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Selecting Your Freshwater Fishing Gear: Fishing Rods, Fishing Reels, and Baits

Selecting Your Freshwater Fishing Gear
With nearly 6 million Canadians listing fishing as their preferred leisure activity, recreational anglers outnumber participants in most other outdoor sports.  Successful anglers mix patience, skill, finesse, and sometimes brawn to land their catch.   Having the right equipment makes it easier to achieve success and enjoy the sport.
 
Fishing offers a seemingly endless range of experiences, from the simplicity of dipping a road into a nearby pond to high-energy, technology-laden bass fishing tournaments that send professional anglers, rich with sponsors, powering after lunk largemouths.  The types of fishing that you try, along with the venues you choose, determine the gear that you need.  What works in one spot, for one species, may not work down the bay, up the creek, or for another kind of fish.  Volumes have been, and are still being written about selecting freshwater fishing gear.  Regardless the types of fishing you try and the waters you frequent, certain basic criteria hold true. 
 
Fishing Rods – The Essential Tool
In its most raw form, a fishing rod is a stick used to dangle a string tied to a hook used to catch fish. However, a modern fishing rod is generally a more sophisticated casting tool fitted with line guides and a reel for storing line.  Fishing rods vary in thickness, flexibility, and length, and can be 2 to 20 feet long. The longer the rod, the greater the mechanical advantage in casting.
 
A fishing rod also extends the angler’s reach and leverage. Essential to casting and presenting the bait or lure to attract fish, the rod absorbs the shock of a fish striking and helps set the hook and play as well as land the fish.  Rods also hold the reel and guide the line on and off the spool.
 
Rods are generally fitted with guides, wire loops that direct the line to the tip-top, the guide at the top of the rod. Grips are the part of the rod that you hold in your hand, usually made of synthetic EVA foam, or cork on good casting rods. The seat holds the reel, usually using some form of screw ring or lock device.
 
Use spin casting rods for active styles of fishing where you frequently cast and retrieve the bait or lure.  Conventional spinning rods are heavier and suited to fishing for larger fish such as salmon.  Surfcasting rods can run more than a dozen feet long, with massive construction to hurl a heavily weighted lure or bait out beyond the surf’s breakers. Fly fishing rods are long, thin, flexible, and lightweight, and are designed to cast flies.
 
Trolling for large tuna or other big game fish requires a shorter, stiffer rod, not suitable for casting. Most spinning and casting rods range from 5.5 to 7.5 feet. Fiberglass is the most economic material for fishing rods; graphite is lighter, stiffer and more sensitive but may also be pricier. Regardless the type of fishing you enjoy, match your rod, reel and tackle to improve your chances of making a catch. For novices and casual anglers, a prepackaged combination of rod, reel, and tackle enables you to spend more time actually fishing.
 
The Reel Story
Fishing reels store, deploy, and retrieve fishing line. They increase your mechanical advantage to handle strong fish and have a “drag” system used to pressure a fish during a fight.  Bait casting reels store line on a revolving spool and are mounted above the rod.  Their spools sit perpendicular to the rod and range in size from compact to massive multi-speed offshore saltwater reels, weighing many pounds. They require a bit more technique when casting to avoid backlash and tangled lines.
 
Spinning reels are the easiest for most anglers to use and are suitably robust for midweight marine fishing. They have a fixed spool set below and parallel with the rod and were originally designed to throw artificial flies and lures to trout and salmon. The fixed spool solved the backlash problem and later models proved sturdy enough to handle larger baits and larger catches. Spinning reels are an excellent choice for light tackle and easy to use by casual and beginning anglers.
 
The spin cast reel addresses the bait casting reel’s backlash and reduces the line twist and snaring sometimes encountered with spinning reels. Traditionally mounted above the rod, the spin cast reel—sometimes called a closed face spinner--is fitted with a metal cup and an external nose cone enclosing the fixed, parallel spool. Primarily a freshwater tool, “closed-face spinners” may show up primarily casting from piers and into brackish backwaters.
 
Fly casting reels are relatively simple and serve more to store the line than to mechanically assist playing the fish. 
 
Regardless of the type, reels intended for saltwater use are sometimes pricier because they use corrosion-resistant materials such as anodized aluminum, shielded stainless steel, or bronze bearings and forged aluminum spools. Quality reels also use sealed ball bearings for a smoother action. A rod and reel work together to form a system. Choose a reel is to match the rod you’ll be using. Buying a rod and reel combination can be a wise shortcut to getting yourself out on the water catching fish
 
Natural Baits – The Most Effective Choice
One of the most efficient and productive methods of sport angling is to use natural baits. Natural baits are effective because of their familiar texture, odour, and colour, and require a relatively simple presentation. They are generally most effective when acquired locally. 
 
Many marine anglers vow that if you really want to catch fish, particularly big fish, live bait is the only way to go. Dead cut bait will work, but not as well. While lures out-fish live bait in certain situations, live bait is the best way to deliver what the fish really want to eat. Bait casting, jigging, bottom fishing, and trolling all lend themselves to using live and natural baits.
 
The Challenge of Using Artificial Baits
Some anglers prefer to use artificial baits or lures, made to imitate prey or prey characteristics such as colour, flash, or shape that fish find attractive. A quick look down the aisle at your local tackle shop will tell you that artificial baits come in a bewildering array of styles, shapes, strategies, and colours, ranging from simple silver spoons to complex parachutes, daisy chains, and umbrella rigs, or massive, feathered teasers trolled for open-ocean fishing. 
 
Seasoned anglers usually carry more than one kind of lure and try to cover as much of the water column as possible: surface, subsurface and bottom. Specific lures for each zone and species enable you to get attractive baits to the fish regardless where it is holding. There are hundreds of different types of artificial lures, but most fall into one of five basic categories:trolling lures and skirts, hard baits, jigging spoons, bucktail jigs, and soft plastics.
 
Trolling lures are extremely popular for big game fishing. Trolling enables anglers to cover a lot of water and find the active fish. Carry a variety of lures so you can adapt to what the fish are feeding on. 
 
Hard baits is a term that encompasses crankbaits, topwater lures, stickbaits, and other hard baits that imitate bait fish.  These lures are very effective around piers, canals, inlets, rivers and in the surf, especially when retrieved with a twitch and pause motion.
 
Jigging spoons are one of the most popular—and traditional--saltwater lures, used from boats, off of piers and in the surf.  They work because they resemble a wounded baitfish, flapping and fluttering. Jigging spoons are fairly heavy, enabling long casts and quick descents to the proper depths.  
 
Bucktail jigs have a jighead and some type of hair or feathering that covers the hook. Attractive to a variety of species, heavier bucktails work in deeper water. Tipping the bucktail with shrimp, cut bait, or live bait can increase your chances for a catch. You can also effectively cast these jigs around piers, inlets, rivers, and in the surf. 
 
Soft plastics generally resemble the primary food for bigger fish. If soft plastics are your choice, select the forage that fish are feeding on in your area.