If you could choose just one fishing rod for bass, what would it be? That’s exactly what we asked our St. Croix pros.
PARK FALLS, Wisc. (May 11, 2021) – Length, power, and action are the holy trinity of fishing-rod selection. Each of three of these variables play distinct and important roles in determining how useful a rod is in any fishing scenario. Together, they define a rod’s basic performance characteristics and make possible an incredible number of choices for the angler.
That’s a good thing. Anglers like choices, and they all have slightly different preferences for rods they use day-in and day-out while employing varying techniques and presentations to catch their favorite species. This is why advanced anglers always have multiple rods rigged and ready to go.
But what if they could only choose one rod? Well, that’s the precise, horrifying question we asked several of our St. Croix pros, with the hope that their answers will help the rest of us make better decisions when shopping for our next fishing rod.
This is the first article in a three-part series covering rod selection for the most-common fishing situations. Ultimately, we’re hoping the answers our pros provide will lead to more success, fun, and satisfaction on the water for all. Let’s start with bass, shall we?
Joel Nelson of Brainerd, Minnesota is one of fishing’s greatest ambassadors. He’s made his living not by guiding or fishing tournaments, but by educating and promoting the sport of fishing by sharing his vast experiences. As such, he wasn’t put off by the question; he understood exactly where we were going. As a regular on the big-bass waters of Mille Lacs and other trophy bronzeback fisheries, we asked him about his favorite rod for smallmouth bass.
“I’d go with a 6’10” medium power, extra-fast action spinning rod, specifically the Legend X XLS610MXF model,” says Nelson. “It’s one of the most versatile rods for bass and I also use it for walleye. There are all kinds of finesse presentations to catch smallmouth bass, and this rod excels with just about all of them. But I’m a very simple-minded bass angler. Day in and day out, I like a simple jig head with a plastic trailer… usually a curly-tail grub, but sometimes a fluke or Z-Man TRD. With the curly-tail grub I can alternate between bottom hopping and crawling or swimming at any depth. This is a very versatile presentation in both lakes and rivers.”
Nelson says the 6’10” length is ideal for jig fishing and meshes well with other finesse presentations to add versatility. “The length is perfect. I can make long casts with a 3/16 to 5/8-ounce jig on 8-pound line or work vertically next to the boat.”
While the 610MXF is available in other St. Croix series, Nelson gravitates to the Legend X model because of the split grip handle and incredibly sensitive SCV/SCVI carbon blank. “It’s lightweight with great balance, which means it’s comfortable to fish with all day and produces great leverage. The extra-fast action is great for setting the hook and getting into the rod’s power quickly.”
He also likes what he describes as the rod’s perceived weight-to-strength ratio. “For as light as this rod is in the hand, it feels very strong and responsive,” he says. “That’s key for smallmouth bass in rivers and in deep lakes where you want to keep big bass away from rocks and wood. I like the overall beef this rod delivers in an extremely sensitive, lightweight package.”
Bill Schultz of New Berlin, Wisconsin knows plenty about catching smallmouth bass. He’s kept a log on every bronzeback he’s landed since May of 1994, and his tally to date exceeds 24,000. Like Nelson, Schultz primarily employs finesse tactics.
“I have a handful of favorite rods, but I probably use the Avid X 7’ medium power, extra-fast action spinning rod (AXS70MXF) the most. All my bass have come on a relatively few great presentations. Right now, with much of my fishing being done on the big waters of Sturgeon Bay, Green Bay, and Lake Michigan, I am either using the Ned Rig with Z-Man ElasZtec finesse plastics, swimming a Kalin’s Lunker grub or Keitech FAT Swing, or using a Right Bite 2.5″ Tube. This rod works great for any of these presentations.”
Schultz prefers 2000- and 2500-size reels with faster 6.2:1 retrieve ratios and typically employs 10-pound Daiwa J-Braid 8X main line in chartreuse with a 3.5-to-4.5-foot 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. “The split-grip handle and 7-foot length balance well with these reels and allow for longer casts,” Shultz says.” And the combination of SCIII carbon and IPC (Integrated Poly Curve technology) make for an exceptionally smooth and durable package. I’m fishing these presentations slowly, and usually with bottom contact in water that’s relatively deep. This rod has the sensitivity and the length that are helpful in these techniques.”
Shultz offers some key advice to would-be finesse smallie anglers. “The most-common mistake anglers make with all of these presentations is not doing them slowly enough. And if you fish clear water like I do, the fluorocarbon leader is important.”
Bassmaster Elite pro, Derek Hudnall of Denham Springs, Louisiana, is a threat in any tournament he enters. And while his vocation demands dozens of distinct rods, he understands that most bass anglers appreciate a versatile rod that can do many things very well.
“Choosing just one rod would be very easy for me,” Hudnall reports. “It’s the Victory 7’3” medium-heavy power, fast action casting rod (VT73MHF).”
Hudnall says, without a doubt, that this rod may very well be the most versatile bass rod in St. Croix’s expansive lineup. “I could bore everyone to death about the multiple techniques that I use this rod for, but I’ll give you my favorite… flipping and pitching. “On tour, when I’m able to find a flipping bite, I get that extra fire in my belly. It’s my comfort zone and one of the techniques I have the most confidence in.”
