Saturday 28 December 2013

Rods, Test Curves and a Forthcoming Trip.

More rain! Much more rain, so the rivers are out again for a few days.    And just before Christmas. Time for all true anglers to gain a few "brownie" points.  " Yes darling,  I'll come shopping with you.  I'll not go fishing today, I'll stay home especially  so that I can come shopping with you".  I would actually prefer that she write a list and send me out, carrier bags and cash in hand.   The process is much quicker when I don't have to watch her nip into any other shops en route.  I can get a bag of sugar off a shelf in about 1/3 the time she would herself take. For her it has to be the "right" bag of sugar.  Know what you want, grab it, bag it, and as long as you don't forget too many items, or miss out anything vital to the continuation of life functions, it is quicker and far less painful to leave "her indoors" safely indoors.
"Still raining darling?  Yes, I'll help you write the Christmas cards."   This last with some reluctance, as I am sure her wedding vows included the words  "and I will, every year, write all the Christmas cards"  ... it was  in the ceremony: just after  " do all the ironing", surely?

Part of my own wedding vows was to ensure that my son was brought up properly.   I have partly failed in this, for, having been thoroughly outclassed and smashed by a Trent barbel one night, on his first trip chasing the species, he has not been led into becoming an angler. Catching a grayling did not enthuse him, and at age twelve, a net of a dozen half pound tench and bream, when other anglers caught nothing, has also had no lasting effect.  He simply finds fishing boring. Has he no shame?  In all other respects he is fine: doesn't like football,  loves cricket.  And as a single guy, he has developed a logical way of dealing with women.   His main rules seems to be:  
1) Lacrosse is much more important than any girlfriend.  
2) Never be in a relationship just before Christmas, never be a couple on Valentine's day, and dump any female of the species at least a week before her birthday.  This is not based upon the cost of having to buy a present for the occasion, more about not having to strain the brain trying to think up what the hell to buy her. Always an impossible task for any bloke.  You may think you have found the perfect gift.   Highly unlikely.  Check in a fortnight...she will have exchanged it.

There are always swings and roundabouts of course, and, having voluntarily given up three, maybe four days by the river, there has to be a compensatory flow, to use up the acquired brownies.   So I have booked my 2014 fishing holiday abroad.  I shall not publish any details here,  not yet anyway, secret squirrel still peeking around that old oak tree maybe, but a couple of items in the small print are worthy of a note.   The tour company does not provide tackle,  but I do have a couple of travel carp rods: 2.75 pounds test curve, that may well be of use, if not exactly designed for the job.  Reels are another thing.   I do not have any solid, meaty pit reels.  They have not been needed, as my recent angling has not included any long distance carp fishing.  So I did not have such reels.   Not until today, when two Christmas presents to myself arrived.    The tour company has recommended that I use some 40 pound breaking strain monofilament.  On Ebay, bulk line spools seem to run out at about 30 pounds B.S. So I figure that will have to do the job.   It is a subject worthy of some discussion, as I find many anglers have little or no idea why they are using the line they have chosen.

But first the rod: Manufacturers wax lyrical over rod-ring quality, the finishing of the handle, the whippings, how well the carbon fibre has been laid, but when push comes to shove, there is usually just one figure that is on all anglers' minds.   Test Curve.    I don't know where the term first came from, but I suspect that Richard Walker may well have had his fingers poking deeply into that particular pot of jam.   The most often quoted way to measure a test curve is to put the rod handle horizontal, and hang weights from the tip until it makes an angle of 90 degrees to the butt.   That is never going to happen.   It is impossible to get to a full 90 degrees under those circumstances.  The rod, any rod, whether it be a barbel or a marlin rod, would break first.      In the same way that the Large Hadron Collider would need an infinite amount of energy to accelerate just one single proton to 100% of the speed of light, so you would need an infinite force to bend a rod set up in that way to a full 90 degrees.  So what to do?   Well it is obvious that you CAN bend a rod to more than 90 degrees, but to do so you need to change the angle of the line.    So I would myself define test curve as the minimum force, which, when exerted on the rod tip, bends the tip so as to make an angle of 90 degrees to the butt.  (Forget all that horizontal butt nonsense). The angle of that force, the angle made by the line, will be greater than that 90 degrees , and so will not be directly in line with the end of the rod tip.  

