortable hold of the rod. Being compact and having short handles you hold the rod much tighter to your body, unlike with a fixed-spool outfit that has to be held out a ways to allow the reel handle to be turned. The short stroke handles also mean that your reel hand is working mainly at the wrist, rather than the elbow. All in all this is less fatiguing. Let's face it U.S. anglers use lures most of the time and they prefer baitcasters. As an aside here, short, single handed pistol-grip rods are often referred to in Britain as baitcasters", whereas a baitcaster in U.S. terms is a generally thought of as a reel. Where this confusion has come from I don't know. But if I refer to something as a baitcaster, then I generally mean the reel. So, if multipliers are so good, why aren't they more popular with U.K. lure anglers? Part of the reason is Techno-fear. Multipliers are perceived as complicated and difficult to master, which is not really the case. I think a lot of anglers have forgotten the problems they had when they started fishing with fixed-spools. As for being complicated, it is true that some multipliers seem to have lots of dials and knobs, but no more in truth than a modern Baitrunner type reel. And they are all the rage.

In the past there have been few left hand wind (LHW) multipliers available in this country, anywhere in fact, which has been a big deterrent to anglers brought up on fixed-spool reels that traditionally have their handles on the left for use by right handed people. This is changing, and even American catalogues list more LHW baitcasters these days. Quite why multipliers have evolved to be predominantly right hand wind (RHW) is a bit of a mystery, possibly stemming from the reel's development from centrepins used below the rod. Turning the rod so a LHW centrepin reel is on top results in the handles now being on the right. Just a theory. Whatever the case, the RHW multiplier is the current norm - illogical as it may be. I have argued the case with a couple of anglers who, although right handed, use RHW multipliers and have been unable to understand their arguments in favour of RHW reels. For some reason their preference does not extend to fixed-spool reels. Strange that.

With the correct grip on a LHW reel there is no need for any hand shuffling at all. One grip being used for casting, retrieving and playing fish. The design of the reel can affect this though, as some models with Thumbars can be a little awkward to use in this way, and some thumbrests at the front of the reel can prevent you getting sufficient grip on the spool when casting. This is most noticeable with low profile models, and not a problem with the traditional designs that I prefer. Thumbars can also be a slight nuisance when trolling with the rod in your hand, causing an inadvertent disengagement of the reel when you strike a fish. Not every time but now and again. Often found on reels incorporating a Thumbar, is a flipping switch. This enables the bar to be depressed to put the reel out of gear until the bar is released again. Doing away with the need to turn the handle to re-engage gear. Trying to cast with the reel in Flipping mode is tricky, as it can all too easily snap back into gear in mid cast! But for trolling it can be a big help, allowing you to drop lures further back single-handedly while maintaining control of the motor with the other hand.

Two big factors that put anglers off multipliers are the fear of birds nests, and the fact that the drag has to be used for playing fish. Taking this latter point first, it is true that a very limited number of multipliers have the facility to backwind. However, this is changing too, and I expect it to become a common feature in the near future. Maybe more anglers will turn to multipliers if they can play pike, without the use of the drag, by backwinding. My experience of drags is that they are reliable, certainly on the quality reels I use. Cheaper reels I have tried are not always quite so reliable. However, it is always worth checking drag settings throughout a session, as they can alter - usually tightening up. I think this is because friction causes the star wheel to rotate in sympathy with the reel's handle as you fish. It's the only logical explanation I have come up with so far. Always slacken the drag right off at the end of each day's fishing as advised in the manufacturer's handbook. Failure to do so will result in a sticking drag. Playing big pike on a reel with such a defect is no fun - as I can testify. Another lesson learned the hard way!

Although the grip on the pike is alright (better with the thumb over its snout for more control) the grip on the rod and reel is perfect. Note how only the little-finger is behind the trigger, and that the forefinger is laid along the side of the reel seat, thumb well over the spool. Use this grip for both casting and retrieving.

