Open the rod lockers on our Targa 2000's and you'll see a pile of fishing rods. Trolling rods with line counter reels, various sizes of spinning rods and a handful of baitcasters. The reason is a simple one...versatility. When we show up at a given lake, we never know what presentation is going to be the "winner" on that day. Walleyes are versatile fish, and a good walleye angler needs to be versatile in his presentations to catch them consistently.
Does that mean you have to have all those rods in your boat to catch walleyes? May be not...but once you troll boards and cranks with a line counter set-up, bottom bouncer fish with a good quality casting outfit, or feel the light "pick up" on a good live bait spinning rod as a walleye swims off with your leech, you'll realize that the right rod makes each technique easier and more efficient for catching walleyes.
So what constitutes a good set of walleye rods? And what makes a walleye rod different than say a rod used for bass fishing? Those were the questions we were faced with when we were approached by Bass Pro Shops to design a set of walleye rods for their Walleye Angler Catalog.
We approached it in four steps: First, decide the styles, actions and length of rods needed. Second, decide on the materials (blanks, handles, guides) to be used. Third, work out the price points so that walleye fishermen could put together a great set of walleye rods without breaking the bank. Finally, the field testing would allow us to fine tune the rods and make any changes before they hit the market.
Coming up with the styles of rods that would make up our "set" was the easy part. Years of fishing walleyes in every conceivable type of water, under all types of weather conditions and using all the presentations you can think of gave us the background to know what we wanted. We knew we would have to have a top-notch 5'9" jigging rod. One that would offer the best in sensitivity, light weight so it could be fished with comfortably all day, strong enough to handle hog walleyes and yet forgiving enough to handle no- stretch fishing lines like FireLine. We also knew that this would be a good rod to offer in two models...one that would be considered a "high-end", high modulus graphite model, and one that would be a "low-end" model...still a good rod, just made with a lower modulus graphite and therefore would sell at a lower price for the cost conscious angler.
Matching the jigging rods in features and quality, we knew we would have to have rigging rods. Ones that were about 6'6" with soft, sensitive tips and plenty of backbone for getting the job done.
Since the mid-80's, bottom bouncer fishing presentations have taken a strong foot-hold in the walleye world. Over the years there have been countless debates on what was the best rod to use for bottom bouncer fishing. Most "bouncers" felt shorter casting rods, say 5 1/2' to 6' with a medium heavy actions were the best. Then for a time the trend leaned toward longer rods, up to 8' long with soft, forgiving actions. Most of today's bouncer aficionados opt for something in between the extremes. We wanted two rods. Both would be long handled casting rods, one 6 1/2' model for "hand-held" fishing and a longer, 7' model that would be used in a rod holder. These would be rods that could also be used for casting crankbaits, jigging spoons, weight forward spinners or light-duty crankbait trolling.
Trolling has become the "walleye presentation of champions" on the professional circuits, and we knew we were going to have to have a couple of quality trolling rods in our set of rods. They would need to be forgiving, again for use with no-stretch FireLine and still be beefy enough to handle the riggers of trolling with Snap Weights and in-line Side Planers. We decided on a 7'6" model and an 8'6" model. Since these rods spend a lot of time in a rod holder both needed to be long handled casting rods and because of the length we wanted them to feature "Telescoping" handles so they'd fit in a rod locker.
Of course that didn't cover every presentation used to catch walleyes, but by adding a couple of "multi-purpose" rods to the "set" like a 7' medium action spinning and a 6' medium action spinning rod, we felt these ten rods could handle any walleye application. Now came the more difficult task of deciding on the materials to be used for the different rods in the line.
For the "high-end" jigging and rigging rods, we wanted blanks made of the highest quality, highest modulus graphite available. We studied the different modulus ratings of graphite and their respective characteristics and decided on a material known as HM-85. A 85 million modulus graphite that gave the "high-end" rods jigging and rigging rods all the attributes we wanted in rods we were going to stake our reputations on. Matching this with the finest quality Portuguese cork handles, super sensitive graphite reel seats and top-of-the-line Fuji SIC (silicon carbide) guides made the rods everything we had hoped for.
For the lower priced jigging and rigging rods we went with an industry standard, IM-6 graphite (with 40 million modulus), for it's rugged dependability and reasonable cost, while still offering good sensitivity and performance. We again chose to use cork handles, and teamed that with quality Fuji Aluminum Oxide guides for a couple of great rods.
For the bottom bouncer rods we thought long and hard to pick the right blanks. We wanted to keep the cost reasonable, while maintaining sensitivity and fishability. Realizing that these rods were not going to need the ultra- sensitivity of the HM-85, we decided to use IM-8 graphite. It's 45 million modulus construction would still provide excellent sensitivity, light weight and the right amount of strength we wanted our bouncer rods to have. Because we pictured these rods being "hand-held" in most situations, we again used cork handles. With a sleek contoured graphite locking foregrip reel seat and the Fuji Aluminum Oxide guides, the bouncer rods came out looking almost too pretty to fish with...almost.
We used the same IM-8 graphite and cork handle concept with the "multi-purpose" spinning rods. Among other reasons, although most pros prefer to use baitcasting equipment for bottom bouncer techniques, many anglers still like to use spinning tackle. The extra sensitivity of the IM-8 also allows the six footer to work quite nicely for jigs and weight forward spinners and the seven footer for slip bobbers or even rigging. Frankly, these IM-8 rods are probably the best rods "for the money" in our series.
The trolling rods took a little more thought. A walleye trolling rod blank takes a lot of abuse from the constant pressure of deep diving crankbaits, Snap Weights and In-line boards and handles tend to get beat up getting pulled out of and shoved into rod holders. Sensitivity was not as important a factor as with the rigging or bouncer rods, yet we wanted them to have some "feel". It was decided that IM-6 blanks with durable foam handles would be the way to go. Once you fish with these rods, we think you'll agree we made the right decision.
Other features that we had to consider on all these rods were things like number of guides to be used on each rod, blank color, and the look and content of the graphics to be put on the rods. From the beginning, it was important to us that the Walleye Angler Signature Series rods were not built like "just any rod". We were careful to insure that the proper number of guides were used on each rod to give it the proper action and performance. We wanted the Series rods to look good, so a classy look of gold graphics on a jet-black blank adorns each rod. We took great pains to insure that the consumer could tell what each rod was designed for by putting a description right on the rod, along with the rod's length and lure weight range.
After all that work, the fun part of the job was at hand. Actually, field testing a new line of rods that were going to have our endorsement was a little more pressure than we had anticipated. We wanted them to be just right. Ultimately the goal was to be sure we were endorsing the finest set of walleye rods offered anywhere, at a cost that any walleye angler could afford.
The testing resulted in only a few minor refinements, primarily with the graphics on the rods. We did recommend a finer taper on the jigging rods to give them a slightly lighter action, the rigging rods were given a softer action throughout the blank and the bottom bouncer rods ended up with a little different reel seat than the prototypes. All in all we were very impressed with the prototypes and extremely pleased with the final product. The Walleye Angler Signature Series we believe are what we claim them to be, the finest set of walleye fishing rods available today...in all categories: quality, action and price. Check them out in the WALLEYE ANGLER CATALOG
There is a lot to catching adaptable and versatile fish like walleyes. Having a quality set of rods designed "on purpose" for walleye fishing techniques can help make the task a much more pleasurable one.