Have faith in the right fishing rod when you need it most

Surrounded by a bevy of bass-fishing superstars—including Kevin Van Dam, Tim Horton, Edwin Evers, Woo Daves, Brian Snowden and Rick Clunn—I was struck by the impressive fishing rods they brandished. The cork handles were stained from hours of sweaty labour and worn smooth from hundreds of thousands of casts. Nearly all of them were fashioned from graphite and each was long, lean, powerful and strong—most medium-heavy to heavy. And with nary a willowy wisp in sight, they stood in stark contrast to the bundles of sticks belonging to most weekend warriors.

With fame, fortune and first-place prize money often approaching $1 million, these pros simply can't risk losing a fish by using the wrong equipment. Not that using a heavier-than-normal-action rod for most presentations is just for bass anglers—there's a lesson here for anglers of all stripes.

When most anglers purchase a new rod, for some strange reason they pick one that's weak, flimsy and underpowered. I'm sure you've seen someone sizing up the potential of a new fishing pole—perhaps you've even performed the ceremony yourself—by waving it up and down as though it were a buggy whip. I'm not certain what this ritual is supposed to accomplish, or the properties of the rod it's designed to reveal. Suffice to say, if nothing else it should tell you which rod not to buy. Yet, ironically, the flimsiest rod tends to win the day. Except, of course, among the pros.

If you were to take almost any pro angler's rod and forcefully press the tip against the carpet of the boat and bend down on it, the end would barely budge. That's how strong the bottom three-quarters of a pro's rod is. In fishing rod vernacular, the action would be described as medium-heavy or heavy.

Why so much power? With a beefy fishing rod you can forcefully set the hook and almost guarantee a solid hookup. That's especially important when you're fishing with soft, artificial baits—worms, grubs, minnows and the like. Bass, walleye, muskies and pike routinely ball these up inside their mouths, forcing you to first drive the hook through the plastic mass before it even reaches skin and bone.

And in the thick cover where many of the biggest predators lie, you can often feel the point of your hook nick a rock or log—becoming dull in the process—just before a big fish strikes. A heavier-action rod ensures that you'll be taking a picture with the fish instead of simply shaking its hand.

Indeed, a stiff stick is far more sensitive and transmits strikes and bites far more readily than a limp noodle. It does the same thing relaying back critical bottom information. As Rick Clunn put it so succinctly, “A crankbait is still the best depthsounder that was ever invented.” If you're fishing with a lighter-action rod, you'll miss the vibrations from the lure as it strokes the tops of the weeds or nicks the tip of an isolated boulder.

Worse still, the muted sensation transmitted to your hand via a flimsy rod means you can often mistake structure for a bite and, as a result, set your hook into a snag. That, in turn, will spook any big fish that might have been lying alongside the structure as you fiddle to free your bait.

Heaven knows, most anglers have far too many of the ubiquitous middle-action rods anyway. There are few downsides to choosing a heavier action, and plenty of benefits. Don't take my word for it, though. Just ask the pros.