If star drags still worry you it might be worth seeking out a model with a Syncro Drag. This is a system that Abu have fitted to some of their reels from time to time which allows the drag setting to be instantly reduced (by up to 75%) by the simple expedient of turning the reel handle backwards. You might have to scan the second-hand ads though to find a left handed model though. The one to look for is the XLT2 LH Syncro which has the same line capacity as the 5000 series, plenty for most methods. Another option, one that is open to any multiplier user, and one that I use frequently, is to hit the free-spool button - thumb pressure on the spool maintaining control of line being taken by the running fish. It is true that I like to have my drag set pretty tight while casting and retrieving a this ensures that it won't slip when I get a take and set the hooks. My initial setting is achieved when I can just, and only just, pull line directly from the reel without it bedding into the coils beneath it. This may seem tight to many, and line cannot be taken from the reel at this setting if the rod is bent. However, when a pike runs away hard the rod should be lowered towards it, and as the angle between rod tip and line becomes flatter the fish will be able to strip line more easily. Another reason for not dropping below 15lb test! Of course smash takes under the rod tip can be worrying at first, but it soon becomes second nature to hit that free-spool button! Only when the fish is hooked do I even think about backing off the drag. If the drag is too slack then it will be almost impossible to take up line and keep pressure on the pike at the same time. That will introduce slack, and allow the fish a good opportunity to shake the lure free.

Getting used to the controls on a new reel always takes some practice and for anyone using a multiplier for the first time this is most apparent where casting is concerned. Which brings us to the dreaded backlash, over-runs and birds-nests. All of which are the same thing - a big nuisance! Over-runs are caused when the spool is spinning faster than the lure is travelling through the air. This results in line being thrown from the spool with nowhere to go, so the loose coils build up one on top of another until the whole lot jams up. In a mild case the lure will gain on the spool as its spinning slows towards the end of the cast, the lure taking up the slack. Mostly though coils get trapped under each other and the spool stops suddenly. At other times the line will get dragged back under the spool and wrapped the wrong way around it. What ever the case, you have an almighty tangle, and the reel is jammed solid. With care, most backlashes can be carefully unpicked. Don't rush this or the line is going to get badly damaged. After two or three bad over-runs it is best to re-spool because kinked mono seems to encourage the problem. Braids are not so bad in this respect, but can be much more difficult to unpick without damage. Watch out for plucking when unravelling a braid backlash.

Good multipliers are all supplied with a set of instructions which detail the correct setting up of the braking system for that particular model. Follow these instructions to the letter and you should never suffer from the nightmare of over-runs. You will, however, lose distance in comparison to an angler using an identical reel, but who has learned to control the spool using his thumb as the primary brake.

The reel's handbook will instruct you to set the rod and reel up with a lure hanging from the end of the line, just under the rod tip. With the rod horizontal you then disengage the spool and allow the lure to fall unhindered. By adjusting the end bearing cover you will reach a point where the reel stops spinning the instant the lure hits the ground. When set up like this the lure can be cast without any need to brake the spool further. Unfortunately this means that every time you change lures you have to reset the brake. Despite the annoyance factor of this rigmarole I still see anglers who do just this, and who must lose hours of fishing time over the course of a year. Some reels have an additional magnetic brake which can be useful, especially so when the wind is gusting. Set this brake to maximum for the first few casts, and gradually reduce the setting until casting distance increases, but over-runs don't materialize. When the wind increases in strength increase the drag, and when it drops, back it off again. You can also use the magnetic brake to compensate for larger or smaller lures than the one used for the initial, mechanical, brake setting. Magnetic brakes are simple to operate usually being a dial on one of the reel's sideplates, and very practical in use, especially when fishing lures under an ounce and a half in weight.

