Type of rod
To this end, I would recommend a powerful waggler float-rod as the first rod. These rods have a progressive action that aids casting and acts as a shock absorber when playing a fighting fish. Another factor in my choice is the increase in carp stocks on many fisheries to the extent that it is not that uncommon for an anglers first fish to be a carp.
Length of rod
Most float rods are manufactured in lengths between 10 and 15ft. The actual length of rod you purchase is somewhat subjective and linked to your height. My wife, Virginia is a good example being only 5ft tall her preference is for float rods of about 11ft. Most people of average height tend to opt for rods nearer the 13ft mark.
For security I prefer to have a screw winch fitting. These hold the reel firmly in one place so that the reel can not be dropped but, on the down side, you can not change the position of the reel on the handle.
Most rings are now lined with some form of hard-wearing material. I prefer to have at least 16 rings on a 13ft rod. This is to stop the line clinging to the rod when it's wet.
This term describes the shape of the bend the rod takes when playing a fish. These are normally classified into three broad classes i.e.
1. Tip or fast action
2 Progressive action
2. Through action
Tip or fast These tend to feel very stiff as they bend only in the tip section with other joints remaining rigid. These rods are intended for fast pick-up and long casting. The disadvantage is that every movement of the fish tends to be transmitted down to the hand. There is also no cushion if the fish makes a sudden run as it being netted. This can result in the line breaking or the hook being pulled out. It is for this reason that I am not a fan of fast actioned rods.
Progressive Action The bend on these rods starts about two thirds the way down the rod. This gives a pleasant bend to the rod whilst there is still power left in the butt to control a good fish. These rods certainly give a greater safety margin when playing a fish but at the expense of some casting distance. This type of action is the one that I recommend and most often use myself.
Through Action These bend through the whole length of the rod. You can often feel the rod bending under the handle. This type of rod is for playing fish with the greatest safety margin rather than a casting tool. These rods tend to feel nicer and are a pleasure to use.
I generally prefer to have the slightly more powerful backbone associated with progressive actioned rods but still have several through actioned rods in my armoury.
This term is used to try to quantify the power in the rod rather than the shape of the curve the rod takes when placed under pressure. In practice we need to consider both test curve, action and length to accurately describe a rod.
The test curve of a rod is the weight required for the rod tip to be at right angles to the butt. As a rough guide, the best line strength used with a rod with progressive action is five times the test curve. Therefore a carp rod with progressive action and a test curve of 21b is best suited to a line of 101b b.s. In practice I find a tip action rod with the same test curve is more suited to a higher breaking strain line. In the above example if the rod had a fast action I would want 12 to 151b b.s. line. This is because the rod is so rigid there is very little safety margin when playing a fish.
By the same argument you could get away with a slightly less strong line with a 21b test curve through-action rod. I often use such a rod with 9lb b.s. line.
In the past, match rods were made with very low test curves so that very fine tackle could be used. Most of the fish reported in match catches were made up of smaller species with the possible exception of bream. Bream are not known for their fighting qualities and were easily handled on light match gear. Now if you look in the match results of one of the weeklies you will find that carp predominate in most matches. These carp demand heavier tackle, this has resulted in manufacturers producing more powerful float rods for this market. These rods have a much higher test curve than those traditional match rods of a decade ago. Instead of giving a test curve most manufacturer give you suggested line strengths to use with the rod to make it easier for the less technically minded. Shakespeare are one large manufacturer who have opted for this method of describing their float rods.
Basically we are looking for a rod that will handle at least 4lb b.s. which means that ideally it has a progressive action with a test curve of about three quarters of a pound.
Most rods are made from hollow tapering tubes from a mixture of carbon and glass fibres bonded by a resin. The more carbon present in the mixture, the more expensive the rod. This will also make the rod stiffer and allow manufacturers to reduce the diameter of the tube. Most cheaper rods are made from a mix containing a higher proportion of glass fibres. These rods are often referred to as composites. They are cheaper, less stiff, more robust and of larger diameter. Being less stiff and more robust is a great advantage to the beginner. I like the action of many such rods and still use composites for much of my fishing out of punts where, by the nature of the fishing on the tidal Thames, rods will take some knocks.
You might also see some older rods about made from various materials including different woods, split cane, solid glass and hollow glass. However technology has advanced and these materials have largely disappeared to be replaced by the carbon fibre tubes that I have described earlier.
The only other materials I want to discuss are those used for rod handles. Most rods have either a cork or duplon handle. Duplon is a modern synthetic material that feels rather rubbery. The choice of handle material is somewhat personnel and really boils down to using whatever you are happy using.
They tell me that a good writer always ends on a very positive note and that is the reason I have left this section to the end. The good news is that rods are now available for what I call "silly money". I was looking at the range of Steadfast 2XL match carp waggler rods in a local shop. They were available in 10ft, 11ft, 12ft and 13ft lengths and all priced at under £20. The actions were good and the rods had all lined rings with screw winch fittings. However to keep the price down, there were a few rod rings less than I would like but in all honesty, they were more than adequate. No doubt other manufacturers produce similar good value-for-money rods but I have not seen them.
Conclusion To recap, I have suggested that a powerful waggler rod as the ideal starting rod so that you can perfect float fishing skills before moving on to other forms. I have also discussed the main characteristics of a rod such as length, action and test curve. These are used to describe the rod blank on which your rod is made.
Later in the series I will be discussing more specialist rods, their characteristics and purposes.