With time and passions, it happens that certain aspects combine to form a wonder or a monster. I confess I’m not sure which of the two was born. I just know that my experience of feeder fishing coupled with my expertise as a rodbuilder prevents me from seeing a rod as it is and I can’t help but analyse it: the quality of the materials, the reel seat, the guides, the finish and, above all, the general building of the rod. And my conclusion is without appeal: apart from a few rare exceptions, the feeder rods are built up in a very average way! Let me explain.
A bit of vocabulary before we get into the heart of the matter:
- The handle: the lower part of the rod that you hold in your hand. Made of cork, EVA, … it also includes the reel seat
- The reel seat: well, I’m sure you can see what it is
- The blank : it’s the body of the rod, made of carbon and/or fiberglass, or bamboo, …
- The butt : the biggest part of the rod, on which the handle is built up
- The tip holder : the element on or in which the tip fits
- Recovery: the ability of a rod to become stable and straight again after compression during casting. The faster the better!
What is a feeder rod?
A feeder rod is the (not always) subtle fusion of sensitivity and power. You might as well say that it is a marriage of fire and water! Basically and without too many subtleties, we can say that this rod is separated in 2 zones: the tip, which is in charge of detecting the bites, and the butt, which is in charge of the more or less distant casts. My very Manichean description has certainly shocked you, and rightly so. It is however very real on many sloppy productions, but it is clear that the better the rod, the more subtle is the transition between these 2 zones.
Detecting hits vs. throwing effectively
We all agree that the tip is the best place to detect hits. In order to make it more sensitive, it has been lengthened again and again, bringing into the equation a small concern: increasing the tip part means decreasing the casting part. Indeed, during a cast, the tip is the part of the rod that moves the fastest, thus increasing its inertia. The longer and heavier the tip, the greater the inertia, with the result that the rod will tend to swing up and down more at the end of the cast, reducing its performance and increasing the risk of tangles and line loss. For short-range fishing this is not really a problem, but as soon as the effort on the rod increases, the weight of a long, full tip becomes an unpleasant constraint. The rod could be made stiffer, but this would be at the expense of its lightness and the flexibility needed to work the fish. Nobody needs a heavy rod (well, it depends on the situation)! You will have understood: to do well, the rod must regain its stability and be straight (recovery) as soon as possible after the compression phase of the cast and the weight of the tip is the biggest obstacle to this.
The solution found by the manufacturers is to make partially hollow tips, which limit the part of the tip that is full and the weight of the whole, all the while fine-tuning this fundamental transition between the soft and the powerful. The Shimano Aero X7s are a shining example of the intelligent reuse of the spliced tip: in this case, tip and tip holder become one. It’s extreme, but the performance is exceptional. Middy uses a less integrated version, keeping the tip holder: it is the tip that is “spliced”. In both cases, you can’t go wrong with sensitivity and power. The only victim of this is your budget, as these models are not particularly cheap!
“But it’s awful what you’re telling us, Jeanno, the “put-in” tip of our beloved feeder rods is dead!?!?” Don’t get carried away, my little chickens, the simple and effective “put-in” technique is not yet dead, far from it, because, well executed, it remains effective! Indeed, for me, the future is in relatively short scions (50-55cm maximum), to avoid weight, and long enough scion holders to ensure a transition without breakage. The tip holder will therefore take care of part of the hit detection by accompanying the tip in its bend, while having enough nerve on the lower part to participate in the casting. A brand like MS-Range has done this very well with their Ultra-Light range of rods, which are remarkably sensitive, but capable of casting very far for their power (60m+).
