Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hook pulls and received wisdom

I was wasting an hour in my local tackle shop earlier today when a rep from a well known tackle firm came in touting his wares for next year. He had a couple of barbel rods with him so I made a nuisance of mysel ( as you do) and managed to give the heaviest one a bend. Looking at the ticket on the rod it said it would cast six ounce leads on rivers like the Trent. "Tip's too soft," says I in typical diplomatic fashion. "That's to stop hook pulls," says he. "A soft butt prevents hook pulls," I replied without thinking. He gave me a look that said, "You don't know what you're talking about, mate". I changed the subject!

It's been going around for years that a rod with a soft tip prevents hook pulls. I've fallen for it myself in the past. But think about it. The only time you are going to suffer a hook pull is when there is no 'give' left in the rod or line. If things have arrived at that point the rod tip will be bent to its limit and have no reserve of cushioning. A soft tip can only prevent a hook pull if the rod isn't being used to it's full power. So maybe on a match rod, with light line, a soft tip will prevent hook pulls. But on a barbel rod? I think not.

A soft tipped barbel rod will struggle to cast a big feeder easily, and when playing a fish the tip will soon be bent past any usefulness as a cushion. If the rod has a stiff butt to compensate for the tip when casting that same butt will be too stiff to act as a shock absorber when the tip is fully bent playing a fish. The angler will then have to slacken the drag on his reel more than is necessary in order to prevent hook pulls.

Take the other road where the rod tip is stiffer and the action comes progressively down the blank into a softer butt section. Here the tip will not 'collapse' when casting or when playing fish. You'll be able to utilise more of the power of the rod more smoothly. The rod will act more like a spring for longer and probably never reach a lock up point unless you are snagged. So hook pulls will be much reduced.

I'm sure that this trend for soft tipped, stiff butted rods is why a lot of anglers seem unable to put a decent bend in their rods when playing fish - they are playing them entirely 'off the tip'. If your line is balanced to the rod you are using, and that rod bends progressively, you really can lean into fish without fear of hook pulls.

The only time a soft tip might be beneficial is when a fish is under the rod tip ready for netting. The angles involved mean that the butt cannot easily come into play if the fish makes a sudden dash. By the same token when a fish is being drawn to the net the tip will be well bent over, too. My solution at this stage is to knock the anti-reverse off. That last dash for freedom can then be made against a backwinding (but controlled) reel. The other option, which I also use, is to drop the rod tip to give the fish a little line. Playing fish is a dynamic operation - you shouldn't be relying on the equipment to do all the work for you.

It was carp rods which first utilised the soft tip/stiff butt combination and it was sold to anglers as providing great casting potential with fish playing ability. The truth of the matter is that it's a poor design for a casting rod (you need a rod that stiffens rapidly, but smoothly, from the tip), and equally poor for playing fish (you need a rod that stiffens slowly, but smoothly, from the tip). In neither case do you want a rod that bends easily then stiffens suddenly in the butt. At least that's my take on things.

One more thing. The barbel rod had unnecessarily large rings and a Duplon handle. I think it might be aimed at failed carp anglers...