It can be daunting entering the world of fishing. There are so many different pieces of equipment, each designed to do the same thing: catch fish. This is in part due to the fact that over time, people have gotten very good at catching fish, the number of techniques that we use has increased, and along with it the range of equipment relevant to each method.
The most popular method to this day is the rod and reel combination. Anglers have been using this combo with great success both recreationally and at an industry level for centuries and it is still effective to this day as it can be used in a huge range of environments.
The earliest forms of fishing rod would have been used without a reel. Simple lengths of wood or tree branches would be used to act as a rod helping to take pressure off the fish as the rod flexes in response to the fish pulling.
Reels were used separately, that is, were held in one hand and could be wound in manually. The basic reel design was then adapted to include a handle and work in conjunction with a rod. This ‘single action reel’ was initially developed for commercial sale for fly fishing and the design has stuck ever since. Single action reels are connected directly to the handle, and turn once with every 360 degree rotation of the handle. The combination of the two makes a simple and effective fish catching tool.
But let’s break it down to understand the two components first.
Archaeological records suggest that people have been using fishing rods for thousands of years going as far back as ancient China and ancient Egypt. Today they have evolved into a huge range of products that vary in terms of weight, flexibility and the material they are constructed from, depending on the intended use.
Fishing rods are usually made from modern composites such as fibreglass, carbon fibre or graphite. They vary in length and are tapered from butt to tip to flex more or less at different points along the rod’s length. Fishing rods are classified based on their weight or ‘power’ which is reduced or increased by making the rod thicker or shorter in profile. Fishing rods usually feature a number of eyelets along their length that are designed to hold the fishing line.
Lightweight and flexible; fly rods are designed to provide maximum feel and to cast small lures from short to long distances. They are especially flexible towards the tip enabling them to flick back and forth in the characteristic fly casting motion. Fly rods traditionally feature a cork or wooden handle.
Spinning rods are quite different to fly rods; usually shorter and with a much quicker action, they are used for casting and are available in different power ratings depending on the species of fish being targeted. Spinning rods will most often feature a foam or cork handle.
The classic boat fishing rod. Overhead rods are engineered to work in perfect unison with an overhead reel, and are usually slightly shorter and more powerful than casting rods. They are for fighting big species of deep sea fish and sportfish. You won’t be doing much casting with an overhead rod and reel combo: just drop your line and wait for the bites to come.
The longest of the rod family, surfcasters can be up to 4-5 metres long and are used from the shore to cast extremely long distances past the breaking waves to where the fish like to feed. Surfcasters are usually used with big eggbeater reels or ‘Alvey’ style reels in order to tackle big fish and cope with the added weight when pulling your catch in through the waves. In order to transport them easily, surfcasters can be broken down into multiple pieces.
Almost any type of fishing rod can be a telescopic rod, although some would argue that telescopic rods will never be quite as strong or durable as their single piece counterparts. Telescopic rods can be extremely useful if you are fishing with lightweight tackle and walking great distances to your fishing spot as they can be retracted and stored in a backpack.
Fishing reels are designed to work in conjunction with a fishing rod to maximise your chances of catching fish. Some reels are engineered to work with a specific model or type of rod, others are more flexible. Each type has its pros and cons depending on what species of fish you are targeting, and your fishing environment.
Most modern fishing reels feature an adjustable drag system that enables the angler to control the amount of force it takes for a fish to pull line off the spool. Modern reel systems also use a geared system and are available in a range of ratios depending on what type of fishing they are being used for. For example, a reel with a 6:1 gearing ratio means that with every turn of the handle, the spool rotates 6 times. This greatly increases the speed at which you can retrieve your lure and puts more pressure on the fish as well.
To be used with a fly rod only. Fly reels were originally single action reels meaning that the spool was connected directly to the reel’s handle. For every turn of the handle, the spool turned once. This meant that the angler had to palm the edge of the reel in order to slow the rate at which a fish would strip line off the spool.