Choice and arrangement of guides - between goal and economic reality
If there is a point on which we can say a lot, it is the choice and the layout of the guides of our feeder rods. I often see it, the brands (I won’t say “manufacturers”, as they are rare in Europe) have well understood that this is a point on which they can make substantial savings: here, we will use cheap Chinese guides, but not necessarily bad, far from it (their problem is that they are often very heavy) or, worse, full stainless steel guides, without ceramics, which will wear out in 2 seasons at best, if the alloy is of good quality. This last fashion is accompanied by a dubious marketing, boasting an exceptional hardness, but which in fact is far from approaching the basic ceramics of the other guides (some even speak of a stainless steel 3 times harder, which is technically totally impossible). Then there is the larger internal diameter which is supposed to reduce friction, but this is largely compensated by the greater friction of the line on the steel (much less smooth than a ceramic) and, finally, the lighter weight (but which, compared to good SeaGuide or Fuji guides, is an argument which does not hold up very well). Above all, these stainless steel guides are so cheap that it is an economic godsend for the brand that uses them and for … the fitter that I am, who replaces them! They are a 50 year throwback, a misplaced vintage. Rods built up in this way are destined to end up in the bin, their reassembly with good guides far exceeding their new value. This saddens me in a world where we should be chasing waste, rather than increasing it!
Choice and layout: a matter of reel and twist
The following paragraphs apply to feeder rods, but also, with some adaptations, to carp rods, which also have a long history of guide distribution.
It is not at all strange to talk about reels here. I will give you my point of view in a direct and unprejudiced way: stop using small reels for feeder fishing, it is useless and even inefficient!
Indeed, many of us are still used to small reels for match and spinning fishing. Their lower weight makes them more comfortable to use during a day of fishing “rod in hand”. However, with feeder fishing, we fish with 95% of the rod in place, so the static weight of the reel is not a problem. On the other hand, the weight of the feeder and its drag when retrieved put a lot of pressure on both the rod and the reel. As a result, the need for a strong, torquey reel is felt, ruling out anything under the 4000 size. For my part, my 4000s are only used for light fishing and, in 7 cases out of 10, I use my Daiwa Feeder 4012 TDs, which are as big as the 5000s of other brands and have a power of a truck. So I bring my line in very fast and without any effort. Above that, Shimano Ultegra 5500s take over. To tell you the truth, I used to have 3500 reels, but I have none left!
So how will these big reels affect the guides? It’s simple and it’s all about friction. The reel’s spool is aimed at a point on the rod that is often 1.5 to 2 metres away. The foot of a larger reel is longer, so the spool is further away from the rod blank. If you draw a cone around the axis of the reel, to the target point on the blank, it is important that the centre of the first guides is as close as possible to this axis, in order to limit the angles formed by the line with the edge of the guide and, therefore, to limit friction and vibrations. The gain is not only in performance, but also in comfort.
Brands will be faced with the following problem: with the force of habit, anglers will continue to use anything and everything in terms of reels. Many brands will therefore choose to use guides that are neither too big nor too high, in fact often those that are in stock to reduce costs, but rarely those that are really needed on a given rod, economy taking precedence over fishing. This is what I call an “average building”. It fits everything, but doesn’t fit anything completely. It’s ready-made, not tailor-made.
A blank is supposed to bend when cast, but not twist. During the building process, a lot of time is spent centering the blank and finding its “direction”. There are many reasons for this: if it is built up correctly, the rod will be more accurate (a necessary quality for all long-distance fishing techniques) and, by only bending on one axis, the rod will use all its power to go far. In other words, any twist is a loss of power and accuracy.
Surfcasting, which is THE disciple in terms of distances reached (casting records close to 300m), curbs the problem in 2 ways:
- More guides : with the current ceramics, to imagine that 2 or 3 more guides will create an awful friction is a mistake, especially as the line will form less important angles between the guides if they are more numerous, thus decreasing the friction and allowing a much better distribution of the power
- Lower guides and very close to the blank in the part that will bend : indeed, using high guides will create a strong lever arm, facilitating the twisting of the rod (typical of the 5 or 6 guides building on carp rods… the twisting can exceed 90 degrees according to the pictures). With a line close to the blank, this leverage is so reduced that the torsion is almost non-existent
I apply exactly that on my rods: the first and biggest guides follow the line out of the reel and, quickly, the rest of the guides (the smaller ones) are as close as possible to the rod body. The first part limits line friction and swelling, while the second part prevents the blank from twisting. The result is rods that are very comfortable to fish, as they do not vibrate when casting or retrieving and they reach the desired distance more easily.