This is all very ( slightly?) academic, but what use is it to the angler?   For most anglers it is quite simply: how stiff is my rod?   For such an angler no more is needed, nothing else is required.  He goes out and buys his carp rods to a prescribed test curve and is happy.   But two rods with the same length and the same test curve may be very different in their "action".   For "action" we can simply read "what shape is the curve of the bent rod".   Some rods  are very stiff low down, with the tip section assuming almost all of the curve.   Others may be designed such that, at the test curve point, the rod displays a fairly constant curve throughout its length.   Tip action, vs "all through" action. The two rods will feel very different when playing a fish.     The "all through" action rod will have far more "give" when playing a fish.  I won't define the term "give", because, as an experienced angler you will know exactly what is meant by it.

With which rod can you apply more force?   Interesting question, and not an easy one to answer.   To simplify, we might consider two different "ideal" rods.  Both 12 feet long, one so stiff as to have no bend in it at all,   the other which bends into a perfect sector of a circle. Let each have an 18 inch handle.   Let us give the "all through" rod a test curve of 3 pounds, and make the assumption that is is possible to achieve that with the line at the 90 degree angle.   It won't be quite accurate but near enough as to make little difference to the precision, and no difference at all to the principles involved.   So now apply that 3 pounds to both rods.    Both rods are now acting as levers.   The completely stiff rod requires you to apply a force of 8 times the three pounds of tension in the line.  The handle is 1/8th of the rod length.  3 times 8. You have to pull up at 24 pounds in order to put three pounds of pressure on the fish. Now consider the all action rod.   It is curved into a quarter circle, the arc of which is 12 feet long.   Simple "O" level maths gives you the radius of that circle as approximately 7 and a half feet.   The effective length of the rod has been reduced to 7.5 feet, and the shorter lever only requires 5 times the force to be applied to the handle.   So you are putting that 3 pounds of pressure on the fish, with only fifteen pounds of force on the handle.     How many of you would have thought the reverse?    More force with the stiff rod?   Not many.   Case solved?   It might seem so, But not completely.   Not that easy I am afraid, because keeping the carbon tip at right angles is not how rods are used..     

Once the rod is in the zone playing a fish, you do not keep the rod tip at right angles to the butt for very long, certainly not with any powerful rod.   Once a fish starts to fight hard, the angler has no choice.  If he wishes to wind up the pressure on the fish he must do two things:   In order to increase that pressure, he must move the bend in the rod closer to the butt end, where the rod is stronger, stiffer, and can therefore exert that extra pressure.   To keep the line at right anglers to the butt is possible with a lot of heaving, but because of the leverage effects described, the angler would have to put a very large amount of force on the rod handle. So, the angler will automatically tend ( or be forced by the fish) to point the rod down more towards the direction of the line, and therefore towards the fish.   The butt will often then be at no more than 45 degrees to the line.   This reduces the effective length of the lever, and allows the angler to apply more line tension to the fish, without the same sort of increase in the force applied at the handle.  The rod is a variable length lever.   It is a lever that gets stiffer, the more force that it is being used to apply.   At shallow angles to the line it becomes almost like a poker, and at such angles the rod becomes less important, it can no longer absorb any kicks from the fish, and so you then become more dependent upon the reel to control the fight.  The clutch kicks into action, the rod can do little more to help, other than acting as a mounting handle to make holding the reel easier.  The rod has, at this point lost all its "give", and you have become reliant on the stretch in the monofilament to provide that function. Few anglers using lines of say eight pounds and above, EVER exert anywhere near the full line tension on a fighting fish, unless the rod is pointing more or less down the line.   The leverage effect is simply too great.  Think back to that last snag when chasing barbel.  Did you, even for a moment, consider pulling for a break with the rod held high? Of course not... because you, and the rod, were probably not strong enough to succeed!   You pointed the rod along the line and walked backwards, and were surprised, even then, by how difficult it was to break that line.  Yes? Now compare that with how much force you were putting on that last big carp or barbel you caught.  Unless you are a very unusual and exceptional angler, you were pussyfooting with that fish.