Having just sung the praises of magnetically braked reels, I have to admit that I still prefer the old style reels that have the centrifugally acting brake blocks for most of my lure fishing. These blocks are attached to the spool itself, flying outwards from the spindle and bear against a housing as the spool spins, thereby slowing its revolutions. Each spool has two of these blocks. So I throw one away! This cuts the braking effect by half, making for faster spool. Admittedly, it makes for a greater risk of backlash too, but I am prepared to live with that. Not only do I discard brake blocks, but should I try the free-falling lure trick there would be an almighty mess of line on my reel. By all means follow the manufactures guidelines when starting to use multipliers, but the sooner you learn to adjust things by feel' the better your casting will become. To set up a multiplier I begin with the brake set as per the manual, or thereabouts. Then I slacken it off, cast by cast, until maximum casting distance is achieved. There comes a stage where further slackening of the brake gives no extra distance, and this is the point I am looking for. If a lure of markedly different size is used, or I have to cast into the wind, I may alter the end cap to accommodate for this. Otherwise, all braking required comes from the thumb. I have handed one of my outfits over to an experienced angler who has commented on the casting distances I can achieve and watched the inevitable happen. The reel has been too quick for him and the line has fluffed up nicely! Sure, I too get birds-nests from time to time, but no more frequently than anyone else. Anybody who uses multipliers and who doesn't get the odd backlash must have done a deal with the Devil!

Where fixed-spool reels and multipliers differ most markedly in use is in the casting style required. Anyone used to fixed spools will be well aware that casts can be made with all weights of lure using just a light flick of the rod. There is little real need to compress the rod in order to propel baits. On the other hand, it is essential to overcome the reluctance of a multiplier's spool to start spinning in order to cast effectively. Casting must be smooth or backlashes will occur and directional control will be lost. For these reasons more limber rods are usually recommended for use with multipliers, and there is some sense in this. With a little thought and some practice, though, it is quite possible to manage perfectly well with faster actioned rods and baitcasting reels. The key is to match the weight of the lure to the power of the rod, and a change in casting style from the static' one used with fixed-spools. The best way to load a rod when baitcasting is to bring the rod from a position in front of your body, behind you and back forward again in one flowing, continuous motion releasing the lure at the appropriate point. This generates more lure speed and gets the spool revolving far more smoothly than a snatchy cast from stationary. The whole process is akin to casting with a fly outfit, except there is no need to extend a great length of line as the lure alone will be heavy enough to load the rod. It always amazes me to see anglers casting lures with almost as much line out as the length of their rod. Unless casting with an under-arm swing, there is no need to have the lure hanging more than the trace's length below the rod tip when you start the cast.

A little practice and plenty of confidence, is all it takes to become proficient with a multiplier outfit, and soon you will be able to perform tricky under-arm casts and the like. I have heard it suggested that multipliers are more accurate than fixed-spools. In my opinion this is arrant nonsense. I can be equally accurate with both types of reel - provided the lures are matched to the rods used, which is the deciding factor. In any event, it is the angler who is accurate, not the tackle.

As with fixed-spool reels the two main things to look for in a baitcaster are build quality, usually a function of the number of ball races present, and line capacity. At least two ball races are my preference. Having used reels with fewer I value the smoothness the extra ball bearings offer, and the added longevity the reel will undoubtedly have. The line capacity to opt for is determined by the types of lures, and hence the strength of line you will be using. At least one hundred yards of your chosen line is what I suggest you should be looking to fill a reel with, and maybe a little more.

It is worth noting here that there are two factors that can affect casting and, therefore, fishing efficiency. Both are to do with the speed at which the line level drops on a baitcaster's spool. I have mentioned that thick line will empty a spool faster than thin line, and similarly the level will fall more quickly on a narrow spool than a wide one. This might be of some help to a few people who continue to have trouble with overruns. A simpler solution is to reduce the amount of line on your multiplier. If you are like me, brought up on fixed-spool reels, you will have a natural tendency to cram as much line as possible onto your reels. Multipliers are much easier to control when the line comes to approximately an eighth of an inch from the spool's rim, or even a little further. If you want an easy to handle reel go for one with a narrow spool and under-fill it with thick line! If you want a baitcaster that will out-cast all others, pick a wide spool and fill it to the brim with light line. I guess a happy medium, and a practical fishing choice, is to use a wide spool filled almost to the limit with heavy line. This is what I do and why I prefer the Ambassadeur 6501C3 above all others.

Gear ratios are worth noting, too, having the same influence on your lures as they do when using any reel. Most of my multipliers have gearing around 4 or 5:1. There are some reels available that have gears which can be set to shift ratio when the spool comes under a predetermined load. They wind fast when under light loadings, such as reeling in a lure, and shift down to give more winching power as the load increases. At the present these reels are only available in RHW and I have yet to try them out. It seems to me that they could give you two reels in one, as the precise load that causes the gear shift can be altered at the user's discretion.

