In recent weeks, I've described several of the finesse fishing techniques I regularly use in competition, but what I haven't mentioned are the rods I use. Many fishermen tend to lump all finesse fishing rods into the same category — whippy spinning rods suitable only for fishing tiny baits with light lines — but let me tell you, finesse fishing rods are every bit as specialized as the baitcasters you use for crankbaits and jigs. There is no single rod that will handle every finesse fishing application.
I use three distinctly different rods, all separated by their actions. I don't even like to classify them by action since there is no industry standard for determining a rod's action, and one manufacturer's "medium" may be "medium/heavy" or "medium/light" in another company's line. Instead, I classify my finesse rods by the percentages of tip and backbone.
My favorite finesse rod, for example, which I probably use more than any of the others, is what I describe as a 70/30 rod. This rod ranges from 6 1/2 to 7 feet in length and has 30 percent tip and 70 percent backbone. This means the upper 30 percent of the rod flexes, which I need for casting and for shock absorption.
Shock absorption and backbone in finesse fishing? Absolutely! This is the rod I use for my single-hook fishing, such as with a shaky head, a Flick Shake, a tube or a tail-weighted French fry. With these applications, you have to make a solid hook set, and this type of rod does that. The 30 percent tip is limber enough to let me cast these light lures, and then it flexes again to keep me from breaking my line when I do whack a fish.
The rest of the rod, 70 percent, is stiff, so this is where the strength comes to control that fish. Remember, I'm throwing these single-hook baits in the same places I'd fish a jig or spinnerbait, so I need the backbone to get fish out of cover.
This is easily my most versatile rod, and I'd guess it will probably become yours, as well. If I'm fishing tight to cover or sometimes need to skip my baits under docks or branches, I usually use a lighter 6 1/2-foot rod, but if I'm making longer casts, I'll go with the 7-footer.
Many companies will classify this as a "medium action" model, but here's how you can really check to see if it's 70/30. With your left hand, hold the rod by the handle at the reel seat, and with your right hand pull down on the rod tip. You'll see where the tip stops flexing immediately, and with a 70/30 it should be roughly a third of the way down the rod. You can do this with any rod to check the tip action.
Another rod I use is slightly more limber; a 60/40 model I use for light wire finesse fishing, such as drop shotting and split shotting, where I have a really small circle hook. With this rod, 40 percent — nearly half of it — flexes, while 60 percent is backbone. My preferred lengths are from 6 feet, 9 inches to just over 7 feet.
Consider why you need a little more flexibility here. Not only are you using a very small hook, you're often fishing deeper water, too. With drop shotting and split shotting, you don't really use a hard hook set either. I use a sweep set, in which I step back and just sweep my rod to one side when I feel a bite. Even with 4-pound line, you can land as many as 90 percent of your bites with this type of rod and hook setting motion. If you're having trouble visualizing this, think about fly fishing — which is done with a limber rod and a fly with a small hook — in which the rod absorbs all the shock but still provides all the power to hook and play a fish.
My third rod is a stronger 80/20 rod, and it's longer, too, between 7 feet, 4 inches and 8 feet. It's still a spinning rod, but with the increased backbone it's similar to some baitcasting rods. I use this rod when I'm fishing reaction baits like weightless flukes that I need to cast long distances and work quickly back to the boat. The longer length and shorter tip let me make those casts; shock absorption is not as important (although I still need it) because I usually fish these types of baits with 6/14 or 8/20 Berkley FireLine braid.
The moral of all of this is that you can really improve your overall finesse fishing success by paying more attention to the rods you use. Not all spinning rods are the same, and when you really study and start using the different finesse fishing applications, you'll understand why different tip actions will make so much difference.