By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Competitive fishing is hard on the body, but it’s harder between the ears. Bassmaster Opens competitor Matt Pangrac knows the risk of losing focus, so one of his strategies to avoid getting “spun out” is to spin out.
Corny puns aside, the Oklahoman is dead serious about his reliance on spinning rods. Sure, the skinny sticks are not his choice for punching, frogging, or slinging a hefty buzzbait; however, Pangrac has developed an efficiently simplified system of spinning-rod selection that handles a significant amount of his work across a broad spectrum of fisheries and scenarios.
“If you look at how the tournaments are won now, there’s a lot of versatility,” Pangrac said. “Joey Cifuentes won a Bassmaster Elite event with a spinning rod on St. Clair and he won with a spinning rod on Lake Seminole.
“You get a lot of bites on the spinning rod and what I’ve run into is you have to convert bites to putting fish in the boat. If you just have one spinning rod, you’re showing up to a gunfight with a knife.”
> Heavy Lifting: A 7-foot-4 medium-heavy Denali Lithium Pro Multi-Spin rod and a Denali Fusion Pro reel carrying 12-pound Sunline SX1 hi-vis Braid with a 12- or 14-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon leader handles Pangrac’s hand-to-hand combat stuff.
Pitching a dropshot around cover requires a rod with the right amount of backbone.
“That’s the rod I’m going to use a lot in the South; that’s going to be a close-quarters rod or a heavy-cover rod,” Pangrac said. “I’ll use that rod around the spawn, when I’m pitching to fish, when I’m fishing a laydown or a stump.”
Primarily a largemouth setup, Pangrac uses this outfit for stouter dropshot work, so he Texas-rigs his finesse worm on a 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu worm hook. The longer, beefier rod also affords him the negotiating power he needs to capitalize on his opportunities.
“With that heavier line and that straight-shank hook, I can really get a good hookset and then I can use the rod to get the fish away from the cover,” Pangrac said. “In the spinning rod trio, that’s like my flipping stick.
“That’s the one that does a lot of work, especially if I know that I’m around fish that are 2 1/2 pounds and heavier in close quarters. I want to be able to move them, keep tension on them and that (outfit) allows me to apply a lot of pressure. Once they’re away from the cover, they can’t go back to it.”
As Pangrac points out, spinning tackle improperly matched to technique might get you halfway to your objective, but success requires complete execution.
“A lot of times you can get the fish out of cover, but if they decide they want to go back, there’s two options: You either break them off while you’re trying to stop them, or they break off when they get back to the cover.
Open-water casting is best with a longer rod with more give.
“That rod allows you to get the majority of those fish out and keep them out.”
> Multi-tasking: Pangrac said he gets a lot of mileage out of his 7-foot medium Denali Android rod with a 2000 size Denali Fusion Pro reel holding 12-pound Sunline SX1 braid and 8-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon leader.
“I consider this my all-around rod,” he said. “This is your fastball rod, if you were to have a pitch you were going to build your pitches around.
“That’s more of my open-water rod; I’m going to use that a lot for forward-facing sonar because if I’m doing a vertical presentation, I can keep that 7-foot rod closer to the transducer and drop the bait straight down.”
As Pangrac explained, the rod’s fast tip and medium action yields plenty of sensitivity. That’s a critical detail, as fish hooked on a No. 1 Gamakatsu Splitshot/Dropshot hook are less likely to come unbuttoned.
“I want to have a lot more give in that rod because I’m not worried about that fish getting into anything where they can break off,” Pangrac said. “I just want to play that fish out, so this rod’s a good fit because it has a fast action, but a lot more play in it so it’s more like a rubber band.
“Once that little fine wire hook gets into a fish’s mouth, I can keep them hooked and land them next to the boat on the lighter line.”
> Skill positions: For his more finessey work, Pangrac likes a 7 1/2-foot medium Denali Covert Multi-purpose rod with a Denali Fusion pro reel spooled with 10-pound Sunline SX1 braid with a 7-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon leader.
The Dropshot Jock (center-right in photo) keeps leaders and weights neatly aligned.
“That’s an open-water rod, or a rod you’re going to throw a hair jig or a treble hook bait like a SPRO Spin John or a micro crankbait,” Pangrac said. “It’s going to have a very deep bend so you can launch smaller baits and when you hook a fish, that rod has a lot more give.
“You’re using the rod to tire out the fish without creating holes in the fish’s mouth. You’re 2-3 minutes in on a 4- or 5-pound smallmouth on that rod, so you’re going to let that rod do all the work. You’re using that rod for casting and for shock absorption.”
Essentially, a lot of this comes down to how you need to cast and how much heat you need to put on the fish. Choosing the proper tools brings the objective into reach.
> Closing Note: When he’s dropshotting, Pangrac adds a rod accessory called the Dropshot Jock, which connects to the rod with a clamp-on design and includes a downward angled notch for holding the dropshot weight. While many keepers simply tuck the leader, the Dropshot Jock actually grips the weight and keeps the leader neatly parallel to the rod.
“Line maintenance is really key when it comes to the spinning rod stuff and that item just keeps everything from getting tangled and gnarly,” Pangrac said. “It’s just an easy way to keep everything (orderly) on your front deck, especially when you have bails and handles on the front deck. That just keeps everything orderly so you don’t have to worry about kinks in your line.”