We will begin our discussion of the rods used to catch Sunfish with the oldest of all: the pole. The fishing pole, usually from cane, bamboo or willow, introduced the older generation to fishing. Usually about 12 feet long, it was rigged with a line made of cotton twine a foot or so shorter than the pole. The bobber was a cork from a bottle, trapezoidal in shape, pierced with a needle to allow the line through the center. The weight was the pinch-on long slender type, and the hook was a common j-hook, nearly always too big for optimum fishing.
As a young boy in parched West Texas I lived for the annual trip to Hico or Roulette where there were ponds and creeks to fish from. My relatives always loaned me a cane pole to use and I caught small Sunfish to my heart’s content.
Now the cane pole, usually in segments for easy transport, is still available in most bait stores. However, the more progressive or affluent fisherman now uses a telescoping fiberglass pole. The pole is still rigged in much the same way, except with a line made of braided nylon and a round plastic bobber.
Now days, most fishermen use a fiberglass or graphite-fiber rod. A number of parameters must be considered in choosing a Sunfish rod. The most important are length, weight, action, material, type of handle and cost.
The best length for a Sunfish rod is a hot topic for debate among experienced fishermen. The two most popular lengths are a short rod measuring 4 to 5 feet or a longer rod measuring 6 ½ to 7 feet. I have several of both lengths, and they are both extremely useful in catching Sunfish. If you are fishing from a pier the shorter length wins hands down, because the pier is usually crowded and the long rod gets in other’s way. The same is true from a crowded or small boat. If you have plenty of room and no overhead obstructions the longer rod is better because it will usually cast farther and give better feel for the fish.
As for weight, an ultralight or lightweight rod is a must. Fishing for sunfish with a medium or heavy weight rod is like using a baseball bat for a rod. The feel for the light-biting Sunfish is just not there, and the fish has little chance to fight. The weight of the rod also determines the line weight to be used with it. For Sunfish a 6-pound test line is a good compromise.
Action refers to the shape of the bend of the rod when a weight is suspended from it. A fast action rod bends at the tip and is stiff through the rest of the length. A slow action rod bends about the same through the entire length of the rod. A really good explanation of rod action is given at http://www.flyfishinggear.info/buyers_guide/fly_rods_fast_action.shtm . Although the author is addressing fly rods his explanation is applicable to all rods. So which weight should you choose? In my opinion a fast or medium action rod is best for panfish. Casting a slow action rod is much like casting with a wet noodle.
The two most popular rod materials are fiberglass and graphite fiber. Fiberglass rods are cheaper and all the low cost consumer rods are fiberglass. They are built as the name implies, by laying fiberglass fibers and bonding them with an epoxy or resin. Graphite rods are the latest and best materials for rods. They are stronger than fiberglass for their diameter. Graphite rods are built from fibers that have been processed at high temperatures and bonded with special resins.
The type of handle depends entirely on the reel you plan to use. We will talk about the types of reels later, but in general there are two types of handles: casting and spinning. A casting handle has a trigger, which allows one to wrap the forefinger around the trigger and control the reel with the thumb. The spinning handle is just straight.
As for cost, the old adage applies: you get what you pay for. A good serviceable fiberglass rod starts at about $10.00. A top of the line graphite rod may cost more than one hundred dollars, but a good graphite rod can be had for around $40.00 or less.
Now for a few recommendations:
The best fiberglass casting short rod I have found is the Bass Pro Shops Microlite. See the ad here. http://www.basspro.com/Bass-Pro-Shops®-Micro-Lite™-Glass-Casting-Rod/product/36945/-894858. The rod is 4 feet 10 inches long, ultralight and costs less than $20.00. I bought 2 of them several years ago and they quickly became my all-around favorites. Unfortunately, I was fishing for LM bass with a friend of mine using a heavier rig and at the same time catching sunnies with my Microlite rig, and I laid the Microlite rod down with the lure dangling off the side of the boat. A big bass grabbed the Sunfish lure and jerked my Microlite rig into the water, never to be seen again. The remaining one of the pair continues to be my favorite.
My short spinning rod is a Shakespeare Ugly Stick SP1146-1UL. See http://www.shakespeare-fishing.com/index_rods.html .It is a 4foot 6 inch ultra light graphite rod. The Ugly Sticks are available in a variety of styles and lengths. They are also often sold as combos with reel.
I have a dozen or so other ultralight rods in various lengths. I recently bought a pair of Shakespeare ACA 6070 2 UL 7-foot graphite rods which I am still evaluating. The rod is too long for pier fishing but it should be ideal for fishing from the boat.
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