There are other features that are sometimes to be found on baitcasters, and often cited as bonuses by reel manufacturers. One such is the free floating levelwind. This both disengages from the gearing, when the reel is put in free-spool, and follows the line as it comes off the spool. This is intended to add distance, an attempt to turn a reel into one without a levelwind for the duration of the cast. Beachcasters aiming for the horizon use multipliers with no levelwind as this does indeed slow the spool, being connected to the rotating spool by a couple of cogs. In practice the free-floating line guard leads to bunching of the line as it re-engages, usually at one end of its traverse across the width of the reel. Another, similar, idea is the levelwind that disengages and stays in one place. The benefit of this over the free-floating guard is that the bunching effect is greatly reduced. However, on wider spooled reels it causes the line to travel through the guide at quite an angle during parts of the cast. Should the line guide be close to one end of the spool this problem will be magnified. Trying to ensure that the guide is always centred before each cast minimises the problem that this increase in friction causes, but it wastes time and breaks the rhythm of your casting.

As the use of braided lines becomes more widespread there is a leaning towards levelwinds that prevent, or at least lessen, the bedding in of turns of line. At the time of writing I have yet to sample the delights of this innovation, although I have not had any problems at all with braids bedding in on my standard reels so long as the line is wound on under sufficient tension. Technical advances that I have found improve the handling of reels are the new gearing which eliminates the slight play that can be felt in the handle, and the instant re-engagement of the spool. With conventional gears there can be a slight back-turn of the handle noticeable when striking, but more so when just playing' with the reel, and putting a reel back in gear usually involves a half turn of the handle. The latest reels have no play in the handle whatsoever, going back into gear very smoothly and just about instantly.

Classic Abu Ambassadeur 6501 (customised for jerkbaiting with short handle and replacement side-plate), and small, low-profile Black Max.

A useful feature to have if you are intending to troll with rods in outriggers is a clicker, otherwise known as a line out alarm. This is quite simply a ratchet that clicks as the spool turns and alerts you to a take. With all these potential features to choose from, it might be an entertaining project to design the ultimate baitcaster. However, I like the simplicity of the classic Abu Ambassadeur multiplier although I do use others from time to time. So until something better comes along this is what I shall stick with. For whatever reason, I find these reels more pleasing to fish with than the ergonomically designed, low-profile, models. Small low-profile reels do fit the hand nicely, but there always seems to be too little room for my thumb for controlling the cast or running fish. Only the tip of the thumb can bear on the line with these reels, yet the older style reels allow the entire ball of the thumb, and some more, to brake the line. A parallel can be found here with beachcasters who have reels specifically designed for them to enable the entire thumb to cover the spool. Their need is greater than ours as they have to prevent the spool slipping against the force of a five ounce lead. But the principle is the same. As an aside, the spool of the 6501 is actually wide enough to get both thumbs on when fighting pike, which gives improved line control over a powerful fish.

Multipliers and fixed-spools are the only sensible choices of reel for the majority of lure fishing. There are times when a centrepin might be of benefit, maybe for trolling with wire line when its large diameter spool will make the wire easier to manage. But this is a very specialised technique. Closed faced fixed-spools are best left alone as far as pike fishing is concerned, being designed for use with very light lines, and are fine for this kind of fishing - spinning for perch or chub say. No matter what design of reel you use it pays to keep it well maintained. follow the manufacturers suggestions for oiling and greasing. Care in this department will keep your reels running smoothly, and keep them reliable. On fixed-spools keep an eye on the bail springs and line roller in particular. Multiplier levelwinds, and drags need special care. To be on the safe side, it is an excellent idea to carry a spare reel whenever you are having a one rod only fishing session. There is nothing more frustrating than travelling to your favourite venue anticipating a few hours sport, only to have it curtailed after a few minutes when the reel packs up. The same could be said of rods, but my experience of rods suggests that they let you down far less frequently than do reels.

