While learning the outdoor industry and building my fishing guide business, I spent five years working in the fishing department of my local Sportsman’s Warehouse. It gave me a chance to learn a bit about how the products are marketed, merchandised, sold, and most importantly, gave me insight into the knowledge level and buying tendencies of "Average Joe Angler". I figured, "Hey, if I was to make a living in the outdoors, I needed to establish a base level of its average participants’ understanding of their hobby," and some retail time would help that.

So, what did I learn? A lot, but a point that has always stuck out to me is how rare it is that selecting a product involves actually thinking through the specific use or utilizing the information provided by the manufacturer on the product or its packaging. In short, Average Joe most often made buying decisions apparently based on emotion, cosmetics, packaging, or brand familiarity, rather than logically applying products’ features to their angling need.

This is not a knock on the buying public in any way; it’s merely an observation of common habits. Let’s look at a specific buying example and I’ll toss out a better way to select said product such that we end up with a product that we can be confident will work for our needs. Yep, let’s buy a spinning rod. First, a bit of backstory as to why this is on my mind.

For the last 13 years, I fished the same manufacturer’s rods exclusively for all my angling needs. Therefore I knew the ins and outs of each model and their best application. Well, for 2020 and beyond, I switched to a new rod company, Abu Garcia (whose reels I’ve been using exclusively for many years) as part of an effort to consolidate my business and simplify my tackle selection and pairing process. When you fish professionally all over the country for all kinds of species, you need a huge range and volume of tackle. While working through the selection of all my new rods, I leaned heavily on the concepts I’m disclosing in this column.

Back to buying a spinning rod. It should start with a need or application. So, as specifically as possible, what are you going to use the rod for? When I asked customers that, I’d often get something like “lake fishing” or “mostly trout, but bass, and walleye too. Plus, I like panfish”. Let me be candid; lake fishing encompasses many angling possibilities and no single rod will really cover all those species, at least not effectively. It comes down to compromise.

While “lake fishing”, do you primarily use live/dead bait like night crawlers or PowerBait? If you do cast lures, how much do they weigh and how do you retrieve them? If you mostly fish for trout, it is highly likely that you’ll utilize lures that are physically lighter in weight than a bass fisherman might gravitate to, so you’ll each be better served with different rods. The more specific you can be with what you’ll utilize the rod for and then use the manufacturers’ stated specs in selecting the rod, the better the performance you’ll end up with. And for the record, an expensive rod that is poorly chosen is not as effective or fun to fish with as a less expensive rod better chosen to match the angling.

Lobbing bait out in a lake is better handled with soft, forgiving rod blanks. There is no real need for super sensitivity (it’s real bait, the fish will eat it!) and the weights will typically be on the light side. Conversely, walking a pond bank casting a spinner bait for bass is much better handled with a stiffer, more accurate rod, though sensitivity is still not an issue. Tickling small jigs along the bottom for any species requires a rod that is very sensitive and often accurate too.

So, we know what we want to use our new rod for; how do we actually choose it? Power, length and action, those are the basic variables available to you and they should be considered in that order of importance. Any decent manufacturer will print them on the blank.

Power rating reflects how much weight the rod is designed to cast, expressed in fractions of ounces. Length is obvious, while action is expressed in speed - slow, moderate, fast, etc. Your power needs are determined by the weights you intend to cast, length by how far you need to cast, how accurate you need to be and/or how much line control you desire. Action is determined by how much sensitivity you need, casting style or your retrieves.

Looking only at Abu Garcia’s Veritas line of spinning rods, they range from medium-light (1/8 oz.-1/2 oz.) up to medium-heavy power (1/4 oz.-3/4 oz.). There is some overlap; put the most common weight you cast in the middle of the rod’s stated range. Lengths range from 6’3” to 9’6”; short rods are more accurate and controllable, longer rods cast farther and allow more line control. 6’6”-7’6” is a good compromise for the majority of angling, specialized techniques aside. Actions can be moderate up to extra-fast.

Casting live/dead bait, trolling or continuously winding lures means slower, moderate actions. Conversely, jigging or finesse techniques are best handled with very crisp, extra-fast action rods. Fast action rods are generally the most versatile for lure fishing.

If you really think about your intended use, assess your favorite lures and techniques, apply the information above, and then read the labels as you shop, you’ll end up with a rod that is better suited to your needs and becomes a great value, simple as that!