Getting schooled on sportfishing rods
Jesse Simpkins is the marketing director of St. Croix Rods in Park Falls, Wis. He is also on the Selection Committee for the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, which I chair. We met recently and spent a half day on a small lake near Hayward chasing largemouth bass, and I steered the conversation to fishing rods.
When I told him I used a competing brand’s ice fishing rod for kayak fishing, he handed me a life jacket. “Put it on,” he said, “you’re swimming back to the boat landing.”
He was kidding, but he got serious about rods and why anglers should choose the best rod for their type of fishing. He also said I was mislabeling the rods that I have collected over the years. I referred to them as graphite, and he explained that’s a term commonly and incorrectly used to characterize carbon fiber rods.
Simpkins explained that the terms “graphite” and “carbon fiber” largely have become interchangeable. Graphite in lead pencils and graphite in a fishing rod are obviously not the same material. The material that makes a strong rod is actually carbon fiber.
The main difference between graphite and carbon fiber is the fact that graphite breaks apart easily while carbon fiber is strong. This difference explains why graphite works well in a pencil and carbon fiber works well in sports equipment like fishing rods. So to be the coolest angler in the boat, just refer to your rod as a state-of-the-art carbon fiber rod. Then release a low chuckle the next time your buddy refers to his rod as graphite.
Not all rods are carbon fiber, though. Some are fiberglass, and this material is again a popular option. Fiberglass resins and epoxies have been around since the 1930s, but the material did not make its way into the fishing industry until the 1950s. The creation of tubular fiberglass was an innovation that began with Shakespeare, and the company was working on such designs even before World War II. The process finally was perfected during the war, when it was used to make radio antennas on aircraft and tanks.
Anglers are returning to fiberglass because they are discovering the action on this material is perfect for catching fish on crankbaits. The soft tip creates excellent hookups and provides a lot of forgiveness when battling the fish. It seems we are coming full circle on certain rods for particular circumstances.
Another material was popular for rods back in the day: bamboo. I have a fun little bamboo fly rod, but you cannot beat my state-of-the-art carbon fiber rods for fighting big stream trout.
After a day on the water with Simpkins, I learned there are many details that go into making high-quality fishing rods, so do your homework before you buy your next one.