A quick note on braid:
Braid is usually used at quite high breaking strains, and allows you to feel the movements of the fish far more directly.  But having no give in itself, virtually no stretch, it cannot compensate when the rod's natural give has been overridden by using the low down power of the rod blank.   So, pointing the rod down the line whilst using braid can be risky.  A fast moving fish cannot be stopped dead, it has to be slowed down.   Stretchy monofilament helps you to do this when the rod cannot itself provide that "give".   Doing the same thing with braid takes more skill.   
Tie a length of 10 pound braid to a tree branch.   6 feet below tie a 5 pound brick to it.    It will hold that brick up quite happily.  Lift the brick just a couple of inches and drop it: the braid will break.  Braid takes any change of strain instantly. Monofil will stretch and absorb that impulsive force over a longer time.  It is far more forgiving, and helps you deal with sudden movements of a fish, or a brick.
I have not discussed casting. Specifically the casting of heavy weights to distance.   The line strength adopted, with possibly a shock leader, is most relevant here.    And the rod has to be capable of dealing with that  line strength, or as much of it as you use during the cast. Not too much else to say there.   Earlier readers may well remember that I shattered a rod, trying to cast a heavy weight a long way.  In reality I was using too heavy a line for the rod design.  Too heavy a line works, but only provided that you do not allow it to bend the rod past its limits.   Whilst playing a fish, I could have used any strength of line with that rod, simply by pointing the rod towards the fish.    When casting, the rod WILL bend, no other option, so  for any rod that will be used to cast feeders or heavy leads, the ability to cast without endangering the rod, is the main factor when choosing it.   Heavy rods are designed more for casting, rather than for playing a fish.   If it also plays a fish to your satisfaction you have a bonus.    

So:  back to the fishing trip:  do I use that 30 pound line on my holiday, or do I search out the recommended 40 ?    Well, if my carp rods were that unbending idealised rod described above, in order to break the line with the rod held at right angles I would have to pull back at 320 pounds!   No chance,    but by pointing the rod much more towards the fish, I should be able to keep quite a goodly amount of force to try and slow the fish down.  But I will be reliant also on setting that clutch right.   For any freshwater fish to pull with a force of 30 pounds or more would be quite something, and so I do not expect to get broken.  A shorter rod, much shorter than these 12 foot carp jobs  might help me apply more force, but I am not about to buy two more rods specifically for one week's holiday.  When catfishing a couple of years ago, the rods I used were of five pounds test curve, 12 feet long and very stiff.  I did hold the rods fairly well up, and so must  doubt that I ever pulled on the fish with more than 15 or twenty pounds of force. If that.   They were big fish, feeling very heavy on the line, but how much force was really involved at the end tackle?   Far less than most people think I am sure.   For the rod is indeed a lever,  but one designed to benefit and to give the mechanical advantage to the fish.     In any event I shall also take some spools of 15 pound line.

The final conclusion for rod choice and line choice is simply this:  an experienced angler will almost instinctively know what is right and what is not right.  He will not need to go through all these sorts of thought processes. But to do so is quite interesting.  When I broke the rod, I knew very well that I was taking that risk. The inexperienced angler will not care too much about rod and line choice, will use what his mates are using, and will probably get away with it due to the modern trend of fishing very heavy.  I myself still prefer to fish lighter.  I like to think I have needed a level of skill when landing that fish on this lighter tackle, rather than to know the outcome in advance, to know that the fish has no chance in hell of breaking my heavy gear.

Apologies if all the above became a little too detailed. Some of you will have undoubtedly stopped reading already. Probably one of my more controversial texts. I have dumbed it down, tried to eliminate having too much science, and much has been missed out. I needed to do something to avoid the Christmas build up, and with the rivers out, writing a blog seemed appropriate.  Next I should probably start packing for my trip,  less than 3 months to go now.



  1. Interesting JZ

    Two words - 'balanced tackle'? Whatever the set-up may be.

    Personally I've become very bad at it since returning to angling

  2. Yup, Balanced: that is what I meant when saying "an experienced angler will almost instinctively know what is right and what is not right". Very important down at the lighter end of the scale. Once you start to use a "thick stick" rather than a rod, balance gets a lot harder to define, and becomes much more meaningless. I am hoping my carp rods will be balanced, at least with the smaller fish, or bigger ones behaving themselves, but that if I do contact a monster which ups the excitement level and starts heading for the horizon at speed, then that same carp rod will have the ability to become that thick stick.