While the choice of reel types is limited, rods come in many lengths and actions applicable to pike fishing with artificials. It might be worth mentioning here that I have been known to build a few rods in my time, and even sold a lure rod or two. So in what follows I shall consider how the variable factors affect a rod's performance based both on my experience as an angler and a rod builder. Elsewhere I will describe the particular rods that work best for specific techniques - without pushing my own rods! Right now I shall briefly mention the materials that rod blanks can be constructed from. Carbon fibre, or graphite, is so widely available that its use is no longer exclusive to top flight rods. There are many different grades of carbon cloth which can be used for blank making, and the choice of cloth can determine both the stiffness and weight of a blank, and its price. There is no reason to opt for fibreglass as a blank material any more, as carbon can do everything that glass is capable of and more. It is lighter, stiffer for a given weight and more responsive. Provided the blank maker knows his job, it is also just as resistant to damage as glass in normal fishing terms. Stories of carbon rods being fragile are tales from the past.

Carbon blanks have the advantage that they feel stiffer when casting than they are when playing fish. This crispness of action means that they are, therefore, more versatile than comparable glass blanks of old. The inherent stiffness of the material also helps to transmit more feel of a lures action to the angler, particularly useful when fishing spinnerbaits, and other such throbbing lures. I have heard it suggested that you should be watching the rod tip for indications of takes, and that glass is a better material for this purpose. It probably is, but I think that you should be detecting takes by feel, and that carbon has the advantage here. My thinking is that it is easier to respond quickly to a tap on the lure than the sight of the rod tip twitching. As a parallel it is like comparing touch legering and quivertipping for chub or barbel. I know I react late too often when on the tip, but tend to remember striking takes felt with the line over a finger tip. Surely the same applies to lure fishing? I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

The three factors of greatest importance in lure rod design are length, action, and power. Length is easily understood, as this is simply a measure of how long the rod is! Power is a little bit more complicated, being a combination of the rod's relative stiffness and its action. Action is the way in which a rod bends, its fighting curve, and stiff action rods feel more powerful than soft actioned ones. You will often see rods described in various ways in manufacturers catalogues, and a confusing array of terms are used. Tip, medium, through, slow, fast, ultra-fast, parabolic, heavy, light. What does it all mean? Whatever you want it to at times! A fast taper blank does not necessarily make a fast, or tip, actioned rod, it could equally well be medium actioned. These days it is quite possible to roll a blank on a slow taper mandrel, and by judicious choice of carbon cloths produce a tip actioned rod. It could take the rest of this book to make sense of the various terminology used by different suppliers, so instead I shall simply set down what I mean by the particular terms I prefer. This way you should be able to understand what I am going on about.

When I say a rod is fast, or tip actioned I mean that it bends easily in the top third of its length, and stiffens rapidly towards the butt. Through or soft actioned rods bend easily throughout their length. Some light through action rods will bend so much that the tip can be made to touch the butt. Try that with a fast rod and there could very well be an almighty explosion! Medium action rods are somewhere between the two extremes, and under maximum load can bend right through to the handle. Of course, there is an infinite gradation within these parameters, which is where the confusion arises. What one manufacturer calls a tip action rod, another might call medium. A lot depends on what the current trend is for. Should slow action rods be all the rage, then some manufacturers might be tempted to re-label a medium action model as slow". It may seem unscrupulous, but stranger things have been known!

While the relative proportion of a rod that bends has some bearing on its overall action, its power is another matter. You can have two rods that bend along identical curves when fully compressed, yet one will require far more effort to load it than the other - this is the more powerful of the two. This area of rod design is the most difficult to write about as it is very much a question of feel. Yet as this is what determines the weight of lures that a rod will cast, and the strengths of line it can safely be used with, it is most important to have some understanding of the matter. Again rod manufacturers want to sell rods, so they frequently label rods with wide casting weight ranges. It is true that these are a pretty good guide to a rod's capabilities, but the optimum weight to use will be somewhere in the middle of the range. Unfortunately, what one manufacturer rates as a three ounce rod, another might label as a four ounce model. This is most noticeable when comparing American made rods with European ones. The Americans tend to under-rate their Musky rods in particular by a couple of ounces to the British way of thinking. When buying mail-order from America this can all too easily result in the purchase of something totally unsuited to your needs.

