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Freshwater Fishing

The Beginner's Guide To Freshwater Fishing - Rods & Reels

Intro to Freshwater Fishing

A sport for all ages, fishing is one of those rare activities that can be enjoyed by anyone at any level. From the tournament pro in search of that next big win, to the early morning angler who enjoys peace and tranquility, to the casual fan just looking to spend a great day with better company, fishing offers something for everyone and plenty of fun to be had.

In our Gander Mountain Beginner’s Guide to Fishing, we’ll go over the common types of freshwater reels, rods, and line; we’ll get up to speed with gear-specific terminology; and we’ll hopefully get you well on your way to your next fishing outing. So, come on and drop a line. There’s a whole world of adventure out there, just below the surface.

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Freshwater Reels

Types of Reels: Over the course of several hundred years, the fishing reel has undergone countless modifications and transformations to get to the modern iterations we see today. However, despite the advancements in technology of the last century, the basic principle has always remained: the reel is a pulley that allows the user to cast out line and wind it back up with, hopefully, a fish on the end. There are three common types of freshwater reels: Baitcast, Spinning, and Spincast.

Baitcast Reels:
The baitcast reel is designed to cast larger, heavier lures over longer distances, so these reels are often used to go after larger species of fish. Heavier baits are necessary when using a baitcast reel, as the momentum of the forward cast is needed to rotate the spool and propel the lure. Like the earlier versions of reels, the spool spins on a vertical axis. Unlike earlier reels, however, modern baitcasters include advanced features like a level wind mechanism, anti-reverse, and drag systems. These reels offer maximum cranking power, and they’re mounted on the top side of the rod. They also DO NOT offer interchangeable handedness, meaning if you’re right-handed, make sure you get a right-handed reel. If you’re left-handed, well, you get it.

Spinning Reels:
The spinning reel is the versatile multi-tool of the fishing world. Its multipurpose design allows it to be used with a number of techniques while fishing for a variety of species. The spool of a spinning reel rotates on a horizontal axis, which allows for lighter baits to be used, since the line doesn’t have to pull against a rotating spool. The spool’s horizontal rotation also requires a bail to restore the line to its original position on the spool. The bail is opened during the cast, and it is then closed during the retrieve. These reels are mounted on the underside of the rod, and, because of their design, they allow for interchangeable handedness, meaning righties and lefties can both use the same reel.

Spincast Reels:
As its name suggests, a spincast reel is a cross between a baitcast reel and a spinning reel. Like a spinning reel, the spincast reel has a spool that rotates on a horizontal axis, meaning it’s great for throwing relatively light baits. However, in favor of the wire bail and line roller, this reel has one or two pickup pins and a metal cup to wind the line on the spool. Like a baitcast reel, the spincast reel is mounted on the top of the rod, and it’s also fitted with an external nose cone that encloses and protects the spool. This reel is the easiest of the three to use, and its simple push button design makes it ideal for beginners. Traditionally, the spincast reel also has interchangeable handedness, further increasing its appeal to first-time anglers.

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Reel Components / Terminology

Anti-Reverse - Prevents more line from being pulled out once a fish is hooked.

Bail - On a spinning reel, the mechanism that allows the line to be evenly spooled during the retrieve. It is flipped open to cast, allowing line to fly freely, and it is closed to retrieve, providing even line lay.

Cast Control Adjustment - On a baitcast reel, adjusts the amount of tension on the Spool to prevent backlash during the cast. Also prevents line tangling due to backlash.

Drag - Provides constant pressure on the line once the fish is hooked. A good reel allows line to be pulled out evenly without hesitation, preventing the fish from breaking the line.

Drag Adjustment - Allows the user to adjust the Drag on the fly.

Front Drag - On a spinning reel, this is located at the top of the reel, above the Spool. It’s smoother and more durable and provides a larger drag surface for creating higher drag forces.
Rear Drag - On a spinning reel, this is located at the bottom of the reel, below the Gear Housing. This is easier to access during retrieves.
Star Drag - On a baitcast reel, this is the 5-pronged adjustment between the Handle and the Gear Housing.

Frame - The body of the reel. This is usually made of either aluminum, carbon fiber, graphite, or magnesium.

Gear Housing - Houses and protects the Gears.

Gears - Internally connect the Handle to the Spool, powering the entire reel mechanism. They also determine the reel’s Gear Ratio.

