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             GOING LONG for Specks

            by Capt. Fred Everson

             

            CURRENT MOON
            lunar phases

            There is a stigma about custom built fishing rods that comes from overly fancy rods built for guys who could afford to pay a lot to have them built. Then there is the other custom rod, the one that a fisherman sets out to design because he can't find exactly what he wants. This is the best reason to get involved with custom rods. A rod that is perfectly matched to the way you fish and what you fish for will make an immeasurable difference in the satisfaction you get from fishing.

            Sea trout are a perfect example of fish that want a rod built to spec. Trout can vary a lot in size, but they are all soft-mouthed. The weight range of baits, both live and artificial, is fairly light.

            My approach to building a custom rod for specks was based on custom rods I saw years ago in used for freshwater trout. For long casts with light baits, fly rod blanks were used to make extra long, light spinning rods. I use an inexpensive graphite fly rod blank, as it will never throw a fly-line. You can buy everything you need to build this rod for about $50, and the rod building instructions often come with the blank. It is about a 10-hour project

            From experience, I knew what size guides I wanted. I found that more small guides are more efficient than a few that are too large. For casting baits and playing fish, I like a rod that keeps the line close to the blank with a long graceful bend under the strain of a fish. I follow the manufacturers recommendations for guide placement like I was building a fly rod, but instead I use single foot, hardloy spinning guides, ranging in size from 20mm to 6mm.

            Another unusual feature of my trout rod is a short butt section behind the reel seat. This makes the rod easier to cast, it's more nimble in a boat, and it's less tiring to cast again and again as you are apt to do for trout in the fall. Casting is sweeter because everything, including reel and reel seat, is scaled down to trout size. It's the difference between swinging a twelve-gauge pump and twenty gauges double.

            If trout are the only fish you seek, six-pound test line on this rod will cast a bare hook, not to mention a small jig or a free-lined shrimp. Where I fish for trout -- redfish, snook, jack crevalle, cobia, and tarpon are the incidentals. Ten-pound test is more appropriate insurance, but you sacrifice some casting distance. If trout were the only fish in the sea, six-pound line would be perfect. I fish my running line tipped with at least 18 inches of 25 pound test flourocarbon leader material. This is great stuff for toothy fish; it resists abrasion well, and it is nearly invisible in the water. It is very pricey compared to monofilament, but I believe it makes a difference in the number of fish you catch.

            Fishing with a longer, more limber rod takes some getting used to. If you have been fishing with a short stiff rod, you will have to change your casting mechanics. With a longer, more limber rod, you need to develop a sense of timing so that the action of the rod does most of the work in casting. It is similar to the principal of loading the fly rod in casting, except here the weight of the lure flexes the rod. The difference between this rod and the over the counter spinning rod is that rod action is more prominent in casting. This rod is cast with a snap of the wrist. Once you get a handle on this, you will find incredible accuracy, and very long casts, with minimal effort. For the artificial bait fisherman, this means covering more water, catching more fish, and enjoying the play with a rod perfectly matched to the fish and the baits you throw at it.

            The first concern of a fisherman who is used to a short stiff rod is hook setting. He sees a rod with a butt diameter of a pencil and a tip the thickness of a sewing needle, and wonders how he can ever drive the hook home with that? First, you don't want a hard hook set on trout. Second, this fish is a close relative weakfish - so named because they have fragile lips that tear easily under the duress of hook and line. Here the long limber rod excels. The same soft action that aids in casting minimizes the strain on the trout's soft mouth. Set your drag right and the hook won't pull. Hook setting is not a big factor in catching trout; keeping the hook in the fish's mouth is.

            I like a small reel for my trout rod, one that spools 140 yards of ten-pound test monofilament, is about right. I always start out with the spool full of line, but the first 40 yards often throws little bird's nests. Once I get through a few of those, the line seems to settle down and behave.This doesn't leave room for error with some fish.

            I wouldn't worry about a hundred yards of 10-pound test even if the trout weighed twice that. But a 15-pound jack crevalle might take it all. The idea is not to cover every base with custom tackle; it's to perfectly match equipment to the target fish.

            Another consideration in the tackle matching equation is the stuff attached to the hook, or the thing the hooks are attached to, depending on whether you use live bait or lures. For trout, I prefer artificials. I like fishing soft plastic baits, but before I learned to fish them, I was a jig fisherman. Neither of these lures will do you wrong if you fish for trout,

            But if you want bigger trout it's jerk baits and surface plugs. Particularly when the water temperature starts to drop in the fall.

            My preference is for Texas rigged jerk baits, especially when trout are active on top as they are in spring and fall. The primary advantage is the bait's buoyancy. Were it not for the weight of the hook, it would float. In trout habitat that means the lure stays close to the surface, even at rest. Equally important, this bait will run through a lot of algae or weeds without picking stuff up. I use six-inch baits and concentrate on trout over 17 inches. Little ones hit this bait, but seldom get to the hook. Fine by me. Even with 10-pound line, soft jerk bait casts very well on the long rod. I fish it with a little slack line, popping the rod tip and cranking the handle. Getting the bait to dart in a line and change direction without corkscrewing is key. This depends upon rigging the bait in line with the hook.

            When the fish want surface plugs, I will throw a Zara Puppy at them. The long rod casts this bait like it was built for it. Fish it with a lot of slack line and bounce the rod tip in a rhythm and this plug will walk the dog like it's on remote control.

            When I need to get some extra distance out of my cast with jerk bait, or I want the lure to run deeper, I insert a 2-inch finish nail into the bait. It takes a little practice to do this without kinking or curving the jerk bait, but the extra weight helps.

            Small jigs are ever deadly on trout, and the most effective are the lighter heads that keep the lure in the water column the longest. They are also particularly deadly when fished beneath a small popping cork, like the Love's Lure trout rig. Casting a 1/8 or 1/16-ounce jig on a short stiff rod is like shooting pool with a 2X4. Here the long, limber rod truly excels. The lighter the bait, the longer the advantage. And even the small fish play well.

            If there is a negative with extremely long rods, it is their tendency to find their way into the path of slammed doors and hatches, or underfoot. I have never broken one of my long trout rods on a fish, not even big jack crevalle, but other stuff happens. It has been said that unbreakable rods fish poorly, but I wouldn't know.

            Longer rods are not more fragile by virtue of added length. But all rods are designed to bend in a complete arc from but to tip. If you go beyond the range of this arc and bend a section of the rod too far, you will get a compression fracture. This usually happens by reeling the fish too close to the rod tip and then trying to lift the fish out of the water. No light tackle rod should ever be used to hoist fish into the boat. Always leave about a rod length of line out when trying to land a fish, and you won't break a tip. With a longer rod it is easier to grab hold of the leader if you can keep the rod tip high in the air. This also maintains steady pressure on the hook, so fish can't flop off by themselves.

            There is nothing quite like catching fish on a rod that is perfectly matched to that fish. And if you build the rod yourself, the satisfaction of casting it well, and enjoyment of fighting big trout will take your fishing experience to a new level.

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