When looking for a lure rod it is always best to take the lures you will be fishing with as your starting point. This will determine the casting weight of the rod you are after, and therefore its overall power. This is a constant, and you are now at liberty to select the length and action.

Rod length affects three major aspects of lure fishing. Casting, hook setting and playing of fish. The longer a rod is the better it is for making long casts. Shorter rods cast more accurately. Longer rods are also better for setting hooks, and for playing fish with, giving the angler more control. This difference is most noticeable when bank fishing. One other aspect of lure fishing that rod length has a bearing on is the working of the lure itself. This, in my opinion, is the most important factor to consider. Short rods are by far and away the best for putting the angler in touch with his lures. The control you have in manipulating lure action is much greater with a short rod. Because this is what ultimately determines how successful your lure fishing will be, length is the second most important factor to settle when choosing a rod. If the length of the rod allows you to fish your lures more effectively, you will get more takes. And the law of averages ensures that even though the rod may cause you to fail to connect with some of these takes, some will reach the net. Let's face it, 10% of something is better than 50% of nothing.

I use rods from around five and a half feet, to ten feet in length. For most purposes they are between six feet and seven and a half feet long. By balancing rod, reel and lure, you might be surprised how little distance you will lose by choosing shorter rods than you might previously have been used to. Traditional U.K. lure rods are in the nine to ten feet bracket, yet I can almost match these for casting distance with my six to seven footers. The lure is the limiting factor. It is rare these days for me to select a rod over eight feet, as I feel the benefits of the extra length are not sufficient to outweigh the loss of lure control. Only if I had to cast lures to extreme distances, and set the hooks at this range, would I consider using longer rods on a regular basis.

A rod's action affects its hook setting potential, and to some extent its casting accuracy. Obviously, faster action rods are stiffer than slower actioned ones. Therefore, they transmit the energy of your strike more directly to the hooks. Little energy is absorbed by the rod bending. Tip actioned rods also seem, to my mind, to be more accurate casters. Or perhaps I should say that they are easier to cast accurately with than softer rods. My overall preferred rod action is somewhere in the tip to middle range. Exactly where in that range will depend upon the precise use I want to put the rod to. Very powerful, tip actioned rods might seem unforgiving to play fish on, and there is some truth in this. They certainly don't absorb the lunges of a fish, being far less springy than softer rods. I do not consider it to be a worry though, as a carefully controlled reel will eliminate any chance of hook-pulls, or line breakage. Confidence in your tackle and your ability are all that's required.

While there is no doubt that it is the blank on which a rod is built that is the most important consideration as to how it will perform when fishing, the fittings used will have some bearing. Because lure rods are in the hand for long periods they must be comfortable to use, and practical. Along with the majority of anglers I have a strong preference for cork as a material for lure rod handles. I also like this to be slim in diameter, as over-thick grips lead to discomfort in the rod hand. The length of handle should be as short as you find practical. As a rule of thumb the extreme butt should not extend much beyond your elbow when you are holding the rod and reel. Many of my rods have even shorter handles. I don't favour pistol grip handles though, and the minimum I would have behind the reel seat is eight inches. This being just enough to rest against your forearm when playing fish. The biggest advantage of short handles is manoeuvrability. They don't catch in clothing, or knock against your body which is a big plus when many, many casts are being made during a day's fishing. To further improve matters in this department it is worth having a butt cap which is flush to the handle, or a simple plug in the end, as bulbous end caps can foul on clothing from time to time. I am still searching for the ultimate, smooth yet hardwearing, butt cap.

Reel seats are pretty good on most rods these days, carbon or composite screw fittings being almost universally used. For fixed-spool rods I like the hooded NPS type as it is extremely comfortable to hold. The size of reel fitting should be chosen not for simplicity of fitting to the rod blank, but for comfort in the hand. For this reason I prefer the larger of the two sizes available. Ahead of these reel seats can either be a short length of cork or Duplon, the choice is of little consequence as this is purely cosmetic and unlikely to ever come in contact with your hand. Rods for use with baitcasting reels demand a different type of reel seat. A trigger grip is essential to get the best out of a multiplier outfit.

