Boat rods

A boat rod is either the gantry of a crane for hauling passive fish off the seabed, or a weapon for doing battle with fighting fish.

Which do you need, and what should its dimensions be? The sea angler’s boat fishing rod is simply an extension to his arm. The rod acts as a lever, converting the pulling power of a handline to lifting strength. What has happened, over half a century or so, is that anglers have applied sporting techniques to the business of deep sea fishing.

Sea angling is probably the newest of the forms of angling. Certainly, fishing with rods for really big fish only got underway at the turn of the century. Before that, it was easier, and possibly more productive, to use a hand or fixed line. Anglers went to sea as onlookers: showing an interest in the professionals’ livelihood would gain anyone a place in the boat. They used handlines, so it was inevitable that the intending sport angler should follow suit. But a need grew to extend the sport beyond taking fish for the pot.

Beginning of sea angling

Sea angling was born. The knowledge that freshwater rods were un-suitable for sea fishing led to the production of sea rods in cane. These were clumsy compared with their modern glassfibre equivalents, but they advanced sea fishing con-siderably. At the time it was believed that rods had to be strong. Rods were at first short because cane came in relatively short, useful lengths, and nobody wanted to in-troduce a metal or spliced join. Some had steel cores to give them more power for fighting big specimens. The more expensive rod was made of split cane, with cheaper versions made from whole cane sections often with whole wood handles.

Need for flexibility

Gradually it dawned on sea anglers that what was needed was a measure of flexibility. The ultra-strong, extremely stiff rod failed on two counts: it did not transmit the vibrations of a fighting fish to the angler at all well, neither could it flex to absorb a fish’s wild rushes. Most of the movements of the fish resulted in a bending of the whole length of the rod. With the advent of extruded, solid glass rods, there was at last a material that could be relied on for bending freely; it rarely broke under pressure. This asset, however, was not a complete answer to the sea angler’s prayers—solid glass bent under a load but did not have the liveliness of recovery that built cane had. The material was cheap, so there was a flood of inexpensive rods on the market, and, although far from perfect, these brought fishing to many more people.

Controllable glassfibre

The natural progression in the glassfibre industry from drawing out glass fibres to weaving them in-to a cloth or mat was quick. Rod makers realized that they now had a material that could be controlled. There was enough demand for the more expensive rod for manufac-turers to set up tube rolling plants. The Americans led for a number of years, but soon a British industry emerged. The simple technique in-volved impregnating a cloth, woven from glass fibres, rolling it around a steel mandrel to give it the shape and taper of the required blank, and then binding it tightly before placing the mandrel into an oven, where high temperatures set the glass. After releasing the glass tube from the mandrel, the blank was then ground to produce a clean, even, smooth, tapered tube that produced a superb rod.

Action, the true requirement in the angler’s boat rod, can be built into a rod in two ways. First, through the taper of the mandrel on which the glassfibre is wrapped and, second, according to the amount of material used in a particular area of the rod. With these two factors settled, a curve of almost any power and compression can be put into the rod. There are differences in the type of glass and the resins that bind the whole thing together, but these have long been familiar to manufacturers,


Glassfibre rods are not only light and powerful; they are also almost unbreakable in sensible use. They are not affected by oil, saltwater and extremes of temperature. These features give the glassfibre rod tremendous advantages over the older, more traditional materials used for rod-making.

Increasingly, carbonfibre is being used for the construction of boat rods. This space age material combines incredible lightness and great strength with first rate sensitivity. As yet carbon rods are extremely expensive, which does restrict their use. Nevertheless, £60 or so is not a great sum to pay for an article that will give many years of service. Like glassfibre rods, carbon-based rods are virtually unaffected by saltwater or strong sunlight.

Unfortunately there is still devel-opment work needed, too, on carbon-fibre, as it can be unstable. An American development called the Howald process mixes carbonfibre and glassfibre. Rod blanks produced from it are truthfully described as unbreakable in almost all kinds of fishing situations.

Top quality boat rods conform to specifications laid down by the In-ternational Game Fish Association, which has its headquarters at Fort Lauderdale, USA. The body is responsible for all World Record claims in 6 lb, 12 lb, 20 lb, 30 lb, 50 lb, 80lb and 130lb tackle classes.

No standard boat rod There is no standard boat rod, nor can there be, for fish vary tremendously in- size and the conditions under which they are fished for alter constantly. A rod of the 20lb class is suitable for small species in sea areas with light tidal flow and allows the use of light leads of 2-8oz. This means that the rod blank is balanced for use with a 20lb line. It will have a test curve of around 4lb, which means that a pull at the rod tip of this weight will bend the rod at right angles. It does not mean that the rod is only capable of handling a fish that weighs or pulls to 4lb. In any case, a fish weighs only about one third of its true weight when in the water. The test curve given for a sea rod is multiplied by five to arrive at the correct b.s. Of line to match it.