by Carmen Macdonald
The history of fishing rod design is marked by significant points of impact with regard to new products and construction techniques.
An extremely abbreviated history might read, in the beginning there was fiberglass that produced very durable, moderate action rods that were heavy. Then came graphite, which greatly reduced weight and allowed for more sensitive and responsive actions, but was far less durable. And then came braided fishing lines with near zero stretch, and everything changed.
In the transitions from fiberglass to graphite, then to fast-action graphite, the goal was sensitivity, responsiveness and hook-setting power. The monofilament lines that dominated the period could stretch 10% or more when wet. The math there is easy. With 40-feet of line out, there's 4-feet of inherent give until the force is there to really drive a hook.
Braided fishing lines and carbon composite rods are an awesome combination when fishing baits like prawns and herring.
As braids hit the scene, the world was a fast-action place, but braids included their own massive increase in sensitivity, responsiveness and hook-setting power. They didn't stretch at all. The inherent stretch in fishing lines no longer cushioned rod handling errors. High-stick the rod under a load and all of the force was directed to the blank… and snap goes the graphite rod.
Rod breakage went way up, which is not good for anybody. Angler, retail shop or manufacturer, nobody has a good experience when rods break.
For a short time, fiberglass enjoyed a resurgence in combination with braids. The performance was fine, but the experience was lackluster. Graphite had offered some "feel" within the event of catching fish and fiberglass takes it away. Once you grow used to feeling every head shake and tail push, it's tough to give it up. The large diameter and clubby nature of glass rods didn't help any either.
Enter Carbon Composite construction.
Carbon Composite rod construction has one eye on history and one on the future. The technique blends materials, and with them come the best attributes of glass (durability, slower response) and graphite (small diameter, lightweight, sensitive). These rods were developed for braided lines, but also offer a significant improvement in handling over straight glass rods when fished with monofilament also.
In 2009 I wrote the first semi-detailed overview of the Lamiglas Kenai Series rods on Ifish. These rods have proven exceptional, yet remain out of the financial reach of many anglers at an MSRP of $400 and common retail price over $200. At next week's Portland Sportsmen's Show, area anglers will get their first look at Okuma Guide Select Classic carbon composite salmon rods. The MSRP on these rods is $179.99 and at the recent Puyallup show, show special prices were $139.99 at participating retailers. Like the market-moving impact Okuma had with the release of SST and Carbon Grip SST rods, the Guide Select Classic series will do the same in the Carbon Composite market. I want to be the first to detail what to expect from these rods.
The Guide Select Classic Series includes 5 models:
9' Medium Heavy for 12-25lb. line
9'3"Heavy for 15-30lb. line
9'6" Xtra-Heavy for 20-40lb. line
10'6" Heavy for 15-30lb. line
10'6" Xtra-Heavy for 20-40lb. line
All of the rods are 2-piece and the actions are moderate. With respect to a moderate action, here's what that means. Action titles denote where and how the rod bends. An extra-fast action rod, only bends in the tip…beyond that point, there's little bend or action. Then, a fast action comes a little further back, then moderate-fast comes further, moderate more and finally slow goes to the butt of the rod.
The moderate action is a big part of the utility. By increasing the range of flex, the rod's performance with a wide range of trolling weights is increased. Also, the increased range of flex offers the rod a substantial amount of give, where the braided lines I mentioned do not give at all.
Take a fast action rod, even a pretty heavy one and hang 12-ounces of lead on it. The tip is going to fold up, and the rod has nothing left to give a biting fish…the rod "shuts off." A moderate action rod is smooth, flexing across a range with each increase in trolled weight. When a fish bites, it retains some action to give.
The Okuma Guide Select Classic series includes what are essentially three rods, with a couple of them available in two lengths. The 9-footer, GSC-C-902MH-CG
If the primary application of the rod is focused on spring chinook trolling, diver/bait, diver Kwikfish, Drano Lake, and so forth…this is the rod. It's slightly more compact and slightly lighter than 9'3" rod. In tighter quarters like the Garbage Hole in Oregon City, where a wide spread can be a liability with the neighbors, the 902MH keeps the peace. It's a fantastic rod for back-trolling Bonneville or fishing Kwikfish on anchor down below where really powerful actions are unnecessary. In my little neighborhood fishery on the Willamette, this is my rod for fishing prawns and herring over submerged shelves. The 9'3" and 10'6", GSC-C-932H-CG & GSC-C-1062H-CG
These are the two all-around salmon trolling and back-trolling rods for virtually all fisheries, spring and fall chinook. In regard to raw trolling capability, these models perform from nothing, all the way to 16-ounces. At 16-ounces, you're really at the top end of the rod. You're also at the top end of most fisheries from California to Alaska. For most anglers, rod selection will begin and end right here. Columbia River, Puget Sound, Alaska, major tributaries, estuaries, river mouths and oceans, it's all right here, with one caveat that follows. The 9'6" and 10'6", GSC-C-962XH-CG & GSC-1062XH-CG
I create my impressions of rod power and action like many anglers. I do the shake test. I pin the tip on the floor or ceiling and lean into it a bit. I have someone hold the tip while I lift. It's a pretty good test to offer a sense of what it takes to land a salmon. And if salmon where in stillwater lakes, it really wouldn't take much. Where this method misses, is that it focuses too much on the fish, and not the fishery. In the store, necessary power is often underestimated.
In the present day, some of the best opportunities exist in power water, and the preferred techniques demand a heck of a lot of power. These two Xtra-Heavy models are the solution for big tides at the Buoy 10 fishery in Astoria and the Columbia above, heavy flows on the bar at Tillamook, Nehalem and all the coastal estuaries.
These two rods will effectively troll 20-ounces of lead, maybe even more, without a whimper, and without the rod tip 3-feet under the water's surface. That is not in and of itself super impressive…there have been 20+-ounce graphite or glass rods. The difference is these rods are a pleasure to fish. Fishing 18-ounces in a front rod position at Astoria, a silver salmon grabbed my spinner. Rather than hitting a broomstick, the carbon composite build keeps even the smaller fish fun.
In practical applications these Xtra-heavy models will be for the angler with a focus on the big water fisheries, or those with the guide-style boats that need to create a wide spread and minimize tangles. These are the rods for the front positions, squared up to the boat and the water to keep the gear out of the back rods. They're also the power option for big fish rivers, like the Kenai.
Beyond the rod blanks, the build on all these rods is second to none. The reel seats are Fuji, the guides are premium ALPS. The CG in all the model numbers stand for Carbon Grips. 3K woven carbon fiber grips are trimmed out with semi-rigid, non-skid EVA. The forward grip is integrated into the reel seat, eliminating exposed threads behind the hand when fishing. Overall, the finish is a rich, gloss brown, trimmed with black and a touch of gold for an understated, high-end look.
In total, Okuma steps into new ground with Guide Select Classics. SST's are great rods for the money. The new Guide Select Classics are great rods, period, at any cost, against anything else available. In combination with the Cold Water 350 Low-Profile Line Counter, Okuma has created a system that performs at the highest level of the sport, while remaining, comparatively, in reach of everybody.
That's truly impressive.