More modern constructions feature adjustable drag systems. Fly reels can also be used for salt water fishing, although they will usually be built from non-corrosive materials to cope with the harsh conditions of the sea. This can make them heavier and bulkier than their fresh water fishing counterparts.
Fly reels were once left or right handed, although times have changed with manufacturers feeling for the lefty population, making modern designs ambidextrous: capable of attaching the handle on either side of the reel.
Often referred to as eggbeaters because of their characteristic whipping action, spinning reels are fixed-spool reels that sit perpendicular to the rod itself and attach hanging below the rod.
Eggbeaters use a bail guide system that hold the line, wrapping it onto the spool when you retrieve. When the bail is flipped across, the line is released to fall freely off the spool. This makes them excellent for casting as spool does not spin when casting. All you have to do is pinch the line to keep it tight on the spool and time your release with the highest point of your cast to let the line fly. The bail can then be flicked back engaging the reel for retrieval. Eggbeater reels will feature adjustable drag and sometimes a free spool setting that can be used when drift fishing in current, allowing the fish to run with the bait before engaging the reel and striking.
Perfect for a range of fishing techniques, overhead reels are most often used from a boat or from a wharf where you are dropping your bait or lure directly at your feet into deep water. Overhead reels feature a revolving spool that is capable of rotating independently of the handle. A lever on the side is activated with your thumb, letting the line run freely off the spool. Overhead reels almost always feature a geared mechanism greatly reducing the time it takes to retrieve your lure. For certain kinds of fishing such as ‘speed fishing’, or fishing ‘poppers’, your reel needs to be able to retrieve your bait at very high speeds, exciting fast sport fish.
Overhead reels can be used for casting, but this can be difficult for inexperienced anglers as overruns (or bird’s nests) occur when not enough tension is applied to the spool as the line comes off it quickly in flight.
When retrieving, a level-wind mechanism acts sort of like the bail found on a spinning reel to evenly lay the line back on the spool.
Designed in an attempt to solve the issues of overruns that occur with overhead reels, spincast reels are one of the easiest types of reels to operate, making them popular with new anglers and children. Spincast reels are fixed spool reels like spinning reels that allow the line to fly off the front of the spool from a fixed position. However, they do not feature a bail and are usually fitted on top of the rod. Spincast reels use a button mechanism to disengage the spool allowing the line to fly free.
Spincast reels are not capable of holding as much line as their spinning and overhead counterparts and cannot cast as far, making them ideal for fishing lightweight lures and targeting smaller fish species, but not well suited to deeper water or hard fighting fish.
Like a hybrid between spincast and overhead reels, baitcasters are overhead reels that sometimes feature a button release like spincasters, but more commonly feature advanced magnetic drag systems to help stop overruns. They still require a level of skill on the part of the caster to help keep tension on the spool while casting ensuring the line doesn't tangle on itself. They sometimes offer more power when fighting larger fish as the spool allows line to run off parallel with the rod.
An Australian invention, Alvey reels are very popular among land based anglers in Australia for their hard wearing simple design. Alvey reels are unique among the reel population. They are a fixed spool reel similar to a larger diameter fly reel in appearance, however, in order to cast effectively, they rotate on a hinge to face the spool perpendicular to the direction you are going to cast like a spinning reel allowing the line to fly directly off the spool.
Alvey reels are known for being incredibly hard wearing due to their lack of small parts making them perfect for fishing for big species of powerful fish in harsh conditions.
A Hand Reel or handline is the simplest form of reel used today. Popular for teaching children the basics of fishing and among fishing specialists or traditional anglers, hand reels are basically just a spool with some line. The whole action is performed manually, retrieving by rotating the reel and guiding with the other hand. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when working with a hand reel as your fishing line can cause a nasty burn.
Hand line fishing was immortalised in the epic novella “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway, in which a fisherman experiences the fight of his life against an enormous Marlin using just his bare hands in a small row boat.