Pike Rod Perspectives

Here and there recently there have been some odd things said about pike rods, and a few questions asked about what makes a good pike rod, or differentiates one from a carp rod. Having been something of a rod anorak from a fairly early age, and I think this is justifiable in my capacity as a rod builder, I thought I'd try and put my thoughts together in an article.

When choosing a rod for any application I always reckon the first thing you have to consider are the weights and baits it will be used to cast, then the distances it will be used to cast, and finally the fish it will be used to land. For a pike rod the baits are, without a doubt, the primary factor. One thing that we pike anglers have to bear in mind is that the baits we use can be ripped off the hooks if we use the wrong rods and the wrong casting style. This hasn't changed in the history of modern pike fishing. The rigs and baits used in carp fishing have changed a great deal in this same period.

Although carp and pike anglers need rods of similar test curve (a rough guide to the weights it is capable of casting), the nature of the baits and rigs being used makes it apparent that simply relying on a rod's test curve to make our selection is not enough. We also have to consider the rod's action.

Because pike anglers habitually overload their rods they require them to have stiffer tips than most carp rods have these days. In the old days when a fast action rod would have been built on a fast taper blank the tips were less prone to 'folding' when a large pike bait was dangling from them. Today carp rods tend to be made with very soft tips and very stiff butts - as the fashion is for distance rods. Given the rigs and baits that carp anglers use this is not a problem. A hair rigged boilie won't get thrown by the force of a powerful cast with a four ounce lead. Deadbaits and livebaits, on the other hand, need a cast in which the power is transmitted to them more slowly, to prevent the hooks ripping out against the inertia of a heavy bait.

To this end pike rods need a fairly stiff tip to support the bait before the cast and prevent a stiff butt section applying the power too quickly as it would if a soft tip were 'folded over'. They also need a middle and butt section through which a gradual power build up can be applied to start the bait moving slowly. It is possible to cast pike baits using soft tipped carp rods, but you have to swing the whole rod to do this, and if you try to put a bit more into the cast to get a few extra yards you run the risk of casting the bait off. If you have a properly designed pike rod that provides the necessary gradual power build up you can put a lot more into the cast without ripping baits from the hooks and get distance more easily. Basically what you need is a rod that slows the cast down.

This may seem like a pike rod should have a through action, bending smoothly from tip to butt, but this is not the case. If you are only fishing at close range such a rod would suffice for casting baits, but it would still be found wanting when playing pike. My belief is that completely through action rods fall down on two fronts. Firstly they have a tendency to mess with casting accuracy. Why this should be I am not sure, but it has been my experience that very soft rods tend to spread casts around. Secondly too soft a rod loses you control over fish. A pike on a soft rod can keep on going, and going. If you need to turn a fish there has to be a point where the rod starts to stop bending. I don't think it should ever reach a point where it locks solid and becomes totally rigid, but it should become progressively more difficult to bend any further.

For reasons I have never managed to fathom there are anglers who like rods that bend a lot when playing fish. As I have already said I think this loses you control. Ideally a pike rod should bend fairly easily down to the joint, at which point as more pressure is applied the butt section should start to bend, but become increasingly stiffer. If it bends easily to the reel seat, or to just above it, then I feel the rod is too soft. Of course, a rod with a higher test curve will prove more difficult to bend than one with a lighter test curve, and so could be somewhat softer in action. However, anglers sometimes seem frightened of using rods with high test curves. I'm sure this is through a lack of understanding of the term. This is a major problem in trying to describe rod actions and power in print. A fast action rod with a two pound test curve might feel to have a similar power to a slow action rod with a three pound test curve!

I, and many others involved in rod building and design, feel that the test curve system is both out of date and misleading for this very reason. When all rods had the same, or very similar, through actions test curves made for a sound means of comparison. As soon as different actions became commonplace, test curves lost their real meaning. I think it was Drennan who brought in what they called the power curve which they ran alongside the test curve - this being the load required to get the rod to reach its maximum curve. Nash now lists a test curve, a casting weight and a maximum loading for their rods. When I first started selling rods I tried to avoid the test curve trap by giving my rods a casting weight rating, but all the enquiries I got asked me what the test curves of the rods were - so I gave that up! Strange, because it is casting weights that all lure anglers ask about when they are considering a new rod, which is the logical factor to consider.