As I said before, I think that the guides are often based on habit. I very regularly see the first guide tied low, very (too) close to the reel. This placement can be understood on parabolic actions, but not on the current progressive tip actions. However, blanks have evolved a lot, but it seems that the guides on the tip are still a legacy of the last 30 years. With a stiff butt and well-chosen reels, you can (should) place that big guide much higher, similar to what is done on carp rods. The aim is that it forms little or no angle with the line coming out of the reel (as explained in a previous paragraph).
As I write these lines, I realise with more acuity the respective evolution of carp rods and feeder rods. As the carp rod became stiffer and gradually abandoned its former parabolic action, its butt lost 1 of its 2 guides, leaving only the larger one which took advantage of this to move away from the reel seat and get closer to the butt joint. The new stiffness of the heel and the almost generalized use of “big pit” reels were the causes of this phenomenon and casting further was the ultimate goal. And to reach long distances with nylons far from the current standards of glide and flexibility, as well as guides still perfectible, the number of the latter was naturally limited to 5 or 6, the widest possible, in order to decrease the frictions. 30 years later, nothing has changed, despite all the progress in these areas. Feeder rods have evolved in a very different way: their tip has improved considerably, both in terms of action and guides used, while the distribution of guides on the butt has remained in the past, despite the considerable improvement in the action of the butt (more rigid).
In fact, I think the perfect rod is somewhere between the butt of today’s carp rods and the more numerous guides on today’s feeder rods, all with a touch of a surfcasting rod, like a Century TT-R.
By the way, what is a guide for?
The question is worth asking and the answer is twofold:
A guide is used to pass the line when throwing and retrieving. It can be internal or external
It allows by its multiplication to distribute the pressure on the blank, pressure created either by the action of casting, or by the work of a fish
Normally, when casting, the pressure should only be in 1 direction, in 1 dimension: the line is supposed to stay in line with the blank and make it bend straight, thus exploiting all its power, without any parasitic loss. However, the use of too high and/or too few guides will create additional constraints on the blank:
With guides that are too high in the folded areas of the blank, the slightest lateral force will find a very useful lever arm in the foot of the guides to make the blank undergo a sometimes impressive torsion, synonymous with dispersion of a little power and precision
Similarly, with too few guides, the pull on the line will not only be transmitted perpendicularly to the blank, but will also be applied between the guides, bringing them closer together, thereby pinching the blank, which will bend between the guides. Again, this disperses the power
To distribute the pressure perfectly, you would need guides every 5 centimetres, but mechanically this is impossible and would be counterproductive: the building would be far too heavy and the ring feet and ligatures would artificially stiffen the blank. The loss of action would be prohibitive, and a rod that casts well is a rod that is light and bends! The job of the fitter/engineer is therefore to make a choice that guarantees a balance between the action and the number of guides: too much or too little and you lose performance!
For my part, I work on the principle that a line that forms too many angles between the guides must be better supported. So I start by putting too few guides, then I increase their number until I find the right compromise. It’s empirical, but it works!
The evolution is underway. From what I see and hear, more and more fairly well built up rods are available on the market, especially from the top British and Dutch brands. However, I think that it is often the anglers and not the developers who are the most conservative and I can’t count the number of comments, among others, about the anti-tangle guides, “too different from the ones we’ve always had”, etc, etc. But it is changing!
Let's get back to the guides on a feeder rod!
When I make a guide distribution, whatever the rod, I always think to respect some principles:
- Create a good taper on the bigger guides and adapt it to the reel used = less friction
- Favour short guides on the bending part of the blank and on the tip = less torsion and less weight
- Keep it light: guides (as much as necessary, as little as possible) and ligatures (minimum in size and maximum in strength) = more power and faster recovery
- Ensure that the line forms the most obtuse (flat) angles possible between the guides, to reduce friction = less friction
Basically, my competition experience always leads me back to simplicity and efficiency. The feeder rod is first and foremost a tool that must be reliable, easily repairable and extremely efficient. Light is right” is the order of the day.