The benefit of a trigger grip is obvious as soon as you use one for the first time. In plain terms, the rod hangs from your hand by the trigger. There is no need to wrap the fingers around the rod if you are holding the rod correctly. A lot of people seem to think that it is the forefinger only that goes around the trigger. If this were the case you would be holding the rod behind the reel, and this would be very tiring and impose unnecessary strain on your wrist. The correct grip is to have the first three fingers in front of the trigger. This places the weight of the reel directly in your hand, reducing fatigue on the wrist. Were the rod to be neutrally balanced at this point, as has been suggested by some, there would be insufficient weight acting in front of the reel for the rod to hang effortlessly from your fingers.

NPS reel seat for fixed-spool reels, or for dual purpose use on rods which may occasionally be used with a multiplier. Simple trigger reel seat and pistol grip on a light baitcaster.

Because multipliers are seated uppermost on the rod there is a natural tendency for the rod to twist around. The so-called palming" grip is the one that overcomes this problem. There have been rods built in the past with special recessed reel seats that set the centre of gravity of the reel lower on the rod, in line with the axis of the rod. Such fittings have also featured a down-turned section of the handle behind the reel. This cranked handle was intended to improve the feel of the outfit, and further reduce the twisting effect that the weight of the reel causes. Such handles are rarely seen today, no doubt because they entail a lot of work to fit to blanks, and they are expensive in themselves. Most multiplier rods now have blank thru" handles. This American jargon simply means that the blank has not been cut, and passes through the reel seat. These handles function perfectly well in my experience, and have the advantage of being inherently stronger than ones which involve the cutting of the blank in their construction.

On light multiplier rods there is no real need for a long foregrip to a handle. However, heavier duty rods may benefit from a three or four inch grip here. Sometimes you might feel the need to hold the rod in front of the reel to reduce fatigue, either when working big baits or fighting fish. This is very much a personal matter. Some anglers find such a grip essential, while I have reason to curse it as it takes your thumb away from the spool of the reel. Make up your own mind.

The only other fittings worthy of mention are the rings, or guides as they are sometimes called. Here too, modern rods are well equipped. Linings of aluminium oxide and the like are hard wearing, long lasting and reliable. They do not damage lines, unless they become cracked, so it is worth checking them regularly. Standard grade guides are perfectly acceptable, but the markedly more expensive silicone carbide (SiC) lined rings are noticeably smoother. This is most obvious when retrieving lures and playing fish. I doubt that there is much to be gained from using these rings in terms of extra casting distance, despite claims to that effect being made. Baitcasting rods should be fitted with two or three legged rings that stand well away from the blank, and placed so that the line will not touch the blank when the rod is fully loaded. Between six and eight rings will be the norm for this type of rod. Ring sizes on these rods can be small as the line is not coming off the reel in large coils. A butt ring with a diameter of 20mm is large enough. Fixed-spool ringing, on the other hand, will be fewer in number (a maximum of six) and larger in size with 30mm butt rings standard. I find single leg guides acceptable on fixed-spool rods, although they are prone to damage in transit. Double leg rings are a nice compromise as they stiffen a rod's action a little less than would three leg rings. There is, in reality, little noticeable, difference in this respect between one, two or three leg rings. Much of the talk about this is pure hype. Rod builders prefer using single leg guides, as they are cheapest and quickest to whip to a blank! Tip guides are prone to damage from trace swivels, which inadvertently get wound into - or through - them at times throughout a fishing session. There is, therefore, a case for using a Carboloy or Diamite tip guide as these will not crack like ceramic lined rings do. These guides are, unfortunately, difficult to come by in the U.K., certainly in sizes applicable to lure rods. It is worth carrying a spare tip guide and a stick of Hot Melt glue, just in case, to make waterside repairs. Keeper rings are not essential, but do serve to protect the whippings around the feet of your butt ring, the alternative place for hooking up your lure when the rod is not in use.