Gear Ratio - The number of revolutions the Spool makes with one crank of the Handle. For example, a 5:1 Gear Ratio produces five revolutions of the Spool for every one turn of the Handle.

Slow (4:1-5:1) - Slower retrieves but maximum cranking power for larger fish.
Medium (5:1-6:1) - Ideal for medium-sized fish or when you only own one reel.
Fast (6:1+) - Fast retrieves but low power, good for high-speed lure applications.

Handle - Arm that extends from the side of the reel to allow for cranking.

Knob - The end of the Handle that the user grips. Spinning reels traditionally have one Knob, while baitcast reels can have one or two.

Level Wind - On a baitcast reel, the mechanism that allows for even line lay on the Spool during the retrieve.

Line Opening - On a spincast reel, the small opening at the top of the Nose Cone through which line is cast and retrieved.

Nose Cone - On a spincast reel, covers the Spool and only allows line to escape through the Line Opening.

Reel Foot - The base of the reel that locks into the reel seat when mounting the rod to the reel.

Spool - The cylinder that holds the line.

Thumb Button - On a spincast reel, allows line to fly freely from the spool when pressed during the cast.

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choosing the right reel

Which One Is Right For Me?
Choosing the right reel increases in importance as your fishing expertise grows. It’s always handy to keep in mind the type of fishing you plan on doing, as different reels work better for different applications. However, each type of reel – baitcast, spinning, and spincast – comes in a variety of sizes with a variety of gear ratios and other bells and whistles that make it your target fish’s worst nightmare. Your reel shouldn’t be your worst nightmare, though, so here are some helpful hints to ensure you choose the perfect reel when you first get going.

    Spincast Reel
  • Excellent Starter Reel
  • Simplest to Cast
  • User-friendly
  • Generally Most Affordable
  • Lacks Advanced Technology
    and Adjustment Options
    Spinning Reel
  • Great All-around Reel
  • Most Versatile
  • Easy to Cast
  • Features Advanced
    Technology Options
  • Doesn’t Do Well With Large Fish
    Baitcast Reel
  • Built For Big Fish
  • Low Profile Design
  • Maximum Cranking Power
  • Features Advanced Technology
    and Adjustment Options
  • Casting takes practice


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Freshwater Rods

Types of Rods: Choosing the right fishing rod is just as important as choosing the right reel, as rods vary by length, strength, and flexibility, depending on the type of fishing you plan on doing. The key is to get a rod that’s stiff enough so it won’t break when a fish is on your line, but it should also be flexible enough to absorb the tension of an aggressive fish, keeping you from breaking your line. Fishing rods are relatively simple in their makeup, and they all feature many of the same components. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the two most general types of rods: Casting and Spinning.

Casting Rods: As the name suggests, the casting rod is designed to hold a casting reel, so the line guides are on the top of the rod, and the casting trigger is on the bottom. The placement of the guides also allows for a spincast reel to be mounted on a casting rod. The rod blank serves as the foundation of the rod. The components – such as the guides, reel seat, and handle – are built onto this foundation. Because the casting rod is made to support a baitcast reel, it is ideal for using heavy line, big lures, and going after medium- to large-sized fish. This type of rod ranges in length from 5' to well over 8'.

Spinning Rods: Unlike baitcast reels and spincast reels, spinning reels hang down on the underside of the rod, meaning spinning rods have their line guides on the bottom. This rod also includes the same components as the casting rod (guides, reel seat, handle), but it's typically a little lighter for more finesse techniques, meaning its components must also be lightweight. As such, the spinning rod is ideal for using lighter line, smaller lures, and going after small- to medium-sized fish. This rod also ranges in length from 5' to over 8'.

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Rod Components / Terminology

Action - The bend in the rod.

Blank - Quite literally, a blank rod, Typically made of graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or composite.

Graphite - Lightweight, sensitive, and excellent actions, but not as durable as fiberglass.
Fiberglass - Durable and less expensive, but heavier and less sensitive than graphite.
Composite - A combination of graphite and fiberglass.
Carbon Fiber - Similar benefits to graphite but more durable and more expensive.

Guides - Also referred to as line guides, they help control the flow of the line and can even reduce line friction.

Handle - Where the user grips the rod. Usually made of cork, EVA foam, rubber, or a combination.

Split Grip - Reduces overall weight of the rod and increases sensitivity.

Full Grip - Allows for a stronger, more secure hold on the rod.

Hook Keeper - Where the hook is secured during storage or transport.