As materials and designs have advanced so the concept of a test curve has become less relevant. Nonetheless most pike anglers seem to think that a pike rod should have a test curve of three pounds. The result of industry brainwashing! Depending on the baits being used and the distances being cast pike rods can have test curves (for want of a better system) from 2.5lb for close range work with small to medium sized baits, to maybe four pounds to cast large baits any distance, or small baits a long way with a big lead. I reckon Terry Eustace had it pretty much right a long time ago with his glass Pike and Big Pike rods at 2.75lb and a through action, and 3.5lb with a medium action respectively. Although compared to what today's materials and technology is capable of producing they were both a little soft. The trouble with glass is that it feels the same when casting and when playing fish, while carbon appears to feel stiffer when casting. I could be wrong about this, but carbon certainly 'holds its weight' better than glass which must have an effect when casting.

To sum up, a general purpose pike rod will have a test curve of between 2.75 and 3.5lb, a tip that is not too soft to support a decent sized bait, and an action that is on the stiff side of through. This will apply across the board of rod lengths. Now, twelve feet has become the standard length for most specialist rods, despite the fact that most of the time shorter rods are both perfectly serviceable, and in some cases preferable. I have used rods from ten to thirteen feet long for piking from the bank, and the more I think about it the more I feel that eleven feet is the perfect all round length.

Ten footers can be a bit of a struggle if fishing where there is marginal reed growth - pike have a tendency to kite into the bank and getting them out of the reeds requires a bit more length on the rod. Twelve and thirteen footers are a real hindrance when you are fishing under overhanging trees. Eleven feet seems a fair compromise. When it comes to casting, unless absolute distance is required, there isn't much to choose between eleven and twelve foot rods - it's the power of the rod and its action that matters more. At least this has been my experience.

When it comes to trying to cast further rod length plays a very small part. In fact rod design plays a much smaller part in the equation than line diameter and reel spool size. You will add more distance to your casting by dropping the line diameter you are using and using a reel with a larger width spool than by upping the length or test curve of your rod.

For boat fishing I have never found longer rods to offer any advantage, not even for keeping pike away from anchor ropes. Even when a long paternoster link is being used, I find ten footers to be perfect for boat fishing. I just let the bomb hang in the water and slow the cast to compensate! I don't even subscribe to the longer rods giving you a better spread of baits when float trolling theory either. If you want rods to double up for boat and bank work, then eleven footers make a lot of sense again.

Although often neglected, other advantages of shorter rods are that they weigh less and take up less space in the back of cars and vans. If you go for long hikes along the banks with four rods in a sling, it is surprising the weight saving that eleven footers give over twelves! To be honest, though, rod length is a personal preference, but for most people eleven or twelve feet feels right.

Power, action and length are the prime considerations in choosing any rod, but fittings and placement has some bearing on how a rod will perform. Handle construction is largely a matter of personal taste. There does seem to be a swing back to cork handles on pike rods at present, perhaps as pike anglers try to disassociate themselves from carpers with their currently trendy minimalist handles of shrink tube and stainless steel! I have no great preference either way. For some reason I prefer cork on boat rods and abbreviated Duplon for bank rods. The thickness of the cork, and possibly its texture, seems to prevent the rod slipping from under my forearm when playing fish, but from the bank I tend to tuck the butt of the rod into my upper thigh area when playing hard fighting fish, so that might be the reason for my preference, or that might be because the handles on the rods I use for boat fishing have shorter handles.

Handle length is also a personal choice, but over the last ten years or so I have been pleased to see commercially made rods have their handles shortened to more practical lengths. In the bad old days reel seats were placed far to high up rods. I am pretty sure this was a cunning ruse to make the rods feel lighter when potential buyers picked them up in the shops - by putting the gripping point closer to the point of balance of the rod. As with most aspects of rod fitting placement, handle length requires compromise. Too short a handle and the rod will feel badly balanced and will be difficult to cast with - especially with heavy baits. Too long a handle and the handle will get in the way when trying to cast, if trying to move the rod across the front of your body while playing fish, and most importantly it shortens the effective length of the rod.

The shorter the rod, the shorter the handle can be. For lure rods the handle should extend only an inch or so beyond the elbow when the rod is being used, but for bait rods more length is required as they are longer and have to cast larger, or less aerodynamic, baits longer distances. I would say that four to eight inches of butt extending past the elbow is about right to make a practical handle on most bait rods.

