Fishing Rods Action & Power: What is It?

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Fishing Rods Action & Power: What is It?

by Capt. Terry Rand

Aren't they the same thing? let's find out exactly what it all means.

The choices to make when it comes to deciding on a fishing rod can be a little overwhelming. With all the different rod lengths, styles and blank thicknesses, making the proper selection can seem like a daunting task. Fishing rods have a lot of information printed on them to help you make your decision like what line strength the rod is rated for as well as the lure weights that a rod will cast comfortably. And then you have some other rating listed in there too like rod power and rod action.....what exactly does that mean? Let's talk a little bit about action and power.

Rod blank power is the easiest to explain and comprehend. Rod power is a rating that describes the rigidity of a rod blank. This will often relate to the thickness of the blank. Starting at the lower end of the rod thickness spectrum you find rods rated for Ultra-Light and Light. From there they work their way up through Medium power rods all the way up to Heavy and Extra Heavy blanks. Understanding this rating system is quite simple. Ultra-Lights and Mediums tend to be used for smaller sized fish and the Medium Heavys and Heavys tend to be used for larger fish. Ultra Lights and Light rods are great for catching trout, panfish, snapper blues and grunts. Your heavy power rods will be more suited for catching muskies, stripers and even larger fish.

This St. Croix fishing rod is labeled to indicate the rods length (6'6"), power rating (Med-Lite) and action rating (Fast).
Photo by: Author

Rod action has more to do with the dynamic performance of the rod. Ratings range from Fast Action to Slow Action with a few ratings in between. Action refers to where on the blank the rod bends while casting.
A fast action rod will bend in the top section of the rod, near the tip. A slow action rod will bend around the half way point of the rod. The action of the rod dictates how quickly the rod responds when you cast a lure or when you set the hook. It can also effect the action of a lure by being more or less responsive to rod twitches when working a plug.

There are different reasons for using different action rods. For example, years ago, after major advancements in the graphite fishing rod industry, bass fishermen using crankbaits were discovering that they were losing an undesirable amount of fish while fighting them back to the boat. The fish would often easily shake the hooks loose while jumping and shaking their heads which hadn't been such an issue when fiberglass rods were the norm. It was soon discovered that the fast action graphite rods were so responsive on the hook set that the fish were barely getting a chance to actually get the lure into their mouths. As soon as the angler would feel a variation in the movement of the lure, they would set the hook with the fast action rod and the rod would bend so quickly in the tip that it would start to pull the lure away from the fish. This was causing the fish to be barely hooked which would result in the fish throwing the hooks.

By using a slow action rod that bends in the mid section of the rod as opposed to one that bends in the tip, the response of the rod is much slower, allowing that fraction of a second that is needed for the fish to engulf the lure. Because graphite is so naturally responsive and sensitive, many crankbait anglers now opt for using composite rods that are made of both graphite and fiberglass to help ensure that slow response time needed for good hook sets while crankbait fishing.

So then, why would you want a fast action rod that responds quickly? Well, there are plenty of situations where a fast action rod is desirable or even needed. Lures of heavier weights often require a fast action to make them comfortable to cast and to get decent casting distance. If the rod bends slowly while casting a heavy lure, the rod may not effectively recoil to give you that wrist snap needed to make a long cast. Another situation where a fast action rod is desired is if the fish you are after have very bony mouths. A fast action will allow for an increase in your hook set power so that the hook starts penetrating the fishes bony mouth more quickly and effectively. A fast action rod will also allow you to pull a fish, like large groupers, away from deep, rocky structure more quickly to keep the fish out of the rocks.

This rod is also labeled with the recommended line size (4-10 lb test) and lure weight (1/8-1/2 oz.)
Photo by: Author

As you can see, there are good reasons for the variety found in rod power and action ratings. Keep in mind that the other components of your fishing gear also effect how your rod responds while you fish it. Line choice can be a factor when using fast action rods.

Braided lines, as opposed to monofilament fishing line, can be either an asset or a hindrance while using a fast action rod. The problem comes from the absence of a stretch factor in braided lines. When the line has zero stretch and is fished on a fast action rod, there is nothing to absorb the power of a direct hook set using braid. A solution to this is to lighten the tension of your drag system. This will act as a shock absorber and help prevent premature hook sets, knot breakage and line breakage.

When getting down to making a decision on purchasing a fishing rod, use all of this knowledge to your advantage. After deciding on the length of the rod that you need, make a decision on the power of the rod that you will need. Is your fishing restricted to the local lake where you’ll be catching a mix of bass and panfish or will you be spending your hours fishing the inshore areas of the Everglades looking for snook and redfish? Are you going be catching big river catfish or will you be pulling large striped bass off of deep water reefs?

Once the power of the rod has been decided upon, it’s time to think about rod action. Keep in mind the earlier mentioning of the crankbait fisherman as well as the braided line scenario. Do you need more response time because you are naturally quick on the draw when it comes to setting the hook? Maybe a slower action rod would benefit you. Do you need to make accurate casts with relatively heavy lures? You might want to lean towards a faster action rod.

A lot of it comes down to personal fishing style also. You will quickly figure out what works best for you as you try using different fishing rods in different fishing situations. Try casting a fast action rod and a slow action rod side by side, using the same lure. Try the same thing with a medium power rod and then with a heavy power rod. You’ll notice the difference immediately and will begin to fully understand why you need to take rod power and rod action into consideration with every fishing rod purchase you make.

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