David Dudley's fishing has improved over the last 2 years or so, and a major reason for that is his switch to heavy rods. Actually he's now gone beyond that, to extra-heavy, double-X and soon triple-X.
The reason he made the switch was to put more fish in the boat. "I was trying to understand why I would lose fish," he says. "Ever since I started fishing professionally, I'd been losing fish and of course wondered why. Did I not fight him right, or play him right? It was frustrating."
At one point years ago he mentioned his frustration to Jay Yelas, who told him about a study Berkley had done. As Dudley remembers it, the study found that by far the biggest reason people lose fish once "hooked" is that the hook never goes in past the barb. "Basically that comes from using too light a rod," he says. "That got my attention."
Dudley guides on the North Carolina coast for saltwater species, and used that as his testing ground. "I used to use a medium-heavy rod, but when I heard that from Jay I started experimenting," he says. "I had (clients) who wouldn't set the hook hard, and the stripers were halfway to the boat and getting off." He gave them heavy-action rods, and says it was "amazing to watch how many more fish were coming into the boat."
That happened even though half his clients "didn't know how to fight a fish. Once I switched to heavier rods, you could give (the striped bass) complete slack and they still weren't getting off. They were staying hooked for the simple reason that when you get the hook in past the barb, it holds."
So about 2 years ago he "switched over to broomstick poles" for his tournament fishing. The upshot? "You never quit losing fish, but my percentage of boated fish got a lot higher," he says.
No Other Changes Needed
Going from a medium-heavy rod to a telephone pole would seem to require some changes in fishing or fish-fighting styles. Not so, Dudley says. "You don't have to change anything else.
"I was throwing a Super Fluke up on Lake Vermilion (at the EverStart he won) using 10-pound test with an extra-heavy pole, and the guy in the boat with me is like, 'Aren't you scared you're going to break him off?' I was like, 'No.'
"You can take line in your hands, jerk it and can't even break it. So a rod with a bend in it won't break it.
"People who break off tie a crummy knot," he says. "I use a San Diego knot, which is more like a cinch." (This is also known as a San Diego Jam knot, and is favored by Aaron Martens for fluorocarbon. - Ed.) He tested the knot with knot-testing machines and "most times the line will break before the knot does. The reason is that there's no pressure point for it to cut itself.
"I used to preach using the Palomar knot, but I was just like 90 percent of other people and didn't really test the knot," he added.
One Additional Benefit
In addition to better hooksets, Dudley says there's another benefit to heavy rods: increased sensitivity.
"If you use stiffer poles, you can feel the bite a whole lot better," he says. "How many times have you seen someone throwing a crankbait or spinnerbait with a rod that has a pretty light tip go, 'There he is, yeah...no...yeah...no...oh, I got him.' That's because he can't feel the bite.
"If you have to think twice about whether you're getting a bite, that's just telling you your rod is too limber. It's too forgiving because it's forgiving the bite too. And if you get bite on a noodle rod a long way away, you sure as heck won't feel it.
"Just hold a stiff rod and have someone flick the line. You'll feel it well. But you won't feel it as well with a noodle pole."
Stiffer and Better
"I'm getting better as a fisherman, and I think a lot of it is because of stiffer rods," Dudley says. "Because of stiffer rods, I've felt a few more bites and gotten more fish in this year."
He's also discovered the benefit of premium rods. "I used to preach that rods didn't make a difference, that it was all about your touch," he says. "I used to use those $19.99 Bass Pro Shops rods. Up until this year, if you looked on my deck that's all you would see.
"But this year I'm using Kistler Helium Lighter-Than-Air rods, and I'm amazed at the difference. Now I pick up what I used to use and think, Man, how did I ever use these rods? The Lighter Than Air rods are so sensitive it's amazing. You can literally feel when you bump into a fish."
> He strongly agrees with Rick Clunn's "controlled aggression" approach to fighting fish, where a fish is allowed one run and then it's hauled in. "That's so dead on, so true," Dudley says. "I'm a firm believer. Once you stick him, he has a 2-3 second surge, and then he's coming in. The more you allow that fish to play around and do whatever, the more fish you're going to lose."
> Clunn also fishes with only heavy-action rods.