These days reel seats are pretty universally of good quality, and as most pike anglers leave their reels attached to their rods all the time once screwed in place they shouldn't work lose when fishing. I won't go into the rights and wrongs of which way up a reel seat should be positioned (thread up or down) here because I don't believe there is a 'right' way. So long as the reel is held securely and the reel seat feels comfortable to the angler it is fine.

Where you do see a lot of rubbish written about rod design is in the area of rings, or guides. The things the line runs through. For some, 'pike' rods should have a lot of small rings (as is the trend on barbel and tench rods these days), for others they should have a few large rings to increase casting distance. Well folks, it's all cobblers. Within sensible limits the number and size of rings on a pike rod makes no noticeable difference to how far you can cast. How can I make such a bold statement? Because I have done the comparisons on a playing field. It was a long time ago now, but I came to the conculsion that anything between seven and three rings, with a butt ring of 25mm upwards performed pretty much the same. Certainly with no improvement that you would notice under fishing conditions.

Given that is the case I find it very hard to believe that using rings with light frames and slim liners will add anything to your casts either! In theory lighter rings retain more of the inherent stiffness of the rod blank, and so improve casting, but my guess is that the figures involved are minimal. I don't think they outweigh the benefits of robustness that more sturdy rings offer the practical pike angler - who can be a bit rough on his gear! Single leg rings are sold on the basis of lightness, and hyped as being more efficient - however I can tell you they are not as robust as double leg rings. They are, however, cheaper and quicker to fit to rods - they take half as long to whip and use half the amount of thread and varnish! If they are so good and robust how come the large butt rings are always double legged? I rest my case.

For decades Fuji have been the standard by which all rod rings have been judged. There used to be a lot of cheap copies around that were, frankly, rubbish. Some copies actually had liners that abraded lines. You could even feel the roughness of the liner by running the tip of your little finger around it. Today the standard of non-Fuji rings has improved remarkably, and it is no longer a big risk to buy a rod with unbranded rings on it. That said, there are some rings around that look good and perform well, but which fall apart - the liners popping out. Nonetheless, it is the advent of these rings, and other fittings, which has improved the quality of the cheaper rods available on the market today.

Most pike rods these days have butt rings that are large enough to do the job. Possibly over large if being used with 'standard' size rather than big pit reels. A 25mm butt ring is perfectly adequate if positioned far enough up the blank, but the fashion is for 30mm rings. While I don't think butt ring size matters as much as is often made out, I do think tip ring size is important, particularly so when stop knots are being used. For this reason a 10mm tip ring is the minimum size to have fitted, and also the minimum size for the side rings.

The number and positioning of rings is yet another area of compromise. The butt ring should not be too close to the reel for a start. No matter how many rings are fitted to the rod the butt ring should be no less than 24 inches from the reel seat, assuming a fixed spool is to be used, and further away if a large reel is to be used. Ringing for multiplier reels works to different guidelines, so shalln't be considered here.

How many rings should be used in total depends on personal preference. The current fashion seems to be for five rings and a tip on carp rods, some say pike rods should have eight or more. Mr Fickling believes the correct ringing allows the rod to be 'folded' in two for transportation. If you want to follow the Fickling route then that is certainly a practical solution that makes life easier, but it is not the correct way to ring a rod. The truth is that the 'correct' way to ring a rod is so the line follows the curve of the rod as closely as possible when the rod is fully, or almost fully, bent. In practice this is difficult to achieve unless ten or so rings are used. So we have to compromise again. Tradition and aesthetics dictate that the rings towards the tip are more closely spaced than those near the butt, so this is usually incorporated in the ringing pattern too.

Practically speaking, and using today's smooth lined, low friction, rings the need to reduce the angle at which the line passes over each ring is reduced. This is why we get away with fewer rings on rods than was the case twenty five years ago. Be it five or eight rings on the rod matters little today, and so long as the spacing looks okay to you, it will probably perform well enough. If the rod will break down neatly that is a bonus.

So, there we have it. I could have gone into a lot more detail about historical developments that have influenced where pike rods are today. I could have gone deeper into rod tapers and blank construction. But the fact is we don't need to know about all that in order to know what to look for in a pike rod. The main thing is to have it clear in your mind what you actually require, rather than what the adverts and glossy catalogues tell you the rods can do, and go and find it. There are some really good rods out there these days offering excellent value for money - too many from a custom rod builder's point of view!

(This article first appeared on in Pike and Predators - November 2005)