What’s your speed? There’s a good chance you don’t even know. If you do know, you may not realize exactly how it affects your fishing and believe me, it affects your fishing. At this point you are rightly wondering just what exactly I’m referring to -speed and fishing? What gives? I’m talking about speed as it relates to your tackle and ultimately your lure presentations. No, not the speed that you troll or reel, the speed of your tackle itself. The speed of your rods and reels. So I ask again - what’s your speed?
How can a rod with no moving parts have a speed? Good question. It’s more of a lingo thing. A rod blank’s characteristics are generally described in two ways; speed and power. They are often confused with each other, but are very different things. Power is how much force it takes to bend the rod’s blank and is rated by lure weight. For instance, a typical “medium power” rod is rated to cast 1/8oz to 5/8oz of weight. In other words, with that much weight and a normal casting stroke, the blank will bend or “load” perfectly to make your cast.
Many people casually use the term “medium action” to describe the rod, but that is not correct. Action is correctly used to describe a rod’s speed, not power. There are lots of rods that are all, say, medium power, but with actions or speeds - ranging from slow to extra-fast. They describe where along the rod’s blank it bends under a given weight load. Slow action rods bend parabolicaly or evenly from the tip to the butt. Extra-fast action rods bend at the tip under it’s given weight range and only bend farther down the blank than that under heavier loads, like when fighting a fish. Both are designed to cast the same weight, but they do it totally differently. They respond to your inputs relating to lure movement, like jerks, twitches and hook-sets differently as well. Quality manufacturers, like St Croix, make rods with a wide range of power and speed combinations to fit any angling situation.
If you generally fish with live or dead bait, a slower action rod will allow you to gently lob it out and will also help keep fish hooked once they bite; the rod is more forgiving overall. Slower rods are also good for baits that are moving forward constantly, like a crankbait or inline spinner, because the fish will get a more solid bite as the rod “gives”.
Conversely, fast action rods are more accurate and sensitive and also allow you to be much more precise with your lure movement. Any lure that requires crisp twitches, like a jerkbait or topwater plug, is easier to work correctly on a faster action rod. When picking a new rod, consider the power first. Make sure the lures or bait you want to use fall within its specified weight range. Then select the speed or action based on your intended use. Personally, my St Croix collection runs the gamut from moderate action to extra-fast action, with fast getting most of the field time.
Reels also have speed ratings, but they’re totally different in that it is the rate at which line is recovered that is rated, such that high-speed reels take in line faster than low-speed reels. Anglers commonly hear about gear ratios in the reel talk, but the gear ratio is only part of the story. Gear ratio is how many times the spool or bail (casting reel or spinning reel) rotates over a single, 360 degree rotation of the reel handle. A ratio of 5:1 would mean that the spool rotates five times for every one handle rotation. Obviously, the higher the ratio, the faster the reel. But is that true? Not always! The gear ratio does not take into account the diameter of the spool that the line is being wrapped around.
What anglers should really consider is “recovery rate”, typically reported in inches per turn. Recovery rate considers both the gear ratio and spool diameter and varies from about 20 inches per turn to just under 40 inches per turn in the Abu Garcia reels I use, with the Revo Rocket series being the fastest of all. Faster reels are more efficient; you can make more presentations in a day because you can get your lure back when your presentation is complete quicker each time. You can also get tight on fish quicker and manage slack line presentations easier.
Conversely, they are not well suited to lures that take a lot of power to retrieve, like a deep-diving crankbait. You will physically tire of winding and will also loose “feel” as you are forced to overpower the crankbait. In this case, a low recovery rate will make that same crankbait much easier to retrieve. In general, I prefer the fastest recovery rates when pitching jigs, dragging bottom contact lures and fishing topwater lures. Mid-speed recoveries work well for lures such as small crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swimbaits. Low-speed reels are best for deep diving crankbaits and other lures that have a lot of resistance on retrieve. Ironically, the fastest rod blanks pair well with the fastest reels and vice versa.
So, what’s my speed? That depends heavily on how I’m fishing and yours should too!