Hudnall concedes that selecting the correct rod for any application can be a daunting task. “One of the most common mistakes anglers make in choosing a flipping and pitching rod is length,” he says. “Flipping with a rod that’s too short or too long can rob you of accuracy, cause unnecessary fatigue and straight up cause you to lose fish. This industry is full of opinions, so one thing every angler needs to keep in mind is that we are all different. There is only one person on this earth that can swing a golf club like Tiger Woods, so don’t try to mimic him. Similarly, just because your fishing partner, Kevin VanDam, or you dad flips with a 7’11” rod does not mean that’s the best choice for you. Try a variety a lengths and chose the one that makes casts and presentations that seem effortless. Yes, that rod is out there for you, and for me, it’s the Victory VTC73MHF.”
What makes the VTC73MHF so unique and versatile for Hudnall? “This new line offers what I call ‘tweener’ sizes,” he says. “Most casting blanks go up to a 7’0” and then start back again at a 7’4” which leaves a pretty big gap in lengths. That 7’3” length, in my opinion, is the dead center on rod lengths, and I think this rod will more than likely also be ‘that’ rod for a majority of anglers. Combined with medium-heavy power that’s ideal for so many common bass-sized baits and a fast action that helps deliver casting accuracy and dialed-in presentations, that ‘right-sized’ 7’3” length helps make this rod the proper tool and fit in so many applications.”
While Hudnall says anglers can find something close to this rod in several other St. Croix series, he suggests that Victory offers several other distinct advantages. “The SCIII+ blanks and ergonomics of these USA-crafted rods bring true, elite-level performance to any bass angler, because they are priced at a sweet spot almost anyone can afford.”
MLF pro, Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, echoes Hudnall’s affinity for the Victory VTC73MHF. “It’s a baitcasting rod, but I think it gives most anglers the best flexibility,” he says. “You can fish a worm, jig, chatterbait, spinnerbait… literally almost everything with it.”
Wiggins says anglers looking to rig this rod to maximize its versatility in multiple presentations should consider spooling a comfortable and lightweight 7.3:1 baitcasting reel with 15-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line.
“A lot of time anglers have the wrong speed reels for their lures,” he says. “When I’m rigging, I put almost all winding baits on a 6:1 reel. If I’m dragging or fishing the bottom, I use an 8:1. So, having something in the 7:1 range puts anglers in the middle and lets them vary the speed of the retrieve easier, simply by how quickly they turn the handle. That’s an incredibly versatile package on the Victory VTC73MHF rod that’ll allow anglers to have a lot of success with many of the most-popular bass presentations.”
Joe Balog of Deland, Florida is a retired tournament bass angler who, like Nelson, finds great satisfaction in using his extensive experience and knowledge to help promote and expand the sport of fishing. The displaced Michigander fishes in both fresh and salt waters but is above all a big-bass specialist.
“I exclusively fish for big fish and I use a St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass 7’4” medium-heavy power, fast action casting rod (LBC74MHF) more than any other,” says Balog, whose $.02 on the matter (which, given his experience, is probably worth closer to $1.34), is that this particular rod is simply the best all-around choice for targeting large bass around heavy cover with a variety of techniques.
“This rod is my Swiss Army knife for shallow largemouth,” Balog reports. “I use it for swim-jig fishing, fishing a hollow-body frog, swimbaits like a Skinny Dipper, and spinnerbaits around submerged grass. These techniques are effective around shallow, heavy cover year ‘round. The rod balances very strong power for its medium-heavy rating with a fast tip capable of casting sizable lures with accuracy. The most important aspect is the rod’s power and ability to move fish away from heavy cover.”
For swim jig, frog, and swimbait fishing, Balog employs straight 50-pound Sufix braid. For spinnerbaits, he switches to 25-pound Sufix mono.
“The biggest mistake I see in Florida bass fishing is anglers using too light of gear,” Balog says. “Their equipment, while adequate for fishing in the north for fish weighing under four pounds, is simply not capable of controlling a really big fish around heavy cover. For that reason, they may land most of their bites, but frequently lose the best fish of their trip or season.”
Balog says Florida bass anglers need to be prepared – not only with the right gear – but also mentally. “It’s important to constantly be considering what’s going to happen if a really big fish bites,” he says. “If I skip a frog up under that bush around that lay-down tree and an 8-pound bass eats it, what’s likely to happen?” he poses. “Am I going to have enough rod and heavy enough line to move that fish away from that tree – immediately – at the end of a long cast? If the answer is ‘I’m not sure’, or if you aren’t constantly thinking about those possibilities, you’re in trouble. Always consider the big fish, every cast or flip. My head is always in the game, and with a Legend Tournament Bass LBC74MHF in my hands, I’m confident my gear is in the game, too.”
At St. Croix Rod, we make it our mission to serve anglers with an expansive selection of rods across a wide span of prices that give them the upper hand and elevate their experience in any fishing situation. Browse our selection of Triumph, Bass X, Premier, Mojo Bass, Mojo Bass Glass, Victory, Avid, Avid X, Legend Glass, Legend Tournament Bass, Legend X, Legend Elite, and Legend Xtreme for the bass rods that best suit your specific needs. Visit your nearest St. Croix Dealer or our Guide Center for additional help and information.
Next week, we’ll take a detailed look at a few St. Croix rods favored by our panfish, walleye and musky pros and learn how they use them to experience more success on the water.