Fishing Rods and Reels: Part 1


By Jason Herbert

Ahhh fishing. There are not many better ways to relax. For some, it’s an old cane pole and bobber in a farm pond. For others, “matching the hatch” of giant mayflies in a river, with fly rod in hand. And a few brave souls might find themselves surf casting coastal waters in hopes of landing a giant bull shark! Fishing can mean many things to different people. Just about one of the oldest occupations in the world, the Bible even mentions fishermen often. Some still fish as a career, but for most, it’s a hobby, bordering on obsession. Either way, the term “fishing” is used loosely, but the concept is the same. The idea is to get a fish to bite a hook and then reel it in somehow to get caught. There are several ways to fish, for almost every species on the planet. Here are the basic North American rod/reel/strategy combinations that we think you should try (if you haven’t yet).

Before we begin, I do want to discuss some general terms. Anyone from rookie angler to seasoned veteran on the BASS circuit could always use a refresher, so here goes:

  • Rod – The fishing rod is a stiff stick like apparatus that holds the reel, line, and allows for leverage in casting as well as fighting and landing fish.
  • Reel – The devise used to house the fishing line. Also very important for casting and bringing hooked fish in.
  • Line – The fishing line itself. Usually made of something synthetic that is strong, light, and flexible.
  • Spool – What the line wraps around on the reel.
  • Grip/Handle – Where the fisherman holds the rod.
  • Bail – Mechanism that allows line to freely flow off the spool, or prevents it from doing so.
  • Eyes – Circle guides on the rod that the line follows from the reel to the end of the rod.
  • Drag – An internal setting on the reel that allows for a bit of forgiveness, letting the spool spin back on itself before the line snaps. Very important when fighting and landing big fish. A drag too tight will snap the line and lose the fish. One too loose will end up in a lost fish too, because the fisherman never got it under control and it eventually unhooked itself. Using drag is sort of a balancing act.

Types of Rod/Reel Combinations

Spincast (Closed Faced)


Probably the way most of us got “hooked” on fishing. There’s not much more classic than a “Zebco 33”closed face reel on a fishing rod. Everyone’s grandpa had several of these laying around the old cottage at the lake. Most were already equipped with a red and white round bobber, a few sinkers, and a snelled hook. I learned to love fishing with one of these in my hand. Easy to operate and cast, the spincast setup is perfect for young anglers and rookies alike.

Generally the most inexpensive type if fishing rod and reel combination, a spincast reel has an inclosed spool of line that feeds out of a front nosecone. Very simple to use, it has a push button line release operation for casting and simple hand crank reel. Spincast reels get mounted on the top of fishing rods. Usually a spincast rod is about 5′-6′ long, is rather stiff, and has a “pistol grip” style handle. These really are designed for light to medium weight fishing action. Panfish, trout, bass, etc… are all the perfect size for spincast fishing.

abu garcia-170i-Abumatic-Spincast
An example of a spincast reel, this is the Abu Garcia 170i Abumatic reel.

Some limitations or criticisms of the spincast rod are they they generally do not hold a lot of line, and that their drag system isn’t the greatest for technical fishing where a give and take is necessary to land the fish. Also, due to their nosecone configuration, casting distance is limited due to extra friction on the line.

Spinning (Open Face)

The next logical step in the evolution of many fisherman (including myself) is graduating up to an open face spinning rod. A completely different design in both rod and reel, the spinning setup also serves a different purpose. A spinning reel sits on the bottom of the rod – instead of the spincasting reel that rests on top. Also, there generally isn’t a pistol grip on the handle, but rather one that is smooth. A spinning rod and reel are much more versatile as well. With many sizes to choose form, spinning setups can be used to catch the tiniest of trout, up to gigantic man eating sharks.

Jason’s son with a nice pike he caught while spin fishing in a river with a live leech.
Example of a spinning reel from Daiwa.

The spinning setup offers several advantages. First, the spool is open, whereas the line freely rolls off with little friction. This open spool allows for longer casts with light weight lures and a more delicate presentation. Second, they tend to offer the fisherman much greater control of the fish once the hook is set. The drag on a spinning reel is easily adjusted mid-fight, and anglers can visually check to see how much line they have remaining before it’s time to panic. Also, the spinning reel can hold a much greater amount of line than a spincasting closed face reel. With a bigger reel and spool also comes the advantage of reeling in faster. I know when I salmon or steelhead fish in the local rivers during the spawning season, we all use medium sized reels that hold a lot of line to fight the fish, and longer 8′-9′ rods to control them once hooked. There’s not much of a greater rush than chasing a 20 pound angry salmon up and down a river with fishing rod in hand!

The author’s son with a fat smallmouth bass he caught while spin-fishing a small white grub in a river.

As with anything, there are also disadvantages to spinning setups. Sometimes spinning setups are not as accurate as other options like a baitcasting reel, which we discuss next. Another issue spinning setups create is that line is spooled parallel to the rod, causing it to feed off coiled as well, with not as much tension for a possible hook-set. Also, a spinning reel does have exposed fishing line which could weather from the elements or get nicked and damaged somehow.

Jason’s son is at home on the water. Here he is using his spinning rod to catch a hungry smallmouth.
The author’s son with a giant fish that he landed, but Jason caught! The Herbert men spent the better part of a half hour chasing this beast up and down the river and landed it with the help of Jason’s heavy spinning rod.


Mostly toted for hardcore bass anglers, the baitcasting setup serves a specific purpose. Looking similar to our old friend the spincaster, a baitcast setup is a bit different though. The reel does sit on top of the rod. Generally a baitcast rod is short and stiff for muscling well hooked bass through acres of thick weeds. A baitcast reel spool is open, but sits perpendicular to the rod, or sideways for a better visual. The line comes off straight, and not coiled like a spinning rod. Bait cast reels are not easy to use, because with the push of a button the fisherman releases the bail. Sounds easy, but… the line will keep spooling out until the fisherman stops it with his thumb. Every beginner baitcast fisherman knows the term “bird’s nest.” A bird nested spool of baitcast line is a very humorous event and the cause for centuries (OK- decades) of good old fashioned fun at your fishing buddy’s expense. I know I always laugh when someone gets a “bird’s nest.”

Example of a baitcasting reel from Daiwa. This is the Arid series Baitcasting reel.

But seriously, if the reel isn’t operated properly, the line will become a mess and render it pretty much useless When the fishing is hot and heavy, nobody ways to be stuck watching the action while they attempt the impossible- untangling a bird’s nest. Because of the constant control the fisherman has over the line, baitcast setups are great for casting into precise locations such as under docks and over logs. Baitcasters are also good for heavy lures, surface plugs that require a lot of twitching and jerking, etc… Anything where the fisherman needs to give a lot of life to the lure can be helped with a baitcast setup.

There’s not a lot of finesse involved in baitcast fishing. Generally the lures they cast meet the water with a loud “splash” which could scare away fish- or attract them. The rods are stiff for horsing fish out of thick cover. But… with a stuff rod comes less of the fighting sensation. The lighter the rod, the greater the fight. Many tournament fisherman rely on baitcast setups because of the speed in which they can be used. It doesn’t take long to reel up a rubber worm and chuck it back out with a baitcaster. When I see baitcasting setups, I think, those fisherman are in production mode, where time is of the essence.

Coming Up Next

Finally! Jason gets to catch a fish. Here is is with a fat male spring steelhead. When the “steelies” are running, they overtake local rivers and provide for all sorts of light tackle fishing adventures.

In part two, we’ll be covering fly fishing, trolling, and surf casting, so stay tuned!