A rod is a coherent whole that starts with the handle. The handle is the angler’s pilot’s seat. One wrong position and the whole efficiency suffers. On short rods, I prefer to focus on manoeuvrability for fast fishing, while on long rods, I prefer to maximize the leverage. The length of the handle measured from the centre of the reel foot to the butt of the rod will therefore start at about 44-45cm and will be limited by the length of the angler’s arms. In my case, my longest handles are 54-55cm. Any longer and it won’t help me go any further, but will at best drag through my clothes, stomach or bulging chest muscles (I have the body of a young Buddha). The position of the reel is a personal choice that is naturally very different from one angler to another. We are not all made in the same way, but it is the starting point of the rod.
From the position of the reel, the rest is self-evident. I have a second step which is a bit weird, but I’ve always done it this way: with the rod in place, holding the rod at the level of the future reel, I make it undulate in order to find the “middle of the action”, the point around which the rod oscillates, more technically called the “nodal point” (Thanks Goulven!). I will place 1 guide at this precise point. Then I will place the guides towards the tip and those towards the butt. This technique has always served me well and works perfectly.
The next step is super classic and consists of placing guides according to your feeling: closer together where the blank bends and further apart on the rigid part. Put the rod under pressure and adjust the position or even the number of guides so that the line is only slightly angled to the guides. On the butt and its extension, it is also the taper that will impose a choice of position. Do not forget it.
Choice of guides
I almost only build up my rods with Fuji KL, KB and KT Alconite, which are more than enough: they are quite light, they have an excellent rigidity thanks to the shape of their stainless steel frame, they are perfectly finished and super solid. And, yes, you read that right, I almost only use monopats! Fuji’s quality makes this possible and, to top it all off, the price of the Alconite is more than affordable. These are the guides built up on the Guru Aventus and Daiwa Tournament SLR to name a few.
From bottom to top, here are my choices for dressing the rod:
- In Fuji KL, which are the big starting guides that form the taper with the reel, I use 20, 25 or 30mm at most depending on the rod and reel. Come on, I confess, I sometimes build up two-legged KWs, but it’s more than rare and only on rods with a very hard, very rigid butt. For the thinner rods, my choice is the KL-H , M and L, higher for a smaller diameter.
- I continue with KL and KB rods, usually in 8, 7 or 6mm and do not put KT on the blank, as these have much smaller feet. I prefer KBs, which are designed to resist pressure better with their wider foot! Yes, I am very careful, as KTs are usually quite stable.
- As for the scions, they are filled with KT in 5, 5.5 and 6mm (or even 7mm, but this is rare), never less to facilitate the passage of the snatch knot.
Let’s not forget that a small guide is light, which is good for casting. The same goes for the binding: there is no point in making it long and decorative, 1mm more than the length of the foot of the ring is sufficient and will avoid excess epoxy. The most important thing is to save weight on the soft part of the rod. If you have the means of the Arab Emirates, you can switch to titanium, but it is superfluous on a feeder rod (but what wouldn’t you do for fun?).
Finally, the use of braid in diameters between 8 and 12/100 or nylon from 18 to 25/100 direct no longer requires the use of very wide guides.
Conclusion 1 and beyond
I have put forward my theory and points in this first article. With a few exceptions, rods are built up to suit everything, without ever excelling in one area. This is quite a shame, as many blanks are underused due to very average building. For me, the 3 fundamental points to improve are the choice of guides, in order to limit friction and twisting, the number and arrangement of the guides, to better distribute the energy and avoid its loss, and, finally, the weight of the material built up in particular on the softest part of the rod, all without robbing the bank.
It is obvious that these subtle changes are mainly aimed at enthusiasts, specialists and competitors looking for really good equipment. The beginner or the average angler will not appreciate all aspects of a rod modified in this way. Similarly, in very common conditions, short distance fishing or carp fishing in ponds, conditions which do not require any particular effort, a commercial rod at 65-70€ will do perfectly well. This is also the beauty of the feeder, this pleasure that you can take without breaking your piggy bank, in all simplicity.
And what happens next? You will have to be patient. The next article on the building itself and the case study will come very soon. This triptych will end with the test of the 2 rods and the final conclusions! One article per year, like the Lord of the Rings films… just kidding, you will have read everything before the end of the year!