Length - How long the rod is.

Power - The strength of the rod, or how much pressure it takes to bend the rod.

Reel Seat - Where the reel is connected to the rod.

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Choosing the Right Rod

Which One Is Right For Me?
When selecting the right rod, you need to think about a number of factors like Action, Power, and Length. These factors come together to create the perfect rod for any use or technique desired. They depend on the type of fishing you plan on doing, the type of species you’re going after, and the type of lures/baits you plan to use. Finally, you also need to think about what just feels comfortable to hold and cast.

The rod Action is generally described as Slow, Moderate, Fast, or Extra Fast. A rod with Fast Action has a bend that’s closer to the tip of the rod, providing better sensitivity, quick and powerful hook sets, and more control over artificial lures. These rods are also generally stiffer than Moderate or Slow Action rods, which bend further down the Length of the rod. Moderate or Slow Action rods also provide greater casting distance with light lures, they absorb more shock from fighting fish, and they allow for a slower hook set when using live bait and crankbaits.

The rod Power is usually described as Ultra-Light, Light, Medium-Light, Medium, Medium-Heavy, Heavy, and Extra-Heavy. The rod Power plays a pivotal role in the size and species of fish you intend to target, and it relates directly to the strength of the line and weight of the lures you plan to use. Basically, the bigger the fish, the stronger the line, the heavier the rod.

The rod Length complements the Power and Action. In general, longer rods allow for greater casting distance and can provide better hook sets on strikes far from the angler. Short rods are ideal for finesse techniques like vertical jigging and fishing in tight spaces, and they’re also great for smaller or younger anglers. Beginners who are looking to just spend an afternoon on the water will likely want to stay right around the middle when choosing their rod; a good guideline would be a 6’6” rod with Moderate/Fast Action and Medium Power.

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Freshwater Line

Types of Line: Though it seems obvious, the fishing line is the connection between you and the fish. Every tug, every drag, every jerk, and every motion of the hook runs through the line to you, the angler, alerting you of something exciting like a bite or something disappointing like a snag on weeds. Like everything else we’ve gone over, the right type of line is essential to the type of fishing you plan on doing and the type of species you plan on going after. We’ll spend our time here on the three most common types of line: Monofilament, Braid, and Fluorocarbon.

Monofilament Line:
Monofilament is the most popular type of line, and it comes in a variety of strengths and colors. Made from one long, continuous filament of nylon, monofilament line is less expensive than other lines. It also stretches to absorb shocks, it’s abrasion resistant, and it has a uniformly round cross-section, which keeps it neat on the spool. Because it’s made of one filament of nylon, it’s not as strong as other types of line, meaning a line with a higher break strength (amount of weight it takes to break the line) will take up more space on the spool. It comes in many colors, but clear and blue are the most popular due to the way they disappear underwater.
Braid Line:
Braid is very strong for a given diameter (often twice as strong as mono), meaning you can fit more line on a spool for any given break strength (or, pound test). Braid line is made up of several super-strong, very thin fibers from a material similar to Kevlar, braided together to achieve a basically round cross-section. Braid is very durable, and it doesn’t stretch, meaning you can feel every bump of the bottom and nudge from a fish. The slippery nature of braid line requires tight knots that hold despite low friction, and its strength makes it difficult to cut. The zero stretch that helps to feel every nibble also means you have to use less drag, since there’s no give when the fish strikes. This makes hook sets more difficult and requires a bit more finesse.
Fluorocarbon Line:
In recent years, fluorocarbon line has become a popular option for anglers in many situations. In the fishing world, fluorocarbon is usually comprised of a synthetic material called polyvinylidene difluoride (or PVDF for short). This material is extruded in a single strand, similar to monofilament. The benefits include low visibility, high sensitivity, abrasion resistance, and toughness. Because it also lacks the stretch of nylon monofilament, fluorocarbon line still produces solid hook sets, even at long distances. However, there are some trade-offs. It sinks fast, making it less than ideal for topwater lures and small baits, and it has the most memory of these lines, meaning its life on the spool needs to be short, otherwise it will develop a natural curve or spiral effect.

The Next Steps

Now that you’re an expert on all things fishing, check out Gander Mountain’s extensive assortment of reels, rods, and line. Choosing the right gear can be the difference between that record catch and coming home empty handed. We feature the highest quality products from the best brands in the sport. Stock up on everything you need for your next fishing trip, and don’t forget to have some fun!

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