By Eric “Slappy” Harrison
I’m really picky about the rods I use to toss plastics. Fishing plastics, whether you are chasing 8-ounce crappies or 40-pound stripers, is all about sensitivity and feel. I make all my own rods to enhance the sensitivity and feel of the rod, but there are off the shelf solutions available that are very nice for fishing plastics.
When you talk about rod selection, you are talking about choosing specs for the rod: materials, taper, and power.
For plastics, graphite rods are the only way to go. Fiberglass and quasi-fiberglass rods (rods with glass tips, usually sold as unbreakable rods) are very tough, but are not a good choice for fishing big plastics. A graphite rod is very responsive and powerful, pulling on the rod doesn’t just bend the rod, it pulls hard on the line. With a soft fiberglass rod, you have to get past the point of bending the rod to pull on the line. Fractions of a second make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the hook-set and a graphite rod will increase your hit to hookup ratio.
Also, graphite fibers are much more responsive than fiberglass. It is easier to feel the bait ticking bottom or picking up weeds. Fishermen who use soft plastics effectively are able to keep their baits in the zone for big fish, usually the bottom third of the water column, and sensitive rods are the tool used for knowing where the bait is.
There are a variety of tapers available from slow to extra fast action. Action refers to how much of the rod bends under stress; with a slow rod the whole rod bends and with an extra fast rod, the top quarter bends first. Slow rods tend to feel a bit mushy. They are great for fishing bait and certain types of trolling, but aren’t great for fishing plastics. Extra fast rods are the other extreme, they have a sensitive tip and a more powerful mid section. They tend to be very sensitive, but are easily overloaded with big baits. Extra fast rods are great for smaller plastics in the 6 to 10-inch range on light jig heads or fished weightless. As you increase the weight you are fishing, you should move to a more moderate action rod. A fast action rod will handle a wider range of baits and is a good choice for fishing the 10 to 14-inch plastics on jigs or weightless.
The power of a rod refers to how powerful of a lever it is. A rod for plastics needs to have enough power to comfortably cast a large plastic and jighead, which can weigh 2 to 4 ounces, as well as set the hook on a large fish. A rod that is not heavy enough will feel overpowered while casting and you will miss a much higher percentage of the hits because you can’t drive the hook home into the hard mouth of a large striper.
I prefer conventional reels to spinning reels because I can stay in direct contact with the line. I’m an experienced caster and I’m using reels spooled with 50-pound test braid with a 50-pound wind-on mono leader. My experience has shown that smaller baitcasters don’t hold up to a season of striper fishing. I also prefer using reels without level winds, that way my thumb is on the line all the time feeling for hits and level winding the line on the reel.
My baitcasting reel of choice is the Shimano Calcutta 400 BSV. This is a tough reel with a multi disc drag system that holds up much better than most other baitcasting reels. My conventional reel of choice is the Release Reels SG. This is a lever drag reel that casts very well and has a much better drag system than any baitcaster. It is a tough reel that gives you the cranking power and drag system needed for larger fish. It is also made in the USA, something not many other reel companies can say!
Some off the rack rod recommendations:
8′ St Croix Tidemaster TIS80MHF rated for 14-30# line and 1/2 to 2 ounce lures
8′ St Croix Tidemaster TIS80HF rated for 17-40# line and 3/4 to 3 ounce lures
If you want a really special custom rod, a blank I use and recommend is the
United Composites 80MEGA rated for 20-40# line and 1-5 ounce lures